Monthly Archives: July 2013

Incepting ourselves

When I wrote about the inaccuracy of the “You weren’t promised flying cars, you were promised an oppressive cyberpunk dystopia” meme, I elided over a few things. One of which is our collective tendency to misremember and oversimplify.

The flying cars vs cyberpunk dystopia dichotomy is a great example. Given how many friends felt the need to point out to me that Blade Runner, clearly depicting a cyberpunk dystopia, also had flying cars, I’m not the only one to notice this oversimplification. Flying cars and dystopias are not mutually exclusive.

I chose to into interpret “flying cars” as short hand for “utopian future which includes flying cars,” which is why I kept referring to a “flying car utopia” throughout the post. Since “oppresive cyberpunk dystopia” was clearly presented in the original meme as a contrast, I didn’t think it was much of a stretch to assume they meant the two choices as mutually exclusive notions of the future.

The issue I focused on was the age which the meme asserted one must be to have been “promised” the one over the other. I didn’t talk about what prompted so many people to think that the age assertion was reasonable.

The clear implication of choosing 60 as the cut-off was that all that optimisim about the future was only happening in the 1950s. Clearly, such shiny hope couldn’t have existed during the 1960s, when everyone was either protesting the Vietnam war, or rioting over civil rights, or dropping out and tuning in, right?

If that’s what you think the entire 1960s was like, you’ve fallen prey to a massive rewrite of the collective memory.

For instance, the first protest march against our presence in Vietnam was in 1964, but the anti-war movement didn’t become a large scale phenomenon until 1966. Even then, it wasn’t until 1969 that a majority of college campuses had seen protests.

On the other hand, major civil rights events were happening from the mid-50s. Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott were in 1955, not during the 60s. The lunch counter sit-ins and boycotts got underway in 1958 and had given way to other activities by 1960. Yes, the Freedom Rides, Selma, the March on Washington, and the horrors of Freedom Summer in Mississippi (where local authorities teamed up with the KKK using arrests, beatings, arson, murder, and more to drive out the civil rights volunteers and prevents blacks from registering to vote) all happened during the first half of the 1960s, that’s true. But there was plenty of racial civil rights unrest in the 50s, as well.

A lot of the popular culture trends that people ascribe to the 60s didn’t really become widespread until the very end of the decade. As late as 1974, for instance, most public high schools still forbade boys from having long hair. A lot of the clothing styles people think of as 60s is really early 70s.

And what about those 70s? It was all disco fever, with people snorting cocaine between dances, or popping quaaludes while organizing their omnisexual orgies, right? Well, briefly. There is a lot of proto-disco music running from the mid- and late-60s, but the first indisputably disco songs to chart in the U.S. were in 1974. It wasn’t until ’75 that disco music really starting holding its own in popularity, and not really until ’77 that it and the associated styles were dominant. And by that point, the “Disco Sucks” movement was gaining steam, culminating in an anti-disco event that was organized at a baseball double-header, but turned into a riot in 1979. Disco’s time as a defining characteristic of pop culture was only about three-and-a-half years.

Club drugs had always included both cocaine and pills such as Quaaludes, but they definitely were most strongly associated with disco for a while. And while it was true that the enormous gay dance clubs came into being—and straight people going to those gay clubs hit its peak when disco was king—New Wave was the music scene that was most accepting of bi and gay people, not disco.

Another way to look at it: it was no accident when the creators of That 70s Show began their nostalgic recreation of what being a teen-ager in the 70s was like with the week that Star Wars was released (May 25, 1977).

My point is that the entire 1950s wasn’t an idyllic, innocent Pleasantville time. The 1960s wasn’t all strife and discord and a clash of cultures. And the 70s wasn’t all a decadent time of dancing and drugs and hedonism as a reaction to all that seriousness in the 60s. A bit of each was true throughout all three decades.

Context is everything

All sorts of news sites and blogs and individuals have been spreading the “news” far and wide that Pope Francis said, “Who am I to judge gay people?” As if this represents a significant softening of the church’s anti-gay stance.

There are three problems with that: one, that sentence isn’t quite what he said even as a out-of-context quote; two, once you put what he did say in context, it’s pretty much the exact opposite of what everyone is reporting he said; and three, it isn’t an actual change at all.

First, what did he actually say? “If someone is gay, who searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?”

It might seem like a subtle difference, but there are two qualifiers in the sentence which can be unpacked in a variety of ways. What constitutes searching for the Lord, for instance? If he means striving to adhere to current church teachings that homosexuality is disordered and sinful, then that right there means that the kindest spin you could put on what he said is, “Who am I to judge ex-gays?”

Second, what was the context? The pope was responding questions from reporters about a person who was recently hired to sort out problems at the Vatican Bank, but there are allegations the person was involved in a gay relationship a decade ago. And while repeating that homosexuality is a sin but gays shouldn’t be marginalized, he made the above comment, and then went on to chastise the reporters from bringing up someone’s past sins that are behind them. Once again, the kindest way one can interpret the statement in context is either “Who am I to judge ex-gays?” or “Who am I to judge people who are discreet?”

Third, it has always been the case that the church overlooks the past sins of its own people in leadership positions, so long as they make a token statement that they won’t do it again. That’s why there are all those thousands of pedophile priest scandals out there, for goodness sake! And it has always been the case that the church overlooks homosexuality among its own clergy so long as they deny it or pretend to hide it (Pope Benedict XVI, for instance).

In full context, keeping in mind that he began the answer with a sort of bizarre observation that no one has ever handed him their business card with the business card proclaiming the person to be gay, the statement isn’t even really about either sexual orientation or sexual activity. It is about whether a person is closeted. It’s the same song-and-dance haters always retreat to when confronted about either their bigotry or a seeming double-standard: I don’t care what someone does in private, why do they have to flaunt it?

Even the section of the answer where he mentions the church teaching that calls for homosexuals to be treated with dignity and not marginalized doesn’t earn him any tolerance points. That line has been repeated whenever the church unloads a new condemnation of gay people, gay rights, and so on. It was even mentioned by that Bishop last year in his statement about a bunch of pedophile priests whose crimes the church (under his watch) had covered up when the Bishop blamed all those crimes on the homosexual nature of the children whom the priests abused.

So, no, I don’t think this qualifies as a softening of tone. And it certainly doesn’t signal any new kind of tolerance. And it most certainly doesn’t count as a baby step.

What would count as a baby step? Here’s one, and it really wouldn’t be that difficult. I wish that this pope would take a page from an American priest who spoke up last year at a county commission meeting where the public was weighing in on a proposed gay rights ordinance. The priest said that the church’s teaching on the matter should not be taken into account on an ordinance. “We do not have authority over people outside our own flock,” he said. A baby step would be for this pope to say the church would stop weighing in on such matters of civil law. That the church would stop trying to prevent governments from decriminalizing gay activities. That the church would stop trying to get laws passed banning gay people from adopting. That the church would stop trying to keep the law from recognizing marriages between same sex couples.

The church doesn’t have to approve any of those things in order to stop trying to blackmail lawmakers into enforcing its disapproval by means of the law. The church doesn’t approve of divorce, but it long ago stopped trying to pressure governments into outlawing it. The church doesn’t approve of divorced people remarrying, but it long ago stopped trying to pressure governments to outlaw such marriages. The church considers children born to remarried couples as illegitimate, but it doesn’t pressure governments to label children that way, nor to deny the children of a remarriage Social Security benefits if the remarried parent dies, for instance.

Seriously, when was the last time an Archbishop directed priests to deny communion to law makers who didn’t vote for laws to declare the children of remarried parents illegitimate?

Treating gay people and gay relationships the same way that it treats divorced people would be a baby step. It wouldn’t be approval. It wouldn’t be a change of theology. It would be a simple admission that the church doesn’t have the authority to enforce its doctrine on people who are outside of its flock.

This ain’t no baby step.

Terribly mysterious

As a writer, sometimes you want a character to be mysterious. In good writing this mysteriousness should either further the plot, or speed along one or more of your main character’s emotional arcs. Sometimes, the character just is mysterious because that’s how she or he first came to you, the writer. Whatever the case, once introduced, a mysterious character must be handled with care.

A comic book cover featuring Wolverine and the Hulk
Hulk #181, Nov 1974, first appearance of The Wolverine. (Click to embiggen)
Back in 1974 I stopped at the only drugstore in town and looked through the comic rack. This was my only means of buying comics, and while I was a fan, I wasn’t able to follow anything very faithfully because which comics came into the store from month to month seemed to be completely random. That I was a middle school student, with limited funds and easily distracted didn’t help.

Anyway, there hadn’t been an issue of Hulk in the rack in several months, so I had missed the previous few issues, and I didn’t know how the story line had gotten to this point, but there the Hulk was, and some strange guy in a yellow and blue costume seemed to be fighting him. Of course, I bought the issue. We didn’t learn much about this Wolverine guy in this issue. He apparently worked with the Canadian government and had been parachuted into the wilderness to try to stop the Hulk from rampaging, or something like that. Note the text in the black arrow on the cover: the world’s first and greatest Canadian super-hero!

Note that this is not an X-men comic. In 1974 the X-men were on hiatus. Their magazine was being printed, but it was reprinting stories from the 1960s, for reasons that must have made sense to an accountant, somewhere. The team had never been terribly successful before that. It would be a couple more years before the team was Re-booted (though we didn’t use that term back them), with a lot of new members and only a few of the old, and Wolverine began his off-again, on-again relationship with the X-teams.

For a long time he was a cool character precisely because he was mysterious and always seemed very reluctant to get involved with other people. It’s not exactly an original character type, but generally it worked pretty well. He’d come to help with a specific problem for reasons that weren’t always entirely clear, be gruff and business-like and morally ambiguous, betray a glimmer of affection or respect for one or two characters, then disappear for awhile, only to turn up again and repeat the process.

The problem with mysterious characters is that, if they catch the reader’s attention, the reader wants to know what’s behind the mystery. A writer may keep tantalizing and teasing readers for a while, dropping hints here and there, but you have to be careful, because there’s an extremely thin line between tantalizing and annoying to the point of wanting to take the writer by the throat and squeeze the life out of them.

An image of the masked man called the Sphinx.
The Sphinx – so annoying, you want him to die.
The latter type of annoying character was rather nicely parodied in the moveie, Mystery Men, in the person of the Sphinx. He tries so hard to be cryptic that he’s transparently shallow. His wisdom doesn’t even come up to the level of bad fortune cookies. He’s not just mysterious, he’s “well, terribly mysterious,” as the Blue Raja is at pains to tell his colleagues more than once.

You don’t want your mysterious character to turn into the Sphinx.

Cover image of the DVD of the movie Mystery Men
Mystery Men – one of the greatest movies of all time. (Click to embiggen)
There comes a point where a writer decides to show the reader the truth, to whisk off the shroud of mystery and intrigue, and reveal all. This can go badly. And in the case of the Wolverine, in both comics and movies, has gone, not just badly, not just very badly, but terribly badly.

One problem is that the revelations have been contradictory. Subsequent attempts to make the revelations less contradictory pushed his backstory into pure ludicrousness. And his characterization has consequently become worse and worse. He’s a loner, except that he’s joined pretty much every team Marvel has ever published. And has picked and consistently abandoned a disturbing number of adolescent female protegés/sidekicks. He’s supposed to be a highly skilled assassin, except he’s a chaotic brawler. He’s supposed to be an honorable Samurai (with all the training in the ritualized combat/politics of same), except he’s also a savage killing machine. He’s amoral, except he’s noble and self-sacrificial.

Now, when a character is appearing in a series, and written over a number of years by different writers, this sort of thing might appear to be unavoidable. Except that it doesn’t have to be. Batman, for instance, has a much longer publishing and movie history (first appearance in comics in 1939, first movie in 1943 {a delightfully cheesy serial that I happen to have a copy of, if you want to watch the WWII era special effects and dumb cliffhangers}), but despite all those reboots, retellings, et cetera, the central core of the character has been kept intact: witnessing the murder of his parents as a child, he obsessively trains and studies, eventually becoming a dark detective and vigilante who prowls Gotham at night, foiling criminals and bringing the worst to justice. At various points they’ve wandered into the quite campy, to the darkly romantic, and other odd places, but all of the writers have managed to bring the character back to that core.

I’m working with a mysterious character in my current novel in progress. The previous novel, to which this is a sequel, also had a mysterious character—one of my two protagonists. But she wasn’t a dark, brooding person with hints of a tragic past. She’s one of the most cheerful and optimistic characters in the whole book. There were simply mysteries about her from the beginning, hints were dropped here and there, until during the big battle at the end (it’s a light fantasy with epic fantasy tropes, so there has to be a big battle!) a chunk of the mystery was revealed. It was not revealed in a big bunch of exposition. A crisis was reached, and in an act that resolved her internal conflict at the same time as saving one of her comrades (and temporarily thwarting the big bad), her true nature was revealed. I think it worked. It is currently in copy edit, and does not yet have a publication date, so I will have to wait for the readers’ verdict.

I’m a bit more nervous about the mysterious character in this one. He’s specifically hiding his identity for reasons that are both in character and important to the plot. He’s not a protagonist, he is helping one of the protagonists. Because he is specifically hiding his identity, and because his sub-plot is built around trying to protect a young woman who various people want dead, a lot of his scenes tend to be dark, grim affairs. I hope, when his identity is revealed, that the reader goes, “Oh! Oh! Why didn’t I realize that? Of course it’s ______!” rather than, “Yeah, yeah, we saw that coming a mile away…”

Wish me luck.

Future events such as these

iPad connected to TV to show facetime on large screen.
Jared attending an editorial meeting via FaceTime. (Click to embiggen)
I like living in the future.

We had an editorial board meeting last night, and it being busy, crazy summertime, we almost didn’t have quorum. Fortunately, Jared was able to join us via FaceTime. We’ve done it a couple of times before, propping up my iPad so the person could see most of us. Chuck thought we should do it on the big screen, and I almost never hook the iPad up to the TV, so we did.

Now the future hasn’t quite turned out as we were promised. If I mention “flying cars” certain people will snarkily repeat a meme that’s been going around lately. The first variant I saw was, “Unless you’re 60 or older, you weren’t promised flying cars. You were promised an oppressive cyberpunk dystopia.”

That’s simply wrong, on many, many levels. The “we were promised {fill in the blank} in the future!” is a reference to things we learned during our childhood from popular culture about what the future would be like. The first appearance of cyberpunk, in any way, shape, or form, was the 1980 novel Web of Angels, by John M. Ford. Therefore, a person who is 59 now, would have been 26 years old when the first hint of a cyberpunk dystopia could have appeared in any popular culture. Twenty-six is not childhood.

The Jetsons, broadcast Sunday nights from 1962-63, reruns Saturday mornings from 1964-73.
The Jetsons, broadcast Sunday nights from 1962-63, reruns Saturday mornings from 1964-73.
I’m still a half-dozen years below 59, and I can assure you that my childhood pop culture did, indeed, promise me flying cars.

The Jetsons was the first show to be broadcast in color on ABC-TV. A cartoon set 100 years in the future, the show ran during primetime beginning in 1962. That’s right, it was not meant to be a children’s show. After it complete its primetime run, the existing episodes were re-run as a Saturday morning cartoon for nearly 10 years. The screen shot is a frame from the opening seconds of the opening theme song of the show. Right there, flying cars. The show depicted a fairly utopian future, with robot maids, devices that could create an entire new outfit, on your body, in seconds, and so forth.

If your childhood included any of the years from 1962-1974, you were, indeed promised flying cars. If we assume one needs to be a minimum of four years old to recall a television series, that means anyone 43 or older can legitimately claim that The Jetsons, at least, promised them a utopian flying cars future.

Jonny Quest floats in midair wearing a jet backpack.
Jonny Quest flying in a jet pack (some of his villains had flying cars).
That time period also included the iconic TV series Lost in Space, the original Star Trek, and Johnny Quest. Not to mention such films as 2001: A Space Odyssey. They didn’t all have flying cars (some had transporters—even better!), but their futures are each the opposite of an oppressive cyberpunk dystopia.

But let’s loop back to that first cyberpunk book. How many people who know what cyberpunk is have even heard of Web of Angels? Most people think of cyberpunk as beginning with either Blade Runner (1982) or Neuromancer (1984). And while Blade Runner is the greatest movie ever made, bar none, the sad truth is it didn’t do well in theaters the first time, and didn’t start developing a cult following until it started appearing on cable in late 1983. So I’m going to say that the beginning of the switch-over to cyberpunk dystopias becoming dominant in pop culture was 1984.

That means 1983 is the last year in which the flying car utopia was promised as a future to kids, so anyone who was at least four in 1983 would be the actual cut-off age, rather than 60, so that means the meme should state: “Unless you’re 34 or older, you weren’t promised flying cars. You were promised an oppressive cyberpunk dystopia.”

Movie poster from 1985's Back to the Future.
Marty McFly, trying to get back to the future…
But wait! That calculation assumes a very simple binary situation. Cyberpunk dystopias became one possible future in 1984, but it wasn’t the only one. Because in 1985 we got Back to the Future! While the movie primarily follows the adventures of our young hero, Marty McFly, trapped in the 1950s in a time traveling car, trying not to screw up his own future before getting back to his own time. At the end of the movie, Doc Brown goes 30 years into the future, and then comes back, showing off a much upgraded version of the time-traveling car. So, as my friend, Matt, pointed out, if your formative years include Back to the Future, then not only were you promised flying cars, you were promised time-traveling fusion-powered flying cars fueled by household garbage!

So, no, we were promised flying cars!

I’ve had more than one person bring up the fact that Blade Runner had flying cars. I know that. When I said that Blade Runner was the greatest movie ever? Implicit in that statement is the fact that I owned several different cuts on VHS back in the day, and I watched at least two of the tapes so many times that they wore out. I am well aware of the flying cars in Blade Runner. But as I explained on Twitter, the invalidity of the assertion of a dichotomy between flying cars and cyberpunk dystopias is worthy of a posting of its own.

It’s nice when they listen

Several years ago I was laying in a bed at the emergency room. The doctor who had triaged me was fairly certain it was my appendix. A nurse had been tasked to draw blood for some tests. So I told her what my regular doctor said I should always tell someone about to draw my blood: “My veins are troublemakers. They roll. They collapse. They move. They hide. The secret is to ignore the ones you can see, and go for Old Faithful here that you can feel, but can’t see.”

“Uh huh,” the nurse said. And proceeded to stick me about a half dozen times in that arm, move to the other arm to repeat it, move back to the first arm to try a couple more times before, in a very exasperated voice asking, “What was that advice, again?”

She got it on the next try. She apologized profusely.

A bit later, just as another nurse was giving me the pre-anesthetic prepping me for surgery (it was the appendix, and they got it before it burst, but only just), she came back to apologize again. “I just found out from one of the other nurses that your G.P. is Dr. Cahn. Dr. Cahn put himself through college and medical school working as a phlebotomist. Most doctors know nothing about drawing blood, and are always giving bad advice. I’m really sorry.”

Some years later I gave the usual advice to a lab tech about to draw my blood, and he said, “Oh, don’t worry about that!” A second later he said, “See! Got it on the first stick…” and his voice trailed off, because it was true that blood had started to flow into the first test tube right away, but it had suddenly stopped, before he could finish the sentence. He also apologized profusely for ignoring the advice, and then spent several minutes trying to follow the advice so we could get on with it.

I have lots of stories like these. Occasionally the people tasked with drawing my blood listen, but far more often, they don’t.

Once a year I see a specialist to evaluate my meds. The usual routine is that I go in for lab work, where they draw about 7 tubes (All different sizes with different color-coded tops; I used to be able to rattle off the colors, but a few years ago there was a change in the color-coding system and I haven’t quite got the new ones down). Then, three to five days later, I have the appointment with the specialist where she goes over the results, asks a lot of questions, we discuss some things, and so on. Occasionally she gives me a list of things to talk to my regular doctor about.

When I went in on Monday to get the lab work, I recited my usual advice. The woman listened to me, asked a couple of questions, then went to work. She spent a lot of time feeling around my arm before deciding she was ready to pick up the needle. It worked perfectly the first time. It was great.

I saw the doctor later in the week. I’ve been on the same meds for a long time, and everything has been nice and stable. This time there was one thing she’s a little concerned about. She immediately amended that to, “I don’t think it’s worrying, but I want to be certain we don’t need to be concerned.” So she ordered more tests, telling me to stop at the lab on the way out.

I got a different woman. I told her my advice. She laughed, “That’s what I do with everyone,” she said. “Lots of people who have the tricky veins don’t even know it. I just assume everyone has tricky veins. I never thought about calling the deeper vessel ‘Old Faithful,’ though. I like that.”

And she got it on the first try, too.

It’s nice when they listen.

It’s Friday. Have some links!

Opening the Skies to Everyone “…I have long advocated that the best way to hook someone on astronomy is to get them outside, and get them to look up. People see the stars all the time, but they don’t see them…”

Time at your own pace You may be familiar with the web comic, xkcd. Months back they posted a single panel black and with image of two stick figures on a slope. Not caption, no word balloons. If you hovered your mouse over the image you saw the alt-text said “Wait for it.” It took a while for people to figure out, but it slowly changed. It is an animated story posting one frame an hour. The first link will take you to a page the has all 3000+ frames gathered together. You can press play and watch it go. It will pause automatically at the frames that have word balloons. Or you can use the controls on the right and go through at your own pace. It’s very cool, with an interesting story. And it hasn’t come to an end, yet!

Why is the Gender-Swapped ‘Blurred Lines’ Video Is Suddenly Age-Restricted

Sea Otter endlessly mocks Australian Cattle Dog “A sea otter has some fun with an Australian Cattle Dog that seems less than amused, and a tad befuddled too.”

Sentences that fill me with dread, part 2

“Oh! You work with computers?” or “You know about computers, right?”

In many ways this has gotten worse as computers become more ubiquitous.

The person most likely to ask this question is someone for whom computers are little more than magic totems. They don’t understand them. To the extent they use them, it is like a ritual. The only way they know how to do anything is to try to repeat the exact steps they have done before. If the machine reacts in a different way than it did before, they don’t stop to try to figure out what they did wrong, they just try to find a way to perform the next step in the ritual.

So they will click Okay or Continue or “that little X in the corner that makes things go away” without reading the message, and keep clicking hoping to see the thing they were expecting to see. And thus install all sorts of malware and bloatware and other things that eventually make their computer unusable.

That’s if they have a computer and programs that they have been using.

Worse are the ones (such as the last person who spoke the dreaded sentence to me) who have bought a computer “because they found a good deal” or took a hand-me-down from a friend of a friend, and now they want just a “little” help to set it up.

The particular person who most recently did this is a musician who is a new neighbor. She stopped me as I was walking past her place and asked the dreaded question. She explained that she had become very intrigued at things that another musician she met was doing in GarageBand on his iPad. He had explained that he had “the same program” on his computer, where he could do a lot more.

So she had bought a computer at a yard sale, and wanted me to show her how to put Garage Band on it so she could do the things he did.

As you have probably guessed, if you know anything about computers yourself, the machine she’d picked up at the yard sale was a really, really old PC. Probably not even one capable of running Windows. This thing was a brand I haven’t seen in decades. It probably was manufactured in 1989 or 1990, I don’t know if it would actually turn on (I didn’t let her get me past the stage where she was pointing to it through the window where it was piled up on a table).

I told her that any computer that old was either dead, or nearly so. That it would be nearly impossible to find software that would run on it. That GarageBand runs on Macs and iPads, only. It doesn’t run on Windows, and it certainly won’t run on DOS.

“But he told me I didn’t need a fancy computer…”

I tried to explain that she could pick up inexpensive used iMacs at several places that would run GarageBand. “But it needs to be a computer no more than five or six years old.”

She didn’t understand why I wouldn’t go into her house to look at the computer she had “just to be sure.” It didn’t have to be GarageBand, she could probably find some other music software, she said.

I tried to explain again that electronics that old fail, and because they’re so old, no one makes the parts any more. Also, none of the inputs will match any modern microphones or other accessories she would need for recording her music. And most importantly, the only software it could run (if all its parts were still working) was very old stuff that would have been sold, back in the day, on floppy disks. “Twenty-five year old floppy disks don’t work. The magnetic particles flake off. The plastic disk part loses its flexibility and even cracks and breaks.”

“I don’t mind a few cracks…”

I thought I was going to scream.

And it’s not just people buying really old (ancient) computers.

My husband works at a place that refurbishes and resells oldish computers. He frequently tells stories of people that buy a computer, then bring it back (sometimes months after the warranty period) complaining about problems that are always user error. Or trying to install something that it isn’t intended to run.

My friend, Mark, told the story of a co-worker who kept complaining about her iPod, that it wouldn’t take music from the Apple store, it couldn’t sync with iTunes, and it wouldn’t work with any iPod accessories she picked up. When he got tired of hearing her complain and offered to take a look, the first thing he said was, “That’s not an iPod.”

It was some very cheap, no-name music player. And no matter how he tried to explain it, she didn’t understand how he could claim it wasn’t an iPod. And when she was willing to admit that maybe it wasn’t an actual Apple-manufactured iPod, she still didn’t understand why it wouldn’t work with iPod things.

I suggested he should have told her that it was like this: a horse and buggy can get you from place to place on public roads not unlike a car, but if you try to pour gasoline down the horse’s throat, you’re going to regret it.

I don’t know if he ever got to use that analogy.

What I ate for breakfast (not)

My friend, Sheryl, likes to characterize a particular form of blogging as “what I ate for breakfast” posting. It’s easy to fall into the trap. You feel as if you should post something, and you may think of your blog as being the equivalent of sitting down to coffee with your friends, so you just babble about minutiae of your life without regard to how many people might actually be interested.

One reason that that sort of thing works in a face-to-face conversation is because there is (usually) a give and take. If you start to talk about the scrambled eggs you made, a friend might comment that they have never been any good at scrambled eggs, or another might comment about how their spouse is allergic to eggs, and the next thing you know, the topic has drifted to something else that everyone is interested in. But with your own blog, without any immediate nonverbal feedback from your friends, it’s really easy to just go on and on…

I try to avoid that, but one problem is that we don’t all classify minutiae the same way. I have posted, over the years on various blog and blog-like places, about my continuing battle with hay fever. That’s why I started titling those posts, when the topic comes up again, “Why I hate hay fever, reason #NNNN” with a new number in the thousands. I hope that the headline conveys to people that I know I’m about to babble about a topic that I’ve mentioned a lot, and even if you are a close personal friend who regularly comments on my blog, I will not be offended in the slightest if you just skip right over the post, perhaps thinking to yourself “Oh, no! Not again!”

A related phenomenon are long and/or frequent blog posts about the purpose of the blog, the nature of blogging, or the philosophy of blogging. Which is perfectly fine to do every now and then, particularly if you’re making a major change, and want to give people fair warning that this blog which used to be about your favorite local sports teams will from now on be all about collecting porcelain dolls.

I’m not making a major change. But based on a couple of comments I’ve received (not as comments on the blog, but either in email or in person), I thought I ought to mention that I’ve been using the Schedule feature here on WordPress, a lot.

Before I moved my primary blog to WordPress, it had always been the case that at any given time I had three, four, or a couple dozen essays/posts on various topics in various stages of completion. Some were completely done, and I was waiting for an appropriate time to post them. Most are only partial drafts. I poke at all of them from time to time, until they get finished and then become tomorrow’s post.

Frequently, thanks to confluences of events and the fickleness of my muse, three, four, or more will all get finished in a single evening or over the course of a Sunday afternoon when we don’t have anywhere else to be. So I wind up scheduling posts to go live around noon my local time over the next three to five days.

One of the reasons multiple postings will get done at nearly the same time is because they are on related topics. I have more than one aspect of a particular thing that I want to comment on, so I break it into different posts and set them to publish on consecutive days, for instance. What can I say? I am something of a motor mouth.

If something comes up that I feel I have to post about right away when I already have a bunch of days scheduled, I bump the others back and post the new thing.

In case you were curious.

Speaker for the Abyss

I thought I had said all I would say about the Orson Scott Card stuff in “Abyss Gazing” and “The Abyss’ Game“, unfortunately some people who I would have hoped knew better have decided that any gay people who have chosen or are contemplating choosing to withhold our patronage from anything that will put money in the pocket of that hateful homophobe, simply don’t understand the situation properly.

So they’ve decided to explain it to us…

Continue reading Speaker for the Abyss

The co-opting of the Nerds

The Great Nerd Summit (also known as San Diego Comic-Con International, or SDCC) of 2013 has just happened.

I have only attended once, back in the mid-80s when attendance was a mere 6000 people. Yes, I said “mere.” Last year’s attendance was more than 130,000 people. I don’t believe that official figures are out, yet, for this year. While the convention (called the Golden State Comic Book Convention when it was founded in 1970) originally was about Comics, and the word “comic” is still in its name, it had expanded far beyond that realm to embrace sci fi/fantasy books, movies with any sci fi or superhero connection what-so-ever, and gaming back when I was there.

Of course, comics is a style or medium of storytelling. I grew up reading both Donald Duck/Uncle Scrooge comics and X-men and the like, so even I knew that as a child. Yes, I said grew up. My mom was an X-men fan in the mid-sixties. I have mentioned before that I’m a second generation fan, right? My point being that you can conceivably tell any kind of story in comic form. And there have been the extremely interesting and well done examples of memoirs, biographies, and other kinds of story that don’t fit the comic book stereotype.

That said, SDCC has gotten to the point where it is the trade show for just about the entire entertainment industry. I understand why there are events highlighting upcoming movies such as sequels to The Avengers, Captain America, and Thor, as they’re all based on comics. And I understand why there are events rolling out teasers for My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. It’s a cartoon, not a graphic story (there are comics, but those are spin-offs, and the official MLP events were all about the cartoon), but animated cartoons are an allied artform of comics. I even understand all the video game stuff that happens at the con.

But, much as I love Benedict Cumberbatch and the current BBC Sherlock series, I think that Sherlock events at SDCC is stretching the definition a bit. Whereas the fact that there were events for How I Met Your Mother, Veronica Mars, and Community is just insane.

The official SDCC award (as opposed to Awards sponsored by other organization which are simply presented at SDCC), the Inkpot, is given out for “outstanding achievement in the Popular Arts industry.” Which makes me think the event should more properly be called the San Diego Popular Arts Con.

I’ve gotten into arguments with fellow nerds about why Sherlock Holmes, as in the original character and stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, has often been included in science fiction events. I have defended the inclusion because Holmes could be argued to be an archetype of a particular kind of nerd: hyper observant, possessed of encyclopedic knowledge of a vast range of topics, an uncanny ability to find relationships between the most minute details, and infamously incapable of relating to people empathically. Serious articles have been published in psychological journals debating (pro and con) whether the fictional Holmes had Aspergers syndrome, for goodness sake! The Holmes stories may not be sci fi, but both the character and the methodology by which he solves his mysteries are highly identifiable to a significant portion of the fan community.

While I have made that argument, and will continue to do so, I’m also the first to admit that all it provides is a reasonable rationale for stretching the envelope to include Holmes as an allied creation. It’s a stretch, and I admit it.

A sort of similar argument can be made for the specific television show, Community, because its ensemble includes some nerds. But it’s a much more tenuous connection to make based on a couple of supporting characters, as opposed to the main character and his primary activity.

I can think of even more tenuous (and ludicrous) arguments that might be made for shows such as How I Met Your Mother, but all of them would be a smoke screen. The truth is that, as I mentioned, SDCC is a trade show, not a fan convention. Its purpose is to advertise, generate buzz, and fan the flames of enthusiasm for any popular art property that can shoehorn itself into the convention. That isn’t a bad thing, per se. Certainly no one is forcing fans to get online at a particular time on the final day of the convention so that the entirety of the next year’s memberships can be sold out in less than two hours. No one is forcing people such as myself to track down stories and videos of the events to get some ideas of what movies and shows I should be looking for in the future.

If you want to fan the flames of enthusiasm, there is no better place than the heart or mind of a nerd or geek. We’re more politely called fans, which is short for fanatic. The one trait that most distinguishes us from the mundanes is how incredibly, obsessively enthusiastic we get about the things we like. So even though some of us are primarily enthusiastic about science and science fiction, if you can get us interested in your show— even one that doesn’t have any discernible science-y aspects—we’ll talk about it. We’ll set our DVRs to catch your premiere. We’ll mention that it’s coming out to our less nerdy friends. We’ll make and post fan art or create and share silly memes based on photos from your show.

We will be your viral marketing campaign. And because tens of thousands of us are willing to buy memberships at SDCC each year, that means some of us are paying for the privilege.

Apart from other branding considerations, I think that’s why for the foreseeable future they won’t be replacing the “Comic” part of the name.