Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Sylvia Louise Engdahl

Enghdal wrote two of my favorite SF juveniles, "Enchantress From The Stars" and "The Far Side of Evil." Evil in particular is a superb book (and would make a cheap and really good SF movie ...)

Engdahl has a new book coming out for the first time in 28 years.


The website comes off pretty didactic, but I'm going to buy the book anyway -- I used to tolerate Heinlein's preaching pretty well, because at least early on he wrapped it inside first rate stories. If you're not already an Engdahl fan, this may not be the place to start, but if you are, now you know it's out there.


I got asked by a couple people to do a second draft of the "Infinite Methods" post. I'm not going to do this often -- revising blog entries is way more energy than I'm putting into this -- but given the subject matter of the Infinite Methods post, what it looks like boiled down is a fair request. Probably be up this weekend.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Fonts ...

Anyone know a free or cheap place to pick up the Albertus font family?

It's what I used in typeseting EE & TLR & TLD ... if it's too much trouble I'll just roll back to Century Schoolbook for everything, but I did like the look of that font, and somewhere in the last half decade it appears I lost it.

Emerald Eyes is typeset and ready to go. Long Run should be done by next weekend.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Halfway through "Riddle-Master"

I found the trilogy in one volume at the Barnes and Noble on Westwood at Pico, and bought one copy. (As a sociological comment -- I don't mourn for the days of the small bookseller, though I do miss Lydia Marano and Arthur Cover's Dangerous Visions store. The sociological function small bookstores served has been replaced by social networking, and their limited ability to carry titles meant books faded away forever ... Riddle Master is in print because there are bookstores with enough shelf-space to accomodate a 30-year old fantasy, and websites like Amazon.com to supply people who can't or won't go into one of the big B&Ms.)

I'm midway through the 2nd book, "Heir of Sea and Fire" -- and I'm wondering if I have read this more recently than when it came out, because though early in the first book I didn't remember much, by the time I got to the end of it, and very strongly in the 2nd volume, I'm remembering scenes as I read them. I still have no idea how it's going to end, though there's a scene where Raederle chases a shapechanger upcoming, and I do remember who the shapechanger is ...

Based on where I am right now, this makes it into the list of great fantasies appropriate for kids. I know my daughters will love it, if they're not too burned out by Harry Potter at the moment.

The list now stands at (more or less in order of ascending order of quality):

Chronicles of Narnia
Harry Potter
The Dark Is Rising - Riddle Master
A Wizard of Earthsea (trilogy)
The Lord of the Rings

If I were taking a kid through them in order, I'd probably stick Potter after Earthsea -- just for length. It's a hard series for younger kids to get through. (If JK Rowling's publishers want to make another billion, an abridged Potter would do it....)


The value of revision -- that whole passage in the post below concerning Hungarian notation? Nearly pointless. It was supposed to show the difference between core and non-core and peripheral elements of a given discipline; instead it's 500 meandering words with a not very funny joke at the end. Almost all of it could be trimmed without taking a thing from the larger post.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Principle of Infinite Methods -- 9 Kinds of Words

The 9 kinds of words are nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, propositions, conjunctions, interjections and articles. Was talking to my sons about this this fact a few days back ... they didn't know it. Neither had I when I was their age.

I dropped out of high school after the 10th grade, mostly because I was bored to tears with it. The summer I was 16 I ended up homeless and sleeping in a park, which put a crimp in further education --

The other day my 8 year old, Richard, wanted to know if I’d played basketball in college -- he has a serious basketball jones and we’re sending him to a basketball camp next summer. He and I play together regularly and we have not much in common otherwise -- outside bad action movies and being guys, you know -- Richard’s older brother Bram lives and eats Pokemon, and Richard’s almost as bad. My Pokemon knowledge extends to “Ash,” “Pikachu,” and “training,” because you train Pokemon. Aside from this their lengthy discourses on the subject are in Mandarin.

So we talk basketball or movies when we socialize -- which is more than my Dad and I had in common, so bonus there. (To be fair to me and my Dad -- he didn’t watch movies much, and football bores me to death; but I watched University of Miami football games just so that I could suffer and gloat with him. And at the 2 minute mark of most Lakers games, I’d know he was tuning in so he could call up and exclaim over Magic or Kobe’s brilliance, despite being more indifferent to the Lakers than even I was to Miami. “I love you” can be said in lots of ways.)

But the “did you play basketball in college” -- I sidestepped. “No, honey, I never played organized basketball.” My older kids know I didn’t go to college (my daughters even know why) -- but my kids go to good schools, are doing extremely well in school, and once the habit of good school performance is set, we can have different sorts of conversations about why I didn’t do well in school --

One of the reasons is that I think analytically and was almost uniformly bored in school because the material wasn’t presented in any unifying structure. This analytic tendency has been hugely useful to me as a programmer -- decades of hammering away at my craft have separated out what’s critical to the process of building scalable, maintainable websites, from what’s not.

I used to be a big Hungarian notation guy -- the field has pretty thoroughly moved away from that, so I modified to a very minimalist Hungarian notation (sWord for strings, dWord for dates, nWord for numeric data including money.) Even that I finally abandoned -- there didn’t used to be editing environments that permitted you to inspect a variable’s properties, not for SQL Server, which is 90% of my development time these days. (The other 10% is also usually SQL, mySQL, a little Oracle -- very occasionally some VB.) But for a few years now there have been environments where, if I hovered the mouse over a variable, I could discover its type if I didn’t remember it -- more mature environments have done this forever, of course, but I still almost exclusively write T-SQL in Microsoft’s query analyzer -- which doesn’t. However, the new SQL Server 2008 does do this ...

I’d already abandoned my last vestige of Hungarian notation a while back. Over a year ago now I joined a startup that had code written in 4-5 different naming/formatting standards, all conflicting. I settled on a naming convention I didn’t like, mostly because it was the convention most frequently in use at that company, and as we’ve refactored we’ve cleaned up, until 2/3rds (up from maybe 1/5th) of the codebase now uses this naming and formatting convention.

The short version of this is, for a table: tbl_noun_relationship_to_other_nouns. So, for example, a table that stored addresses would be tbl_address; a table that stored companies would be tbl_company; and a table that stored the many-to-many relationship between companies and addresses would be tbl_address_company_map.

Code is usp_noun_verb ... usp for “user stored procedure,” to distinguish it from Microsoft’s stored procs, which are sp_whatever. A procedure that retrieves company data would be usp_company_select.

Simple enough, though I imagine I lost more than half my readers already. But what I said above, about what’s essential and what’s not? Naming conventions are necessary: but it’s mostly irrelevant what they are as long as they’re not downright stupid. I’ve known this for years but still felt that my way was the right way.

So for about a year now I’ve coded in this new naming convention -- not one I’ve used before. Got comfortable with it. So ... recently I went back to do some consulting work for an old client. And there’s a lot of my old code floating around in production over there.

As I say, I adopted the sans-Hungarian notation lower case with underscore naming convention reluctantly, because it was as close to a common convention as existed at my new company -- and when I started working again with code I wrote between 3 and 8 years ago, I was downright annoyed at how unintuitive my old naming convention was. Obviously the correct way to do it is non-Hungarian lower case with underscores ...

I’m never having a naming convention argument again as long as I live. The part of my brain that cares about such things is stupid and fickle.


So what is essential? I write well and was reading at 4 -- and was a terrible frustration to my teachers. I don’t think I ever got an ‘A’ in English in my whole life. (Even the numerically challenged could count the ‘A’s I did get without taking off their shoes.) I had a teacher in junior high who had other kids’ parents angry at her because she kept giving the class harder and harder spelling tests -- I wouldn’t study for them and I never got a word wrong. Drove her batty.

But I was in my teens before I got to where I could diagram a sentence -- some of my first stories came back from George Scithers at Asimov, bless him, and he suggested a book -- I forget the title now, but I sat down and read it. And discovered there were only 9 kinds of words. That’s it! That’s grammar! (OK ... it’s not grammar. But it’s the hard core of it.) If any teacher had ever told me there were only 9 kinds of words in the English language, I think I’d have learned them.

I got a few As in my life, but I only specifically recall one -- summer school, a 10 week fast-moving Geometry class in between the 9th and 10th grades. The math teacher didn’t want me -- I’d done badly in his Algebra class the previous year. But 10 weeks to cover the entire book was exactly the right speed -- it went fast enough to keep my attention, was exactly the sort of material that I’m wired for, and across all the years I went to school, is my one really outstanding memory for hitting a subject matter I liked, being engaged with the material, and having the class move fast enough. That teacher then took me into his trigonometry class in the 10th grade, with high expectations. Bad year -- we had the PSATs that year and I got the 2nd highest score at that school, a private Catholic boy’s school with a lot of really smart kids -- I’d skated through the 9th grade without any teachers noticing me. That damned test brought me to their attention and I was thoroughly miserable the whole tenth grade.

But the person most disappointed in me was my math teacher, because he knew what I was capable of first hand -- so about halfway through the year he let me study at my own pace, and the second half of that class was better than the first. I was well into a different textbook by the time we got done, though I still didn’t bring the overall grade up to an A -- missed too many tests if I recall.

Aside from a couple computer courses, an astronomy course, and 2-3 writing courses at a community college, I’ve never been back to school. But I’ve kept learning -- I’ve read well over a thousand non-fiction books, learned a variety of useful business and life skills; at my own pace and when I felt like it. And what’s come to me through the School of Dan, which I never quite got straight in real school, is that in all material there are core concepts, peripheral concepts, and chrome. Most of the schools I went to as a kid taught chrome, looking back at it.

What does core look like? In both writing and programming I’ve come to believe that it boils down to conciseness. I recall, very early in life, reading a book called “Philosophy and Cybernetics.” This exposed me, though I didn’t realize it at the time, to this idea: entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem.


In the business world I live in good database design does not consist of doing more with less: it consists of doing less. Storing less data. Creating less structure. Writing less code.

This is not the way business people think about databases (to the degree they do think about databases.) They tend to believe that large is better than small, that more tables are better than fewer tables, that more data is better than less data. The problem with this is that data may or may not be of value. The following strings contain equal amounts of data:


‘I love you.’

Each string contains eleven characters worth of data, but the second string contains more actual information. So we come to a simple enough precept: data is meaningless but information is valuable. The more concisely information can be stored and transmitted, the more effective and useful it is.

Both writing and programming I approach from the same perspective: do less. Omit words, to quote a smart guy. Minimize structure. Minimize code. (“Minimize structure. Minimize code.” was a sign I used to have hanging over my desk at various companies.)

I’ve been interviewing DBAs for twenty years. And there’s a question I ask all DBA candidates, which in twenty years only a few people have ever answered correctly. It’s this:

What, in almost all cases, is the difference between a query that performs badly, and one that performs well?

I’ve interviewed some very bright people over the years, and the variety of answers I’ve gotten to this question has been interesting. Good indexes, I’ve been told: covering indexes, clustered indexes, high cardinality indexes. Good statistics, I’ve been told. A proper execution plan. Proper use of temp tables, or derived tables, or table variables. Proper joins. Correct normalization. Wise denormalization.

None of these answers are wrong, necessarily, but they miss the point. Database queries run on a computer. A thing that exists in the real world. And, with very rare exceptions they run against data which is stored on some form of magnetic media. And magnetic media is slow. Off a good RAID array at the time of this writing, you might be able to pull 300 megabytes per second in sustained bursts – bulk transfers of large files. Database queries, inherently more dependent upon random access, will be slower. 100 megabytes per second throughput, with real-world equipment, is a superb result.

To put this in context, modern high-speed RAM has throughput to the CPU of over 10 gigabytes per second – about two orders of magnitude faster.

The difference between a query that performs badly, and a query that performs well, in almost all cases: the query that performs well executes with fewer reads. So the core concept in this particular case, the part that’s not peripheral or chrome, is that databases perform well in direct proportion to the degree that they retrieve the correct answer with the fewest reads.

This question will be on the test.

Now ... how you get to that goal is peripheral. There’s more than one right way to perform most tasks ... but there are an infinite number of ways to perform a task incorrectly. (Moran’s Principle of Infinite Methods -- “Infinite Methods” is the title of one of the many, many books I’ll probably never write.) So the first pass in learning any skill is to get out of the Infinite Methods. Once you’ve done that, you’re an amateur: you can do work that functions, more or less, though it may not be quick or elegant or scalable or easy to maintain, or whatever -- but it produces a result that matches your stated goal. That’s an amateur.

At some point on the path of acquiring a particular skill you’re a professional. Most likely you know a few different ways to solve any problem outside the Infinite Methods. And now your job starts to get more complex again -- you have a toolkit and it’s bigger than it used to be. If you’re honest with yourself you really don’t know all the time which approach is best for a given problem, because you haven’t solved Problem X enough times to have a clear sense of all the different ways to do it. (Some people never do solve Problem X in more than one way -- makes the job easier, but they never do get past the status of journeyman.) So you flex -- curiosity is a good trait here. Try X, try Y, try Z. You have business needs that need to be met, that’s life in a capitalist society -- so stay late and try the alternate approach. Noodle away at it over the weekend. Think about it before bedtime. What’s the core of my problem? What’s the simplest way to solve it? What approach takes the fewest steps, requires me to build and maintain the fewest objects?

This, just for the record, is where programming and writing mostly part ways -- you don’t have to maintain a production environment in writing. Once a piece is done it either works or doesn’t, and with very rare exceptions you’re not going to tune it up again later. In a way this is unfortunate: re-writing an old piece many years later is a huge learning experience, in both text and code.

If Stephen King and JK Rowling had to come back years later and rewrite their novels, they'd learn to write shorter the first time around.


Minimize structure. Minimize code. It’s a reminder to me to never build something I don’t need, and to never build something that’s similar to something I’ve already built. When in doubt, extend and reuse the similar entity. When in doubt ... don’t.

Occam’s Razor doesn’t, despite popular misconception, say “Pick the simpler solution, all else being equal.” What it really says is: entities should not be multiplied needlessly. Which, if you study the idea, takes you to reductionism, to parsimony -- I’ve written statistical software; if I hadn’t been exposed to the idea of parsimony ahead of time, I’d have written useless statistical software. Statistical software (in particular for business-oriented process automation, which I’ve essentially worked in my whole adult life) works best to the degree you can identify the core discrete data points required to make a prediction, and thereafter quitting before you get yourself into trouble. (I’m told that it’s different in actual research; I wouldn’t know but it sounds reasonable.)

What’s parsimony? Less is more. Minimize structure, minimize code. And save some thoughts for later.


Sometimes these posts end up longer than I intend.

I’m working on a very short database book -- “The Elements of Speed.” In concept it’s a direct lift of Elements of Style, though obviously on a rather different subject matter. In very short (non-Microsoft-specific) form it covers my thoughts on how to build simple structures that perform well and are easy to maintain. (Did you know there’s only two things in the universe? Matter/Energy and time. Things and time happening to them. More on that in the book.)

I’ve been enjoying working on “Speed” -- I get to write and code at the same time. How can I say “x” most succinctly? With the fewest words? Constant revision is the key; you can boil down most ideas if you have time -- this post should probably be half the length it is. But I’m delivering an app later today -- it’s short and elegant, but you know -- I’m getting paid for that.

Monday, July 23, 2007

JJ Sutherland and The Armageddon Blues

JJ Sutherland, the NPR reporter/producer who created "Day to Day" and has risked his life far too many times doing war reporting from the Middle East, did a very nice piece on Harry Potter that's worth listening to -- the text of the review is in the comments section of the Harry Potter post I made a couple posts back, if you want to read it instead of listen to it.

Audio is here.

JJ's working on a nonfiction book about his Iraq experiences. JJ's been sending a series of posts about Iraq to a distribution list he keeps -- they're brilliant and wrenching. I hope they see publication at some point.


The Armageddon Blues is up at ImmunityInc.com -- thank you again to Dave Aitel and crew. Link is here.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Message to Joseph ...

"Sadly, the years have snuck up on me and issued one mammoth smack down atop my head. I was diagnosed with MS about ten years ago and it sucks. My 35 year old body feels like twice that most days. The brain still works well enough, just my body doesn't want to respond well to the commands."

I'm going to start sounding like a Jehovah's Witness in this area ... but have you thought about Intermittent Fasting? IF has been shown to produce remarkable benefits in a variety of areas -- neural protection among them. Take a look here:


Like caloric restriction, intermittent fasting reduces oxidative stress, makes the animals more resistant to acute stress in general, reduces blood pressure, reduces blood sugar, improves insulin sensitivity, reduces the incidence of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, and improves cognitive ability. But IF does even more. Animals that are intermittently fasted greatly increase the amount of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) relative to CR animals. CR animals don’t produce much more BDNF than do ad libitum fed animals.

What’s BDNF? (The Wikipedia definition is actually pretty good)

BDNF, as its name implies, is a substance substance that increases the growth of new nerve cells in the brain, but it does much more than that. BDNF is neuroprotective against stress and toxic insults to the brain and is somehow–no one yet knows how, exactly–involved in the insulin sensitivity/glucose regulating mechanism. Infusing BDNF into animals increases their insulin sensitivity and makes them lose weight. Humans with greater levels of BDNF have lower levels of depression. BDNF given to depressed humans reduces their depression. And Increased levels of BDNF improves cognitive ability. In short, you want as much BDNF as you can get., and with IF you can get a lot.

Look, I'm a cynical and skeptical guy. Beware of people selling you things. One of the reasons I'm optimistic about IF (aside from feeling better myself from having done it) ... is that no one is selling it. (Or not successfully.) The benefits of IF are the sorts of things that late-night infomercials promise the gullible ... but it appears to work. The research appears real. After exercise it may be the single most important step you can take for your health ... and it really might help your MS, to some degree. It does appear to help with other kinds of autoimmune and neural diseases.

I am not a doctor. Don't take any of this as a suggestion of medical treatment on my part, merely as a starting point for your own research, if you're so inclined.

And now I'm going to eat a cookie and go to bed. Sunday is a fast day.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Alan Rodgers Experience, Amy Sterling Casil, Harry Potter, The Dark Tower, And Kwik-E Mart ...

We went to court again on the 20th, and so far it's going well. The judge asked me to take TheAlanRodgersExperience.blogspot.com down -- so I've done that, and we'll see what happens next.

This afternoon in the mail I got a letter from Amy Sterling Casil's lawyers warning me that material I'd posted from the dependency court decision could result in my being thrown in jail for 6 months and being fined $500. The blog's offline, and presumably Casil's next step is to try and get me thrown in jail ... can't think why the truth of her life being known to the world would be disturbing to her. Sweet dreams, lady. I'll be in touch.


I was sneering at the Kwik-E Mart crowd a week or two ago -- said that if they came back at 2 in the morning there'd be no line and as dumb as getting up at 2 in the morning to visit the Kwik-E Mart was, it would beat standing in line in the hot sun behind 30 other people ...

Last night my daughter stood in line for hours to be the first to get her hands on "Deathly Hallows" -- she spent the night at a friend's house, and after she got her book I met her and picked up my copy. On my way home, at 1:10 AM, the line at the Kwik-E Mart was 25 people. Don't know what to tell you -- apparently those people standing there at noon in the sun were the smart ones.


OK, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Finished the book about 20 minutes ago and, since plenty of people will still be reading it, I'm going to be a little general in my response --

Looking at the Potter series as a whole, nothing I can say about it's going to make a lick of difference -- it's a first-rate piece of work overall, though JK Rowling's as long-winded as Stephen King these days once she gets going. (OK ... not quite that long-winded, King's books are printed in smaller text.)

Some years back I read King's "Dark Tower" series, which strikes me as a very qualified sort of success -- moments of rare brilliance, a sense of otherworldliness which started with the very first short story and which the series as a whole never quite lost despite its lengthy digressions and King's utter inability to stay away from American pop culture references. The series as a whole is a terrible mishmash and King's insertion of himself as an actual character in the story didn't work. (No objection on principle, there -- all writers are narcissists and King has better cause than most. But it didn't work.)

At one point I had a stack of the Dark Tower by my bedside, and spent a really useless afternoon with a notepad doing a "Phantom Edit" of the series. (Years back some clever guy did an edited version of "The Phantom Menace" called "The Phantom Edit" -- took out most of the egregously stupid parts of that movie. I never saw the actual edit but I liked the idea. Sort of like William Goldman's retelling of S. Morgenstern's "The Princess Bride," with just the good parts retained ...)

I got through done with my notes and figured a reasonably good editor could have cut out better than a third of the word count, maybe half, from that 7-book series, and turned it into one really great trilogy ...

I don't think that approach would have worked with Rowling -- the structure of her story required 7 books for the 7 years at Hogwarts. But the individual books could and probably should have been shorter -- not "considering the audience," but "considering the story." The longer books have always felt drawn-out to me, without enough story to cover the pages. It really feels very much like Stephen King at work in some ways -- I don't know when the last time was that JK Rowling got edited, but it was probably before she got to be richer than the Queen of England. At a certain level of commercial success publishers don't do anything to upset the talent, and King and Rowling both passed that mark gaining speed ...

Fair's fair -- they're both extraordinarily talented storytellers. I wish both of them would waste less of my time, but I still read them both, and I read "Deathly Hallows" from 1:30 to 4:30 this morning, and again for a couple hours this afternoon. My oldest daughter finished it before I did -- took a break and slept for a few minutes this morning, but then got back up and finished it and has been unconscious ever since, sleeping it off. A "Potter Bender."

And now it's over ... where does it rank?

It's no Lord of the Rings. As long as people remain human they're going to keep reading Lord of the Rings. If I had to pick 3 representative works of Western culture, something some future civilization would come along and judge us by, it would be Hamlet, Huckleberry Finn, and Lord of the Rings. (The hero of which is Sam Gamgee, by the way.)

Potter doesn't rise into that rank (and never threatened to.)

Is it as good as The Chronicles of Narnia? It might be better ... but I think the Chronicles will last longer, because they're simpler stories, which is a real virtue: you can read the entire Chronicles of Narnia, a bigger and more epic story than Harry Potter, in about the time it would take you to wade through one of the longer Potter books.

The piece it most puts me in mind of, and (length aside) the piece I think it most compares to, is Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising. I've reread the entire Dark Is Rising sequence in the last couple of years -- it's a beautiful piece of work, for sheer impact falling somewhere in between Narnia and Lord of the Rings ... five novels about 3 English children, and Will Stanton, the last of the Old Ones, fighting against the Rising of the Dark (and ultimately, if this isn't too much a spoiler, winning.)

(A quick word about Patricia McKillip -- I haven't read the Riddle of Stars trilogy since it was published, but I recall being hugely impressed with it at the time. I've never seen a copy in a bookstore since.)

I can't say much about what happens in the last Potter book -- too many people are still reading it. But it doesn't provide any leaps in daring on Rowling's part, nothing you couldn't see coming from the earlier works -- it's a Harry Potter book, and the tone, the risks and the rewards, resemble those of the earlier Potter books, amped up a bit for the payoff, but nothing that will shock anyone who's been paying attention. (I admit ... I was hoping for something shocking, some really epic payoff ... and your mileage may vary on whether she provided one.)

If you have a kid who likes fantasy ... you might start them off on the Chronicles of Narnia, move on to The Dark Is Rising and then Harry Potter, and finish up with The Lord of the Rings. By then the kid will be in her early teens and able to pick her own way, going forward ...

I wish I could name a work of science fiction to include in that list, but I really can't. There are bright spots that come to mind -- Citizen of the Galaxy and Have Spacesuit Will Travel, by Heinlein; Madeleine L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time, and its sequels; John Chrisopher's Tripods and Prince in Waiting trilogies; Lester Del Rey wrote a couple I liked (The Runaway Robot still stood up when I re-read it as an adult); Alan Nourse did a couple books I liked (The Universe Between) -- though I haven't read those since I was a kid and don't know if they'd hold up. Throw in Van Vogt's Slan and we're done with what I can come up with off the top of my head.

Now, I love the writers listed above (more than they may deserve; getting caught young will do that to you.) Nourse and del Rey and van Vogt are ones I remember least well; Norton I remember quite well and very fondly; Heinlein left such a stamp on the field of SF it's almost not worth commenting on him for good or bad -- the short form is overwhelmingly good until the 60s, mixed results through Time Enough for Love, overwhelmingly bad thereafter ... John Christopher and Madelein L'Engle are still on the right side of the dirt (and from the last thing of L'Engle's I read, an interview about the "Wrinkle in Time" movie, showed she was still as sharp and sensible as ever.)

So I bring these writers up because I admired them and their work, not to speak badly of them -- but none of them wrote anything (for children) that compares well with the four works I listed above. L'Engle and Christopher come close -- Christopher wrote two trilogies with real scope, but they're both really downbeat, for kid's books. L'Engle's stuff has the happier endings kids want (and probably need) ... but it's not cohesive and doesn't hold together, novel by novel, despite its continuing characters, the way the YA fantasies do.

I don't know if this is cultural coincidence or if there's something in juvenile SF that's not conducive to epics -- certainly there are plenty of SF epics aimed at adults. But it appears to be true -- I wouldn't push any SF series I can think of on a young person until she'd worked her way through those fantasies. Better use of time and attention, all around.

I won't go with some kind of grade here -- you can grade burgers (and I'm going to, in my next post, I've got some new ones) ... but it's hard to grade literature. The books are very good, and great for the kids they're aimed at. If you've got a kid considering the series, buy or check out the books for them and turn off that poisonous, addictive screen in the living room.


Got the letter from QuietVision. The books are free and clear. I'll post them over the next few weeks -- I need to proof and .pdf them. The .pdf files I created for the Quietvision editions aren't useable for this.


Sometimes these posts end up longer than I intend.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Docs are up at Immunity.


Many thanks to Dave Aitel and his guys at Immunity.

World War III starts today ...

According to The Armageddon Blues, anyway. I was having lunch with my oldest daughter the other day and was talking about things making me feel old. Mostly I feel the same as I ever did -- I'm fit, good energy, don't think my ability to assimilate new data has slowed any -- I can't go without sleep for days on end, which I once could; I can't get to the rim anymore, playing basketball, and if I play full court for more than an hour or so I really, really feel it the next day. And my sex drive has declined slightly, which is more a relief than otherwise. But otherwise, I feel like me ...

External events make me feel old, though. My daughter's going to college year after next; that's doing it. So is this ...

Monday, July 16, 2007

E-books ...

I sent 4 docs to Dave Aitel, who offered to give them a home at immunityinc, in both .pdf & .rtf -- I'll post the links here as soon as I get them from Dave.

A Moment in Time (script)
All Possible Worlds Pilot (script)
On Sequoia Time (story)
Old Man (story)

Moment in Time and APW are both set in the same universe, and you should read them in order.

On Sequoia Time and Old Man are also set in the same universe -- and it's impossible to tell this from the texts, so it doesn't matter what order you read them.

There's a variety of documents coming after that, but the novels won't be too far in the future at this point -- I'll post them in the order they were written:

The Armageddon Blues
Emerald Eyes
The Long Run
The Last Dancer
Terminal Freedom

Apparently I did post the three Star Wars stories previously, so I guess I will again --

Empire Blues
A Barve Like That
The Last One Standing

There's a draft of a Camber Tremodian story sitting on my computer, in fair shape -- I'll probably post that soon after. Here's the opening:


Cities in the Darkness

I am the Name Storyteller.

This is a story, and so a lie. But this story is more a lie than most, because you are what you are. If you are reading this story in Tierra or any of its antecedents, you are reading a translation of my words: and almost everything you will be told about what is happening in the following text is at its core untrue, perhaps even as metaphor.

The biological components of the individuals portrayed here are dozens of times faster than you are. In their biological selves they have access to some three orders of magnitude more information than you do in yours. Through the Archives they have access to the knowledge bases of several hundred intelligent species and nearly ten billion years of known history. Their modes of being contain yours as yours contain those of your children.


The Starcrossed dropped out of lightspace, into the near-emptiness of interstellar space, its tachyon wand glowing blue-white. Within seconds the glow died, which was normal enough: and then the ship sat motionless for a good while, which is also normal. Drop shock is difficult for biological creatures, in varying degrees, and worse for machine intelligences, and lightships are vulnerable in those moments after drop.

Some time passed and then an unusual thing happened: the tachyon wand recessed into the body of the ship, and abruptly the lightship was a freighter. This last was a great trick: there are not many lightships in existence, and only a few, most of them owned by the Face of Night, that are capable of masking their wands. On most ships, the wand, once mounted, never moves again. The tachyon wand's internal structure is imprinted with the shape of the ship it is mounted on, and if the wand moves even a centimeter relative to the ship it forgets the existence of the ship, and its imprinting: and what was once a tachyon starship is now a sublight vehicle with an ungainly piece of crystal mounted on one end.

Nonetheless The Starcrossed hid its tachyon wand, and with subtle instruments began searching the emptiness.

Eventually it found waste heat. That way.

The ship stole energy from the vacuum flux and accelerated at over four hundred gravities toward its destination.


Almost everything you think you know about the Unforgiven is wrong. They are not cowards. They did not run away when the going got tough. (That's the Trentists, though they don't seem to be as despised for their actual, if doctrinal, cowardice, as the Unforgiven are for the myth of theirs.)

They did not hide from the sleem. (That's the K'Aillae.) They do avoid the Source and many believe the Source hunts for them still -- not that anyone knows. The Source may or may not be vengeful, but it does not often talk to humans, not in recent centuries.

The Source did talk once to Camber Tremodian.


He was an outlaw at the time, which is usually not as romantic as people think: except that in Camber's case it was. His father had died, or been killed, and Camber's brother Jale Tremodian wanted him dead and his stepmother Faelivrin Modyan also wanted him dead, and between the two the latter was Camber's greater concern. He had stolen Domain's best starship, however, and renamed it something silly: and he had the protection, of sorts, of Earth and the Face of Night. The Face of Night preferred Camber Tremodian on the Emerald Throne, for pragmatic enough reasons.

(Does history interest you? Corisande Trey married Ersemmina Modyan, in the days when those clans ran Domain. It was called Tin Woodman then, of course; it was a part of Ian Cameron's Oz Circuit originally. It was the second habitable world he found, after Emerald City; and he found dozens, all of which he named for the works of L. Frank Baum: Dorothy and Glinda and Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion and Tin Woodman and Oogaboo and Ozma and Tik Tok and … you know the list. Emerald City was a reasonable enough name for the first world Cameron found, with its World-Forest. Why Tin Woodman, though, is anyone's guess.

(Trey and Modyan had a child, Kess Trey-Modyan, who led Domain through the Man-Spacething War and was a sturdy ally of Earth and the House of November. The Trey clan died out; Trey-Modyan became Tremodian and ruled Domain for over three hundred years. The Modyans did not die out, though they became friendly with the Out Federation, and as a result Earth did not trust them.

(Camber Tremodian was my grandfather, and Rial my great-grandfather. I don't know everything about Rial Tremodian's life, but I know enough to think he married Faelivrin Modyan because he loved her. I said this was a romantic story … but it was a foolish thing to do, if that's not a redundant observation, and probably got Rial killed, and certainly got Camber outlawed.)

So the Face of Night did not trust the Modyans, because of their long history with the Out Federation; and the Modyans certainly did not trust Earth, though they feared it and its Powers. Therefore the Domish did not demand Camber's return nor even the return of their stolen, ridiculously renamed ship, and Camber was safe in Sol System, so long as he stayed there … and if this seems a terrible fate for a young man, well, after all, some people never even leave the cities of their birth.

Colette Moceanu hadn't, and she was an old woman when Camber Tremodian came to her City.


An Avatar of the Source came to Camber on Venus[1], and found him camped on the slopes of Maxwell Monte. Maxwell Monte is 12 kilometers high, nearly twice the height of Everest. Camber had spent most of his life on Domain or Earth, and he had never seen a mountain quite like Maxwell Monte. He was a young man then, and instantly he wanted to climb it.

When his aide, Lora, warned Camber at the approach of another human, the Avatar was still three kilometers below Camber. Camber suspected its identity, then confirmed it and waited for it by his heater. Lower down the mountain he had burned wood fires, but Venus's terraforming had not yet reached the heights of Maxwell Monte: halfway up its length nothing lived, and aside from the temperature – cold, near the freezing point of water – and the fact that its air was breathable (if only just) you might have pretended you were on pre-Change Venus.

It is not surprising that Camber suspected the stranger beneath him might be an Avatar of the Source. The Source had fallen near-silent in the years since the Man-Spacething War (though some said it was the death of Narcin November that silenced It) and had withdrawn in large part from the affairs of men … but the terraforming of Venus interested It, and Camber would have been surprised had any assassin or bounty hunter managed to follow him so far without being stopped by defenses layered and subtle. It narrowed substantially the field of candidates who might be climbing a mountain behind Camber.

Camber waited patiently the hour it took the Avatar to reach him. At one point, within less than a kilometer of Camber's camp, a quake struck and dislodged the Avatar from the precipice it was navigating; it fell a hundred meters and landed with an impact Camber heard clearly. It dusted itself off, spent a moment adjusting the shape of one of its limbs, and started climbing again. The quakes were frequent enough; the World Builders were spinning the world faster and faster, to approach Earth's cycle of day and night. When they got done centuries from now Venus's rotation would still be retrograde, but it would have dropped from a period of two hundred and forty-three hours to roughly twenty-four. Camber thought it a reasonable task, but as Venus's rotation accelerated, its quakes grew more frequent and more severe.

The Avatar came at last into Camber's camp and sat next to Camber's heater. It was a male human, which generally meant young and healthy: but the Avatar had assumed a more advanced biological age. Its face had wrinkles and its hair was white – Camber had never seen a biologically aged person before except in sensables, but without referring to his Archive he judged this creature's biological age at forty, or seventy, something in that broad range between actual youth and death by aging.

"Are you injured?" he asked politely.[2]

It shook its head. "No, but thank you for asking."

"What can I do for you?"

"What do you know of the Unforgiven?"

Camber had never heard the term before. He consulted his Archive. "What everyone knows."

"I want you to find them for me," said the Avatar of the Source.

[1] The map tenses of the Venus sequence are ambiguous. They may have taken place either in reality or in a virtual extent; it's clear that the author intended this ambiguity. – Translator.

[2] He said no such thing. He did not open his mouth or move. The Source did not shake its head at him. Camber's sensorium touched the Source's and they exchanged pleasantries including an optional layer with body language, which each offered and each, for the most part, ignored (and this is true regardless of the underlying map of the sequence.) – Translator.


That's it for now. Cities requires some work, but a long weekend would get it done. After that there's some short fiction, a raft of essays, some exerpts of abandoned works that I'll probably post anyway, even in unfinished state (a bunch of CT stuff that I'm just never going to write, unfortunately) ... and then, sooner rather than later, I hope, A.I. War, followed by Crystal Wind, followed by the first James Camber novel, The Hotel California.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

From "FatSam And The League of One-Eyed Men"

Connor, Richard and Bram are 3, 6, and 9 when the book opens, 5, 8, and 11 when it ends.

Mostly this is just transcription.


"Put your head under the faucet," FatSam suggested.

Connor looked at the faucet. "Why?"

"And turn on the water," FatSam added.

Connor looked at FatSam. "Why?"

"To cool off," FatSam said patiently. "The cold water will make you feel better."

"Oh. OK, I'll put my puny little head under there."

"Puny little head?"

"Puny is another word for small," Connor explained.


"I have a hex," said Connor.

"Like, magic? "

"A box."

"A magic box?"

"A six sided box," said Connor patiently. "There's no magic in it, just Transformers. Hex, for hexagon."


"It's bedtime," yelled FatSam. "No more noise from the boys!"

Bram sighed loudly. "OK, OK, I'll shut up and go to bed."

"I'll shut up and get a glass of water," Connor yelled.

"I'm going, I'm going," Richard muttered.


"This ball is brand new," Connor observed. "When we get home it'll be new. Not brand anymore."


At a Lakers game the Lakers lose to he Charlotte Bobcats -- an awful team. It happens, FatSam tells Connor -- in the real world, the Lakers don't win every game. When Connor gets home he tells his mother:

"We went to the Lakers, but they lost to the Bobcats," said Connor, "because this is the real world."


When FatSam's father dies, Richard is four. FatSam inherits his father's car, and Richard asks: "If Papa dies again, do we get his next car?"


While suffering through having too many brothers and sisters ...

"I wish I was the lonely child," said Connor.


"Guess what?"

FatSam guesses ten different things and Connor says no to each of them.

"I give up."

"You're not supposed to give up."


Connor: "I'm googleplex happy. Googleplex is very happy."


"This is my real voice," said Connor. "I like to talk with it a lot. I was talking with my real voice at school today."


Connor held up two pairs of pants -- black cords and blue jeans. "Which pants should I wear?"

FatSam said, "I would wear the black ones."

"I would wear the black ones too, because black is my favorite color now."


"Because when you wear black no one can see you in the night."

"So you want to be a phantom in the night?"

"Yep. What's a phantom?"

"A phantom is like a ghost."

"OK, yeah, I want to be a phantom like a ghost in my black pants." Connor looked at the pants with satisfaction. "And I want a belt so I can look more handsome." He paused. "Sam? This is dark blue actually. Dark blue that looks like black."

"Does dark blue not help you be a phantom at night?"

"Well, people still can't see me at night, all I need is black at night, too, I need a black shirt and black hair and black skin with the dark blue pants."

"And then you'd be invisible?"

"And ... a black car. That's probably the most important."


FatSam could hear Connor singing in the tub:

"Bad bears, bad bears,
what you going to do,
what you going to do when the cops get you?"


(Second chapter of the book -- you first meet one of Sam's kids. Connor is 3.)

When the door to the bathroom opened, FatSam knew who it was, because all the older children were at school, and Anna would have knocked. They'd been married fifteen years, and Anna would have knocked. His three year old poked his head in, saw it was FatSam and came into the bathroom. He was carrying his brother Richard's walkie talkie in one hand. "Hi, Daddy. Can I have a bath with yous?"

FatSam smiled at him. "Sure."

Connor started getting undressed. He talked while undressing. "Good. Sharkboy needs a bath with Daddy. Mines shirt is stuck" -- his voice got a little muffled as he navigated it over his head, and he dropped the walkie talkie to the rug -- "Richard's walkie talkie was stuck," the shirt came over the head again, "so the shirt was stuck but not now, the water is big, because you're big and yous need big water?"

"Yes," FatSam agreed. "That's how it works."

"I'm taking mines underpants off and mines socks, Sharkboy is just a little boy and doesn't need big water, is the water hot? Sharkboy and ... and ... and Richard don't need it very hot." He stood on one foot and tugged at the sock on his left foot and fell over. "Woah! I fell down because because mines sock stuck. I sit down and I do the other sock and not fell down. There!" The other sock came off and he got up and stepped gingerly into the tub. He smiled sweetly as he settled down into the water by FatSam's feet. "It's hot but it's not very hot so it's OK for Sharkboy."

FatSam's children were all very smart. He knew that all parents thought that about their kids, but in this case, as in many others, the rest of the world was bloody well wrong, and FatSam was right. Connor wasn't four yet and could read some words in his picture books. FatSam had been reading at four; he saw no reason Connor shouldn't manage it at three.

"Are you Sharkboy today?"

"I'm always Sharkboy because, it's my first name. And my next name is Stretchyboy, and then Speedyboy is my next name, and then Connor is my name next and then Richard and then Israel and then O'Donnell."

"So your whole name is Sharkboy Stretchyboy Speedyboy Connor Richard Israel O'Donnell?"

Connor thought about it. "Yeeeessss," he said finally. That's how it works."


"I need the blue towel," Connor said, "because Stretchyboy's uniform is blue." FatSam handed the towel down to Connor -- Stretchyboy was from the Fantastic Four, and Sharkboy was from Sharkboy and Lava Girl in 3D. Speedyboy wasn't from a movie, as far as FatSam knew; Connor had inherited it from Richard, who occasionally made the point that he was the Original Speedyboy. FatSam sympathized; he'd been FatSam online longer than anyone else on the planet, he was pretty sure -- nowadays the internet was full of Fat Sams -- usually with a space in the name -- FatSam had been FatSam back in the days when BBS's didn't let you have a space in your name, and he'd gotten used to seeing the name that way.

Every now and again FatSam thought about changing his handle to The Original FatSam, just to make a damn point.


After their bath FatSam is sitting on his bed, naked, checking e-mail on his notebook -- Connor's gotten dressed already.

Sharkboy said, "Then that's why you need to put a shirt on yours belly, and underwear!"

"After I check my e-mail."

"Oh, OK, wait!" Connor jumped off the bed and ran into the living room. FatSam could hear him shuffling through the DVDs. He was back a second later. "Daddy, I want to watch Spiderman with you!" He had the DVD in one hand.

"Not right now," FatSam said. "Daddy's working."

"Nooooooo!" Sharkboy howled. "I need to watch Spiderman with you nooooowwwwww!"

"Not right now. I have to work. And you know you're not allowed to act like this."

"Yes, ma'am," Sharkboy sobbed. "But Mommy will watch it with me."

"Probably," FatSam agreed, "if you ask her nicely and aren't a drama queen."

Connor blinked and said in his normal voice, "I'm a drama king." He'd only recently gotten genders straight, him versus hers, princes and princesses and kings and queens -- the Chronicles of Narnia were helping out on that -- and was insistent that others do the same.

"Well, Mommy doesn't like drama queens or drama kings. Go ask nicely and I bet she'll watch the cartoon with you."

"OK. You put underpants on."

"Yes," said FatSam. "'Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.'"

"No influence," Connor agreed. "And a shirt."


About midway through the book FatSam ends up in the tub, nearing midnight ... Connor's heard the water running, and has gotten out of bed to have a bath with FatSam.

"We are two lucky guys," said FatSam. "I'm the best daddy in the whole world, and you are the best little boy. Other daddies wish they had a little boy as great as you, but only I do."

FatSam believed in positive reinforcement, and didn't consider megalomania a drawback, particularly for small boys who couldn't get their hands on explosives.

Connor smiled at being called the best little boy, but then asked something he'd never asked before. "Why? How come we're the best daddy and best little boy?"

"That," said FatSam enthusiastically, "is a superb question. Let's count."

FatSam held a fist up, so Connor held a fist up.

"One, we are both very handsome." FatSam stuck a finger up, and Connor used his other hand to lift a finger up out of the clenched fist. "One," he agreed.

"Two, we are both very smart."

"Very smart," Connor agreed soberly.

"Three, we are both very nice."

Connor looked doubtful. "I got a time out today."

"That happens," FatSam admitted. "But you're a little boy, so it's OK to have time outs sometimes and still be a nice guy."

"Three," Connor agreed, looking relieved. He had trouble with the third finger, holding it up while the thumb and pinkie were still down, so he held all three fingers with his left hand.

"Four, we are both very charming."

"Not as charming as Richard," Connor offered.

"No, no one in the whole world is as charming as Richard," agreed FatSam. "He's a dangerous boy. But you and me are both very charming."

"Four," and only the thumb was still down.

"Five," said FatSam, "we are both tough guys."

Connor stuck the thumb out and let go of the other four fingers. He held the hand out with the fingers widespread. "Yes, but I'm only three, so I'm not such a tough guy yet."
"Six," said FatSam, not bothering to stick up a sixth finger, "I love you a million times."

"And I love you more than doghouse peanut butter cookies," said Connor soberly. "Well, that's right then," he said after a moment's reflection, "we are the best daddy and little boy in the whole world."


Just before bedtime one night Connor says:

"When I have a car I will drive Dan to work, then I will drive Richard and Bram to school, then I will drive you to Burger King, thenI will drive you to McDonald's, then I will go home.

"And I will drive you to Kevin's house if I can drive that far. I will buy a car that goes really fast, so I can go to Kevin's house. And I will buy a really fast car for you guys, so you can go to Kevin's house. And that is the end. Now read me a story."
(Interesting age -- when my nephew Kevin was four years old he once told me, "Uncle Danny, when you get old, I'll drive you everywhere you want to go.")


Conversation with Richard, when he's about 6 -- FatSam has just worked a month of 90 hour weeks, has gotten done and is at the park with his sons. He tells Richard he's got a new client --

Richard had an odd, hopeful expression. "Daddy, does this mean you're going to get a half day client?"

"What's that?"

"A client where you only have to work half of every day, so you can spend some time with us?"

"I'm working on it," FatSam said. "I'm working on it real hard."


Melissa Etheridge's version of "Thunder Road" is playing in FatSam's office. Connor stops in the doorway --

"Hey!" said Connor. "Hey! Hey! That's Thunder Road! Why is that girl singing Thunder Road?"

"Because she likes it," said FatSam. "She thinks it's a good song."

Then Springsteen came in -- "Hey!" said Connor, getting more excited. "That's the boy! That's the boy who sings the song! He likes it too! A boy and girl are singing together!"


"It's a town full of losers," FatSam and Connor sang together, "and I'm pulling out of here to win."


"Get your finger out of your nose."

Connor looked blank. "I'm looking for boogers."


"My eyeball is hurted. It's a little bit hurted, and humungous. The eyeball is a little bit hurted so it's humongouser, that what it is, I want to watch a movie on your computer, can I play Sonic with Richard? OK."

"Did I say yes to that and I didn't notice?"

"What you say?"

"Did you ask if you could play Sonic?"


"What did I say?"

Connor thought about it and ventured "Yes?"

"I don't think so. I think it's too late to play Sonic. It's almost bedtime."

"Oh, darn!" wailed Connor, and fell over again on the bed, instantly sobbing. FatSam sat and watched him. Eventually he slowed down.

"Does that work?"

"Does what work?"

"When you cry and cry and cry, do you get what you want?"

"No," said Connor in a broken-hearted voice.

"So why do you do it?"

"Because I'm so sad, and because you don't love me!"

"I love you more than anyone in the whole world," said FatSam. "Except Mama," he amended. "Mama loves you as much as I do."

Connor jumped up. He wasn't allowed to stand on the bed, but FatSam let it pass. "Hey, Daddy! I love you. I love you so much. Blaaaga!" He fell over on the bed and bounced around until his head was hanging over the edge.

"And I love you," said FatSam.

Connor looked at without moving his head, which was hanging upside down over the edge of the bed. "Hey, are yous a pirate? Pirates don't love nobody."

"Pirates get bad press," said FatSam. "I love you."

"Everybody loves me," said Connor. "Say who."

As a baby, even before he could talk, Connor had requested the recitation of the list by pointing at the palm of his left hand with the index finger of his right hand.

"Mama loves you, and Daddy loves you, and Alex loves you, and Andy loves you, and Bram loves you, and ... who's your big brother?"


"And Richard loves you. And Aunt Jody loves you, and Aunt Kathy loves you, and Aunt Kari loves you, and Kevin loves you." Kevin was the cousin Connor's saw the most. "And Missy and Luke and Matt and Joey love you," which were his other cousins, "and Grandma loves you, and Papa loves you forever."

"When I was a baby," said Connor --

"When you were a baby, the first person to see you, after me and Mama, was Papa. Papa drove across the entire city of Los Angeles at rush hour to come see you."

"Because I was born too soon and you was worried."

"Yes, and Papa loved us so much he made sure we could stop worrying by coming to the hospital and saying you were going to be OK."

"Papa is yours Daddy and he died."

"Yes," said FatSam. "But he loves us forever. That's the important part. And I will love you forever. It doesn't matter if I'm a pirate."

"Are yous a pirate?"

"Yes," said FatSam, "but not because of the patch."


"These are mine sandals. They're, they're, they're made out of shoes. Look!" He stamped his foot and red diodes lit up. "Lightning! Lightning on my foot, not off my foot. Watch again." Another stomp and he looked up, watching FatSam expectantly. "Isn't that cool?"

"Yep. When I was a little boy, nobody made shoes that lit up."

"When I was, I was, when yous was a little boy, nobody made lightning for shoes? That sucks."

"Yes," agreed FatSam. "But don't say 'sucks,' it's not a nice word for little boys."

"Oh." Connor looked uncertain, then brightened. "I better be going now."


"When I grow up," said Richard, "maybe I would still like to live with you and Mom."

"Maybe," said FatSam. "And maybe you'll want to marry your own girl and have your own kids in your own house."

"Maybe," said Richard uncertainly. "But if I want to live with you and Mom, I can." He finished the statement on a rising note.

"Honey," said FatSam, "you can live with me and Mom forever, if you want to."

"Good," said Richard. "Just if I want to."


Christmas Eve:

Richard yelled to the other boys, "We can go to bed! We can go to bed!"

Bram said sadly, "I bet we have to have baths first."

"Yes," said FatSam.

Bram said, "I went first two days in a row."

Richard said, "I went like sixteen times in a row. No, like twenty times in a row. Mom makes him go first now because I went first twenty times in a row. Mom always tells Bram to go first because I always go first. I said I wanted to flip a coin in here and then I changed my mind."

"Yeah," said Bram, "after I flipped it."

"But I said, I don't want to flip a coin before that one, and you just flipped it anyways."

"Only because I won," said Bram.

"You only won because you went twice."

"I won both times, though," said Bram reasonably.

"He just flipped it anyways," Richard said to Sam.

"OK," said Bram, "What are we going to do then?"

"Sam," said Richard, "who do you think should go first, me or Bram?"

"Remember," said Bram, "as soon as you get in the tub you can go to bed."

Richard snickered. "You're going to go to bed in the bathtub?"

"No, afterward."

"You said as soon as you get in the bathtub you could go to bed."

FatSam's kids were all hair-splitting, nit-picking pedants. He was sure it came from their mother.

Bram laughed. "OK. After I get out of the tub, I can go to bed."

"And then Santa will come," said Richard soberly. "After we go to bed."

Bram didn't believe in Santa. FatSam knew Richard had his doubts on the subject, but both of them were considerate of Connor, who talked about Santa the way he talked about his friend Jack who lived down the street -- not here at the moment, but Connor would not have been surprised if Jack or Santa or both were to show up without warning.

FatSam missed part of the conversation. The next time the boys wandered by his door he had the impression they were insulting one another:

"You're tofu," said Richard.

"You're two tofu," said Bram.

"Toe board!" yelled Connor.

"Can I have a bath with Bram?"

Sam looked at him. "If there's no splashing. If there's splashing, no baths with other people."

"OK." Connor ran into the hallway and tried to open the bathroom door. It was locked. He knocked and yelled. "Sam says I can have a bath with you but not if there's splashing!"

The door opened and Bram peered out. "OK. Come on in."

Connor slipped inside. The door closed and Sam heard their voices, one high-pitched and the other very high pitched.

Connor: "I should get in the water?"

Bram: "Yeah, if you're going to have a bath."

"Oops! I forgot to take my clothes off! Wait."

"I did that one time. Forgot to take my clothes off."

"Oh, cool."

"My clothes got all wet and I was really cold."


"I like warm baths," said Bram. "You should always take your clothes off and have a warm bath."


"Los Angeles is pretty excellent," said Bram. "When I have my first date with a girl, I'm going to take her to the pier and kiss her on the ferris wheel."


FatSam heard the front door open, followed by Anna's voice.

"Ow!" yelled Anna. "Ow ow ow ow! I just shut the door on my elbow!"

She walked into FatSam's office, rubbing her elbow. "Hi, honey."

"Hi, sweetie," said FatSam. "Our kids are sure related to you."


On Valentine's Day Connor tells everyone in the family: "I will love you when you are grown up."

Later that day:

"And when I grow up, I'm going to give all my Superman toys to my children."


"Richard pushed me and made me whine!"


"I'm a door," Connor intoned. "Look, a talking door!" He glanced down at himself, saw his right foot swinging idly back and forth. "A walking, talking door," he amended. He looked up and saw himself in the mirror across the room. "A walking, talking door with a shirt. A walking talking door with eyes. And a belly!"


Ricard: "Mommy, what's this say?"


"No well ... uhm, where's the well?"


Richard: "Sam, smell my hand. I washed it with soap. Seriously. Look, smell it."


"My heart can't breathe," said Connor, and threw up.


"Can I have a donut?"

"No, they're for the morning." FatSam watched him; he wasn't going to give Connor a donut, but he liked watching the boy think. "They're for tomorrow."

"Can I have a donut tomorrow?"

"Yes, you can have a donut in the morning."

"Because I'm so hungry, can I have a donut in the night?"

"If you want to save tomorrow morning's donut until tomorrow night, that's OK."

"So I can have a donut tomorrow night?"


"Can I have tomorrow night's donut on this night?"


"I got blisters on me fingers!" roared John Lennon.

"Did he say he had blisters on his butt?" Bram asked.

"Fingers," said Alex, and Bram snickered. Alex looked at him suspiciously. "You heard him fine, didn't you?"

"Uh huh," Bram agreed, and snickered again. "Blisters on his butt."


"I had a dream on this last night," said Connor. "Our new house was next to our old house, and our old house was in the dream, and they were next to each other, and our family. Was in the dream too. And the world! Not all the world, only half. And the half the world was in the river." Connor paused. "Rivers aren't big. The ocean is big. That's why it has sharks in it, and little sharks, and great big sharks, and puffer fish. And baby sharks. Babies turn into grownups. And little kids do too. And I was talking to Mama and she was talking to Richard and Richard said her car had his same birthday. The car is Richard's same age though but not his same birthday." Connor paused. "Mama said."


As I was posting the above, cutting and pasting it ... Richard was in the bathroom washing his hair. Bram walked in and said, "Connor just went into the bathroom with Richard and splashed Richard. Richard's all wet. I also heard a version where Richard dumped a bucket of water on his own head. That's one version. But in both versions Richard's entirely wet and he's in denial about it."

Richard came into the room. "I'm dry now. Look at my shirt!"

"But you were in denial," Bram said. "Oh, I made brownies!"

I've been smelling them for a while now. I believe I'll go have some.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Interview at BobaFett.com ...


First half. They'll be running the second half sometime later this month.

(I fixed it, but it said BobaFett.net -- it's really BobaFett.com.)

E-Books, Harry Potter, Boba Fett ...

Update ... Dave AItel at immunityinc.com has offered to host the .pdf's -- are there other formats people would like?

I'm going to start with "A Moment in Time," and the pilot for "All Possible Worlds," including probably the short pitch for it. They're set in the same universe and concern the same events, sort of. Then I'll start moving out some of the short fiction and essays, and then the novels -- taking Steve Perry's advice and sending Quietvision a registered mail referencing the email John Schaeffer sent me. As soon as I get the signature receipt back I'll start posting the novels.

Over the last year, roughly, I've written a long outline of the James Camber material -- the mystery/crime stuff, and the "All Possible Worlds" pilot and outline. I'm not posting the outline; if I end up doing nothing with the script, I'm going to convert Moment & APW into one long, epic novel -- the outline kills, trust me.

One of the minor characters in the James Camber novels is FatSam, the world's greatest hacker. He's married and has 5 kids and wears an eyepatch ... so he was easy to write. I've got pieces of a novel about him and I'm not going to bother PDFing them, but I will post some pieces of the novel called "Conversations With Connor." It's just stuff I've written down after talking to him.


Nine more days until Deathly Hallows ....

We saw Order of the Phoenix last night. A lot of fun and a pretty good movie -- it suffers as all the Potter movies have from a painful faithfulness to the novels, but that's probably a wise decision by the filmmakers -- my daughters dissected every deviation at dinner after the movie was over.

It was my first time at an Imax 3D movie -- only the last section, where Harry and the others fight Voldemort, is 3D, and aside from that bit the experience is striking, substantially better than a standard movie theater. The 3D ... I actually have peripheral vision in my right eye, so I took my patch off and wore the 3D glasses long enough to give myself some dreadful eye strain -- but the 3D effect wasn't bad, what I could make out of it. My kids were impressed, anyway. With the patch and 3D glasses on, there was no noticeable 3D effect (except you could see the camera work had been staged for the effect) ... but I did have to wear the glasses to make the ghosting double-image effect go away. That was an odd experience -- my brain's gotten good at dealing with double images, it's the principal symptom I have when I'm not wearing my patch, and it kept trying really hard to make that blurred 3D image resolve out. I could feel circuitry back in there buzzing away trying to do something it was accustomed to doing, with no result ... really odd feeling.

The theater was full of young people in Hogwarts uniforms. FWIW, they looked better than people who dress for Star Wars.

As we were arriving home, Connor was dead asleep in the middle seat of the Expedition. As we got out of the car, Alex said repeatedly, "Dan, Harry Potter. Harry Potter....Harry Potter?" Turned out she was saying "Carry Connor." I don't think I have hearing problems ...


I've been interviewed by bobafett.com -- just exchange of email. I'll let you know when the interview goes up -- I'm not sure if they're going to want to continue it from the first exchange, or if we're done.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Quietvision & PDFs

Working on AI War ...

I have not heard back from John Schaeffer at Quietvision -- been a month now since he agreed to send me a letter officially terminating our business together. I received this e-mail from him on June 10, and four more emails since then have received no response:

From: Quiet Vision Publishing aimgames@quietvision.com
To: Dan Moran danmoran909@yahoo.com
Cc: John general@quietvision.com; info@quietvision.com
Sent: Sunday, June 10, 2007 12:48:30 PM
Subject: Re: Hi there.

Daniel Moran: general@quietvision.com is inactive do to overuse. It has not worked for years, sorry.The contract term ended years ago. If this is not enough I will send you asigned snail mail. Provide you regular address and I will send you allthe inventory that is left of your titles including 20+ hardcovers via UPS.

John M. Schaeffer
Quiet Vision Publishing

I'm not sorry I did business with Quietvision -- I typeset those books, created the PDFs for the publisher, and did the cover art -- and Quietvision took most of the profits from them. But the profits were never that great, some tens of thousands of dollars at a guess, Quetvision did a good job of shipping the books, and it did keep the stories available. I do wish I weren't having to take these steps to get a clean break with them, though.


I'm PDFing and posting "A Moment in Time" and the pilot for "All Possible Worlds." There's a time travel show coming up soon -- given that the first version of "All Possible Worlds" shared interesting similarities with Showtime's "Dead Like Me," I figure I might as well make that pilot public.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

The line at the Kwik-E Mart ...

... was roughly 100 people at 10:30 PM on a Friday night.

I'm still capable of being surprised by the world.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Transformers and e-books ...

Saw Transformers. It's better than everything else Michael Bay's ever directed -- put together -- which means it's halfway not-bad. Fair's fair -- Michael Bay did direct one really nice bit once, in The Rock:

John Mason: Are you sure you're ready for this?
Stanley: I'll do my best.
John Mason: Your best? Losers always whine about their best. Winners go home and fuck the prom queen.
Stanley: Carla was the prom queen.

So it's not the Hill of Beans speech. But I saw Bad Boys, The Rock, and Armageddon before I got completely clear that Michael Bay's name on a movie was a guarantee of awfulness -- so I skipped Pearl Harbor, Bad Boys II, and The Island, and no doubt I'm the better person for it. That one nice note in The Rock was, until Transformers, the high spot of the Michael Bay ouvre.

It turns out that Michael Bay was always supposed to be directing cartoons. Transformers isn't a great cartoon, but it's a pretty good one, the boy playing the boy can deliver a line, and the girl playing the girl was visibly a girl in ways that half the audience couldn't yet appreciate ... and the Transformers are genuinely cool in a way my inner small boy can still appreciate.

I'm the wrong generation for Transformers -- I was an adult when that cartoon hit -- the non-parent audience for that show was overwhelmingly male and under 35. I suppose I could take a moment to mock the grown men sitting in the theater for a Transformers movie ... except, you know, I'm there on opening night for the Speed Racer movie. So I should probably skip the mocking.

I'm waiting on a letter from the guy at Quietvision who was publishing Armageddon Blues, Emerald Eyes, The Long Run, The Last Dancer, and Terminal Freedom -- when I get it, I'm going to take the PDFs and make them availble for free download. Half a dozen people have asked me to put up a donate button on this blog -- once those books are available for download, anyone who wants to donate is welcome to. It's not a requirement, either explicit or implied: the downloads will be free. There's another book I'm going to make available which is a collection of short fiction and essays -- "A Freeway In My Back Yard." That'll follow a while after the other stuff and will also be free. Thereafter, one or two at a time, I'll PDF and make available whatever else I have floating around on my hard drive, until everything worth making public, is.

If someone can recommend a good file-sharing service that's easy to use (both for me and for downloaders) I'd appreciate it.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

There's a line at the Kwik-E Mart by my house ...

A long line. I was out with the kids a little earlier today and it was hot, so on the way home I promised them we'd stop and get some Gatorade. The 7-11 in my neighborhood is one of the 12 in North America that's been turned into a Kwik-E Mart for the new Simpsons movie -- we drove by there and there were 30 people, roughly, standing in the sun in a line outside the Kwik-E Mart, to get inside a slightly redecorated 7-11 ...

I'm probably old enough to start muttering about how things were better when I was a kid ... OK, I did once sit in line for 36 hours to get into the first showing of "The Return of the Jedi," but I still feel smarter than the people standing in a line in the hot sun to get into a 7-11. The damn thing's open 24 hours. I guarantee you, there won't be a line tonight at 2 AM. You could set your alarm clock, get up at 2 AM, go down to the 7-11 and look inside and you'd still be less stupid than the people standing in line in the sun to get into the 7-11.

I don't really think American society is doomed, but sometimes I wish I did, because it would require a lot less mental effort on my part than looking at that line while trying to remember that people are doing work like this and not getting burned at the stake for it ...


I'm not going to do a lot of politics on this blog, but I will note that George Bush commuted Scooter Libby's prison sentence yesterday.

I never liked Bill Clinton (did and do like Al Gore, and think it's shameful the lies conservatives have told about the man) -- but Clinton was a weasel all the way down. His politics mirrored mine eerily at times -- usually center-left, sometimes center-right -- I distrust extremism regardless of the direction it's pointing, and because of this I appreciated Clinton's moderation. But it always annoyed me when Clinton would take some sensible moderate position with which I actually agreed -- and I'd look at him lying about it and think, "You don't believe this, Lying Weasel, this is what the damn pollster told you to say."

Having said that -- I didn't hate Clinton with the fiery passion he raised in conservatives, and really, I used to look at that bile and think to myself that this was a little unbalanced.

I ended up apologizing to several of my conservative friends after Bush took office in 2000. I have exactly the response to him that conservatives had to Clinton, this visceral response to a mama's boy trying to play tough guy that makes it hard to credit the man even when he does something with which I agree. The closest thing previous to this was Newt Gingrich -- (and, I admit, Al Sharpton on occasion) ... but even with Gingrich I could detach myself from the gut-level response and listen to his ideas, which were worth listening to even when I fundamentally disagreed with them -- Gingrich is a bright guy. I've had a very hard time doing that with Bush --

-- and I'm pretty much at the point where I don't think I need to, any longer. I won't pretend Libby's last straw territory; I was past that with Bush years ago. But I have reached the point where I can almost enjoy those parts of the show that aren't about how our soldiers are being used in Iraq and Afghanistan.


The worst cheeseburger in Los Angeles might be the double-bacon cheeseburger at the Rally's on Venice Boulevard east of Overland. I'd only eaten at Rally's once before, and vaguely remembered not caring for it, though I'd forgotten the details. I pulled through the drive-through at about 10:30 in the evening a few days ago, and spent twenty minutes waiting behind a pair of cars in one of those cement cages that won't let you drive off once you've driven in. I forget how much the burger cost -- $2, $3, something in that range -- for something about the size of a McDonald's hamburger. Bread and bacon were both soggy, meat was dreadful. A minus-2, minus-5 for the service that went with it. I threw the burger out after the second bite, went home and had a peanut butter sandwich instead, and let me tell you, it was a better burger than what they sold me at Rally's.