Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Give the Man a Stamp


Normally I don't do this kind of thing, but this subject is near and dear to my heart.
There is a movement going on in the SF community to get an Isaac Asimov commemorative stamp. I grew up reading Asimov, everything from his SF to science to Bible guides to his Guide to Shakespeare.

Those of you who are familiar with Isaac Asimov do not need to be reminded of the quality and the quantity of his works. Those of you who are not, please consider the following facts: Mr. Asimov wrote well over 500 PUBLISHED books. This does not include short novels, novellas, essays, etc. And the subject matter was very eclectic, including (but not limited to): Sci-fi, Religion, Math, science, mystery, fiction and non-fiction. The word prolific was created just to describe Mr. Asimov's output. The "Foundation Trilogy", written very early in his career, is considered by a lot of SF fans as the single greatest piece of science-fiction story telling of all time, spanning over 500 years of galactic history. This does not count the two prequels and two sequels written later in his life.

Reading his Foundation Trilogy and other works quite literally changed me, leading me down the path of reason and logic and many great years of inquiry into everything I could lay may hands on. For a mostly complete list of his books, you can look here.
Here's a list of his short fiction.
Here's a list of published essays (1600+!!).

We currently have issued stamps honoring Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwaanza, Thanksgiving, Chinese New Year,Christopher Columbus spaceflight, man's first steps on the moon, space images taken by the Hubble Telescope, John Steinbeck,Edith Wharton, Nathaniel Hawthorne, T. S. Eliot, and others. Surely Asimov, with his significant contributions across so many fields of study, is deserving of at least this small honor.

I'll never forget the day I heard that Asimov died. It was like losing a close friend. I can't help wondering at the treasure we lost that day. How many words were left unwritten, how much knowledge left untold? I was shocked to find out recently that Asimov actually died of complications from AIDS, contracted during transfusions in a 1983 heart operation. A long and productive life to be sure, but still too short.

If you would like to take the time, and fell it is a worthy cause, please send a letter (yes, an actual piece of paper in an envelope (What? You think the Post Office is going to let you EMAIL a request? Hah!)) with the request for a commemorative stamp for Isaac to:

CITIZENS' STAMP ADVISORY COMMITTEE
C/O Stamp Development
475 L'Enfant Plaza, SW
Room 5670
Washington, D. C.
20260-2437

The Woodpecker on Robinson Street


Today I rode my bike in to the office for the first time this year. It was a little chilly -- 43 degrees according to my GDesklets when I sat down at the office. But only my fingertips and earlobes got cold. I didn't ride for the exercise or some altruistic motive like making the environment better. I rode because I love to ride.
When I woke up the first thing I did was look out the window like a kid on Christmas morning looking for snow. The roads were dry. That was all I needed. I got dressed, took care of the necessities, stuck an orange in my coat pocket, and set forth.
See, you can't really say things like "and set forth" when you're getting behind he wheel of your Dodge Caravan. Well, you can, but only to amuse the kids.
A quick check of the tire pressure on my old Giant and I peddled out of the driveway. I left the pressure at about 80 pounds for this first ride, not the usual rock solid 110 or so. My behind needs the little cushion this early in the season.
I took the scenic route in. When I'm in a hurry I'll hop on the main drag and infuriate traffic by riding along with them. But today I was in it for the experience.
A block down from my house was an older guy, sitting on his front porch and enjoying the morning in his way, just as I was enjoying it in mine. We exchanged a wave, and a knowing glance. The fools were inside, or in their four-wheeled metal isolation traps, the glance said.
On Robinson street I heard a the hollow pounding of a woodpecker searching for his breakfast. I stopped and examined the direction the sound was coming from until I saw him, perched high in a tree just beginning to bud. His head was a blur as he dug away for breakfast. I always wonder how they can stand the noise. Are their skulls somehow immune for it? Growing up we'd search out woodpeckers in the forest after hearing the sound resonate through the trees from thousands of feet away, just to be able to point up and say "There he is!". Woodpeckers, in my stories, are always he's.
I saw of pair of chairs thrown out with the trash. They were worn, and had no finish, but they didn't look like the pre-made particulate garbage you can buy these days. They were real, solid wood chairs. But there they were, on the curb, waiting for the garbage truck and the dump.
Behind Cahills I saw a big outdoor grill. Smoke rose from it as a man stood there, apparently just getting it fired up. I wondered what breakfast they could possibly be cooking on the grill. I caught the scent of campfire further down the block, but no food. They must be getting it ready for lunch.
I watched as a couple and their young children came out of a Habitat house. I noticed the way the last child out shut the screen door with care, instead of just letting it pull back with a jam-rattling bang. It gave me a vague sense of hope.
As if for the first time I saw a little lot with three pine trees, immaculately kept, next to a lovely small house.
I saw the giant roll-off garbage bin next to the house with the boarded up windows that was gutted by fire. The bin was full. There were construction and electrical contractor signs in the front yard, so life may be coming back there. I hope so.
I noticed again the child's Batmobile sitting on a shelf, attached eight feet up the side of a tree. Before I'd always thought it some strange token, an odd marker. Today it looked like punishment, a plaything set out of reach for some childhood crime.
I rode through the Renaissance district, and saw the amazing change that is still taking place there. How many people that complain about the cost have actually taken time to go through the area, and look closely at the houses there, and the change that has taken place?
I sat at a stop light, next to a guy in a maroon four door. I was grateful for the respite from sitting on that narrow racing seat. I've really got to find something more comfortable. He was eating a bagel that clearly had just come from the Java Hut. It was still partially wrapped in aluminum foil. We waited while the south side got to turn left, and thought we'd then get a green. But the light did not turn for us, it turned again for the folks going east-west. I threw my arms in the air, and he did the same. I could have just hopped off the bike and walked it across, as the traffic was clear. But I coasted over to the stop light and hit the 'Cross Main Street' button, and moments later we both went.
I saw one other bicyclist on the way in, a young man on a bmx - style bike who would not meet my eye. What was his problem? Wasn't he aware of the brotherhood? A smile and perhaps a wave, or at least a nod of the head, were required. But he looked like he was coming from somewhere, and not really going anywhere. He rode by in silence, staring at the ground in front of him, missing the morning.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Puke

As a father of three kids under four, it seems we've been awash in a sea of puke this winter.

Why not be blunt about it? Every single day for the last two months, I'm sure at least one kid has been leaking fluids out of either the top or the bottom.

It used to be that the simple thought of someone bringing up their lunch would send me scurrying to the bathroom. Not now. I've been inoculated. I can clean it up with the best of them.

I certainly never thought I'd be almost forty and running around yelling "Where's a puke bucket!" while a small child hurls onto my carpet. Arrgh.

And what gets me increasingly is that the younger kids puke with such ease, such nonchalance. They just open up, and out it comes. No big deal for them. I'm sure they think it's perfectly natural, they've been doing it as long as they can remember. But something happens to the puking mechanisms as you get older. Suddenly puking has to involve every muscle in your body, and not just your stomach. We lean resolutely over the toilet and every muscle tenses, down to the toes. It hurts everywhere. I always feel worse afterwards, and worn out. It's physically exhausting. Even if you try to just go with it and not resist, it doesn't help.

Like everything else that goes on in their life, the kids don't get stressed out about it unless the parents do. If we get upset and make a big deal out of a little puke, they start to do the same thing. OK, sometimes it's not a 'little' puke. What mainly prompted me to write this is that I was sitting at the computer the other day and thought someone dumped a bucket of water on the floor behind me. Turned out to be my daughter, letting go. Sheesh. I didn't know she could hold so much.

And then there's my teenage son, who for some unfathomable reason decided to come into the kitchen at 3:30 am and puke in the sink.
And not clean it up.
Teenagers are really clinically insane, you know that, right?

Not long ago there was a fine book called "Everybody Poops". It's the premier potty book. Perhaps it's time for a sequel.

Linux Desktop

I've been playing with Suse Linux Desktop 10.0 from Novell for a couple of months now. You can color me impressed.
I was generally floored that it picked up both the wired and wireless network cards in my Compaq nc6220 without a hiccup. I was connected on both before I knew it. I have to say that the install and config process was as smooth as any Linux distro I've seen, and certainly the best so far. I haven't had a chance to play with the latest Mandrake distro yet, and they generally have a very good installer.
I was also impressed with the built-in Realplayer 10.0, and Novell's bundled licensing for MP3 audio listening. Both of these have long been missed from Linux distro's. The RealPlayer worked without a hitch with my favorite internet radio station.
The bundled GNOME desktop is well up to the task, with no problems getting it up and runnning on the laptop. I'm still playing with trying to make XGL work, the new graphical standard that lets you have things like transparent windows and much more granular controls.
I'd list the software bundles with Suse 10.0, but don't have the room. You can find it here. The only thing I really miss from the land of Windows is synchronizing my Windows CE phone. Everything else I can do 'out of the box' with this distro. There's probably something out there to accomplish this, I just haven't found it yet.
Now if they could just bundle in the Citrix client, the distro would be a valid substitute for Windows in my environment. Granted, that client is ashort download and easy install. I'd just like to see it specifically under Suse.

Friday, March 24, 2006

National Treasure


I finally got to sit down last night and watch "National Treasure" again. I thouroughly enjoyed this movie with Nicholas Cage when I saw it in the theatres, and was only a bit less enamored by it on the little screen.
Cheesy? Certainly. Implausible? Many times. Convenient? Often. But fun? Definantly.
But there are jarring moments.
When they find the Charlotte buried in snow and ice "above the arctic circle", the point where they clear the first bit of snow convienently confirms that they have found the right ship.
When Ben Gates (Cage) has to walk out of the National archives with the stolen Declaration, they of course sell souvinier copies that look exactly like the real thing.
When they climb to the top of the Liberty Bell tower (which is convienently easy), they just happen to be there on the correct DAY to catch the sun where it should be. Or the writers didn't think about the fact that shadows are in DIFFERENT PLACES at DIFFERENT TIMES OF THE YEAR. You know, that whole 'earth rotates and revolves around the sun' thing.
Well, I could go on. Even though this movie was pretty much panned by all of the critics, it is still a good little roller coaster ride for those willing to hoist up thier disbelief for a bit.
Perhaps what I really like is that this is a movie that loves history, with a main character that is a walking encyclopedia of American History (he solves the arcane riddle on the pipe in about two minutes), and isn't ashamed to revel in it. Here are people that care enough about The Declaration of Independence (the actual document, not just the words) to risk thier lives trying to save it.
And I write this at all because I've just learned there's a sequel in the works. Part of me can't wait... part of me is afraid it may actually be worse. Time will tell.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Critters

If you're a budding or experienced author of Science Fiction, Fantasy, or Horror, the best thing you can do for your craft is get yourself on over to Critters and get signed up. Then get a story into the queue and start reviewing.
The world is full of writers. The self-publishing industry is full of writers. Everyone, it seems, has a novel in them somewhere. What sets Critters apart is that is forces participation. If you want to submit a story for review, you have to critique stories that are sent out weekly. You can control what kind and how many come in your email, or you can peruse them all on the web site. As long as you keep your participation level in the 'acceptable' parameters (roughly one critique per week), then when your story comes up in the queue it will go out for review.
I've been "crittering" for two years now, and just sent out my first story last month. I was pleasantly surprised about the number and quality of critiques I received. Granted, some were short and worthless, but a couple were gems where it was clear the author had taken real time to go over my manuscript in detail and make comments. And none were catty, or cruel.
The beauty of Critters is in it's simplicity. Anyone can join, there is no cost. All you must do is keep you participation current to send out stories for review. Critters even has a program in place for review of entire novels. At over one thousand member, Critters is also the largest online writer's workshop I've ever found.
His list of online resources alone is worth visiting the page.
The stories you'll receive for critique vary wildly. Some are woefully bad. Some have little hope. But what I would consider to be a surprising number are either really close or right there, something you would find in a mainstream magazine today. It's hard to be nice to the bad ones (Critters has some helpful hints on diplomatic critiquing). But sometimes it's harder to find negative things to say about the great ones. Occasionally, a grammar-check and personal nit-pick are all they need.
Does Critters work? Well, when I finally apply their advice to my story (I'm letting things 'percolate' for a bit) I'm confident it will be much better. And since members of Critters were Nebula award finalists in 2002, and a Critter'd story won, I think it does.
Critters is the brilliant brainchild of Andrew Burt. "aburt", as he seems to be commonly referred to online, is a professor at the University of Colorado, a Science Fiction author, and much more. His personal page is here.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Make:

While rummaging through my least and most favorite bookstore, I found Make:. This quarterly magazine is like crack for geeks.

OK, an aside already. How can B&N be both my least favorite and favorite bookstore? Well, I hate that it spells the end of the small, independent store. It sucks. But I can go there, buy coffee, browse fore hours, sit in a chair and read or at a table and use their hotspot access. I'm so torn. When I go in there I feel like I'm cheating on my wife but having a wonderfull time doing it.

So back to Make:. Want to build an electric car? Or a water bottle rocket? Or a robot out of an old mouse? You get the idea. If you've ever taken something apart just to see what's inside, or tried to make something better, Make: is for you. Complete with parts lists and instructions, each project is laid out there for you to try. And with a decided leaning towards gadgets and computery goodness, Make: appeals to the geek crowd like no other mag since Wired.
Articles included building a backyard zipline, an overview of homemade submersibles, and a pulsejet eningine in a glass jar. Heady stuff. My hands twitch thinking of the sawing / nailing / welding / soldering possibilites.
Coupled with this was the website http://www.instructables.com. This site is more of a 'make anything' community, where you can post instructions and pictures on how to build / make anything. From pesto to water-rockets, from book-binding to ipod hacking, it's in there.
If you're a certified geek, these sites are for you. Now I know how I'll be spending my summer.

Monday, March 13, 2006

LibraryThing

I recently stumbled across LibraryThing. I've been meaning to post about it for several days now, but can't stop playing with it long enough.
I'll call LibraryThing a 'community bookcase'. You can enter in your personal cache of books, tag them according to what they are, etc, review them. You can then see many things: who else has them, what other's they have, how many have it, what they thought of it... the list goes on. I keep finding new things to play with. For a bibliophile, this site is it.
Books are ridculously easy to enter. Take a stab at the title or author, and up comes a list. It pulls catalogs from Amazon, the Library of Congress, and others. I haven't found a book yet that it didn't know about. It will list every known edition and let you pick which one you have from a list, and even show you a picture of the cover if it has one.
For instance, I wanted to add 'The Gunslinger' by Stephen King. That's a book with many editions. I started by just trying 'The Gunslinger". That was close. "The Gunslinger King" narrowed it down nicely. I was down to six choices. I have the Trade Paperback edition, which I picked from the list and added. Now I have it in my library, including ISBN and other info, and it was that easy. Now I can go in and enter acquired dates, started and completed dates, etc.
And it's as close to free as you can get. Enter 200 books for free, or as many as you like for $10 (year) or $25 (life).
The real fun is in seeing what everyone else has. There is a zeitgeist page that lists catalogs by several fascinating metrics : most books in library, most popular books, most popular author, etc. I can browse other's who choose to make thier library public. I can watch what they're reading and be notified if they post something new.
I can export and import data, and even add a blog widget to display a random book from my collection.
The zeitgeist page speaks volumes about who uses the service. Science Fiction and Fantasy are far more popular than anything else. The top six books are all by one author (I'll let you guess, but tell you that author has written only six books. Got it?), and we don't find a non-SF/F book until number nine.
I'm just endlessly fascinated by this thing. It creates an intersting community of readers, one that I can't wait to delve deeper into.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Jeff Bridges


Perhaps it's no coincidence that one of my favorite actors, Jeff Bridges, has one of my favorite websites, http://www.jeffbridges.com. Charming and unpretentious, it's like literally reading a scroll of the actor's thoughts, musings, and updates. Hand written and drawn, it somehow breaches the gap between reader and writer, making us feel a bit closer to what is going on.
Like many others I 'discovered' Jeff Bridges in Starman, a 1984 movie about an alien come to Earth. An E.T. for adults, if you will, with better acting. Bridges was nominated for an Oscar for his roll here, and diservedly so.
I next noticed him in Tucker, the story of auto maker Preston Tucker and his fight against the system. Another fine performance. Then onto one of my all time favorite movies, The Fisher King. Anything Terry Gillium touches is gold for me.
What, I've skipped The Fabulous Baker Boys? I know, sue me. I saw it then and I think I was to young to appreciate it . It is on my rowing list of Movies to Rent when I Have Time.
I could go on and on here. (K-Pax, another favorite of mine!) Let's just close by saying that Bridges is one the most consistent actors we have today, and he is certainly underappreciated by the majority of folks out there. He's clearly not afraid to take chances (The Big Lebowski, anyone?), and hopefully someday soon the Academy will recognize his work.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Old Man


You know, just when I think I'm OK at dealing with turning fourty, count on the kids to throw a monkey wrench into my year. Count on my three-year old daughter saying "Hey Old Man!" when trying to get my attention. Yes, she's just parroting my wife and I. While neither of us think we're old, we've been together long enough to qualify. So the kids pick it up, just like they do everything else.
It doesn't really bother me, until I start to do the math. When she's thirteen, I'll be 50. When she's eighteen, I'll be 55! Man!
I need to start hitting the earlier mentioned road bike, so I'll be in shape to keep up with her as we both get older.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Backup, Backup, Backup

One would think that by now everyone with a computer would know enough and be wary enough to back up thier important data.
Right.
One would think that everyone who backs up actually performs a test restore, to make sure that the backup process is actually working.
Right.
Just last week I had a client need to restore a file. She assured me that she checked the backup log every day, and was getting good backups. On arrival I found that she was indeed getting a backup log every day : an empty one. No backups were being made. File gone forever.
I've seen a business nearly fold over the loss of critical SQL data due to the old SQL worm. Again, a backup was being made, but no one bothered to check and make sure that the SQL databases were actually making it to the tape.
These days there is no excuse for bad backup practices. We've all heard the horror stories. We've had clients backing up faithfully to CD every day, only to find out they were making frisbees. We've had tapes go bad. We've had laptops stolen.
What we need is a miracle: a backup process that is real time, transparent to the end user, and free. For smaller companies and home users, there are a plethora of Online Backup companies sprouting up. I've used Streamload for a while now, and the free version isn't anything to write home about, but it works.
Internally we rely on Novell's iFolder to backup critical laptop data, and it just works, whether the end user is plugged into our network or into the internet somewhere.
We all know what happens when a user loses data: the poor IT schlep gets the blame. We've got to play CYA in terms of backup. That involves off-site rotations, test restores, tape rotation, and daily log checks. Huge pain, I know. But it's one of the things you just DO, because when a backup fails it your rear end hanging in the breeze.

Time

There’s never enough. Particularly when you are trying to put together the best show possible, with actors and tech folks (and a director) t...