Friday, October 30, 2009

Bedtime Stories for the ADD: Them Who Wait

The people of the Virgo Stellar Stream—a resource-poor galactic fragment who call themselves ‘Them Who Wait’—were looking forward to the completion of their emigration to the Milky Way. Which, coincidentally, they call ‘Good Things.’

Residents of the Milky Way were unavailable for comment.

Note: Virgo Stellar Stream (Wiki)


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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Markdown: Web Dingus

I used to do the curly quotes, em-dashes, paragraphs, bulleted lists, and really all the HTML on this blog completely manually because it offered a great deal of precision over using Blogger’s built-in editor. Unfortunately, maintaining pure HTML that way is error prone and leads to a lot of extra edits. A recent question asked by Cory Docotorow on Twitter led me to wondering if there was a better way.

As it turns out, there is. At least there is for me. One answer that was posed for Cory—which I doubt would satisfy his 300K request—is Daring Fireball: Markdown Web Dingus. If you set the Filter to Both and Results to Source & Preview, it’ll spit out the magic formatted code.

I’d heard of Markdown before. It’s a simplified markup language that I didn’t see much use for until I found out Dingus combined it with the conversion of regular quotes and double-dashes to HTML. That makes for a killer combination and highly useful.

There are a few snags for me though. There isn’t a way (so far as I can tell) to tell Dingus to assign a style to a given paragraph, so it’s a little Tag-centric instead of CSS-centric. Most experts seem to agree that formatting should all be Style-sheet oriented, and I’ve been doing it that way myself for a few years. So, that’s not entirely convenient. An interesting example of this is what happens when you want to double-space between lines in a list. It inserts paragraph tags inside the LI tags. Eww.

Markdown also dislikes putting text in the heading of any sort of list. I have the choice of not putting a heading there, or of adding it manually. Not the worst choice in the world, but I do this frequently and the added complexity isn’t a positive thing.

Minor complaints aside, I’m quite happy with it. It saves me a theoretical 30 minutes when posting a 1000 word story, and 10-15 minutes plus minor after-the-fact edits on 500 word essays. Because of the Tag-centricism, I still have to do some tinkering with Bedtime Stories for the ADD, but it’s nothing too bad.

If you want to use curly quotes, real em-dashes, and so on in your blog, this is the stuff for you. If you’re wondering why you would care about all that, I’m really sorry for boring you with this post. Basically, it makes everything look more like a proper book or magazine would. Many office suites will do the conversions automatically, but you can’t copy-paste direct into HTML and get consistent results. Even if you could, it wouldn't be appropriately standards-compliant and so it would likely break at some point in the future.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Thoughts on Florida

I went on a business trip to Florida last week, and I'm a little concerned about the spate of churches I saw there. The problem isn't the number, but the type. Many looked like the sort of places that shouldn't be a 503c. This isn't a thinly-veiled political comment insinuating that churches that disagree with my political beliefs shouldn't get tax write-offs.

Every one of their signs pointed to a name-it-and-claim-it, send me money and God will bless you mindset and theology. If they only fed on those who could use a little less attachment to their money, they could be accused of philanthropy. Unfortunately, they don't go after those people because they aren't easy victims.

It's the people in desperate situations who fall for this sort of pseudo-spiritual shucksterism.

Because I don't hang out with the health-and-wealthers anymore, I've failed to notice that this shallow doctrine marches on. Americans want to believe. We want to believe that there's an easy solution just around the corner. We want to believe that God or some other divine element in the universe will give us loads of money if we just follow ten simple steps.

If there is a divine element in the universe and that element is benevolent, it will never make our lives that easy. It's not in our best interest.

So, what can you do? If you have elderly loved ones in your life, make sure they're not getting tangled up in this stuff. If you know people that are into this sort of theology, challenge them to seek a deeper doctrine. A doctrine which doesn't gloss over Jesus' actual teachings and the sufferings of Job. And if you meet the health-and-wealthers, remind them just how difficult it is for a wealthy man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Particularly if the wealthy man's pockets are filled with money taken from the poor.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

J.C. Hutchins' Personal Effects: Dark Arts

Hey, everyone! I have a review of J.C. Hutchins’ Personal Effects: Dark Arts up on Dear Editor in blazing podcast glory.

J.C. Hutchins’ awesome new book, 7th Son: Descent is coming out tomorrow. I’ve listened to the original podcast of 7th Son: Descent, and this is one of the most incredible books I’ve ever read. I spent days obsessing about the awesome possibility of having my own clone army. The original was so awesome that it was actually optioned to become a movie, and you’ve definitely heard of the studio that optioned it.

My previous statement on it is “Your Jack Bauer loving momma will love J.C.’s work as much as you will. And that’ll be quite a lot in both cases.” I stand by my statement, and more. J.C. has updated the book to be even more awesome, so even if you have listened to the original, you need this book.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Tactical Highlighter #5

Here's some awesome stuff for you to check out. Love it, adore it, and send some money their way if you're able.

  • Drabblecasts's Annabelle's Alphabet by Tim Pratt. This is a pretty dark urban fantasy, and you shouldn't listen with kids around. Violence and child abuse specifically.
  • Escape Pod episode 214: Sinner, Baker, Fablist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast. What if you could change your entire personality and sex by changing masks? What if it was a method of controlling society? Dun dun DUN! Fair amounts of sex and violence in this one. You have been warned.
  • If you're looking for less ... salacious fare, you're in luck. Escape Pod episode 209: On The Eyeball Floor is just what you need. Norm Sherman from the above-mentioned Drabblecast narrates and does a very shiny job of it too.
  • PodCastle's episode 54: Dreaming Wind. They accidentally had two readers for this one. I listened to Rajan Khanna's version, though aside from different readers, they should be identical. This is a fairly surreal story ... to the point where they put a warning on the episode for anyone who wanted to protect their kids from surrealism. That boggles my mind, but I'll ignore it. Listen to this story. It's awesome.
  • Eight Unstoppable Rules for Writing Killer Short Stories. This is about a year and a half old, and showed up on my beloved io9 before I knew anything about them. I don't think this post is particularly profound, but I think it's a critical starting place. If it helps you, great. If not, then forget about it. And that's a piece of advice you should apply to every piece of advice you ever get. Speaking of io9, Bedtime Stories for the ADD: #4 was originally about them before it took on a life of its own. I am a seriously ridiculous fan-boy.
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Friday, October 23, 2009

Florida Revelations

I've spent the past week in Florida. I had some revelations. I've tried to keep them entertaining. Enjoy. Or skip.

  • Being hundreds of miles away doesn’t stop your home douche bags from finding ways to douche things up at a distance. There should be a theory of douche efficiency. It may be critical to solving quantum physics. Possibly related to spooky action at a distance.
  • My phone’s battery can last indefinitely if the screen is off and it’s in airplane mode. Useful as an alarm clock. Pointless for anything else. But it does bring the battery life up to the advertised standard. Ha.
  • What inspired the TSA to harass my check-in luggage on the way back? There were six things in my check-in that might have inspired their obsession with my check-in. All six things were in it on the way there. Which one was it? My St. John's Wort, wireless mouse deprived of batteries, several CAT5 network cables, ibuprofen, leatherman rip-off, and shaving equipment.
  • Florida is pretty unwalkable even being in a different city than Miami.
  • Instead of doing a do-or-die attempt at the park-and-ride, I could show up in time for the previous bus and see where it stops so I know where to go to find it when my bus comes. I am really stoked about riding the bus.
  • If you are in a crowded walking area, do not block traffic. This is not my revelation, but it's possible it should be yours. Especially you, Mr. Having A Mac Entitles Me To Park My Ass PERPENDICULAR To The Traffic I Am Sitting In With My Mac Propped On An Over-sized “Carry-on” That Doubles As A Douche Bag Desk. I wish I had the chutzpah to take photos in U.S. airports so you could see exactly what I mean.
  • Many otherwise intimidating people are not as intimidating close up. However, if they're holding knives, be somewhere else. Previous sentence added for moron safety and not because of any actual events.
  • If your “What Evanescance Song Are You” quiz doesn’t have a Bauhaus option, count me out.
  • If your “Which Twilight Character Are You?” quiz doesn’t have a Buffy option, count me out.
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Bedtime Stories for the ADD: Candy

Voices in the dark! Voices from the park. Selling gremlin candy to the damned and to the waiting, dreaming in a place where truth is fading.


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Monday, October 19, 2009

Tactical Highlighter #4

If you're wondering what happened with the public transportation thing, I'm still working on it. Turns out the best way to get answers about Triangle Transit is to fan them on Facebook and ask on their page. They respond within 24 hours. I'm not stoked by that method of contact, but they were very responsive and I appreciate that. I bought a 30 day regional pass and should ride the bus for the first time ever at some point next week. I'm sure I'll have some stories to tell about that.

  • The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. I've been using LibriVox to read a lot of classic books, with mixed success. I'll save the boring details for another day, preferably when you've earned my ire. Everyone knows the story of Jekyll and Hyde in its most basic form, but it's worth a listen. Even though I knew the secret, I still found lots of surprises in it. In fact, I think the story is an allegory of substance abuse. Wikipedia disagrees with me, so I'm probably wrong. Many thanks to SFFaudio for making me aware of this audio.
  • LibriVox has put up History Of Egypt, Chaldea, Syria, Babylonia, and Assyria, Volumes 1 & 2. These were originally published in the early 1900s. While I have no way of knowing how much our theories about ancient Egypt might have changed since then, the books are proving fascinating. You just have to get past the first four chapters, and then it's amazing. The link to the second zip file is broken, so I've put it here for your convenience.
  • J.C. Hutchins has released a prequel to his 7th Son series in podcast form. J.C. writes incredible stories, and, unlike a lot of what I link, has a broad general appeal. Your Jack Bauer loving momma will love J.C.'s work as much as you will. And that'll be quite a lot in both cases.
  • PodCastle episode 73, Rapunzel by Tanith Lee. Fascinating new take on the classic fairy tale of Rapunzel.
  • Drabblecast's Trifecta IX contains three short stories. The first two, Dinosaur and Monster Talk, are my favorites. Both are quirky and fun. The Curse of the Android's wife is good too, just a little too serious for the mood I was in while I was listening. It's probably a good thing to avoid listening to Monster Talk and The Curse of the Android's Wife while around people who are young or easily offended.
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Friday, October 16, 2009

Bedtime Stories for the ADD: Delivery

She was wild with anticipation. It was scheduled to arrive Tuesday by overnight air. Of course, it would have to be charged for a few hours, but she could look forward to waking up Wednesday morning to the smell of dirty diapers and the screaming sounds of a baby boy.


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Monday, October 12, 2009

Tactical Highlighter #3

I have two movies on here thanks to my new subscription to the DVD delivery service with the hideous red colors and the unaccountable pop-unders which it continues to use to advertise itself despite the year being 2009. I don't know that I'll be posting movies regularly, but if I do, I'll keep them nice and obscure like the ones here.

  • Some highlights from Hypersonic Tales: Big Wheel Estrangement, Delectable Cakes, and The Tea Party. Hypersonic Tales publishes very short stories in audio format. Their stories tend to be quirky science fiction fare and if you don't like a story, it's less than ten minutes before you're listening to the next one.
  • James Durham's FETIDUS, a noir post-apocalyptic science thriller with ... ZOMBIES. This is probably the darkest thing I've ever recommended, and it is emphatically not for children or the easily offended. It is, however, one of the best podcast dramas produced to date. James Durham's talents aren't limited to writing. He also wrote and produced all of the music used in the podcast and some of the sound effects as well. Many of the characters are voiced by professional voice actors, and the amount of care and love that went into this production shows through. FETIDUS recently won two well-earned Parsec awards.
  • J. Daniel Sawyer did a full cast production of the first chapter of Gail Carriager's Soulless. It's been described as Austen meets paranormal. The distinction I would make is that it is Jane Austen herself meeting paranormal with aplomb. I want the book yesterday.
  • Dunesteef is a quirkly short-ish stories plus talking podcast I checked out recently. A lot of their work is Science Fiction in light terms, but they do a bit of thriller, horror, and quirk as well. My favorite pieces were Restoration Blues by Stewart S. Smith, and Scriptopia by Michael A. Kechula (second feature in a poem, story, story event). Restoration Blues is along the lines of classic White-Halls-and-Shiny-Buttons SF, but not by any means antiquated. Scriptopia is ... a very playful piece and I'll leave it at that.
  • Primer. I happened upon this movie and the premise was too good to be ignored. It's a great movie, though the scientific content of the dialog can be more than a little difficult to understand. Other than that, its only real flaw is the title. It's not attention grabbing, just kind of mundane.
  • Repo! The Genetic Opera is a dark dark allegory of the American health system. I'm not sure it was meant to be, but it fills the position very well. Definitely not for the kids, and there's quite a bit of violence. But it has Anthony Stewart Head, and it's very entertaining. This one doesn't feel that obscure to me, but only because some of my friends are in love with it and talk about it all the time. I've never heard anyone else talk about it, so I feel free to assume that this is pretty obscure.
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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Bedtime Stories for the ADD: Buttons

Buttons and thimbles, and needle and thread
Wander in the dark until they are fed!

A thousand white mares run up and down stairs
With pretty dark sleep that is filled with night terrors!


I recorded this as a Promo for The WEIRD Show, which is a podcast that examines a large number of very odd news stories. Encaffeinated ONE recently put out a request for Halloween themed bumpers, and I was happy to oblige. You can find the bumper on TWS137: Things That Go Harumph In The Night.

The WEIRD Show comes with my highest recommendation.

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Friday, October 9, 2009

Bedtime Stories for the ADD: Ashes

He stood in the ashes of a dead world. Where had it gone wrong? One had been alright, but the limit was clearly below seven billion clowns.


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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Thoughts About Public Transit

A Tale of Three Cities

I want to start using the bus system in Raleigh (more generically, the Triangle Area). I don't have an unhealthy obsession with buses, I just hate driving. Thanks to a month-long trip to Russia in 1999, I know there's a better way. St. Petersburg's Metrolink system is the best way to travel. If you happen to be in St. Petersburg. The other city I'll put in the mix is Baltimore.

St. Petersburg is an incredibly beautiful city, and they have subway entrances nearly everywhere. It's been awhile, so I can't say if it's still good. However, when I was there, you could buy a Metro card pretty much wherever you were at. I can't say anything about their website. I'm sure they have one, but I haven't been there. It really wasn't necessary to use their website to find out anything. It was intuitive, and I know about as much Russian as you're likely to hear in a James Bond movie.

The Triangle Area is so suburban that it's not practical to have closely arranged stops. That said, the simplicity of using public transportation in St. Petersburg is so phenomenally greater than using it in Raleigh or Baltimore that it's unlikely the city layout is to blame for the disparity in ease of use.

I'm sure Baltimore is a great place. I didn't spend much time there. It's way too close to DC for my taste, but it could be worse. There were lots of bus stops, and a light rail. The one complaint I had with Baltimore over Raleigh was that I couldn't get tickets mailed to me in a reasonable time frame.

Why I'm Annoyed Enough to Write This

Both of Raleigh and Baltimore have incredibly unusable websites. I would have given up already if I wasn't such a glutton for punishment.

Raleigh's situation is complicated in that there are six bus systems for people to deal with, not one. A central website covers all of them (owned by the TTA) but a lot of information is only available on the individual sites.

Even with Google's magic assistance, I have a lot of questions. The first one is where the bus stop is heading west on Lynn and Bent Creek? I can plainly see the one heading east, but I doubt the every bus on that route makes two U-turns there every morning. There are no pictures of it online and I drove past it twice and didn't see it.

The second trouble is the park-and-rides. The online information is spotty. Do they charge? Do I need a placard? And, most importantly, where the hell are they? I've been to Millbrook Exchange and drove past Shelley Lake Sertoma Arts Center and didn't see a sign telling you where to park or that there even was a park-and-ride there. (My spies say that they could only see three parking spaces at the Park-and-Ride at Sertoma)

They need detailed information and should be clearly marked and visible from the main road they're attached to. Fortunately, NC Division of Air Quality has a marginally useful description of some locations.

The next point of contention is route planners. Baltimore's has some Google Maps integration, but because of the way it was integrated, it's difficult to find good routes. Maybe I was doing it wrong, but it shouldn't be that hard.

The TTA route planner has the opposite problem. It has no Google integration. Their route planner seems to be a clunky home-grown solution. With how spread out Raleigh is, it should give advice about bus stop options near you. When I plug in my address, it never tells me anything about park-and-ride locations near me. Taking the routes at face value is incredibly disheartening.

Last point: There's a bus stop that is too far away for me to walk to. I could bike to it but they only allow two bikes per bus. Foldable bikes are allowed on the bus, but with the caveat that they must fit in a carrying bag. I've never seen one that fits in a carrying bag, so cyclists roll the dice every time they take a bike to a bus stop. Totally unacceptable if you're commuting. I have to get to work on time every day, not just on the days my bus-riding compatriots didn't bring a bike.


They're trying to boost use of public transportation in the Triangle Area so they can justify a light rail. There are tons of reasons to use public transportation in the Triangle Area, but with the difficulties involved, can they seriously expect people to give up their cars?

Please, Raleigh, get your act together.

Addendum: Strengths

Each place has its strengths. I don't want it to seem like theres nothing good about Baltimore or Raleigh.

St. Petersburg's public transport is intuitive, places to purchase fares are everywhere and simple, and the routes are frequent and easy to understand.

Baltimore's strengths are that they have a light rail system, and lots of buses.

Raleigh's strength is that you can receive the tickets in the mail in 1-2 business days. In Raleigh, there are also lots of places to buy tickets.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Dreamers Light

We are the dreamers, we are the light
A thousand tiny pieces preparing for a fight

We bring an opiate of hope to a world on fire with pain
A red cloak holding bitter truth: our lives are but a stain

Oh, we'll back down, you know we always do
In the din of greater wisdom, and things we know untrue

But if you see a fury glint deep burning in our eyes
Remember that our dreams pass glory 'fore they die

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Guest Review on Dear Editor

Howdy ladies, gents, and malcontents of all flavors and persuasions. I did a guest review of Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go on Dear Editor yesterday. I mentioned Never Let Me Go in last week's Tactical Highlighter, but didn't say a whole lot about it. Definitely check out my review on Dear Editor

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Monday, October 5, 2009

Tactical Highlighter #2

This week's Highlighter is a little light. I spent most of my available listening hours on the podcast version of Michael Nagler's Nonviolence Today course. If you're not already a committed pacifist, it will probably bore you to tears or infuriate you. So, I'm not recommending it to anyone who isn't a pacifist. At some point, I'll find a good introduction to pacifism and promote that.

  • LibriVox's recording of Bram Stoker's Dracula. The original vampire novel for free! Van Helsing could kill Edward Cullen with a look and Dracula would find it quite funny. The book meanders on a bit, but some of the readers are incredibly good and even with the meandering, it's way better than Twilight.
  • Escape Pod 216: ╬▓oyfriend by Madeline Ashby. What happens when AI becomes advanced enough to be a boyfriend or girlfriend? There's a few snide remarks at our present society too, but I'm not sure they're easy to spot.
  • PodCastle 072: The Exit Sign by Ursula Pflug. This one is quite a bit saucier than most stories I'm likely to link to. It isn't that alluring, actually, but there are lots of clear mentions of various fetishes. The story itself is an examination of new types of prejudices, the dangers of these prejudices, and the beauty and strength that go to those who overcome them.
  • Who You Are and Who You Ain’t by James N. Frey. This is a somewhat longish essay on the importance of writing, the persecution of the writer, etc. In a way, it reminds me of aspects of Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash (which is a great book and you should read it). Anyway, if you're a writer and you're not struck with the feeling of being a superhero or a prophet by the time you finish reading this, you're doing it wrong. Either your writing, or the reading.
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Friday, October 2, 2009

Bedtime Stories for the ADD: #4


They are the cool cats. They sleep all day and weave words all night, read with one eye and with another watch the light. (Read more!)