Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Write Drunk, Edit Sober

"Write drunk, edit sober." - Ernest Hemingway

Hey, first, before I get into the main discussion, let me call out yesterday.  It was National Cheesecake Day!  Woo hoo!  How did I miss that, hmm?  The only thing better than National Cheesecake Day would be a time warp in which we could have National Cheesecake Day and National Milk Chocolate Day at the same time.

So, back to drunk and sober.

Last night I wrote about my new discovery, which is actually more of a new acquiescence to reality.  Hey, I realized, I've got too much going on to do any of it well.  When I wrote one book, I wrote it quickly, and then got to where I didn't know what I was going to write in the next one sooner.  With five books at a time, though, I don't have as much attention to creativity.

But hey!  Some friends pointed out, and rightfully so, that it's actually possible--and quite beneficial, some times--to have multiple works going at a time.  Stephen King (the other one) even mentioned that as a process for once you're done with a draft; you set it aside and go work on something else for a while, after which time you can come back to it with a clear head.  A friend said that Brandon Sanderson is known for having one book in writing and two others in editing phases.

Yes, but that's editing.

I'm sure the friend who said that is experienced enough to know the difference, but I'll 'splain it for everybody else.  Writing is like filming landscape from an airplane while you fly over it.  Sometimes you speed up to get past the boring parts, while sometimes you slow down and really take some time to examine features.  Sometimes you zoom down and fly close to interesting mountaintops or stream junctions, while other times you fly high over the plains that are just a repetitive bunch of repetition. 

Some of us are pantsers, and to us every flight is a new discovery, every turn of the curvature is a new landscape.  Some are outliners, and they've at least got stakes out in the major peaks and valleys to go by.  Some are like Robert Jordan (may he rest in peace) and set the altimeter on "treetop level" for the entire flight, while others are like George R.R. Martin and label every person they fly by with the chapter they'll kill them in.

Then you're done, the film is a wrap, and you fly back to do the dastardly editing.  For editing you're not creating any new footage; instead, you're speeding some up, slowing some down, and cutting some out.  Sure, you might add something, but it's not nearly the amount of what you've been taping.

There.  I've explained, and hopefully you've learned something, and I've gotten to imagine flying around.  Everybody's happy.

But seriously, writing is at its core a purely creative effort, while editing is the antithesis of that--a destructive effort at its cruelest, and a refining effort at its nicest.  It's a whole different activity.  It takes a whole different side of the brain, according to the people who study which parts of the brain we use for what.

When you write, then, you do what you need to in order for your brain to be free and creative.  For some, that's drinking.  Others have other techniques, to be sure, but that's what Hemingway meant with his quote.  Write drunk, so that your creativity can flow.  Edit sober, though, so that you can clearly see the work as it is for polishing or cutting as needed.

Write drunk, edit sober, then.


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Too Many WIP

"I have never started a poem yet whose end I knew.  Writing a poem is discovering." - Robert Frost

"Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn't wait to get to work in the morning.  I wanted to know what I was going to say." - Sharon O'Brien

Writing is a learning process.

I'm pretty sure I can safely announce that from a position of authority, having written three novels, a novella, many short stories, and now, as of tonight, 510 blog posts.  I've learned something--sometimes something little, sometimes something pretty big--with every one of them.

And what I've learned, on a broader scale, over the past few months is a lesson that I've heard before from already-famous authors who've earned their stripes dozens of times over.  It's a lesson I've talked about in terms of building business.  It's a pretty simple lesson, really. 


Yep, that's it.  Focus.  Simple, direct, focus.  Simple.  Direct. 

For example, you can't build multiple businesses at the same time.  I mean, technically you can, if you do significant time management twisting and really work insane hours and then settle for mediocre results.  But you can't do it extraordinarily well, because that requires creative talent.  Creative talent, meanwhile, requires a certain amount of quiet, "gel" time. 

Applying this to writing efforts--one thing I've been bad about, now that my trilogy is done, is starting all manner of other efforts.  It's not hard, really.  It's as simple as opening another instance of Scrivener and starting in on the new idea. 

One thinks--hell, I thought--that coming up with story ideas would be the toughest part of writing books.  It's not.  Right now I have several dozen ideas that I'm pretty sure I'll never get around to writing.  Yay! 

But aren't those ideas worth something?  No, not really.  An idea isn't patentable, nor is it copyrightable.  It's just an idea.  It's, to use a simple but drastic term, worthless, at least until it's implemented.  For a patent, an idea must at least be drawn out with some degree of clarity and explained in a manner that gives its implementation purpose.  True, in our mixed-up intellectual property system here in the U.S., you don't actually have to build a prototype of your idea to patent it, but you do at least have to create it on paper. 

Same with stories.  "I have an idea for a boy who goes to wizard school" is worth less than the time it took me to type it.  J.K. Rowling implemented that idea, though, and did so exceptionally (and commercially) well, and made a gigabuck. 

So no, ideas aren't worth anything.

That's why the ones that really appealed to me, I've begun implementing.  I wrote a Nanowrimo project that will some day, after significant fleshing out, be the fourth novel in my trilo--er, my series.  Since December 1st, I've been fleshing it out little by little.  I wrote a sci fi novel about a math professor turned pilot, and I've been fleshing that out significantly since I finally figured out where I wanted the plot to go.  I've gotten to the editing process of the story of the Al-Can journeys.  Then there's the others. 

Five--count 'em, five!--books in various stages of writing thus lay open on my desktop.  That's in spite of suggestion by several famous authors that if you start one, you should finish one.  But noooooo, I've been sure that I can do it better.  Betterer, even.

I finally came to the conclusion this week that no, I really can't do it better.  And here's why.  It's not that I don't have time to write.  It's not that I can't follow the story lines.  It's not that I can't keep the characters' voices straight--at least, I think I'm succeeding at that; I won't know for sure until I read back through. 

It's that I'm not spending the creative love on each one. 

When I wrote Cataclysm, I used to write a little on it in the morning, then drive to work thinking about where the plot might go.  I'd drive home thinking more about it and then write what I'd thought about.  Then I'd go to bed and my subconscious would consider it more until I awoke to begin the cycle again.

That's how I wrote it in just over a month. That's also how I used to put in 8,000 word weekend days.  By the time I got to the keyboard to type, I'd done my creative due diligence and knew where it was going.  In fact, I usually had figured out further than I actually had time to write that day.

Problem when I'm working on five books?  I don't really think of any one of them on the way to work.  That's because I'm creatively distanced from each one by the other four.  Then when I sit down to write at night, I often stare at the keyboard for a while, unsure of where to go with whichever story is on top of my pile of windows. 

It's a bad spot to be in.

Thus, from henceforth, I'm closing every WIP except the Elf Queen.  I'll finish that story and then move to the next one. 

Start one, finish one, is what I'll do from here on out.


Monday, July 29, 2013

When in Rome....

I know, I know: "When in Rome, do as the Romans do."

Having spent much of my lunch hour reading about the history of Rome, I'd bet that the saying doesn't apply to the early years A.D.

I'd lose that bet, of course, as the saying has been attributed to written letters between two Bishops of the Catholic church somewhere around 390 A.D.  The two Bishops later became Saint Ambrose and Saint Augustine, two of the four great doctors of the Latin church.  Must've been true, then, right?

Only problem: based on what I can tell, Rome during those days was a downright crazy place to be.  If I'd been in Rome, I can't imagine myself doing that crazy stuff.

See, it all started (this blog post, not the Roman thing) when I went to find out what, if anything, happened of interest ever before on July 29th.  After all, a similar search yesterday turned up the goody goodness of National Milk Chocolate Day!!!!  Yummmm!  That was so much fun it shouldn't have been legal, I tell you what.

So what did I find?  Well, July 29th is International Tiger Day, for one thing.  And hey, that's kinda cool, if you're a tiger.  Especially so, I think, if you're an international tiger.  For me?  Meh.  I like tigers well enough, I suppose, as long as they're not trying to eat me.  I don't like tigers as much as I like chocolate, though, and that's a fact.  Sorry, tigers.

July 29th is also National Thai Language Day, but only if you're in Thailand, because hey, a National Thai Language Day wouldn't make sense anywhere else.  My knowledge of Thai Language ends just after the term "pad thai," though, so I can't do much with that.  Sorry, I really got nothin'.

Today is also the birthday of Wil Wheaton, which is a treat to all of the Trekkies out there who care to follow the actors' birthdays.  I'm a Trekkie, but--well, not that much.  Happy Birthday, Wil Wheaton, and here's hoping you have many more years of conflict with Dr. Cooper.

But the first Event listed for July 29th was intriguing.  Like I said, the later years of ancient Rome were cray-cray.  I always sort of knew that, but we didn't really talk about that, just like we never really talked about Aunt--oh, um, never mind.  No, seriously, at least as far as Rome is concerned.  In World History class, there was a Persian Empire, and a Roman Empire, and then along came Jesus who founded the Catholic Church and had an Inquisition and then the empire sort of imploded to become a city surrounded by the Eurozone.  And sometime back then the city burned while an emperor played the fiddle (I thought they only had violins back then?) but it must've been rebuilt because sure as crap, it's still standing.

At West Point they taught us more about Rome, at least as far as the military history went.  We learned about the Roman legions that pretty much kicked everybody else's tuckas.  Except, of course, for the Persians, and sometimes the Germanic tribes, but at least they were good at kicking the English island inhabitants' buttocks.  We also learned of a few key battles, but by the time the fall of Rome came about the military professors were getting tired of all that marching in squares stuff and introduced us to the knights on horseback and then the longbow.  And then there was Napoleon.  It--well, it all went by kinda fast.

The sad thing is that there's this whole rich history right there.  I mean, like, right there in a single year's time in one town.  Specifically, the Year of the Five Emperors.  Really must've sucked to be in Rome, doing as Romans do, that year.

So the Events list for the year 238 A.D. (not the same Year I mentioned earlier--we'll get there) said that on July 29th, "The Praetorian Guard storm the palace and capture Pupienus and Balbinus.  They are dragged through the streets of Rome and executed.  On the same day, Gordian III, age 13, is proclaimed emperor."

Whoa.  There's gotta be a story somewhere there.  First of all, the first guy captured was named Pupienus.  Say it out loud, I dare ya.  Keep a straight face when you do it, I dare ya.  Balbinus, the other guy, has a name that's nearly as funny to do that with, juvenile as it might be.  Still, today I needed a chuckle, and I got one at the expense of some long-dead Roman emperors.

Hehe.  Hehe.  Poopy in us.  Hehe.

So anyway, yes, the story.  The story pretty much began with the assassination of Alexander Severus, the Roman Emperor named after the Harry Potter character.

Okay, fine, so it's more likely that the HP character was named after the Roman Emperor.  Still, it's fun to think about it the other way.

Anyway, Severus's thirteen year reign over the Roman Empire was apparently the last peaceful time they had.  By 235 a group of Roman soldiers were tired of peace and angry that Severus was securing that peace in part by paying enemies not to attack, so they took care of it in their own special way by turning on the emperor and killing him.  Their leader, a guy who'd been promoted by the emperor himself, was a guy named Maximinus Thrax.  Max was a darn good military commander, but he was also a mere barbarian in the eyes of the Roman Senate.  He named himself Emperor, as so often happens in the annals of history, and went off to Africa to kill the guys, Gordian I and Gordian II, that the Senators wanted in the wreathed slot.  When he succeeded at that, poof, he was Emperor.

No, that's not as funny of a story as one might expect of something that starts with poopy, but it gets better. Ole' Max realized he'd never actually been to Rome, though that was supposed to be his capitol, and so he turned his armies around from Africa and started that'a'way.  The Senators really didn't want to see him, though, for the obvious reason, and so they elected Pupienus and Balbinus to save them from the nasty Maximinus.

Now we're starting to sound like an episode from the Transformers, aren't we?

So they beat him.  Pupienus and Balbinus did, that is.  And yay! everybody rejoiced, except of course for the guys who'd been following Maximinus.  Well, them, and the Senators, who really didn't like the pair much better than they'd liked Max, and, well, pretty much the entire population of Rome, who apparently were pretty well fed up with the Better-than-Thou stock the poopy-twins came from.  Oh, and there was a massive fire in Rome, too, which though nobody fiddled during it--at least according to recorded history--was still a serious downer to the people.  Thus it was that the Praetorian Guard, generally the group that was charged with protecting the Emperor(s) back in those days, waltzed into the castle and killed them.

(well, they didn't actually waltz, since that dance wouldn't be invented for another 1300 years or so, but--well, you get my drift, right?)

Thus started the reign of Gordian III, the thirteen year old son of Gordian II, who if you'll recall was one of the two guys killed in Africa.  He was popular, in part because he hadn't yet been old enough to piss anybody off, and thus he managed to keep his head (literally) for a whopping six years before dying in an undocumented manner, either in battle or, um, not, at the ripe old age of nineteen.  That cleared his successor to be Emperor for five years before he, too, lost his head to someone who wanted the crown.  And--well, the remaining verses are the same, just shorter.

Anyway, the two co-emperors, Pupienus and Balbinus, held the cherished seat for a whopping three months, which was, believe it or not, longer than some of their predecessors had.

Yes, there.  Now I'm coming back to the Year of the Five Emperors.

It wasn't that I was curious who had the shortest reign, believe it or not, that drew me to that event.  It was that the barbarian general who became Emperor, Maximinus, entered the service the first time under the reign of Alexander Severus, whose reign actually rode out the end of 193 A.D., the Year of the Five Emperors, and lasted for a whopping thirteen years after.  But what about those who came before?

Pertinax started it.

Well, not really.  The guy who actually got the fiasco going was--and I kid you not--named Commodus.

Now how's that Poopy-In-Us sounding, eh?

Anyway, Commodus--no, really!  I can't make this good of a story up--had a twelve year reign as Emperor.  In those, he became famous for devaluing the currency as well as for leaving the empire to be run by others while he did what Roman Emperors have since become famous for doing--you know, lewdness, debauchery, that kind of thing.  People didn't like that mode of emperor-ship, so then he started taking a heavy-handed interest in how things were going, and people didn't like that any better.

No kidding: he had all the statues made over to look like him, and he even renamed all of their months after his twelve--count 'em!--names.

Finally, on the thirty-first day of December, 192, ole' Commodus got flushed.  (sorry, couldn't resist another poopy joke).  His lover poisoned his food (bummer, man) but when he threw that up--and he should've seen something else coming, you'd think--they sent his wrestling sparring partner in to strangle him in his bath.

Happy New Year!  The New Years Resolutions, though, really sucked for Romans.

Now, after twelve years of somebody's megalomanic rule, who would you pick to succeed him?  Of course, you'd want somebody who is respected and disciplined, right?  And that's who they picked, in the form of Pertinax.  (yeah, I could make another name joke here, but you're probably tired of 'em)  Only problem is that when said disciplinarian turned his interest into enforcing discipline on you, you might not like him as much.  And they didn't.  In fact, when he tried to whip the ole' Praetorian Guard into shape, they up and killed him.

Bummer, again, right?

Bigger bummer, in fact: they decided, since they had the biggest swords in town, that the next Emperor would be of their choosing, and dang the Senate.  They'd choose one, in fact, in a manner that would help them all--an auction.  Not having eBay, they turned to a public auction in the arena.

And the guy who won it was outside, having been too late to the party to get a seat.  Go figure--that's a heckuvan omen.

He won it by promising a huge amount of money for each member of the guard.  Thus did Didius Julianus take the wreath of Roman Emperor, a post he held onto for all of nine weeks.

His first act?  Devaluing the currency even further, something that really ticked off most of the Romans, and this launched a civil war.  The Praetorian Guard had, by that point, become militarily competent at nothing except Emperor assassination, so they weren't much use against the people when the Senate said "hey, we didn't want Didius in the firstius place."  When the Senate promised that most of the Guard would keep their heads, though, they dutifully did Didius in.  And thus began the reign of Septimius Severus.

But...but...but...I'm sure you're wondering: who're the other two Emperors in the Year of the Five of 'em?  I was.  Turns out that one was Clodius Albinus, who was in Britain when Pertinax was killed.  Clodius's men proclaimed him Emperor because they loved him.  Then, once Didius was gone and Septimius was Senate-appointed Emperor, Clodius joined up with the new guy to fend off the claim of Dude #5, Pescinnius Niger.  Niger fought a long and generally losing battle against Septimius and Clodius all the way out to the east as far as Antioch.  He finally got caught and lost his head, leaving two Roman Emperors, Septemius and Clodius, face to face in a grudge match.

Of course, there can be only one.  Granted, that hadn't always been the answer; in his early years Commodus had gone Number Two, after all.  (you didn't think I could seriously go without the obvious potty humor, did you?)  But Septimius didn't want to hear that, and so he turned around and attacked his new Caesar-rival.  

Our story comes to a close with the Battle of Lugdunum, in what is now France.  That battle, destined to determine which guy got to be the real emperor, apparently was huge, hosting nearly 150,000 troops on each side.  As history shows, Septimius won, and Clodius Albinus lost his head, thus creating a trophy that was delivered to Rome to tell 'em who was now in charge.

And that's the Year of the Five Emperors.


Sunday, July 28, 2013

Happy Milk Chocolate Day!

Some days I'm full of pithy talk on the topics of writing, success, authorpreneurship, and so on.  Other days, I got nothin'.  Those days I just want to write my fiction and get on with the word count. 

Today is one of those days.

Still, I committed to writing a post a day for 2013, and though I've already blown it, I plan to at least see the year out.  Thus, I searched briefly online for something special about today, July 28, and found:

Milk Chocolate Day!

Woo hoo!  Celebrate briefly with me, will you?  After all, without milk chocolate, we couldn't have Peanut Butter Cups; they'd just end up being peanut butter lumps.  Instead of Butterfinger, we'd be stuck with peanut butter crisps.  Instead of Milky Way, we'd have long lumps of nougat.  And, um, so on.

So let's say it again--happy Milk Chocolate Day!

Now, I couldn't find anywhere on Wikipedia or elsewhere evidence that this is an actual official special day.  To my (brief and quite ineffective) research, Congress has never taken up the topic of milk chocolate day at all. 

That said,'s National Milk Chocolate Day page is pretty certain the day exists, and if they say it is, then I'm good with it.  Right?  Make sense?  Who would argue with, anyway?

Besides, it's chocolate.  Every day could be chocolate day and I'd be perfectly happy to celebrate.

This holiday beats the tar out of other things I could write about, anyway.  July 28th is also, according to my inexhaustible friends at, the day Peru celebrates its independence from Spain.  I'm sure that's a great celebration to Peruvians, but it means little to us here in Tennessee and I'm sure it means even less good to the Spanish. 

July 28th is also World Hepatitis Day, a day named to raise awareness of Hep B and Hep C and their global impact on our health and welfare.  An important topic indeed, but--chocolate.

Oh, and July 28th is also the anniversary of the day that Andorra joined the United Nations.  Yay!  Now, I challenge you--go find Andorra on the map.  Uh huh.  Hint: it's not in Africa.  (yes, that was my first guess)

Did somebody mention chocolate?

Happy National(ish) Milk Chocolate Day!!!!


(PS: images courtesy of the folks over at's Office team)

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Absurdly Funny, verse Two

In my post a few days ago, Absurdly Funny (the first verse), I discussed how humor is so often so very much in the eye of the beholder. Truth was borne out, too, as Kevin Downey Jr. became one of the first quarter finalists voted off of America's Got Talent.  Apparently I, Howard, and Howie all found it funny while so many of our fellow Americans didn't.

That's okay.

Those of you who're friends of my personal account on Facebook have no doubt seen me post all sorts of funnies and not-as-funnies there.  Often they get my friends to chuckle, and that makes me happy.  After all, I kind of like being the class clown, the guy who makes people laugh even (or especially) on a bad day, because I believe in the power of laughter to make life (and health and other concerns) suck much less.

Today I was walking through PetCo trying to figure out what cat food our daughter had bought for her cat the first time.  It was tougher than it sounds, as we'd brought neither the empty bag nor the daughter.  As we stood in the aisle, though, I heard someone over the loudspeaker ask for help back in reptiles.

"Must have a reptile issue," I said to myself, and then chortled softly over what else that sounded like.

Thanks to the smartness of my smart phone, t wasn't long before my Facebook feed had a new post saying:

Our PetCo got some lizards in that were sick.  First time the kids there had to deal with a reptile dysfunction.

No, that wasn't what had really happened.  Then again, I'm a fiction author, a fact that makes Facebook posts incredibly well suited for me, as so much of what exists in FB-space is fiction.  Bottom line: if you read something on my Facebook feed, be it author or personal space, take it with a grain or two of salt (and, if you can, an entire margarita on the side).

The amusing part of that is that of all the crazy cat pictures, all the jokes, all the sappy "we love our military" posts (hey, I'm a veteran, myself, so those come naturally to me) posts I've made, there's one particular post that in just a few hours has taken the lead and is climbing the charts for the most-shared post I've written.

Yes, it was the penis joke.

Isn't that ironic?  (see yesterday's post for the answer to that)

Have a great weekend!


Friday, July 26, 2013

Characters Say The Darndest Things

So yesterday I pointed to the folly of Mr. Harvard and Mr. Economist saying silly stuff to each other.

If Harvard professors and columnists for The Economist can't get this whole logic thing right, what hope do our characters, most of whom never went to Ivy League schools, have?

I recall, way back when in the days before I joined The Dark Side (Administration, specifically), I had the opportunity to teach a College Composition class.  Now, you're probably wondering what an old grumpy IT guy is doing teaching writing, and you'd be correct to do so, but hey, I had just enough credits in the subject to teach Freshmen how to compose a dang sentence.  Besides, the class needed a teacher who wouldn't get himself fired like the guy I was replacing had.  So--there I was.

One day I delivered a particularly juicy and enjoyable lecture (to me, anyway) about the mechanisms we use to spice up our linguistic exercises.  Our discussion of metaphors went down the freeway of academic discussion, bumping and scratching but eventually getting there.  Similarly, similes were like a walk in the park compared to the less interesting (to the students) discussions of parts of speech we'd been having.

For the scintillating discussion of irony, I employed one of my favorite devices, the anti-example. Specifically, I displayed to the class the lyrics of Alanis Morissette's song "Ironic."  This song has managed to become, from what I'm led to believe, one of the most oft-used anti-examples nation-wide ever since its recording in 1995, thanks to the fact that "Ironic" isn't.  Well, it is, but that's only because it isn't.  Ironic, that is.  Confused?  In the literary world (and the dictionary), irony is saying one thing and meaning the opposite.  In the anti-perfect anti-example, every situation in the song was unfortunate, and sometimes entirely coincidentally horrible, but it was all meant as it was stated and therefore none of it met the definition of ironic.

Thus, because the song is titled "Ironic," but it actually isn't, it kind of is.  One has to wonder whether its writers (Morissette and songwriter/producer Glen Ballard) were: a) devilishly brilliant in creating a song that was the meta-antithesis of what it claimed to be; or b) foolishly ignorant of the meaning of the term as well as the location of their dictionary; or c) purposely writing a commercial song that would appeal to the mindless masses who remember their high school locker location more clearly than anything they learned in their English class back then.

Personally, I suspect it was option c.

Regardless, I explained all of this and then we had a decent discussion on the topic.  Class being over, then, and me being a competent teacher, I assigned an activity that would assess their achievement of the learning objectives.  Specifically, I asked them to find an example of something we'd discussed that day, somewhere in modern or classic literature or art, and to describe it in three to five paragraphs that would be due at the start of the next class.  (oh, and please, for the love of God, make sure you write complete sentences and have your nouns and verbs agree, okay?  Please?)

(Anyone who's ever taught a Freshman composition class is probably giggling right now over my simple parenthetical request.  Once again, though, please see option c above.)

Ironically (or not--which is it?), the first paper on the stack that next week was a treatise on how Alanis Morissette's song "Ironic" is right chock-filled with irony.  No, I'm not kidding.  Once I was done beating my head on the desk, I critically read the paper and hit on a dilemma: other than the seriously, horribly, fundamentally flawed premise, the paper was perfect.  It was, like, a work of art (*snerk*--sorry).  I mean it--all them subject thangs agreed with all them verb thangs, and periods were where periods were needed while commas were used correctly as well.


How's that for irony? 

So now we have Harvard economists who can't make a logical economic argument, and college composition students who can't avoid using what the professor held up as what it ain't as the example of what it is. 

And you want your characters who grew up on a farm an entire half-day's horseback ride from the Medieval-quality village to think clearly and expound perfectly?  Yeah, right.

So go ahead, write the plot that needs to be written because it's interesting to read.  Let the characters think and say whatever they're most likely to think and say, regardless of whether you might think or say that. 


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Fame and Fortune in Writing

Yesterday I followed a Facebook link to an opinion piece published on the web site of a magazine I read regularly.

Normally such a thing doesn't give me cause to blog, but this one did.  See, a week or so ago a leading economic voice of the right wing, a Harvard professor, and the author of a widely-sold economics textbook (not a trio, that was all one guy) wrote a blog piece explaining why income disparity is a good thing.  Unfortunately for him, his argument was like an unboiled Easter egg--it looked pretty on the outside, but when examined it cracked open and spilled goopy stuff all over the table.  This brought the left wing economists a'circling, and his blog was widely panned by pretty much everybody up to and including Paul Krugman. 

Mid-way lesson learned: don't say stupid stuff on your blog.  Unless you want publicity, that is.  Then again, since there's no such thing as bad publicity, according to whomever said that (some say it was P.T. Barnum, but I'm not convinced), maybe saying stupid stuff on your blog is the thing to do, right?

Incidentally, speaking of publicity, I'm granting neither blog post to which I refer a link from my blog.  Sorry, I just don't think either deserves it.  

Anyway, the link my friend posted was to one of those critiques I mentioned.  It rendered a blistering commentary on the Harvard professor, making out the often-dangerous argument that a man with those credentials is either stupid or unaware.

Only problem was that the counter arguments weren't just wrong; they were unrelatedly wrong.

I'm not sure exactly what it's called in the world of rhetoric, but I call it arguing obliquely.  If you've been around the Internet for a while I'll bet you've seen an example of it:

Post 1: "Sausage patties are better than sausage links."

Post 2: "No, that's silly, because clearly you're unaware that salt, not sugar, goes on grits."

See what I mean?  I leave such arguments never really sure what one has to do with the other.  As a result, I generally leave such a reading assignment fairly certain that I've just lost way too much time that I'll never get back.  The blog post rebutting another blog post left me feeling exactly like that. 

Meanwhile, the original Harvard economist has written a paper that is apparently to be published in a major economic journal (again, no publicity here, for what it's worth).  In the paper, he makes a case about American income inequality and American income maneuverability using American entrepreneurs Steve Jobs, Steven Spielberg, and J.K. Rowling.

Yes, I said J.K. Rowling. 

I wonder how many people have told him since publication where J.K. Rowling actually came from.

Once again, we're back to don't say something stupid unless you want bad publicity, which might actually be good publicity since bad publicity is actually good.  Above and beyond that basic lesson, though, lie a whole slew of questions about how to achieve fame and fortune as a writer.  Is that only achievable in free markets such as the U.S.?  Is the U.S. really such a free market?  Is it pure accident that one of the wealthiest writers of all time has come from Britain?  Speaking of fame as we were, why is it that so few Nobel prizes for literature have been awarded to U.S. writers?

I don't really have the answers, nor do I have the room in tonight's post to explore the answers to any of those questions as they should be explored.  I will, however, set them aside for better examination later.

I promise.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Absurdly Funny

"Humor is mankind's greatest blessing." - Mark Twain

"You can turn painful situations around through laughter.  If you can find humor in anything, even poverty, you can survive it." - Bill Cosby

"The secret to humor is surprise." - Aristotle

What is funny?

I know, I know, a lot of things are funny.  But let's go a little deeper.  What is funny?  What does it mean to be funny?  How do you know if something/someone/you is/are funny?

I posted several things to my personal Facebook page today.  One was a picture of me 25 years ago, my senior photo in the West Point yearbook.  That one got a lot of likes and comments.  I also linked a picture of a license plate that is cool and geeky, and a photo of my scardy-dog Chihuahua cuddling with her little stuffed unicorn as comfort from the storm.

But the two links with the most attention?  Funny ones.  One was a video of cats doing funny things in and around water.  The second was the Geico commercial whose punchline mentions the happiness of a camel on Wednesday while in the background you see the camel walking through the office asking people what day it is and, in the end, saying Hump Dayyyyy!

Why is a camel walking through a set of cubicles funny?

Hold that thought for a moment.  Last night my wife and I watched a curious event on America's Got Talent.  Kevin Downey Jr., a comedian, took the stage, and I rather enjoyed the minute and a half of his show.  Then the judges got hold of it, and I saw the biggest split in them that I've seen so far (to be honest, I've only caught a few episodes thanks to the move).  Two judges loved the show, while one judge didn't find him funny at all and the fourth didn't get it at all.

That got me to thinking about my own works.  I specifically crafted some of my scenes to be funny.  I know I nailed it with a couple, as I've read them quoted by some of my fans.  That makes me happy.

But what is it about them that makes them funny?  I suppose I've never really looked deeply at that.

One of the funniest commercials I think I've ever seen is the AT&T commercial with the kids sitting around the table when the little girl talks about werewolves.  It's not a tremendously funny topic, but something about the way she holds her head and says, "Arrarrarrarrarrarr" gets me laughing hard every time.

But back to the camel.  That really isn't a funny situation--heck, if I saw a camel walking through my work area, I'd call security.  The camel's "voice" really doesn't say all that much that's funny, by itself, either.  Somehow, though, the situation blends with what's said and with how it's said into one absurd bundle of humor.

It's funny....


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Writer's Doubt

To heck with Writer's Block, man.  Let's talk about something far worse: Writer's Doubt.

First, though, some cool quotes:

"Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother." - Khalil Gibran

"Inaction breeds doubt and fear.  Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit at home and think about it.  Get out and get busy." - Dale Carnegie

"Defined in psychological terms, a fanatic is a man who consciously over-compensates a secret doubt." - Aldous Huxley

"If the sun and moon should ever doubt, they'd immediately go out." - William Blake

Doubt (verb): to lack confidence in, to consider unlikely

Now, don't get me wrong.  There are a ton of wise quotations about the importance of doubt to a scientific or careful mind.  When we doubt, we often plan ahead, around, and against.  That's healthy doubt.

But then there's unhealthy doubt, and writers, to my experience, are filled with that.  You start out confident, certain that you're going to write the best book ever, and then by about word number 25,000 you're questioning your sanity for even starting it.  Writing an essay is like a jog around the block, while writing a novel is like a supermarathon.  It's not just hard; it's grindingly hard, and there are plenty of opportunities within the effort to doubt that it's any good.

Then you get done with the first draft and proudly hand it to someone who smiles the "oh, isn't that cute what you tried to do" smile and never gets back to you on what they thought of it.  So does somebody else, and then somebody else.  You wonder why, and that causes you to read the first chapter again, and you wonder why you doubted, because it really isn't any good.

Doubting you can ever make it good, you start revising it anyway, and soon you realize that the initial writing process is really only the second hardest part of writing a book.  Still, you cast aside your doubts and keep going, finally getting the book to the point that you're happy with it.

Then you send off for your first rejection, which, incidentally, is a note that you're pleased as punch to receive.  After all, we all know that the best novels in the world weren't accepted on their first try, and so getting your first rejection is only the first step toward becoming the Dan Brown of your genre.  Yay! you cry, hoisting the rejection text onto a hallowed spot on the wall.

Then the second rejection comes, and the third one also, and despite your continued knowledge that each rejection is said to bring you closer to the yes you're looking for, doubt sticks its stinky toes into the door jamb, and then finally it manages to walk in.

Then, if all goes your way, you get a yes.  YES!!!  The book is taken, ripped apart, put back together, and put on the market.  Where....

It sits....

Meanwhile, you write another, consumed all the while with doubt that this one will do any better than the previous one.  No need to doubt, though; as it turns out, it doesn't.  But that's okay, because the data out there suggests that very few people succeed with their first, second, or third works.  Heck, by the time number three is done you're really just getting started learning.

But will you ever learn enough?

Will you ever hit your stride?

Will you ever reach the point where you're selling lots of books?

You--doubt it.

See why I say Writer's Doubt is worse than Writer's Block?  With the latter, you sit and stare at the computer screen, unsure what the next phrases need to be.  With the former, on the other hand, you don't even want to look at the computer screen.  Life in a trailer down by the river starts sounding like your fate, with your picture tattooed on its back side even.

Don't let yourself succumb to it, though.  Keep writing.  Keep plotting.  Keep smiling.


Monday, July 22, 2013

The Moon And Its Influence On Our Calendar

So, I started out today to write about why Monday is called Monday.  Among, I should add, other things, including quite a few more derogatory terms.  Monday is, after all, the redheaded stepchild of the weekdays--and trust me, I know a redheaded stepchild when I see one (in the "takes one to know one" logical vein).

I'll just get the obvious out of the way first, okay?  Monday is named after the moon.  Nearly every web site out there elucidates upon the English, the German, the Spanish, and the other (official) names for the day, and how they each point to the moon for their origin.

Why's it named after the moon?  Because, of course, the moon was a pagan goddess, that's why.  Ancient cultures knew that some day humanity would boil itself down to a five day work, two day off cycle, and they naturally wanted to name the first day of work after the moon goddess, knowing that we'd kick the crap out of that day in our oral and written lore.

Okay, okay, I made that last bit up, mainly because it's more interesting than the truth.

Modern lore suggests that the Romans, penultimate calendar designers that they were, crafted the seven day week and started it with the sun, the moon, and then five planets.  That's apparently not entirely accurate, as a) there were other cultures, including the Babylonians and the Hebrews, who followed a seven day week before the Roman Empire spawned, and b) as they conquered along, the Romans became a polyglot of other cultures, and at times they actually kept several calendars, including a seven-day and an eight-day thing, going at the same time.  They also swiped much of the basis of their calendar as well as their deity system from the Greeks.

So, um, yeah.  One thing the Romans did do, at least indirectly, though, was give us the designation of Monday as the first day of our work week.  Thanks, guys!  How so, you ask?  Well, there's seven days, and God said to rest on one of them, so of course until industrialization and Henry Ford came around that gave us six days to work and one day to rest.  By default, then, the first work day (ick) fell immediately after the day of rest.

A day of rest which falls on Sunday.  To us.

To some of us, anyway.

According to Hebrew lore, the day for rest is actually Saturday.  More precisely, it's Friday nightfall to Saturday nightfall.  Other cultures hold that Friday is actually the day of rest.  So when did Sunday become the "official" day for resting and relaxing prior to the Monday blues?

When the Council of Laodicea said so, that's when. Apparently Julian Caesar (not to be confused with Julius Caesar, the guy after whom Julian dates--as well as July--are named) led Rome into an attack in 363 A.D. against the Persians.  He won the first battle pretty handily, and then started to run away from the main Persian army but--well, this isn't a military history novel.  Long story short, he died in the retreat, and his successor, Jovian, who also didn't rule very long, still lived long enough to reverse Julian's anti-Christianity policies.  Then the cleris of Laodicea got together and decreed, in their 29th Canon, that Christians shouldn't "Judaize" by resting on Saturday, but instead should rest on the day of the Lord, which was Sunday.

Hmmph--two hours of research for one pretty unremarkable paragraph. 

So anyway, the word "month" also comes from the moon.  It works out to be a strange date system we have on this little planet here, matter of fact.  Bear with me....

Imagine, if you will, being a pre-GPS, pre-telescope society trying to figure out how to track when things occurred.  You can certainly just wait till it gets warm to assume that winter is over and that agriculture such as you know it can begin, but that's problematic, as anyone who's lived in the great white north will know.  It's entirely possible, in fact, to have snows all thaw in Anchorage in February, only to re-fall in March.  It's similarly possible to have the snow not give up its ground till well into May.  Therefore, you need something far more countably reliable to go off of.

The rotation of the Earth around the sun, of course, isn't all that easy to keep track of on a daily basis.  I mean, it is, but you kind of have to know something about it first.  Therefore, it makes more sense to try to keep track of the travels of the moon.  Right?

Problem is--which travels do you keep track of?

See, the moon takes just over 27 days to travel around the Earth.  That is, if you're watching the moon's track compared to other stars in the heavens, you'll see it return to the same spot after just over 27 days.  That said, it's a lot more obvious to track the moon's travel according to its phases, since, like tonight, you can always tell when there's a full moon happening.  But that isn't just a function of the moon's travels; the moon's phases are also based on the position of the Earth, which is also moving.  Thus, it takes just over twenty nine and a half days for the moon to circle around the Earth and then catch up to where it was in relative position for the previously similar phase. 

Incidentally, twenty nine and one-half days are tough to track for months, but one month of thirty followed by a month of twenty nine days is just about right.  Sound familiar? 

You still need to involve the sun in this crazy time calculation method, of course, because if you don't you'll find January starting later and later every winter, up until it's a mid-summer month.  That would be pretty silly.  Thus, years are set to coincide with keeping a stable seasonal rotation, and months roughly follow the moon's journey, and the strange length months and leap days and so on are the result of all of the jinksing around between the two. 

So there you have it.

And once I figure out what "it" is, I'll be good to go.  By then, though, it'll probably be Tyr's Day once again.

Have a great-as-possible whatever-remains-of-moon-day-where-you-are.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Top Five Uses For Teenagers

"Few things are more satisfying than seeing your children have teenagers of their own." - Doug Larson

"The Internet has been a boon and a curse for teenagers." - J.K. Rowling

"Teenagers blithely skip off to uncertain futures, while their parents sit weeping curbside in the Volvo, because the adolescent brain isn't yet formed enough to recognize and evaluate risk." - Michael J. Fox

Okay, so the previous two posts (The Top Five Uses for Cats and The Top Five Uses for Dogs, in case you missed 'em) were a lot of fun to write, but they missed one of the most important questions heads of households can ask: what in the heck do I do with the fuzzy human creatures that co-inhabit this place?  I mean, cats can kind of slink off to be by themselves a lot of the time, and so long as you keep them reasonably well fed and watered and their litter boxes clean (ish), nobody's going to haul you away for cat abuse.

Now, granted, that duct tape thing I keep hinting and giggling at, you probably shouldn't do if your desire is to not be charged for animal abuse.  Remember: thought experiment only.  Be the Schroedinger....

Dogs present a similar case: while generally needing far more interaction with us than their feline counterparts, they are still pretty okay with walks in the yard a couple of times a day, a cleaning up of the poop every few days or so, and whatever happens to fall on the kitchen floor when you're cooking (which is, I admit, quite a lot in my case).  In return for all of that, you get a (dog's) lifetime of foot warming, face-licking love.

And then there's teenagers.

Let's face it, there are more teenager jokes out there than I have room to write here.  At the risk of offending someone, I won't suggest that perhaps there's a kernel of truth behind the jokes, but I will, at this point, dive right on into a list of the Top Five Uses (that I can see) For Teenagers

5.  Reminding us that we were once that age too

Yes, it's true.  I was one.  You were, too.  I pulled some of the exact same feral male stunts that the boy teen used to pull, and I dare you to tell me, ladies, that you didn't do the same as a female teen.  Of course, it was a different world back then.  Of course, we could go to a party without fear of drugs being slipped into our drinks back then.  Of course, nobody really did drugs back then.  Of course, my neighbors were Ward and June Cleaver to one side and Ozzie (with an ie, not with a bat-eating y) and Harriet on the other side, back then.

How many of you thought "Yeah!"?  Mm hmm.  No, life wasn't all Nehi and sunshine back then, either, but our brains don't want to remember the dreary parts.  So here we are, stuck in the present, and when we get a teenager in the house challenging us on our fearful imagery of Life As It Is Now, sometimes it does take us back there.  You know--Back There.  Back when gas was cheap, and West Point was difficult, and dinosaurs roamed the Plain, and so on.  

4.  Cogito ergo sum

You know what that little scritch of Latin means, right?  "Cogito ergo sum": "I think, therefore I am," (ish).  The idea is that we exist and thrive as human beings because we have the ability to cogitate.

Fortunately, cogitation is one thing teenagers are quite good at forcing us to do.  Ain't it?

Part of it is that "Because Mommy said so, Dear," is no longer an acceptable response to the "Why?" query.  No, trust me--just don't even try it on a teenager.  I mean, yeah, especially don't try it if you're the daddy, because that'll result in an extremely weak debate position for the man of the home, but don't even try it if you are the mommy.   It.  Just.  Won't.  Work.

I often joke with my co-workers about how their kids are still pre-teens, and so "you still have your brains."  To those whose kids are over the age of 25, it becomes, "hey, you got your brains back."  The joke has some truth buried in it, though, doesn't it?  To a teenager, questioning everything--authorities, parents, rules, the need for algebra classes, everything!--is just part of the human growth and development process.  That, in turn, causes us to cogitate on how best to answer, because the easy response just doesn't work on someone who has now completed Ms. Murdock's sophomore debate class. 

We really have to think now.

And you know what?  Sometimes the reason for things really is just, "Because ___ said so."  Why, for a really basic and easy example, is the speed limit on one stretch of road 40 mph, while it's 45 mph just a few hundred yards further?  Because the traffic engineers said so, that's why.  No, such an answer doesn't satisfy a teen any more than it satisfies me.  Often, such eventual ends to the logical path make us question our own sanity. 

But because we question, we are.

3.  Getting stuff done around the house

I know, I know.  Those of you who truly know teenagers are snerking about this one.  "Teenagers--get stuff done?" you're saying as you chortle along.

No, really.

We give teenagers chores, right?  We make it part of their "household duty" and offer to either pay them an allowance, or not withhold food, or allow them to keep their precious iPads and such, or even all of the above, as reward for the accomplishment of said chores.  And thus and therefore, sometimes our teenagers thrill us by actually doing them.

They never, ever do them correctly.  Out of the cupboards we pull pans that have, theoretically, been washed and dried and are ready for use once again, but one glance inside tells us they couldn't have been more than barely rinsed.  We open our t-shirt drawers to find our white work shirts are now pink.  The lawnmower blade gets broken--and the engine shaft warped, to boot--because somehow it ran itself over the only stump in the entire yard.

Luckily (and hopefully) those are the exceptions.  And all the while, we counsel, we cajole, and we compel.  "It's for your own good!" we explain, telling them that if they grow up without a strong work ethic they'll be Forever Failures, and we'll always know that they failed because we failed.

You don't want to make your dad a failure, do you, kid?

Let's be honest for a sec, though.  Teenagers (any who're still reading): sometimes, it's not all about you.  I know that's hard to believe, but it's not.  Sometimes there's just a simple reality going on that the Jetsons weren't real (go Youtube it if you don't get the reference), and the dishes won't scrub themselves.  Somebody has to do the dishes, then, and hey, you've got the short straw right up to the point where you can afford your own luggage and car insurance.

Hey, it's not like I'm asking you to plunge the toilets.  I still do that.  Just--get the dishes done, okay?  Please?

2.  Reminding us of the nature of the human condition

There's nothing quite like trying to get a teenage boy to come clean on the mental process that led up to one antic or another when his mouth is saying "I don't know" while his face is confessing that "the girl made me do it."  As long as the authorities weren't involved and no nine month or more permanent medical conditions were incurred, it's rather easy for us to chuckle about the situation after the fact, but at the time it's extremely frustrating.

I must note that teen girls are every bit as challenging.  "I don't know why my underwear were on inside out when I came home incapacitated by brandy" is just--well, wrong on so many levels.  Nothing else has quite the capacity to turn a normally peaceful adult man into a raging gun-toting boy-hunting lunatic. 

Then again, maybe it's not all bad.  After all, we tend to forget all about young passion and the troubles it presents when we happen to be looking from the perspective of the daily angst of work and water fountain rumors and paying the bills and going to PTA meetings and driving the kids to soccer practice and--well, and so on.  Then we're smacked in the face with it by our teenagers' goofy, hormone-addled antics, and first we get worried, and then we get angry over being worried, and then at some point we finally simmer back down and--well, I can't lie.  It makes me grin.  Human condition, indeed.

Through it all, our teenagers live, and they love, and they somehow make it to adulthood regardless.  Just, I should add, as we lived, we loved, and we somehow made it to adulthood regardless. 

1.  Carrying on

There truly is a circle to life, a continuity that is cute enough when lions and giraffes sing about it in cartoon movies but which really smacks you in the face at some point later on in life.  When we were kids, the world was all about us.  Then we had kids, and the world became all about them.  Then they have kids, and the world gains a whole new perspective, filled with grandparent jokes and "see, they really did turn out just like you" gloats.

We love them, we send them off to college, we celebrate their achievements, we wish we could do more for them as they launch into a life of their own, and regardless, for the most part, they go out and do okay.

Just like we did.


Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Top Five Uses for Dogs

In response to yesterday's post, The Top Five Uses for Cats, I must now suggest what I see are the top five uses for their counterparts in the pet world: specifically, "Man's Best Friend," the canine companion and crusader.

Your dog, that is.

And yes, as I tell my wife all the time, when she poops there, she most definitely is your dog, not mine.

But first, a few applicable quotations:

"Heaven goes by favor.  If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in." - Mark Twain

"Dogs never bite me.  Just humans." - Marilyn Monroe

"If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you.  This is the principal difference between a dog and a man." - Mark Twain

"The only creatures that are evolved enough to convey pure love are dogs and infants." - Johnny Depp

"I looked up my family tree and found three dogs using it." - Rodney Dangerfield

So what are the top five uses for dogs?

5.  Pulling stuff

One of my favorite memories from my years in Alaska was when we headed out to Wasilla and cheered on the "real" start of the Iditarod.  Why "real"?

See, the race technically starts on Saturday in Anchorage, dog teams coursing down streets that have just received the snow pack that's been saved up all winter (and that will be scooped up and shoved right back into storage that afternoon) to the sound of local radio station booths pumping out tunes as the Hooters girls and several high school cheerleading squads jump, gyrate, and yell.  The teams rush out of downtown, one at a time down a carefully guarded course, and over the river and through the woods (literally) to Eagle River they go, whereupon they put their teams back into trucks to drive to Wasilla (now, incidentally, it's held farther north in Willow due to "lack of snow," but of course global warming is only a figment of people's imagination).

That ain't a dog race.  That's a spectacle involving dogs.  The real race, to me, begins Sunday as teams launch out into the wilderness on the thousand (ish) mile journey to Nome.

Anyway, there is an unbelievable amount of energy that's palpable as a long team of dogs leaps forward as one to pull a guy, a sled, and some supplies across the field of snow.  They're excited, and you can tell it.  I'm sure they have no idea that they're reenacting the great push to get diptheria vaccine to Nome that happened back in 1925.  None of them has any idea of the statue of Balto erected in New York City's Central Park, nor have any of them likely enjoyed the Disney animated movie of the same name.  Human says to mush, and much mushing they do!

Now, it has to be pointed out that we say "strong as an ox," and that nobody has ever discussed internal combustion engine ability in terms of dogpower.  That said, the redoubtable canine will forever have a place in our books on northern history and our tow lines, to say nothing of our hearts.

Besides, cats can't.  Go ahead, hook one up to a sled and say "mush."  I dare you.

4.  Keeping our kitchen floors clean

Some dogs are so well-behaved that they don't hang out under their human's feet while said human is preparing dinner.  At least, so I've heard.  I've never met one; nearly all my indoor canine family members have chosen to give me as much moral support as I could stand while I was in that particular room.

It's got nothing to do with the fact that meat has a way of falling off the counters in doggy-bite-sized pieces while I'm in there, either.  You believe me, right?  I mean it, cross my heart and hope to eat pie.

It doesn't have to be meat, though.  Anything that slips off the cutting board and hits the floor is fair game to pooches, and five second rule can just be danged.  Last night we were cooking (well, I was cutting, my lovely bride was actually the one doing the cooking) my absolute favorite vegetable in the entire world, and two of the little rounds of raw okra slipped off the cutting board onto the floor all on their own.  Zoom, the Chihuahua moved!  Before I could say anything, much less "hey dummy, raw okra tastes awful," she had both of her new treasures in her tiny mouth and carried them, tail wagging proudly above and behind her, head held high, into the study.  There they remained until I picked them up, left there because she clearly did not like the taste.

At least the kitchen floor stays clean, though, right?

3.  Intruder alert system

I've heard it's possible to train a furry family member not to bark at strangers, but I'm not sure I believe the stories.  Every dog I've had has been like, "Okay, daddy, I won't bark at--hey, look at that strange guy out there rooff rooff ruff ruff roor roor rooff rooff...."


Apparently it's part of their basic nature.  While most cats are like, "oh, hey, welcome to my pad, and please meet my human servants," dogs take a personal--er, canine?--interest in whatever space their human masters inhabit.  And it's not just the companions to humans; it's apparently a basic canine characteristic.  I ran into a guy in Montana who lived way out in the sticks and claimed he'd never had a problem with wolves or coyotes because over the first few months he'd lived there he'd managed to visit every tree and bush on the perimeter at least once and pee on it.  This activity had had the dual effect of signaling his territory as his to all alien dog-like creatures while driving up the price of coffee in the local area. 

2.  Heating systems

Ever been sitting on the couch watching a movie and had a dog wrap itself around your feet?  If not, you have no idea what you're missing.  Our canine friends make the best footwarmers anywhere, ever.  They do the same for our laps, though some of 'em might be just a skosh too heavy to do so comfortably, and some of us might have laps that have become just a skosh too small to support a dog comfortably.  That said, if the size matches, it's a wonderful thing.

Puppies can also be good for keeping our toesies warm while we're snuggled under the blankies, I should add.  My own fluffy one loves hanging out there or in behind the curve of my knees while I'm trying to sleep.  After I'm asleep, then, she's good at warming up my chest, my ears, and sometimes my nose and mouth.  That last can make for an uncomfortable wake-up, trust me.

This warming effect pretty much saved our lives once upon a time, in fact.  Once long ago I purchased ten acres of prime real estate near the Susitna River (the Big Su) outside of Trapper Creek, Alaska.  We had an opportunity to spend the week of Christmas at a good friend's lodge in the Denali National Park, and after seven beautiful days we returned to find that someone had stolen the regulator from our propane tank, thus rendering one heating system unusable for the night.  Then I tried lighting the ancient wood stove, but the single-walled chimney had rusted out and so the attempt filled the house with smoke.  We--my wife, stepdaughter, and I--all ended up piling into one full-sized bed along with two large dogs, and in large part due the concentration of human and canine body heat we all made it through a night in which temperatures dipped to fifty below zero.

Thus it is that no matter what needs warming up, even sometimes my cold, dark heart, doggies are good for that. 

1.  Making every day awesome

I think, honestly, that this is my single most favorite thing about dogs.  No matter how great or terrible a day I had back when I had a kitty, Freya would show up sometime during the evening and suggest kindly that I feed her.  Yuki, my Chihuahua, however, always greets me at the door with a smile and a cheerful squealing that brings joy to my Evil Overlord soul whether I want it or not.

Matter of fact, I don't even have to be gone all day for it.  Yesterday I came home early in order to take the family to our doctor appointment, and she celebrated my arrival.  We were gone for a couple of hours, and when we came back she again celebrated my arrival.  I returned to work to finish a couple of projects before the weekend, and when I arrived--yeah, third verse, same as the first.

Aren't dogs cool?


The Top Five Uses For Cats

"I simply can't resist a cat, particularly a purring one.  They are the cleanest, cunningest, and most intelligent things I know, outside the girl you love, of course." - Mark Twain

"In ancient times cats were worshiped as gods; they have not forgotten this." - Terry Pratchett

"A cat is more intelligent than people believe, and can be taught any crime." - Mark Twain

"There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats." - Albert Schweitzer

"When a man loves cats, I am his friend and comrade, without further introduction." - Mark Twain

"Those who'll play with cats must expect to be scratched." - Miguel de Cervantes

My occasional snarky comments to the contrary, I suppose cats do have usefulness.  Here are the top five reasons I believe so:

5.  Endless source of cute kitty pics

Don't believe me?  Why, then, you must not frequent Facebook.  I'm not sure how I could bear to allow an entire day to pass if not for the occasional cute kitty picture, often accompanied by a cute caption like "I shall eat your entrails, human" or some such.

But seriously, cats do have an incredible propensity for striking the cutest of poses at just the right moment.  Granted, they're probably only doing so to lure young ones closer to their claws, but hey, on Facebook they're cute.

4.  Wonderful source of wise quotations

Just look at the top of this screen for proof.  That, or Google "quotations about cats."   I barely scratched the surface in my own quote regurgitations; the available sources for cat quotes scratch far, far deeper than I ever could. 

3.  Training humans to be responsible

Kids across the world have been taught the importance of responsibility for years by putting them in the care of cats.  I've seen junior high girls who wouldn't stoop to washing a dish leap to the ongoing task of keeping kitty's dish clean and filled at the right time with the right stuff.

It's amazing.

Our daughter, to use a more specific example, made it through high school in the typical way.  By that, I mean that if she had to write more than a paragraph it was a chore.  Now she's looking at going to visit friends for a week or two, and she's written an entire page of cat care instructions.

An entire page.

Included in the instructions are how much to feed her little furry baby, as well as a request that we continue her pattern of playing with the little kitty regularly, once in the morning and once at night.  Of course, the morning playtime usually, according to the instructions, happens between noon and one.  Gotta love teenagers, right?

2.  Keeping puppies honest for 9500 years

I'd always heard that ancient Egypt, a few thousand years ago, was the birthplace of cat domestication, an assumption that is apparently based on the artwork showing humans placing the felines in their rightful place (being worshipped, specifically) from way back then in that region.  I just read, though, that in 2004 they excavated a 9500-year-old grave in Cypress that had a human and a cat quite close together, apparently signifying a human-cat relationship that far back.

When I first read of the find, I wondered if it couldn't just be proof of a cat eating a human and then dying of indigestion, or vice versa.  But it turns out that the remains appear to be deliberately interred together, and frankly, a cat person going extra lengths to be buried with his beloved feline doesn't sound all that out of normal to me.

So yeah, now when my Chihuahuas are made to toe the line by our daughter's cat, I can't help but remind them that they belong to a long, long line of cat rule.  Sorry, puppies.

1.  Keeping physicists happy

When Schroedinger was designing his thought experiment that would turn the world of theoretical physics on its ears, did he pick a dog to go in his imaginary box of maybe-killing?  A turtle?  A parakeet?  A gecko?  No, he chose a cat, and for good reason, too.  You see, he knew--he must've known--that he was introducing a hidden quantum mechanical choice into the equation, and it would have pleased him.

To wit: in the explicit thought experiment, the experimenter presses a button which has a perfect fifty percent chance of either soundlessly killing the cat, or likewise soundlessly letting the cat live.  The fifty percent is called an Eigenvalue, named for the German writer of anti-cat poetry, Hermann Eigen.  Anyway, after pressing the button, the experimenter has to just live with the fact that the cat is neither, and both, alive and/nor dead, existing simultaneously in two Eigenstates ("live" and "dead") until the experimenter bravely opens the box to face either a now very angry feline or his very angry spouse, the now dead feline's servant. 

Neither Eigenstate is very Eigenpretty.  But it's a thought experiment, which means that the significant other doesn't really exist, nor does the actual feline, which because of this limitation can't actually claw the experimenter.

But here's the trick!  While this is a mere thought experiment, it's done by very real thought experimentalists, who are in turn going to be in a set of Eigenstates of emotion: joyful that the cat lived, grieved that the cat died, grieved that the cat lived, or joyful that the cat died.  After pressing the button, then, the observer finds an experimenter existing simultaneously in not one, not two, but four Eigenstates!

Yeah, that's a stretch, I guess.  But what about the six story rule?  You know, the rule that physicists will give you, the one that says cats dropped from more than six stories in height have a greater chance of surviving the fall than those dropped from significant distance but fewer than six stories.  It's a terminal velocity thing, you see, related to the fact that cats achieve terminal velocity, and thus stop accelerating, and thus relax because they can no longer feel acceleration effects, at about six stories of drop.


Nobody I know has ever tried the six story thing, of course.  It's--well, it's kind of a thought experiment.

See what I mean, though?


PS--No, Eigen-anything wasn't really named after any particular German; I made that up.  It's actually taken from the German term signifying self.  And no, there's no proof that Schroedinger ever considered the effect his thought experiment would have an an actual observer--why would he?  He was a theoretical physicist.  Imagine Sheldon Cooper of the hit TV series, with a little bit less compassion.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Caveat Emptor

Caveat emptor.  Let the buyer beware.  The term hearkens from way back in Roman days, the Latin word for somebody who buys something being "emptor" and the third person subjunctive (the tense that suggests that he or she might oughtta think about probably doing something) of "to beware" (cavere) being "caveat."

Betcha didn't know I speak Latin. Truth be told, I only speak Latin when I'm near a computer, and then with a strong Google accent.

That said--yeah, caveat emptor.  The idea that the buyer should be the one responsible for knowing what needs to be known to ensure a purchase is fair.  It didn't really come from Roman days, actually, but rather from English courts way back when they were wrestling over suitable laws of commerce.  The English just wanted their terms to sound all fancy and stuff, and so they borrowed the fine lingo known as Latin because, well, you know, it sounds official.  The newly-formed American court system, then, needed its own lingua eruditis, and voila.  Official court, they became, just add Latin.

No, seriously.  Try speaking a bit of Latin to someone and Professor Dumbledore they'll see.  "Migale in sinu meo" is your first one--rip that one off at a party and watch them flock to the Master of Erudition.   Makes you sound all Law-y, don't it?

Back to the matter at hand--caveat emptor--the concept was cemented into U.S. law back in 1817 when the Supreme Court said so in its opinion on Laidlaw vs. Organ.  The basic idea was that a party to a commercial contract is under an obligation to not falsify information, but not under an obligation to willingly produce information that is not requested or required.  These days, as commercial transactions become more and more complex while buyers--well, aren't--the concept isn't always holding up, but it's still the rallying cry of free market lovers everywhere.

Caveat emptor!  Hooray!

Up in Alaska we bought into what's called a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) agreement in which, for a fee (once a month in that case) we received a chunk of the vegetables and fruits harvested using the pooled money we all paid in.  It was wonderful.  We generally got a large box, half a bushel in size, every week, and opening it was like watching the Mystery Boxes being opened on the reality show Chopped but without Ted Allen's snarky commentary or the ensuing time limit stress.  We'd open the box, say things like, "I wonder what to do with this bulbous white thing," go to the web site for identification and then to Google for recipes, and come out of each week a little bit smarter. 

And it was all fresh, and certified organically grown.

That's why I jumped to join a CSA when we arrived here.  Oops.  Caveat emptor, indeed.

Oh, it's been fine so far.  Three boxes have been received, and the fruit has been wonderful.  I've been eating nectarines and peaches like they're going out of style.  Which, kind of sort of in a way of speaking, they are; those things rot quickly.

It's just I opened the first box and said, "who forgot the vegetables?"  There were a few little yellow squash, and the rest were fruit.  Don't worry, I reasoned, this is still sort of springtime.  I'm sure veggies will come as the summer ripens.

They didn't.  This recent box?  Once you recognize that tomatoes are technically fruit, you'll see that it's all fruit.

Oh, and they're not technically organic.  Nowhere on their site does it say they're organic.  For the size of farm they maintain, being certified organic would be a pain in the tuckass.  But I assumed, because the previous one was, that they were, too.  Not.

Why is the fruit to veggie ratio important to me?  Hey, it cost a decent chunk of money to buy into the 4-month program.  While I and the rest of the family do, in fact, love fresh fruit, we eat vegetables for most of our diets.  I was envisioning this, like the one in Alaska, to pay for itself by reducing the need to do grocery shopping, but--well, it doesn't.  *ahem*

Man Does Not Live Off Of Peaches Alone.

*ahem* So anyway--yep, perfect example of caveat emptor.  I didn't get what I was hoping to out of the deal, but that was only because I assumed too much about it.  Silly, silly me.  Not too bad of a thing, I suppose, as there's still plenty of value in what I am getting.  It's just--not what I wanted.

There are plenty of examples of caveat emptor floating around the newswaves, of course.  The Supreme Court recently gave us yet another in Mutual Pharmaceutical v. Bartlett.  "Generic medicine gave you a flesh-eating condition?  Caveat emptor, baby.  Go back to your coma and read the warning label next time."

All this, of course, ties back to the world of authorpreneurship.  There have always been plenty of scams out there waiting to prey upon your dreams of seeing your name in print.  Now that technology has sped things up, there exist people who can run away with your money far faster than they've ever been able to before.  And the flip side is that you never really know enough--it's no longer just an initiation issue.  As tech grows and the legal and commercial landscapes shift, the ways in which you can get scammed do the same.

Frankly, it's an easy scam, in general, to work.  Legitimate publishers are, for the most part, hiding behind "no contact unless you're an agent" signs ("nisi forte quis non agens" for the ones who wanna sound Law-y).  Legitimate agents may or may not be accepting the fabulously frightening-to-write documents known as queries.  Those who are taking them apparently get so many that most of them ignore all but the very best.  So then, after sending 40, 50, 60 (as The Help author did) or even 80 (as I did) of them out, you get a note saying "hey, yeah, we'll take your book."

You'll feel like you won the lottery.

Never mind you didn't play the lottery.

You jump in anyway, though, since it's your dream come true, and next thing you know you get the bill.  That, or you find out that the folks you jumped into the wagon with are so not-respected that you'll never get your books into a bookstore other than, and you could've done that all by yourself.

It's a tough world out there, really, and it's evolving to be tougher every day.  So what can you do to make sure you're an adequately caveating emptor?  (see how Law-y I sounded?)  First, get to know some people, through Facebook or a local writers group or elsewhere, who've done it.  Ask their opinion, and listen when it's given.

Second, check out for yourself the site called Preditors and Editors.  They've been around a long time and have a pretty good database built up of the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Use the information there to guide your networking efforts.

Third, follow other writers' and even occasionally agents' blogs.  For example, David Gaughran is an Irish author who runs a blog that discusses the pros and the cons of various companies out there.  I've learned quite a bit just by following his blog and reading the posts.

Hope this helps.

Carpe diem, and caveat, you emptors! Veni, vidi, visa!


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

On Tuesday

*insert famous quotation about Tuesday*: I got nuthin'....

Happy Tuesday!

Feliz Martes!

Tuesday has always been a particularly interesting day to me.  For one thing, it follows Monday, directly.  All that hatred and angst you see poured out toward the first official workday of the workweek makes Tuesday seem silent, staid, and almost happy by comparison.  It's like people are saying, "It's still a long time till Friday, but at least it's not Monday," or the shorter version of that, "Meh."

Meh, indeed.

It's interesting to put the origins of the names of the days of the week up alongside the origins of the names of the months of the year.  At least, it's as interesting as stuff tends to get on a Tuesday.  Monday, of course, is the Moon's day.  Tuesday is Tyr's day.  Wednesday, of course, belongs to Odin.  Thursday is named after Thor, and as I've already discussed, Friday is named for Freya or Frigga, depending upon whether you ask the Germanics or the Britons.  Finishing out the wonderful time with the awesome weekend, you have the days belonging to Saturn, the chief of the pantheon, and the Sun.

As months go, well, I'll spare you the long list.  Suffice it to say that there isn't a month named after the Sun, the Moon, Odin, Thor, Freya, Frigga, or Saturn.  They're all named after other deities, emperors, or things.

Except, of course, for March.  Which is, incidentally, named after Mars, the God of War.  And yes, the God of War in the northern pantheons is Tyr, after whom Tyr's day (or Tuesday) is named in English.  Note the Mars root in the Latin-family language names for Tuesday, incidentally.  So there--one god gets both a month and a day named after him, and of course he's the ole' war god.

So that's why elections in the U.S. being held on Tuesday seems so fitting, honestly.  It's not why they're held that day, of course.  In olden days, it sometimes took people an entire day to travel to their polling locations (and yet, they still voted) and nobody wanted to require people to start a long journey on the Lord's Day.  If they waited till Monday, though, they could be there by Tuesday to vote.  The God of War's day, it was, then.

Ah, Tuesday.


Monday, July 15, 2013

Interviewing Tips From The College Dean

Here's one for everyone who wants a clean-language version of my previous interviewing tips, written as a college dean instead of an evil overlord.

(Yes, these are the same tips, just recounted in a manner that you can read anywhere, to anyone.)

Avoid personal information
As an interviewer I often start off with a general "tell me about yourself" question.  It's designed for two purposes: one, to give you an opening to point out what you believe are your most important, best, most salient qualities; and two, to do a basic check to see whether you can separate your personal life from your professional one.  You should not start your response to this question by giving any information, such as your age, your marital status, your birth day/month, the number of children you have, your racial or ethnic background, or anything similar, that would be considered illegal to use in a hiring decision.

Then again, you should not end your response to the question with any of the categories of information I listed above, either.  As a matter of fact, your response to the question shouldn't contain that bit anywhere.  The interviewer doesn't need to know it, probably doesn't want to know it, and very likely will be disappointed if you force him or her to know it.

Instead, focus on what makes you a great choice for the position: your education, your experience, and your character.  That's what the interviewer is looking for. 

Be prepared
There are certain sets of information that every interviewer is going to try to drag out of you.  The sets are different depending on the purpose of the interview, but they're not hard to figure out for the most part.  Admissions interviews want to know why you're a good candidate who is likely to prosper in and complete the academic program/college you're applying for.  Employment interviewers, meanwhile, want to know why you'll be a good fit for the job requirements.  Most of the time those job requirements are publicized, and so there's really no reason to be very surprised.

The most important thing is to know something about the company/program for which you're interviewing.  You don't have to have the annual report memorized, certainly, but you should at least know the basic business needs.  A basic web search followed by a quick read over the company's web page might be sufficient, though for higher level jobs you'll want to dig deeper into your area of expertise.

Look professional
Make sure you enter the company area looking like someone the hiring manager would want to hire.  Granted, that's quite a bit different, sometimes, from how someone might look that you'd want to hire.  Pay attention, pre-interview, to the company's culture as well as that of the industry it serves.

General guidelines include:
  • Avoid excessive jewelry.  It's distracting at best, and can go against company culture at worst. 
  • Avoid fragrances of any type.  You might love the cologne you bought last month, but Murphy's Law says that the person you'll need to impress the most will be allergic to it. 
  • Take out your piercings and cover visible tattoos.  Granted, some industries appreciate body art, but if you're applying for a job in one of those I'll bet you know to ignore this line.  Otherwise, don't risk it.  You might get a hiring manager who loves the look of a purple stud in your nose, but there's at least equal odds that you will not.  
  • Avoid revealing attire.  Dress as professionally unremarkable as possible.  You don't want the interviewer remembering you for your clothing.

Be on time
Odds are good that somebody will be watching for when you arrive, because your interest in being punctual to an interview is believed to be a direct indicator for how seriously you'll take your commitments on the job.  That may be valid, or it may not, but it is what you'll be judged by.

Answer the questions
Make sure to pay attention to the question that is actually being asked, and answer it fully.  If the question is about your knowledge of basic classroom management techniques, for example, then discuss basic classroom management techniques.  If, on the other hand, the question asks you to give an example of using basic classroom management techniques, then give an example rather than a theoretical discussion.

The example questions are often what throw people off the greatest, in my experience.  We're not used to categorizing our experiences and then describing them.  Thus, it's a good idea to prepare yourself with some examples that show you doing your job previously, in both good and bad ways, so that you'll have some ready answers when you walk in.

Make sure your examples are specific.  Examples should always be able to be prefaced with a day and time they occurred.  If you cannot start an example answer with the words "Last Tuesday I" then it's not an example.

Watch for verbal and nonverbal clues
Hard as this may be to believe sometimes, the interviewer wants you to succeed at the interview.  Oh, you might not be selected ultimately for the hire, but there's nothing more satisfying for an interviewer than to go through talking with half a dozen candidates to find that they're all excellent choices.  Look, then, to what the interviewer says and does for clues as to how you're doing, and let them help you have a great interview.

Hope this helps!

(Dr. King)

What Should I Write?

What should I choose to write when I have time to write?

I know, silly question, since I never really have time to write.  Instead, I make time to write, and I usually have something in mind when I do so.  But still, I have several works in progress, and when I do make time for it, it never seems to turn out as I'd planned.

Some seasoned authors say I should only write on one work at a time.  Do one, draft it, edit it, revise it, finish it, wrap it up into a pretty bow-spangled package, and fulfill whatever exit strategy (self pub, submit to agents, put it on your blog, decorate the walls with it, whatever) you have in mind, then move on to work-in-progress number two.

I can't.

I know what you're thinking, and I agree--hey, if the successful folks are doing it such-and-such way, then I need to do it that way too.  Just like how the successful authors all outline their works before they write the draft--oh, wait, no, some successful authors do, and others don't.  Maybe it's like how the successful fantasy authors all map out their entire world before starting to--oh, no, that's not an everybody rule either.

I guess no matter how I do this crazy writing thing, I'm'a gonna do it just like somebody, while at the same time I'm'a gonna do it the way somebody else says not to.  Granted, that shouldn't surprise anybody who's ever studied the more general form of authorpreneurship.  It did surprise me way back during my MBA courses, in fact, when I found that for every "always do xxxx to build your company" there was somebody who had successfully done the opposite.

So back to the original question.  What should I choose to write when I sit down to write?  The question plagues me often, as I currently have no fewer than three instances of Scrivener and one of Microsoft Word open on my desktop.  Each has a different document.  Matter of fact, the four different documents represent four different genres.  That, and there's a fifth out there that's just in Microsoft Word notes form.

My lovely bride has been after me to finish the Elf Queen book that's open in Instance #1 of Scrivener.  Problem is, it's at a point in the story where something major is going to happen, and to be honest, I'm not entirely certain what that's going to be.  Now, that's the book that I generally sit down to write, as I'm sure that if I just start writing it I'll figure it out, but the problem is that when I look at it to start writing, my "muse" messes with me.  All of a sudden the next scene of another story will flash before my eyes, and I'll flip over to another document to put that on paper.

Thus it is that I'm nearly halfway done with Professor Kinder (sci fi novel).  Yes, the name sucks, but I haven't come up with anything better yet.  Meanwhile I'm 2/3 of the way done with the first revision of the Long, Winding Road, my mostly-true tale of adventures along the Alaska Highway.  I'm a bit over 1/3 of the way done with the Elf Queen book.  And, over there in the corner in Microsoft Word sits the used-to-be-short story in an adult genre that has been awfully fun to write as it snakes around into different situations.

Hey, I'll finish something sometime soon, I promise.  But I have to write what my muse tells me to write.

Is your muse better behaved than mine?


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Organizing my blog

I've wondered how it is that other bloggers maintain such neat category lists for their posts.  After all, creating a blog that sticks entirely to one single topic just seems kinda boring to me, as it apparently does to pretty much every other blogger whose work I've seen.  I'm particularly bad at it, though, creating as I am a post on blogging organization (a subject important to authorpreneurs) immediately after a post on the writing process (Distractions Everywhere) which in turn comes right on the heels of a humorous post that explains that a refrigerator is not a coffee pot. 

Bad blogger, Stephen!  Bad blogger! 

Ah, well.  That's just kind of how my mind works, though. 

Anyway, as I said, I've been wondering how some bloggers keep their posts organized by topic. Oh, I looked it up some time ago.  The instructions I found were for Wordpress blogs, though, and I use Blogger instead, where the Wordpress options are not available.  Yes, I know--those enlightened souls who use Wordpress consider us lower beings on to be rank amateurs anyway, but the site works well enough, other than not having a categories option, and I tend to avoid fixing what ain't broken.

I found how to do it today.

It's pretty simple, actually, and should have been obvious.  There's a Labels option when you create a blog post that allows you to label the blog post's contents.  It's right there at the top of the screen, in fact.  Once you populate that with a few options, those options stay there for future posts so you can use the same label over and over again as appropriate.  Then there's a widget in the Layout screen that allows you to display the labels (and a number of posts in each one) for users' convenience.


What that means to you is that those of you looking for posts on my West Point days won't have to flip through boring (to you) articles on writing or authorpreneurship.  Those who are looking for writing about writing, as the title of the blog suggests you should find here, will be able to bring up just those posts. 

Again, I say: Yay!

It's a little problematic on two fronts, though.  The first issue is that I waited a little bit too long to worry about categorization.  Now, I have nearly 500 posts to categorize.  Some of those, I don't even remember writing, honestly.  I've managed to go back through the ones written in 2013 so far, and to my credit I've only experienced a couple of the old famous "WTF was I thinking?" moments.  I'll continue working on it, when I have time, and hopefully soon I'll have the entire back collection categorized.  If the ranking of labels looks funny to you so far, remember that a huge majority of 2011 posts were actually on the topic of writing, and so as I get to those the "writing" label should balloon. 

The other issue is that I hate doing categorization.  The issue, as I like to 'splain it, is that I'm too good at it.  After checking it out, you may disagree with me, and that's fine.  Regardless, I hate, hate, hate using a "general" category, but I also recognize the need for a bucket to dump all of the onesies into and thus avoid a whole passel of onesies and twosies categories.  My discussion of Paula Deen, for example, wasn't about writing, nor was it about success, and it wasn't particularly humorous.  It also only consisted of two posts, and I really don't see me ever writing another post on the topic.  Thus, "general." 

Other categories were challenging as well.  For example, nearly all of my posts are creative by definition.  However, some are more creative than others.  The "creative" label, then, I reserved for truly creative writing like the role playing stories I've told, or the interviews or interactions with fictional characters I've written. 

I've tried to avoid multi-categorizing posts, for the most part, though, for example, some of the posts regarding West Point were for more than just telling a story and so I also labeled them as success posts.  Thus, you'll end up seeing more posts if you add up all the categories than you'll see in the archive list.  Eh, it happens.  The one multi-category I've refused to use is anything paired with "general," since to me the only posts that belong in the general bucket are the ones that don't belong in any other bin. 

So, anyway, enjoy the new feature.  It's over on the right of the blog, below the info about me and above the archive.