Whistle While You Kraftwerk

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listening_wallAs a kid, I did all my homework while watching TV — usually Star Trek reruns
— much to the chagrin of my parents.  During my college days, I graduated to listening to music while I worked on my physics and math problems.

The refrains of my unusual musical tastes were loud enough that I couldn’t hear the mumbles, comments, complaints and curses that I’m sure my fellow academicians were voicing in their offices and dorm rooms next to mine.
Since I was a church organist, and an enthusiast about all things keyboard related, my speakers were constantly blaring the sounds of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Triumvirat, Kraftwerk, Chick Corea, Patrick Moraz, Walter (before he became Wendy) Carlos’ synthesized masterpieces, Rick Wakeman and Yes, and of course King Crimson featuring their magically hypnotic mellotron.

In the workaday world that came after college, my cubicle was void of tunes, until I was promoted to an office where I could play my music — albeit at much lower volumes. I also tuned to college radio, so that I could enjoy a variety of music, and not cheese off my office-mate. See? I can be taught to be considerate!

Actually, that was only half the reason for lower volumes.
I found I enjoyed the music so much that it distracted me from efficiently performing my work.

These days, I wonder how I accomplished any work at all.
I shake my head in disbelief a how many of my peers work with loud music. For example, Richard Liparulo told me he often plays music conducive to the genre he’s writing – e.g., playing star-opera movie sound tracks while writing sci-fi.

I now most often work in silence. The noise, dialog and movie rolling in my head when I’m writing is enough and incredibly fragile. My budding efforts are entirely erased if music intrudes. That is simply intolerable to my muse.
On those rare occasions that I can tolerate music — usually when I’m doing light editing — I seek refuge with my old favorites. Though lately I tune into internet radio, streaming my old college radio station WMUH, or  Soma FM’s 70’s, 80’s and Secret Agent channels.

So, what do you whistle while you work, or listen while you lurk?

The Dreaded Necessary Evil

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The title I’ve chosen for today’s little diatribe is in fact the bookmark entry in my browser for Facebook.

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It is my daily “note-to-self” that social media is a tool. It is not my friend.
It reminds me that social media is a necessary evil, like swallowing foul-tasting medicine in hopes it will somehow, someway, eventually improve my situation.

If I were employed in some other field, I probably would use Facebook and its ilk (including this blog) as little as possible. I much prefer to talk, phone, email, and (gasp!) write real letters — on paper! — to my friends and people in general.
However, in my new vocation as an author, social media is an absolute requirement. Everyone along the publishing chain — from agent, to editor, to publisher, to reader — expect it. They eye you with dire suspicion as though you were dressed in caveman bearskins if you don’t have a website, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
The harsh reality of our electronic world is that one cannot sell books, let alone hope to be successful in the writing biz, without having an online presence. At the risk of belaboring the point, social media is a necessary evil — like any other form of advertising in the marketplace.
It doesn’t mean I have to like it.
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I often compare the experience of a Facebook session to a sewage technician in a honey-dipper suit emerging from the task of fixing a broken septic tank, that keeps breaking on a daily basis. That feeling of being soiled is intensified when my ‘friends’ rail on about their political views.
Truth be told, I’m guilty of political ranting as well. Anyone who has tabs into my Facebook profile is aware of this. I don’t know if I can (or should) take any comfort from the fact that I seem to do it far less than many on the internet.
I can at least hold my head up high, that I do not allow my political views to spill over into my workplace Facebook pages.
OK, here I go. I’m pinching my nose shut, and diving in again.

“We have met the enemy and he is us.” – Walt Kelly, Pogo
Pogo 5

BMI – Body Mass Index or Blatantly Misused Information?

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according-to-bmiI recently scandalized a dietician, when I confronted her with my assessment of the Body Mass Index (BMI), declaring it was a “tissue of lies.” She had no argument in its defense after I explained my position. I leave it up to the reader whether her silence was due to her politeness, professionalism or the patent indefensibility of the BMI.

Why do I assert the BMI is useless?
Let’s look at 3 points: history, application, and mathematics.

1) History – the BMI was originally developed by life insurance companies to fine tune their actuarial tables. The scale was created to measure the relative health of large population centers. It was NEVER meant to assess an individual’s health — and yet that is exactly what our ‘educated’ (read ‘indoctrinated’) medical community does. Our esteemed learned health professional community is using a sledgehammer where they should use a screwdriver.

2) Application – the BMI gives no additional useful information. If you’re above a certain number, your labeled as ‘obese’ by varying degrees. Regardless of the degree, unless you’re below the ‘healthy’ number, your health professional gives you the “Tsk-Tsk” lecture and a finger wagging you haven’t seen since your 3rd grade teacher.
The BMI data point is no more useful than simply setting a goal for your weight.

3) Mathematics – the BMI is based solely on your weight and a single physical dimension — height. Last time I checked, we are 3-dimensional creatures. It is obvious on the face of the argument that a person with a shallow chest and small shoulders should have a different measure of health than an NFL linebacker with a chest cavity the size of Montana. Taken to a ridiculous extreme, the BMI scale would have labeled Arnold Schwarzenegger at his peak as ‘morbidly obese’. Oh, please.
Other factors that have obvious ramifications for health, but are entirely ignored by the BMI, are age and gender. So if you can find a young male ballet trouper the same height and weight as my arthritic Aunt Abigail, you mean to tell me they have the same outlook as predicted by the BMI?

The BMI is the current standard merely because it’s cheaper to measure than other more accurate indices, like the Adipose Index or the Hydrostatic method, to name a few.

It’s time to punt the guilt-trip disguised as ‘best-practice’ called the BMI.
Tell your dietician I sent you.

What Authors Really Want For Christmas

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Want to give a meaningful Christmas present to a writer?
1) Read their book. Buy or borrow – paper or ebook, it matters little. Buying their book is a nice boost to their bottom line, but it is not the most important part.
2) File a review on Amazon, Goodreads, AND your favorite online book vendor, in that order.

Now here’s the important part.
Don’t just rate it, 1 to 5 stars. Write a few sentences WHY you liked it. Or didn’t like it.
Actual meaningful text, like “I liked the imagery when describing…” or “refreshing to see a hero that…” means the review will pass muster with the Amazon police. They are on the prowl to remove slimy reviews-for-hire. Having original and unique thoughts in your review means Amazon won’t flag it as fake.

What makes the second part the most important?
a) Amazon will promote the book at increasing levels, as milestones of 20 and 50 reviews are met. Exposure is more important than the sale of a single copy of a book, especially for authors not working under sweet-deal contracts with big publishers.

b) Feedback is essential for authors. Especially for me. I cannot improve if I don’t get feedback!
If you like something, Say So. If you didn’t like something or (God forbid!) got confused, SAY SO! If you say nothing, I’ll just continue writing the same old stuff.

Thanks, and Merry Christmas!

Here’s to Old Frendz

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dog_paddlerFifteen years ago I spoke with a person employed in the mental health field. The topic at hand was relationships — despite our best efforts, we probably ended up there because I was dealing with the aftermath of a rather disastrous breakup.

When we discussed our less tempestuous relationships, I remarked that I still kept tabs with a few of my high school and college buddies. When I further added that my three closest ‘best friends’ and I have pal’d around on a weekly basis for the past quarter of century, she blurted out a guffaw of earnest surprise. Her shocked expression told me that the concept of such a long relationship (outside of marriage) was totally alien to her.

I wonder what she would think now – I’ve known these people for 40 years now, and I still hold these three friends close to my heart. So much so, that they are part of my adopted family, and I am part of theirs. I am ‘Uncle Chris’ to at least 5 children that I have zero blood relation to. I have watched these people grow from screaming ankle-biters to smart, sane individuals who I am extremely happy and proud to know. Probably more than most of my actual blood-relations. We still hug whenever we meet, fer cryin’-out-loud.
I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It also is more than a little surprising that they haven’t gotten sick & tired of me after all this time.

Let’s hope this is a living definition of ‘friend’ that Facebook doesn’t dilute or erase.

Image courtesy of thedogpaddler.com

The (Table) Games People Play [updated]

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I played Dungeons & Dragons long before it became popular.
I enjoyed hours of Magic until it, too, was gobbled up by a soulless corporation.
My days of playing video games have also come and gone. (Sorry, gang – Xbox, PS4 and their ilk hold no charms for me anymore. My real life computer work is far more entertaining!)

However, I have not lost my affinity for TABLE games.
These table games are not the typical pablum (e.g., Monopoly, Risk, et al.) foisted upon the American public. Rather, I would guess that 99% of the general populace have never heard of any of these games.

I am indeed fortunate that I have a large circle of acquaintances (Yay, OTAKON!) that are consistently introducing me to new table games, a tight circle of friends that enjoy playing them as much as I do (if not more), and that we can get together every couple of weeks to spend an evening enjoying each other’s company over a table of friendly competition.

Below is my list of games and reviews, updated from last year. Please, take a stroll through some of my favorites! As with any opinion, your mileage may vary.
And of course, Christmas will be here before you know it… (Hint, Hint!)

If you have any table games that you are rabid about, please leave a comment and share!

Board Games

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Card Games

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The Eighth Deadly Sin

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If there is a special place in Hell, it’s for the people who do remakes of movies that were done right the first time.

Poltergeist
The remake is not inherently bad. If you didn’t see the original, this one could stand reasonably well on its own. However, if you happen to be familiar with the original, this film clearly falls into the “adds nothing new” slush-pile.
As a side note, I am forced to comment that casting a child actor who was a disturbing dead-ringer for the original Carolann (deceased) was as tasteless as this pun.

Psycho
Nothing shouts “zero creativity” louder than a shot-by-shot remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s original classic. I wonder, who approved this? And can I soon part this particular fool from some more of his money?

The Day the Earth Stood Still
No glitz left un-flashed in this attempt to hide Keanu Reeves’s version of Klaatu. His delivery is more wooden than a Gerry Anderson Supermarionation. Michael Rennie is spinning in his grave.

Rollerball
The original’s chilling vision of globalization using bread & circuses to distract the masses, made all the more so poignant since many of its prognostications have sadly come true, has been transformed into a video game by a remake that is a total waste of celluloid.

The Longest Yard
I am by no means a fan of sports films, so it is high praise indeed when I say the original was perfect – hilarious, exciting and heartfelt in all the right places. Remaking it was pointless. Remaking it with Adam Sandler was just horrific.

Big Trouble in Little China
Coming soon to an overpriced theater near you.
Why, Rock? WHY?
The John Carpenter original is a grand knee-slapping romp combining horror and humor. A rare combo not to be missed. I cringe in anticipation of how much of a custer-fluck the remake will turn out to be.

There are scores, if not hundreds, of films that were followed by disastrous remakes. However, they have not graced (disgraced?) this list, because either: I have not seen both the original and/or the remake and therefore cannot render an opinion; or in my opinion, the original was not that hot to begin with (e.g. Wicker Man, which shows up in many other ‘bad remake’ lists).

What’s your story? Do you have a film that was 5-star worthy, remade into a 1-star schlockfest? Leave a comment, and why you believe the remake stinks – I love to hate bad films.

Original Syn-Thesis

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The other day I heard a TED radio talk by K. Ferguson “Embrace the Remix”.  It was not the best entry in the series I’ve heard, but it was quite challenging and thought provoking, which is a plus in my book.

The talk opened with the statement “the last original thing was the Big Bang,” and everything since then has been a remix.  The talk’s examples were wanting, to say the least, in my opinion.

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It compared George Lucas’ Star Wars to the works of Kurosawa (Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, and several others).  I found that part of the argument weak (but not flawed) on several levels: 1) the influences he used as anecdotal proof were due to the art director and costume designer, not Lucas; 2) he totally ignored Joseph Campbells’ work (more on that later), whereby the entire Star Wars story is a retelling of the millenia-old “orphan with a destiny comes of age” story arc.

Ferguson’s other body of examples circled around Bob Dylan. His body of work was considered groundbreaking at the time, but an analysis of his music shows that he cribbed from folk music – e.g. deep dark Appalachia.  Ferguson then proceeded to torpedo his own argument by fessing up that such behavior was the norm in those days – it was expected and encouraged that folk songs copy from each other.
Not only does he kick out one of the legs of his own argument, be he ignores the fact that sometime somewhere somewhen – SOMEBODY came up with the strictures of music not observable in nature (meter, harmony, the math behind the music).

I was struck by the coincidence on that very day I had read from Stephen King’s “On Writing” that original ideas aren’t original, they are the result of two existing ideas colliding in your head.  The writer has to always be ready to capture it.  Two points to Team Ferguson.

However, I noticed that the body of Ferguson’s talk focused on the arts – movies, music, fashion, etc.  Not once did he venture into the more scientific fields.  I would love to hear how he explains away the earth-shaking advances in history made there.  Take heliocentrism, general relativity or quantum mechanics – not only were they arguably original, they went against the grain of accepted thought. What did they crib from, pray tell?

The talk ended with me chortling to myself over Joseph Campbell, who said that there are no original stories – that all stories boil down to seven archetypes.  Guess that means that Ferguson’s hypothesis isn’t all that original either.

Any commentary, controversy, chatter, contradiction, criticism?
But please, only original comments! *snicker*

Missing (Because of) In Action

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Sorry I haven’t blogged in soooo long.  I’ve been slaving away since December 2015 on GLVWG’s 2016 Anthology. It’s had its ups and downs, periods of work, hard work, hectic work, sheer panic, and ANGST GONE MAD. On the other hand, the occasional kind word from the contributors, on whose pieces I’ve been editor, goes a long way to keep me calm and motivated.

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Oops – there’s the phone again. Gotta go. Coming up for air later this month I hope!

I Write Like… Who?!

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A fellow author described his recent humorous experience with the writing analysis website “I Write Like”.  Now that I have a novel and a short story out in the world, with two more short stories available soon, I thought I’d give the software a spin.

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Its results were a mixed bag.

Work I Wrote Like…
Pindlebryth – Chapter 1 Dan Brown
– Chapter 2 David Foster Wallace
– Chapter 3 Margaret Atwood
– Chapter 4 Arthur C. Clarke
– Chapter 5 H.P. Lovecraft
-Chapter 6 Anne Rice
– Chapter 7 H.P. Lovecraft
– Chapter 8 L. Frank Baum
– Chapter 9 Dan Brown
– Epilogue Arthur C. Clarke
Eight Jane Austen
That Which Was Lost (March ’16) Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
The Origin of Specious (Jan ’16) Arthur C. Clarke

IWL nailed it when comparing my style to Lovecraft, Clarke and Vonnegut. This should not surprise anyone, as these three were my favorite authors during the first half of my life. It follows, therefore, that they should have the largest affect on my writing style.
What I find curious is that the software compared me to other authors, of whose work I’ve read very little. The most surprising result was IWL comparing my style to that of Jane Austen. I’ve read nothing of hers (yet) — but it might explain why one reader who is an Austen-ophile is gaga over Pindlebryth.

Being the ex-software-QA guy, it was only natural that I question how accurate these results really are. Running with a suggestion from one of my editors,* I tested the software by feeding it a couple of public domain texts. The software passed the comparison test three out of four times – only flubbing it with a Jules Verne short story, by declaring “You write like Daniel Defoe.”  Hmmm… not that far off base, so overall I give the software a solid “B” passing grade.

Just for grins and giggles, I’ll continue to run any future published work through the IWL mill.

* I hang my head in shame, that my editor thought of this before I did. As the QA guy, this should have been bloody obvious to me.