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Customer Service FAIL. (And it was me.)

Soooo, this is fascinating.  And mortifying.  And bizarre.

 I've been doing customer service for about 20 years.  As with anything  you do for a long time, I've gotten increasingly better at my job with  time.  Occasionally I'll see an email I sent 15 years ago and will be  embarrassed by the rookie mistakes I made.  But hey, that's progress!

But wow.  This is... a new one.

 Back in January, a customer emailed me about a shipment that  accidentally went out to him earlier than intended.  (The specifics of  why aren't important.)  So I wrote back to him, and said:

"Sorry  about that, XXXXX!  I'm not quite sure how that happened.  In any event,  I'm now refunding that $5.50 shipping charge back to your card!

Let me know if you need anything else,

Sounds friendly, accommodating, and professional, right?

Or at least that's what I had INTENDED.

 Except - read that again.  And when you get to the word "now", assume  that I accidentally typed a "T" instead of a "W".  Because I did.

(Bonus points for the  exclamation point at the end of my sentence with the typo.  If I'd typed  a "W", it was intended to convey friendliness!  Since I typed a "T", it  instead conveyed "SCREW YOU!")

Reading over his subsequent reply, I suddenly see a frostiness I'd previously missed...!


Halloween and the Fretting Thereof

So here's the thing.

Halloween has never been a favorite  holiday, just because coming up with a decent costume is something I've  never felt particularly skilled at, and doing so stresses me out.  The  number of costumes I've been happy with over my life has been  astonishingly few.

When I was a kid, I dressed up as a vampire a  couple of times; my dark hair lends itself well to that, especially if  makeup lightens my skin tone.  The one I remember fondly, though, is  when I wanted to be a mummy.  My own  mummy (obvious joke) cut an old white bedsheet into strips and wrapped  me up from head to toe.  It was pretty great!

 In fifth grade, my nerdity showed no restraint as I decided to be a  computer.  I think we put a cardboard box around my middle, decorated up  to display a monitor and keyboard.  It was probably slightly crap, and I  feel like I remember some classmates mocking it, but that sticks out in  my head as a time I made a costume of something I loved, just for *me*.

 Possibly my most successful costume ever was around 2003, when I came  up with the concept of Vampire + Pirate = VamPirate.  Not only was it  wordplay-based costuming (yay!), but it looked pretty damn great.  Sam, Heather, William & I all dressed as VamPirates, with Tish as the VamPirate Slayer.

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The Strut That Would Not Die

Earlier this week, as I walked into the theater for that evening's performance of The Tragedy of He-Manlet, Prince of Eternia (for which I'm running lights & sound), the bartender - drinking at the theater's bar, her shift not yet begun - looked over at me and grinned, "I like your swagger."

Oh. Geez. That.

"Thanks," I mumbled, feeling a self-conscious flush.

So. There's a story there.

In high school I always went out for the twice-yearly school plays. One of the two most memorable roles I ever had was as Kenicke in Grease. (Yep, I got to sing "Greased Lightning" in front of an audience at 18.) And the other - still one of my favorite roles of all time, ever - was Orin Scrivello, the Dentist, in Little Shop of Horrors.

And I recall that for one of these roles - probably the Dentist, but it could have been for either - the director stopped us in rehearsal after a scene and said that when I came on for the first time, he'd like me to walk in with a strut.

Oh! Sure, I can do that. I like getting direction. But (and I fumbled with my words, trying to figure out my question): What does that mean? And he, possibly baffled, tried to explain.

Um. Okay. Er ... but what does that look like?

Well, he tried to convey, you maybe do this with your arms, and this with your legs. And we'll try it again.

So we started the scene, and I walked in, trying to do what he described.

STOP! No, now you just look constipated. Never mind, we'll move on.

And so it went, until a couple of days later when I was walking to school, via the shortcut I took through the not-yet-built neighboring subdivision. And as I walked past the enormous mounds of bulldozed earth in the early dawn - with easy mind, laidback demeanor, the sounds of The Cure likely piped in from my Walkman - I took casual note of my lengthening stride, and the increased arcs my swinging arms took.


And that afternoon in rehearsal, I showed the director. Is this what you meant?

YES! That's it exactly. Do that every time!

And I did.

But the thing of it is - apparently I never learned how to turn it off!


So, uh. Yes. That.

I'm ridiculous, is all I can say.

But, then, you probably knew this. :P

London 2014: The Prep.

In June, I went to Lakes of Fire.

In July, I visited my Aunt Rose & Uncle Dennis in Kalamazoo.

And in August, I went to London.

Ever since I lived in London from September '07 to April '08, I've tried to get back every couple of years. It really is my favorite city on Earth, and if I could have moved there permanently I would have. Were I fabulously wealthy, I'd love to alternate cities: living in Chicago for half the year, and London for the other half. Since I'm not, I simply try to get back as often as I can. Which, it must be noted, is still a heck of an expense (even if a somewhat infrequent one).

My last visit had been in August 2012, for Francesca's wedding. And when Ryvre & I attended the World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago two weeks later, and the 2014 WSFC location was announced as being in London, I said to myself, "I know when I want my next trip to be!"

Granted, it nearly didn't happen. Finances have been tight the past couple of years, and when I considered the very large cost of such a trip (oversea flight, a couple of weeks' lodging, not to mention the additional cost of getting around & eatings & doings while in the city itself) ... well, all that considered, it seemed I might not be able to go after all. Until my father pointed out over the holidays that he had a free plane ticket earned through British Airways which he had no use for, and which he could pass on to me. Thanks, Dad!

The time leading up to any trip is such a funny thing. You have limited time in which to attend to all the MANY MANY THINGS which need to be taken care of (finalizing the details of your trip, making sure all work matters are planned for & covered in anticipation of one's absence, packing, etc.), and so you're rushing rushing rushing ... until the day comes, and you go, and you just have to shrug your shoulders and be all relaxed and zen about it. What's done is done, and what isn't ... will be fine.

The one part of my trip that was a bit frustrating was the timing of the outbound flight. International jet lag is a horrible horrible thing, and especially when flying eastward. You're going against the movement of the sun, so on an 8 hour flight you're really losing an extra hour for each time zone you fly across. In short: when you land, your body clock is completely set to the wrong continent. I have a hard enough time keeping my sleep schedule at all regularized even in the normal course of events; if it gets thrown off, it can be grueling to wake up at a reasonably early time, and/or I'll be groggy all day, and/or I won't be able to fall asleep at night, only dozing off around 5am. So already having that condition as a baseline struggle means that screwing with my internal clock via international travel is even worse.

Only once did I make this eastward journey smartly. When I was flying out to London in '07, I made the decision to get as early of a flight as possible. It may have been something like a 6.30am flight, which necessitated me getting to the airport around 5am. But the upshot is that by the time I landed in London, it was already night time - which meant that when I got in to Chad & Michelle's, whom I was initially staying with, I was tired from an early rising, not enough sleep, and a full day of being cooped up in an airplane (and then additional time on the Tube). As a result, I was able to fall asleep within a couple of hours, got a FULL night's sleep, and woke up the next morning largely refreshed and feeling almost no jet lag at all!

As I say, this seems incredibly, incredibly smart. To me, anyway. And not least because I know how much a messed up sleep schedule, or a significant sleep deficit, will screw with my ability to be awake and alive and get things done. As a result, when I was detailing my trip parameters to my stepmom Cathy, who was scheduling the flight, I did explicitly request a morning flight for that very reason. In the actual event, however, it was the dreaded late afternoon kind instead. I didn't ask if she just forgot my request, or if morning flights eastward across the ocean are just so little in demand that they're pretty rare and thus hundreds of dollars more expensive. As I say, it makes sense to me, since I know a late afternoon flight will have me arrive at the start of a new day, when I've had practically zero sleep (not being able to sleep on a plane), and my next several days will be somewhat wasted as a result. But I can also see how other people - who might not have as hard of a time as I do rolling with massive changes to one's day/night cycle - might think that scheduling a trip so that the first thing you have to do is pay for an EXTRA night at the hotel (or wherever) wouldn't make any financial sense.

Anyway. I boarded the plane around 6pm on Wednesday, August 6th, and set off.

So here's a thing that happened.

Ryan & I are at Township before the Hamell on Trial show, with Alex running late.  So we order food.  Ryan has ordered beer, and I order a dirty martini.  Cool.

Except when the bartender brings it over ... it looks nothing like any dirty martini I've ever seen.  I mean, it's in a martini glass, and I know other (nonstandard) martinis can come in a dazzling array of colors, but this is ... yellow.  What?  If anything, a martini with a massive amount of olive juice might have a vaguely greenish tint, but ... this was opaque, man.  Opaque and YELLOW.

And we chatted with the bartender about this, and he says he'd told the guy in the kitchen what was in one, who then made it.  And yes, it did taste olive-ish.  If also ... weird.  Something else.  I had Ryan try it too, and he couldn't identify what he was tasting.  Chapstick?  Soap?  I took a couple more sips over the next several minutes, but y'know.  I didn't want to be a pain and send it back.

--until suddenly the bartender swooped back over, exclaimed that this wasn't right at ALL, and he'd bring me a new one.  Embarrassed, apologetic.  Turns out the guy in back had completely misunderstood what he'd said - and since they were (as it happened) actually out of olives and olive juice, he was running across the street to get some.

So in that case, I asked, what HAD the drink been made with?

Olive OIL.


True story, y'all.

UK 2012: The Scenic Route

I lived in London from September 2007 to April 2008. I could spend many words on what a great city it is (and I have), but one of its features which I never really took much advantage of was its convenience as a hub to the rest of Europe. Living in the US, any trip to Ireland, or France, or Spain (and more) is a massive undertaking of both logistics and funds. When you're already in Europe, however? It's a heck of a lot simpler, and massively less expensive. I seem to recall that when I visited Dublin in 2007, the round trip from London was about seventeen pounds. So, like $30.

The attendant problem, however, was twofold. Partly was the fact that actually living somewhere - as opposed to just visiting for a couple of weeks - tends to dilute one's sense of urgency with regards to visiting the sites a place has to offer. (Hence why I didn't get around to visiting Greenwich Park until my last month in London - and then ended up, through pure chance, getting back there twice more before I left.) Similarly, I meant to visit more out-of-London and out-of-Britain places during my stay, but - aside from a few days in Dublin, a few days in Rome, and day trips to Canterbury and Cambridge - I never got out of the city during my 7.5 months there.

But that was partly due to the other problem: Namely, that I loved living in London, and adored the city like none other, and if I were to take a couple weeks off to go somewhere else...? Well, that's a couple of weeks I wasn't living in the city of my heart. In other words, this wasn't exactly a problem, per se, or else it's the good kind of "problem" to have. But I did realize after I'd left its shores that it did mean, for instance, I'd never really gotten to experience much of the famed English countryside.

So in making my 2012 travel plans, I aimed to resolve that oversight. After my two days visiting Cork with my dad and his friend, I would not hop a flight directly back to Heathrow - as would have been simplest, and obvious - but would rather take the most meandering scenic route I could possibly imagine over the course of a couple days.

To wit:

After checking out Blarney Castle that morning, and meeting up with Dad & Steve again, I hopped a bus to Dublin. I'd massively dug Dublin when I visited in 2007 - and I figured, why not have another drive through the Irish countryside while I'm making my journey? Dublin is on the eastern coast of the island, with Cork on the southern coast, so it took a number of hours. Europe once again blew my mind by offering Wi-Fi on the friggin' bus, and the scenery through the window was in fact gorgeous.

I think the journey took about 5 or 6 hours, so I got to to Dublin in very late afternoon or early evening - where the weather was looking dark and grumbly. I had planned on hiking from the bus station to the bed & breakfast I'd booked for the night, but between the walk being longer than it had looked on the map, my bags being heavier than I'd taken into account, and me getting a bit turned around, it ended up taking much longer than expected. At which point the skies opened up and a torrential rain started pouring down. I and my luggage huddled for shelter in front of some official government building (closed on a Sunday, of course), until I gleaned a taxicab pull onto the street from down the block, and managed to flag him down.

Upon reaching the B&B (a tiny collection of rooms amidst a block-wide building), I checked in, went upstairs, and had some tea while I waited for the storm to finish itself off. By this time it was night, so I headed downstairs, wandered into downtown Dublin, and found myself again breathless with just how gorgeous everything, everbody, every place really was. I found a snazzy looking restaurant, went in, and splurged on a fancy dinner for myself. It was a wonderful evening - until I finished my meal, and instead of being able to order another drink and some dessert, was instead ignored by the waitress for the next 40 minutes. I eventually got fed up and went to the front to pay, then walked back to the B&B and composed a ranty email to the management. I was impressed to actually get a reply a couple of days later apologizing for the poor service, and offering me a €10 gift card to make up for it. Needless to say, I wasn't able to take them up on the offer!

In the morning, I got up around 6am, then took a taxi down to the docks - the driver who had picked me up the afternoon before had given me a promo card for some new taxi app called "Hailo" - and then proceeded to hop on a ferry crossing the Irish Sea. I had remembered discovering the existence of a ferry between Ireland and Britain when I'd been planning the 2007 Dublin trip, but had discarded it for the increased logistics it would require, as well as the increased cost. (I'd still had several thousand dollars of credit card debt when I'd moved to London in the first place, so every non-essential expense was scrutinized.) This time though? It was exactly what I was looking for!

And, man, that was great. And gorgeous. And a bit surreal. The ferry was kind of a massive ship; not quite the size of a cruise ship, but also not exactly out of the ballpark. (I seem to recall that this ferry also had the space to cart around large cargo, such as cars?) So I had the rather odd experience of being on this enormous boat, with fancy carpeted floors and gold railings and the like, with almost nobody else on board! Relatively, I mean; I'd estimate I saw probably a hundred other people or less. I hung out on the equally massive lounge area, with a bartender and kitchen staff, and ordered some lovely breakfast. I recollect about maybe forty other people spread out in clumps around the lounge, which would have been nice and serene and peaceful ... if a couple of families hadn't brought ten year old boys, who then spent much of the voyage running around the enormous space being loud and terrible and unsupervised. Which, I know: That's how ten year old boys are. That's how I was when I was a wee lad, zipping back and forth with too much energy, being obnoxious and annoying my elders. Except that now I was the elder, and was in turn suitably annoyed! And the wheel of life turns on.

A few hours later, the ferry docked in Holyhead, a port town in Anglesey - itself a tiny island off the northwest coast of Wales. And from there I immediately boarded a train line to London, first crossing the breadth of Wales before then traversing the length of Britain.  I could spend so much time in trying to describe the immensely beautiful countryside as we passed through it - but I hear pictures are worth a thousand of my words, so I really should get around to putting my travel photos online sometime.

Some six hours hours later, I disembarked at King's Cross Station, then took the Tube and the Overground to Leyton (near Walthamstow), on to a house in Brewster Road where I was staying for this trip. I arrived in early evening, a day and a half after I'd left my Dad & Steve in Cork, and nearly four days after my plane had first touched down on British shores. I met one of my several flatmates - a Jo Fowler, which sounded very EastEnders to me - then unpacked, walked down the street later that night for a curry, and began my 2012 London trip proper.

Funny thing: On Friday morning, having just arrived and waiting for the plane to take me to Cork, I got to talking to a couple of British locals in the airport (one a fellow male traveller, one a female aiport worker). Both of them inquired as to my continuing journey, and when I outlined my plan, they were each agog. "You're mad!" I recall the woman laughing. "You must be saving a lot of money, taking that roundabout a trip!" the man exclaimed. Actually no, I explained, this convoluted scenic route actually added up to a few hundred more than if I'd just hopped a quick flight back....


Those 2015 Hugo Awards...

[A couple of posts I recently made on Facebook. Cobbled together and reformatted because oh hey LiveJournal lets you do that sort of thing.)


"In any case, this slate of nominees has already launched a Twitter firestorm, and lots of people are planning to vote "No Award" in every category except "Best Novel." It's definitely a weird turn of events that, the year after Kameron Hurley's double win, we see list of nominees that includes someone published by "Patriarchy Press." " - Charlie Jane Anders on io9

I'm tempted to throw up my hands and say this is why we can't have nice things. Because sooner or later some group of asshats will stomp on through and ruin it for everyone else.

So, this year's Hugo Awards is already set to be a debacle, one way or another. (I can't begin to imagine how surreal the Awards ceremony at WorldCon will be, if in fact it turns out that the winner of multiple categories is "No Award", one after another after another.) The real question is whether this is something they can actually recover from, given that the nomination process allows terrible people to game the system like this so completely.


And yet, one of the odder parts about this year's Hugo Awards nominees that (in light of all the controversy) is going generally unremarked upon, is that the "Best Graphic Story" category is (A) strong as hell, and (B) surprisingly reflects the critical and popular reading tastes of actual comic shop goers! Ryvre and I first voted in the Hugo Awards in 2012, and were shocked that two of the five nominees, including the eventual winner, were titles that we - as people who work in the industry - HAD NEVER HEARD OF. (But who, even if they had never had a book distributed by Diamond Comics, were perhaps regular attendees at WorldCon and thus more known to the nominators than the various bestsellers bought by actual comics readers...?)

This year, on the other hand? Out of five nominees, three of them are Image books (ie, creator-owned, creator-financed), and the Marvel one makes me incredibly happy:

* Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal, written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt, (Marvel Comics)
* Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass and Sorcery, written by Kurtis J. Weibe, art by Roc Upchurch (Image Comics)
* Saga Volume 3, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics))
* Sex Criminals Volume 1: One Weird Trick, written by Matt Fraction, art by Chip Zdarsky (Image Comics)
* [plus one *Puppies nominated book that WHAT A SURPRISE no one's ever heard of]

Back in 2012, the "Best Graphic Story" category was up for ratification: Would this category continue? Or was it not actually all that viable? And based on what we saw that year (plus the fact that the Foglios had won three years in a row, for the first three years of its existence), we could totally have seen it having gone away.

How strange that in 2015, this category actually seems the most valid, and the least-XXXXed up, of the entire ballot.

Several months back I discovered a fantastic blog called The Digital Antiquarian.  It's written by an author of interactive fiction (text adventures and the like), and is a compelling and astoundingly well-researched history of the early days of computers and electronic gaming.  After first sketching in the very earliest days of the 1950s and 60s, he then begins in earnest with the state of computers in the 1970s - including the (literal) game-changing invention of Adventure, a.k.a. Colossal Cave, the very first text adventure game.  Subsequent articles discuss the beginnings of personal computers (then called microcomputers), the meteoric rise and fall of Atari and the rest of the videogame boom and bust of the early '80s, the rise of Apple (then a struggling company, as opposed to the staggering behemoth it is today), and the astounding speed with which computers took off in Britain when embraced by Thatcher as a way to pull Britain out of their economic doldrums.  I've read a couple hundred of his blog posts by now - they make great bedtime reading - and am currently up to 1985. 

It's been an utterly fascinating trip, and I'll truthfully be a little sorry when I've caught up and have to wait days or weeks between further installments.  (I see that he's currently approaching the end of 1986.)  I've learned a lot, and it's definitely sparked my creativity in a couple of ways as well; I'm currently brainstorming at least two stories I can credit in small or large part to all this reading.  But it's also been interesting just to learn about the rise and evolution of such technology, in both hardware and software, and compare it to the previously uninformed and very microscopic view of it I had myself while growing up.

I received my first computer, a Commodore 64, when I was 7 years old in 1983.  I'd had an Atari 2600 for a couple of years before that, although the action-based videogames, while fun for the time, rarely stuck with me.  On the other hand, I recall the first time I played the Atari videogame Adventure (maybe 1981?), and being rather more caught up by the sense of exploration and open possibilities it hinted at - far more than the videogame norm of one screen with one thing to do (e.g., Space Invaders, Frogger, Pac-Man and the like).  And let's be honest: The actual graphics and implementation took the concept about as far as it could go on something as rudimentary as the Atari VCS.  So it was clearly the very idea of what it was attempting that I found myself instantly responding to.

By contrast, the C64 initially came with a tape drive - yes, an actual audio cassette player, through which you could load programs by pressing "play", which then fed the data into the computer - and both that and the later floppy drive brought a much wider breadth of programs and games to my attention, due to the rapid spread of public domain and shareware games.  I received some tapes and then later disks just crammed full of C64 programs (and only realized later how many of those were not shareware so much as pirated).  Again, a small number of action games were sufficiently entertaining - but it was the text-based story games which caught my full attention, including a C64 implementation of that original one by Will Crowther and Don Woods, Adventure - and which the Atari game by the same name had been inspired by.  These games of interactive fiction (not that I would encounter that term until years later) would become a serious love throughout my childhood and teenage years, and ultimately beyond.

But, as mentioned, it's been really fascinating reading this history of the field, and comparing that to what I saw at the time.  Case in point: Not long after getting that first computer, I received a subscription to a kids-focused computer magazine called K-Power.  I really enjoyed reading it every month, and was a little sad and confused when some months later a note stated that the issue in my hands would be their last, because the computer revolution hadn't caught on quite as rapidly as everyone had predicted.  I looked around, bemused at this new information:  I dunno, I thought mine was great.  Oh, the myopia of youth!  (K-Power would continue as a small 16-page insert in Family Computing, until even that went away after another year or two.)

It wasn't until high school that I finally upgraded to an IBM PC, the greater capabilities of which I'd already been envying for the past couple years.  (Still, that C64 had a good seven- or eight-year run!)  The massive leap-forward in processing power was inconceivable; when my uncle Donn helped me to set it up, he asked what I was going to do with the Commodore, and I said I still expected to use that a bit.  He laughed, predicting that as soon as I got used to how fast the PC responded to inputs, I'd never go back to the 64k computer again.  It's almost ridiculous how instantly right he was.  Especially since this new PC came with, wonder of wonders, a hard drive inside it!  And I could even install half a dozen large programs at the same time, because - get this - it was 20 megabytes large!  Truly, I was now living in the land of science fiction.

It's funny how I recall such details vividly ... but I don't recall which one of my friends or relatives first picked up a cell phone in the 1990s.  I had a pager for a year in 1999, but didn't get a cell until late 2000 (by which point I already felt like a late adopter).

In 1993 I got to the University of Illinois and received an email address; one of the first people I emailed was Zach, then down at the Illinois Math and Science Academy, and through this correspondence we not only stayed close in touch, but he also taught me all that he'd learned in the last year about this Internet thing.  I still remember finding out about this World Wide Web which I could access via the NCSA Mosaic (and later Netscape), and then passing on this newfound knowledge to my equally newfound friend BJ.  (I was astonished and touched to read a recent Facebook post where Zach recalled that our email correspondence at this time was one of his earliest consistent Internet memories.  I had always just assumed that after a year of living at IMSA, this was old hat to him and he'd just been kind enough to show me the ropes.)

It's dizzying to think of all the technological advances that came after.  Watching video on a computer.  The first smartphones.  Going from an enviable-at-the time dial-up modem to DSL to cable.  Everything being connected everywhere.  Tablets.  And hell, through all of this, the massive and unifying presence of Apple, which I had never really cared for: the Apple IIs I saw in school were "fine", the original black-and-white screen Macintosh computers were clearly more powerful but also bizarrely "other", and even today I still find using a Mac kind of ... weird. 

I mean, in my teens I was already (with the help of friends) buying component upgrades for my PC, like a bigger hard drive or more RAM, and then opening up the machine and learning how to install them myself.  I've heard it conjectured that one of the reasons text adventures worked so well for some, while being completely off-putting to others, was because those of us who grew up with these ever-evolving computers had needed to figure out pretty arcane commands just to get the damn programs to run.  I mean, I still recall the command needed to start most programs on the Commodore 64, the very first thing you would type in after its boot screen had come up:

LOAD "*",8,1
Seriously: WTF was that?! 

And the PC's Disk Operating System (DOS) was more understandable, but equally ran programs via command line inputs, which thus needed to be learned or divined.  It really wasn't until Microsoft Windows made home computers usable right out of the box, to the normal everyday person (not willing to put up with learning things like C:\cd programs\other\games to navigate), that the home computer revolution - predicted a decade too early - could finally begin in earnest.  And so I understand why people love Macs, which are all about the clean, graphical OS.  But for someone like me, who grew up tinkering?  I still like the ability to root into the guts of the machine, and troubleshoot it myself when things go wrong.

And yet, when MP3 players came along, I eventually found myself owning an iPod (with the staggering ability to carry all my 1500 CDs' worth of music in my pocket).  When my Motorola Razr died for the last time, I accepted a friend's old iPhone and never looked back.  And I've even owned an iPad for the last 3 years.  In many ways I'm living in an Apple world ... but man, I still can't (or don't want to) get used to using a Mac.  Windows NT/XP may have finally taken out DOS, but I still have the ability to configure my computing setup in any number of ways.

So it's been fascinating to read this early history, and compare it to my own, and read about the massive changes as they happened, and which I was at the time only vaguely aware of.

Where will we be in another 10 years?  Another 20?  Or more?

UK 2012: Visiting Cork

(Picking up three years later...)

Having arrived in to Heathrow at very early in the morning on almost no sleep, I immediately went to a different gate to await the plane to Cork. After all, my mad plan was to start off my London visit with two days in Ireland, joining my dad and his friend Steve, before then making my way back to British shores. See, very shortly after I had moved to London in September 2007, I'd found out that the two of them were going to be visiting Dublin for several days. So just a few weeks into residing in this new country, I had hopped a very short flight over to join them! It was great fun - and so, when I discovered that they were again going to be visiting Ireland (if the southern coast this time rather than the east), I decided to build my travel plans around it, joining them for two days at the outset before then going back into London.

Of course, the problem came in trying to coordinate such an unusual flight plan! The most direct route would of course have been to take a flight into Ireland, and then fly home a couple of weeks later out of London. But two one-way tickets are of course far more expensive than a round-trip ticket entering and leaving from the same location - hence my ridiculous plan to take an 8-hour transatlantic flight to Heathrow, then turn around and immediately get on another plane heading back west.

By the time I arrived at the hotel in Cork, of course, I was feeling bushed, bleary-eyed, and frankly somewhat dreading the day with no sleep and no energy. But I resolved to buckle down and enjoy our outings as much as humanly possible, while endeavouring not to fall apart (intellectually or emotionally). So it was a joy to phone up my dad's room upon arrival and find they had only just arrived themselves - and were going to nap for a couple of hours before heading out! This was the best thing I had ever heard, and I immediately threw myself into bed to get what rest I could.

We first set off on a bus tour that wended around the city and its local environs, and the beauty of these is that you can step off it at any point and then get back on when the next one comes round. So we let it take us on its winding path, first alighting to take in the Cork Butter Museum. Yes, Cork is such a happenin' place that they've got a whole museum dedicated to butter. After that, we next visited the Cork City Gaol - a 19th century prison no longer in use as such, but restored for the sole purpose of tourism. Given that one of the things I regretted having missed while visiting Dublin in 2007 was the Kilmainham Gaol (known to me largely through the historical ballads of Black 47), I enjoyed getting this glimpse into this very specific corner of Irish history.

The next couple of days were spent just wandering around the city, stopping in at pubs, and taking in the sights. Some of this city-wandering I did on my own; other times with my dad and Steve. I remember first visiting Dublin and falling instantly in love with the place as I had done when first visiting London six months earlier: The towns are beautiful, the buildings are beautiful, the people are beautiful. I could lose my heart to any and all of the above. I love the way the streets twist around, as well as (in Cork at least) rolling up and down the hills they're built upon. During the day, the streets are crowded with throngs of people, but as it gets closer to nightfall they gradually empty until they're almost deserted. (Everyone's in the pub drinking, I guess!)

Still, by the end of my time there, I felt a twinge that I hadn't checked out as much as I would have liked. Having read about Cork in the Visit Ireland guide my dad gave me, I had tried to talk him and Steve into the idea of visiting Blarney Castle, just outside the city limits. While not totally opposed, I could see that it also didn't really appeal to either of them. Finally, I realized on my last night in Cork that I could just go on my own! So I woke up early, hopped on the bus, and 30-40 minutes later was at the castle.

We had about three hours to visit before the next bus taking us back, so I checked out as much of the place as I could. The castle itself is stunning; while a big place, it was clearly something that had fallen into disrepair centuries earlier - for instance, I don't recall seeing any wooden doors still in existence (if it ever had such things). At one point I ascended to the highest floor and joined the queue to kiss the Blarney Stone; later on, I wandered out into the gardens and acres of land to discover such fascinating (and thrillingly-named) points of interest as the Poison Garden and the Witch's Kitchen.

Getting back to the hotel at just about noon, I had time enough to see Dad & Steve again before heading off to the Cork bus station, beginning the second, and more complicated, stage of my journey...


I wondered if there was an adjectival word relating to all things dream-like. Presumably ending in -ic. Like how “ludic” refers to that which is gamelike or playful.

And so I type into Google “of or pertaining to dreams”, and immediately get back:

Of, relating to, or suggestive of dreams.

To touch just the tip of something I’ve been thinking about quite a lot lately: Man, I love living in the future. Questions that would have plagued us thirty years ago are now easily answered.

("You know, things that never had names before are now easily described. Makes conversation easy!"
-- David Byrne, True Stories)

Last night - early this morning, actually - I had a dream.

It started with, or at least I recall nothing earlier than, bits of imagery which suggests a recurring theme I’ve had a few times: The discovery of a hitherto completely unknown television story from William Hartnell-era Doctor Who. Sometimes my dream is the adventure itself, and sometimes I find I’m in the studios during or around the time of the filming. In other words, sometimes my dream IS the thing, and sometimes it’s ABOUT the thing. Given my simultaneous love for and fascination with 1960s-era Who, divided equally between interest in the narrative itself and the production thereof, this is perhaps not surprising.

But then later on, I was walking through some complex of interconnected buildings and outdoor areas, like a campus or a massively sprawling shopping mall. The lighting was dim but not dark; it was evening. It was a pleasant stroll and I was untroubled.

At the side of the corridor through which I passed stood a small bar, staffed by a woman in black slacks, white dress shirt and black bow-tie. Despite the formal attire, the bartender did not take her surroundings dead seriously; when I stopped to ask for directions (to the bathroom, perhaps?), she directed me to head down the stairs just a few feet to her right. And then she started talking, and laughing, about the restaurant below and behind her.

Through the glass walls of the corridor, I could see the outdoors. But right outside was a massive, circular tank, about two stories high, filled with fish and sealife of all sorts. The bottom of the tank was also glass, and through it I could see the equally large, equally round restaurant below. Clearly it was a swanky affair, filled with diners in tuxedos and fancy evening gowns. In the center of the restaurant was a grand piano at which someone played.

It was there to which the bartender was directing me. But she continued laughing about this restaurant, and the absurd heights to which its upper-class experience aspired. Tonight’s kicker was a newly-created martini which contained a flash-frozen ball of some liquid, suspended perfectly within each glass. Riffing equally on both the round shape and its blood-red color, she and the other bartenders were referring to this drink, for which the patrons were surely paying exorbitant sums of money, as “The Period”.

(Of course, this being a dream – and the rich often having tastes that run to the eccentric – I couldn’t say for certain that the substance wasn’t blood of some sort. Yes, it sounds macabre … but then I remember the existence, and deliciousness, of black pudding. Odder things exist outside one’s dreams.)

And so I went downstairs, passed through the swanky area, took care of things, and headed back. As I neared the top of the staircase, however, I heard a crack, and a loud creaking. And I looked up at the bottom of the massive aquatic tank, and the large fracture which had just appeared.

And then, all at once, it burst.

In my recollection, it happened so fast – so instantly – that I had a moment where I looked at the restaurant around and below me, and saw the entire place completely submerged, filled all the way up to ground level. Diners still sat at their tables, albeit wearing expressions of shock, as suddenly-displaced fish swam confusedly past.

And then panic set in, and everyone was trying to get out. I was fortunate in having been nearly at the top, and thus swam up and out in just a few moments. At that point, I turned around, surveyed the shocking disaster, and began doing what I could to help people out. Grabbing others, and frantically dragging them out of the water without falling back in myself.

It was at that point I awoke, oddly enough. My alarm hadn’t gone off, and although it was a somewhat nightmarish scenario, I myself wasn’t hurt or in any danger. I almost wonder if the astonishingly unpredictable events had so thoroughly derailed the plot that whichever subconscious thoughts and ideas are responsible for crafting such dreams simply threw up their hands in stunned bemusement. “Jesus, guys!” I imagine them saying to each other. “Who came up with THAT twist? Where do we go from here? Screw it, we’re done for tonight – shut it down!”

Last night, I went to Starbucks to write for a couple of hours. Except that when I arrived, having trekked through the snow and the cold, I discovered that my new laptop was completely out of power. (I’d forgotten to change the “close lid” action from the default, power-draining “sleep” to the far more power-efficient “hibernate”; thanks to cassielsander for that particular protip.) Fortunately, I had my Kindle with me, so I settled in and decided to read “The Bone Flute”, by Lisa Tuttle.

This story is one I’ve had in my Kindle library for a few months now. (It’s available as one of the “Infinity Plus Singles” selections.) I’m sure I must have initially come across it when looking over the Wikipedia page of Nebula Best Short Story winners and then noticing the bit about the 1982 award being refused by its author (Tuttle). She includes an afterword in this edition talking about the controversy, and thirty-some years later it strikes me as somewhat dated; in a nutshell, she tried (too late) to get her story removed from the ballot, because copies of her story and another were sent out to the listed members of the SFWA, at a time when this was not normally the case. She objected to this kind of “campaigning”, as she called it, and thought that such tactics gave those who could afford the not-insignificant postage costs of sending out so many physical copies an unfair advantage over authors and publishers who could or would not. (Incidentally, she now talks about how she later came to think better of her position, agreeing with a fellow author who felt the answer was more campaigning, of all entrants, and not less – and that today’s world of email and the easy mass-distribution of electronic files has now made the entire situation almost unthinkable. In fact, today the Nebula and Hugo Awards typically send out electronic copies of all nominated works to its voting members, and the occasional publisher which refuses to do so is roundly castigated.)

But that’s all beside the point. While the controversy may have been what made it stand out and attract my attention, what I want to talk about is the story. Which floored me, on multiple fronts.

Although it takes place in a spacefaring future, this tale isn't the type of SF that's overly concerned with how given technological advances could affect our lives. Instead, it’s perhaps a more fantastical approach, using radically different circumstances to comment on and question what it means to be human. Not only do I adore this particular motive of SF in general, but the question it poses is one I’ve long wondered about, and increasingly in the past ten years: What is the half-life of love? More to the point, is a lifelong love even realistic, or possible – or does the average person’s lifespan, extended decades past what it used to be just a few centuries ago, now mitigate against that? (My ex once displayed a rare moment of insight by commenting on how after spending too long in the presence of a single person, she would grow frustrated with and tired of them. This wasn’t, however, limited only to other people: If she spent too long on her own, she just ended up getting fed up with herself.)

The story is heart-stoppingly well-written, and absolutely award-worthy. Shorter than a novella, it’s perhaps on the longer side of a short story (took me about 20-30 minutes, though I’m not the fastest reader), yet takes exactly as much time as needed. The story opens with a set-piece that is fascinating, exciting, and yet intimate; on the one hand, its introductory events could be seen as extraneous, but on the other it fulfills the plot requirement of having our narrator meet her lover, and does so in a manner which in retrospect tells us a lot about him. Similarly, the final act takes place some ten years later in changed circumstances, with a final twist which goes unexplained – and yet I can’t say that I at all felt let down or betrayed by the lack of answers.

What maybe most impressed though was the voice of her narrator, and how genuinely, quintessentially human her reflections are, even in the midst of dialogue and plot. At one point she describes the visual confirmation she receives that her lover has left her for someone else; to extricate himself from the party so they can speak privately, he quietly excuses himself by touching his new partner's arm: “a casual, proprietary gesture.” We all know such gestures, and rarely consider them, but the kind of information they subtly convey (whether involved with, or perceived from without) is immense.

I was also bowled over by the opening:

I am forever falling in love with beautiful men who break my heart. Perhaps I prefer it that way. There are worse things than being left.

In short, this is an astonishingly well-crafted short work, and one I ecstatically recommend. (And for only $0.99!) It’s certainly something I feel the need to read over, again and again, from which to learn the lessons of good writing.