Sunday, September 12, 2010

Review of Sigler's Latest

photo.JPGI'm not much for sports. The other posts on this blog should pretty well make it clear that the areas of the human brain which can be dedicated to professional sports stats and rules and changes and strategies have been filled up with science fiction and fantasy, with quite a bit dedicated to the differences between 1st and 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons. That said, I've recently finished the second book in Scott Sigler's Galactic Football League series, THE STARTER.

The book is set in a future where humans and aliens play an extremely violent version of Earth football. The various sentient species involved in playing and watching these games devote enough of their violent energies toward the sport that the ever-present threat of inter-species war is averted.

That alone would have hooked me on the series, but there is quite a bit more.

I pre-ordered the book from Dark 0verlord Media and am quite impressed with the presentation. It is a solid hardcover with beautiful cover art on the dust jacket. As with THE ROOKIE, there is a beautiful glossy, full-color insert with team trivia and amazing logo art, as well as a season schedule. My daughter noticed me reading a book with a football on the cover and I told her about the alien angle, which completely answered most of the rest of the questions. The remaining,"What is that red stuff splattered across it?" was answered with an honest "It's blood." She immediately looked down at her own book, something about middle school angst or something, with a look of utter boredom and vague disgust. But she has a book report due, so she will muscle through it.

I got back to THE STARTER.

I read THE ROOKIE a couple of months back. Before that, I'd listened to it in an episodic podcast format. I totally recommend them both.

Anyway, THE STARTER. The lead character is Quentin Barnes, a 19-year-old football prodigy from the Purist Nation, a collection of xenophobic planets who keep the populace subservient to the government with brutal punishment and a religious indoctrination preaching fear and hatred for all non-human species. In THE ROOKIE, Quentin's first contact with these other races is a very interesting character study into the process of overcoming preconceptions in general as well as rising above a less-than-perfect childhood.

Quentin is a lot better about it in THE STARTER. The hatred still pops up now and again, but mostly because Quentin has a very well-developed rage issue. For anyone who has read any of Sigler's other stuff, it isn't a surprise that he can make a character with rage issues three dimensional and even likable. No surprise, but remarkable.

THE STARTER covers the Ionath Krakens' first season in Tier One (the most prestigious and brutal level of the game) with Quentin as the starting quarterback. The games are extremely well written. As someone who knows very little about the game, I not only had no issue following the action, but actually found myself a little anxious as clocks ran down and just about any time the ball moved. Off the field, the action is also fast-paced, with Quentin spending more time with his teammates, visiting new planets and having extremely tense encounters with gangsters. Oh, yeah. The whole football system is pretty much owned by organized crime.

I don't know when the next book will be released, but I'll be pre-ordering it as soon as there is an option to do so. To my fellow geeks, I can assure you that THE STARTER (and THE ROOKIE) are fully accessible to football-impaired readers and are amazingly enjoyable reads. I want Ionath Krakens associated action figures. I want GFL miniature tabletop football games. I want to see a big-budget CGI masterpiece of a film version so I can bitch about the changes or the fact that they had to tone down the violence from the books for American audiences.

The podcasts are available on iTunes or at If you haven't already, download a couple and enjoy them. But you should also buy the book while you are there. Quality modern science fiction is too rare to not support.

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Nature is a Mother

WaspEggs.JPGWhile watering the herb garden yesterday (I mean, of course, hunting or fishing or playing some type of full-contact sport) I found this hornworm. The little white sacks all over it are the cocoons of wasp larvae which are, even at the moment this picture was taken, eating the insides out of this hornworm.

Eventually, the larvae eat enough that the caterpillar is immobilized somewhere that the conditions are right for them to finish developing. They leave a reflex system intact so that the zombie hornworm will batter potential wasp predators with its own head. Later, they emerge from the hornworm's body to breed and lay eggs on another hornworm.

I looked all this up because I've apparently been sleeping too much lately and needed some decent nightmare fuel.

You'd have a hard time finding a bigger advocate for nature than me, but screw this. Zombie caterpillars? Larvae eating the insides out of a living host creature? White dreadlocks of evil draped across the unknowingly already dead young of the Carolina Sphinx moth?

I've got enough issue with what people do to each other to have to also deal with nature pulling this kind of stuff.

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Oddly Enough

senmurv.jpgIf I want to walk into a game shop on an official Dungeons and Dragons Game Day, pick up a character sheet and some dice and play the freaking game, I have to leave South Carolina. Overall, I'm not opposed to doing that, but it bothers me in principle.

I could hit a Magic: The Gathering tournament, but that would involve the purchase of multiple decks of cards, learning a new set of rules, and playing a card game in a room full of people who strike me as either too enthusiastic about a game or too far off their ADD medication to actually play a roleplaying game.

This is an unfair perception I have of the Collectible Card Game scene, but it is my unfair perception so I'm keeping it.

My classic, old-school, pencil-and-paper Dungeons and Dragons game fell apart long ago. I haven't played World of Warcraft in over a year. I want to play a game with a story, hang out with other geeks, drink gallons of diet cola and throw some funny-shaped dice in joy and anger.

This is a personality type thing. There is a twitch factor involved in gaming, unused brain cycles or something. This is less that than an almost primal need to communicate with like-minded people and conquer imaginary objectives.

Stranded in the gaming desert as I am, I've been reading a lot. I've always done that, I guess, but in the absence of the bi-weekly time sink of a gaming session I've been really abusing the hell out of Amazon Prime. I've even started downloading eBooks for my Kindle App for the instant-on book need which is too immediate for two-day shipping or a 5 minute drive to the bookstore.

I picked up the hardcover of Scott Sigler's THE ROOKIE. I listened to the original podcast of this violent scifi football masterwork and wanted to show my support in anticipation of the sequel THE STARTER. I know nothing about football that I did not learn from this series. I suspect an NFL game would bore me with its lack of aliens and death. Of course, most things bore me with a lack of aliens and death.

In keeping with my long-standing anti-The Great Gatsby stance on literature, I try never to read anything which doesn't have either dragons or laser swords. This is, I realize, opening myself up for a horrible assault of crap books, but I've managed to avoid the worst of it.

(Actually, at times I embrace the worst of it, since as I've written before some of my favorite stuff is pulp written in the first half of the last century on a pay-by-word basis. Howard, Lovecraft, Burroughs . . . Same characters, different loincloths.)

But the good stuff is out there and hasn't been optioned for a 3D spectacular yet.

Naomi Novik writes an incredible series, Temeraire, around an alternate history Napoleanic Wars with dragons. I've picked this up in paper and in Kindle format and love it.

JC Hutchins has recently published the hardcover edition of 7th Son, which is an amazing story impatiently waiting for a big name actor to rise to the challenge of playing eight parts, an Alpha and seven distinct clones.

I've even gone back to old books I read as a child, Robert Jordan's Conan saga and Piers Anthony's Sos the Rope, for example.

But I want, no need, to play a game. Dungeons and Dragons Online is a possibility. Let me know if anyone is interested in joining me there.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


It's not you, it's me.
Well, I guess it's a little bit you.
MacBook Pro, we've been through a lot together.
When you first came to live with me, we had that awkward time of getting to know one another. I, a long-time Windows guy, struggled at first with the concept of running without a virus scanner and you, a graphics and multimedia beast, struggled with the idea that I wanted the aspect ratio on my digital comic books "just so", even if it was not optimized as well as you'd like.
Like any true sitcom friendship based in diverse needs and backgrounds, we grew to trust one another.
I shared my contacts and family photos and eventually grew comfortable enough around you to double your RAM and swap your old hard drive for a larger and faster one.
Those were good times, old friend.
Lately, though, we've had incidents.
Your trackpad is less responsive, in general, regardless of how much I'd like it it to . . .You know . . . Track. Which is pretty much all we need it for.
MacBook Pro, your USB ports were always on, ready to deliver data in either direction at any time. Now, sometimes they just shut off, killing transfers in mid-bit or just disconnecting at random.
These are really just quirks, and you learn to live with those minor faults. Who needs Bluetooth, right?
But these processor errors. . .
Look, you have an Intel Core2 Duo, man.
You should be able to acquire spinlocks whenever the hell you want, right?
So why the frequent crashes, MacBook Pro? What's up with that?
Don't take it personally, but it is time for you to take it easy. I won't bother you with coding my constantly growing work scripts in all their complexity. I'll move my music and photos. And my comics.
Why don't you just scrape some websites for me, fling anything I'd like into an email and send it to me. You can also keep track of my iTunes stuff, share it out to the other, less legitimately exhausted Macs around here. That'll be your job, and I hope it is enriching. I'll check in from time-to-time, sure. There are programs you know which only run on Macs, plus that picture you chose for me as my login image is a nice glimpse into past me, powering you on for the first time and talking to Nathan on the phone. Good times.
Me? I'll be fine, eventually.
I do most stuff on my iPhone now, anyway. Like this letter, for example. And email. And Twitter. And Facebook.
And I used it to buy another laptop. I can't lie to you, MacBook Pro; you know my preferences too well. But I also couldn't order a new laptop from a browser running on my old one.
I'm respectful enough of our history to not track the shipment through you, either, so don't worry about that.
This isn't easy for me.
Once I can spare the downtime and work comes through with another brutal weekend which allows even more brutal billing, I'll purchase the parts needed to bring you back up to the performance standards we both deserve.
Have a good retirement, buddy. You've earned it.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Wrong Number

Someone texted me thinking I was "Brandon". The numbers I supplied are all frozen yogurt places:

Received May 23, 2010 8:04:44 PM +1803556xxxx
Is dis brandon sweatt it out

Sent May 23, 2010 8:05:22 PM +1803556xxxx

Received May 23, 2010 8:06:21 PM +1803556xxxx
Lol u kno who dis is

Sent May 23, 2010 8:06:58 PM +1803556xxxx

Received May 23, 2010 8:07:24 PM +1803556xxxx

Sent May 23, 2010 8:07:53 PM +1803556xxxx
Hey, Juston. How you doin?

Received May 23, 2010 8:09:30 PM +1803556xxxx
Man sumthng wrong wit u,but gud i guess man i had got my old fone bck n i aint have nooo numbas n i just got urs 4rm jordan

Sent May 23, 2010 8:10:52 PM +1803556xxxx
Cool. Glad you got it back.

Received May 23, 2010 8:12:08 PM +1803556xxxx
Man dat sound kinda gay boo

Sent May 23, 2010 8:12:35 PM +1803556xxxx
Gonna head over to YogenFruz and bust out with some creamy berry yogurt. Wanna come with?

Received May 23, 2010 8:14:00 PM +1803556xxxx
Lol man wat u tlkin bout

Sent May 23, 2010 8:15:05 PM +1803556xxxx
Fro-yo! Rich in calcium to keep my bones strong. Maybe some wheatgrass. You know.

Received May 23, 2010 8:15:57 PM +1803556xxxx
U high?

Sent May 23, 2010 8:16:24 PM +1803556xxxx

Sent May 23, 2010 8:17:44 PM +1803556xxxx
They got sprinkles.

Received May 23, 2010 8:18:24 PM +1803556xxxx
It seem lke ay wats tate numba again

Sent May 23, 2010 8:19:14 PM +1803556xxxx
Lemme know if you want yogurt

Received May 23, 2010 8:26:49 PM +1803556xxxx
Man i dnt want n0 yogurt

Sent May 23, 2010 8:27:22 PM +1803556xxxx

Received May 23, 2010 8:29:45 PM +1803556xxxx
Wats tate numba

Sent May 23, 2010 8:31:37 PM +1803556xxxx

Received May 23, 2010 8:39:03 PM +1803556xxxx
A wats lace numba

Sent May 23, 2010 8:40:53 PM +1803556xxxx
(803) 771-0061

Received May 23, 2010 8:57:00 PM +1803556xxxx
A u kno reggie rhett

Sent May 23, 2010 8:57:17 PM +1803556xxxx

Received May 23, 2010 8:57:50 PM +1803556xxxx
U got his numba

Sent May 23, 2010 8:58:44 PM +1803556xxxx

Received May 23, 2010 9:01:11 PM +1803556xxxx
Wats da area code

Sent May 23, 2010 9:01:24 PM +1803556xxxx

Received May 23, 2010 9:02:19 PM +1803556xxxx
Naw it aint 803

Sent May 23, 2010 9:02:53 PM +1803556xxxx
That's the number I have

Received May 23, 2010 9:03:55 PM +1803556xxxx

Received May 23, 2010 9:16:55 PM +1803556xxxx
I beleve u given me da wrong numba aint nobody txt me bck

Sent May 23, 2010 9:17:39 PM +1803556xxxx
I texted you back!

Received May 23, 2010 9:18:43 PM +1803556xxxx
L0l bside u but u cumin t0 sk00l 2mara

Sent May 23, 2010 9:19:04 PM +1803556xxxx
You know what makes me feel better? Frosty creamy frozen yogurt, extra cookie bits.

Received May 23, 2010 9:20:50 PM +1803556xxxx
Dude wats wr0ng wit u

Sent May 23, 2010 9:22:10 PM +1803556xxxx
I'm probiotic, deep down.

Received May 23, 2010 9:23:21 PM +1803556xxxx
Man d0 y0 girlfrnd g0t sumthng t0 d0 wit u actin lke diz

Sent May 23, 2010 9:24:12 PM +1803556xxxx
You got a problem with soft serve? Don't hate, man.

Received May 23, 2010 9:25:42 PM +1803556xxxx
Man wh0 iz diz

Sent May 23, 2010 9:25:54 PM +1803556xxxx
Don't call right now. I'm knuckle deep in chocolate chips.

Received May 23, 2010 9:27:02 PM +1803556xxxx
Wh0 iz diz

Sent May 23, 2010 9:27:07 PM +1803556xxxx
BRB copying this into my Facebook status

Sent May 23, 2010 9:28:13 PM +1803556xxxx
Healthy teeth and bones are no laughing matter

EDIT -- The texts continue:

Received May 23, 2010 9:28:19 PM +1803556xxxx
Man wh0 iz diz

Sent May 23, 2010 9:29:03 PM +1803556xxxx
It's me!

Received May 23, 2010 9:29:53 PM +1803556xxxx
I need a name

Sent May 23, 2010 9:34:51 PM +1803556xxxx
Dude, you have a name

Received May 23, 2010 9:37:08 PM +1803556xxxx
Man remind me t0 whip y0 ass 2mara

Sent May 23, 2010 9:38:47 PM +1803556xxxx
Remind you? You know what helps with poor short-term memory? Dairy. Have some frozen yogurt.

Received May 23, 2010 9:57:47 PM +1803556xxxx
Man wh0 iz diz n st0p fukin wit me!

Received May 23, 2010 10:34:12 PM +1803556xxxx
A wat u wearin 2mara

Sent May 23, 2010 10:38:22 PM +1803556xxxx
I'll be wearing whatever your mom puts out for me

Received May 23, 2010 10:39:27 PM +1803556xxxx
Lol dats funny u a bitch

Monday, May 03, 2010

The Price of Mobility

The book on the left changed my life.
Actually, that isn't true.
The book on the left illuminated my life.
Well, that isn't exactly true, either.
The book on the left took the summers of my childhood, spent on the gulf coast, and put them in the context of a larger world of aquatic (and terrestrial) life.
I spent a good portion of every summer on the coast of Louisiana. Since then, I have been to prettier beaches. I have seen clearer water. I have enjoyed more pleasant weather.
But I haven't experienced an ecosystem anywhere like that of the north gulf coast.
Sure, the sand is brown and the water matches. The surf shops are all adorned in faded neon and they do more business in cast nets than board wax.
But I've watched crabs swarm into traps. I've dragged a net through algae coating a tire and caught a hundred red-and-white striped shrimp at a pass.
I've seen porpoises chase schools of fish and been on the docks to see huge shrimp boats dump tons of fresh seafood into ice-filled metal tubs.
And I've walked the beach at night and seen the lights of the oil rigs far closer than the horizon.
My grandfather used to take me out to them on his boat. We'd leave before sunrise and ride forty miles out to tie ourselves to one or another of them to fish. He would check the current and the wind to make sure we were on the side not about to get smashed into a pylon and we would drop our lines a mile down and wait, sometimes sitting in water as smooth as glass and other times in eight-foot swells. The fish seemed especially prone to going after our squid bait just before a storm.
We would very often pass oil tankers making their ponderous ways between the rigs.
I remember a couple of visits to the beach where I didn't find tar stuck to the bottom of my feet afterwards.
On the gulf coast, this is just the way it is.
No system is perfect. The oil companies have done a pretty good job overall at containing most of what they pull up from under the floor of the gulf.
I do notice that with BP's latest explosion they seem more concerned with reclaiming as much of the lost crude oil as possible and that seems to be delaying the clean up an awful lot longer than they should be allowed to delay.
I've seen the culture that has been built up around the seafood industry on the gulf coast. There is a respect for nature there which isn't based in what they heard on NPR or saw on Animal Planet, but on how they live. I also know that the catches have been declining for decades and that a single bad season can send a lot of boats into foreclosure and end a lot of multi-generation businesses. They have closed parts of the gulf for fishing in reaction to the oil spill already. If this oil makes its way to the wetlands the fish and crustacean population will be impacted for decades. There isn't a fine BP can pay that will fix it.
I've read all of Jack Rudloe's books. He lives on the gulf coast, an environmentalist among people who would never call themselves that but who share the same core reverence for nature.
It would be good if we all shared it.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Free Comic Book Day 2010

One day per year, my friends.
One day when the veil between the normal and the geek grows thin, when traffic between these realms is made possible and entities from either side pass over and frolic among the unlike.
One day for the feeble breath of a dying paper-based industry to cry out in despair and harsh judgement of a generation which has moved on to electronic media.
One day for parents who have long abandoned the daily trials of dragging superhero plot lines and futile quests for holographic, short-packed collector's edition cover art to share these joys and burdons with their young.
Free Comic Book Day is tomorrow, my friends.
Find a store, grab some printed material and promotional awesomeness and share the bliss with your children or, if you lack your own, with the children of some parents who won't likely press charges.
There will be kid-friendly stuff in addition to the awesome stuff.
I'd expect some Iron Man stuff from Marvel and some Batman stuff from DC, but smaller publishers use this day as an annual showcase for their work.
Traditionally, I also buy a couple of comics to support the store hosting the event. I look for comics which will never be made into movies and will never have associated toy lines clogging the aisles at Target.
A comic book store on a Saturday is a magical place. Step carefully, respectfully into the domain of the geeks. It will not disappoint.
Oh, and seriously . . . Don't wear a black t-shirt to a comic book store unless you've earned it.
They can spot a poser like a continuity error.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Prime Candidate

When I first heard about Amazon Prime, I'll admit I didn't see the appeal.
Amazon has always shipped for free, in my mind anyway. For well over a decade they've delivered just about everything to me for free as long as my order was over $25, so I delayed ordering until my shopping cart was over $25 and then waited a few days for my stuff to magically appear.
I imagine it was much like the magic of fire brought to primitive people, or magical boxes which could capture an image and the associated soul. Over time, my internet-hardened standards became more jaded. My very connection speed improved past a frenzied 56k speed-boosted dial-up into an always-available multiple MB connection and the change removed what remained of my patience. My sense of wonder failed as well. The magic of the whole purchase, wait, acquire process was revealed as a cheap parlor trick, loud noises and flashing lights meant to frighten with no real guidance from the ancestor spirits.
I no longer remember the contents of my early orders from, only that the boxes were delivered amid the loud popping noises of the Earth's crust hardening, cooling like a car engine resting at last in a crowded mall parking lot. And avoiding mall parking lots was definitely one of the major benefits of using the internet for purchases.
Long ago I became used to going online for book purchases and electronics and clothing and, in some cases, food. I also became accustomed to spending $25 or more in order to get stuff shipped for free.
Amazon Prime has changed me.
I can't walk into a brick and mortar store anymore without checking for competing prices online and wondering if I can wait for shipping. And Amazon Prime has removed the $25 minimum and replaced it with free two-day shipping. It actually removed a restriction and added a benefit.
I have to tell you, internet: One time, I ordered a book from Amazon from inside a Barnes and Noble because I didn't want to carry a newly purchased book to the car.
For four dollars I can upgrade the two-day shipping to overnight. This is as close as a human can get to having internet superpowers.
With great power comes great responsibility, though. One time I accidentally ordered a paperback through the one-click purchase feature on my Amazon iPhone app. It isn't that I didn't want to read it. I'm sure I will. I just didn't need it in two days and felt pretty bad about having Joel (our UPS guy) drive down our street to deliver a single paperback. Oh, also I've learned the UPS guy's name. Because I see him a few times a week now. He's kind of like my sidekick in my battle against the forces of not having anything to read. He acts unenthusiastic about it, but I can tell he appreciates it.
My ability to read people is apparently undiminished by my never leaving the house.

Friday, February 05, 2010

I Don't Tell You How To Do Your Job . . . .

. . . Okay, maybe I do, but this isn't about that. It's about a work-related conversation:

Me: Where do you keep that policy template I sent you?

Someone completely unimportant: Oh! I hid it! Click on this icon in the taskbar, and then you should see it.

Holy crap! You have like a billion things crammed in here!

Well, yeah. I like my desktop clean.

But it makes working impossible.

Just a little . . . harder . . . I guess. I just hate a cluttered desktop.

How is anyone supposed to find anything?

Look at your desktop! It's a wreck!

My icons are sorted by date, file type and project.

But you can't see the background picture!

Cramming everything into this little double arrow icon isn't cleaning. When you tell your child to clean their room and they just push everything into the closet and wedge the door closed, do you call the room clean? Is that how you parent?

I'm having the network team kill your internet radio.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Family Time

NetFlix was hooking us up very well, actually, until season five.
Most afternoons we'd gather around the television in the living room under a too dense mat of cats and watch, together, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
I had watched the entire series on my own while I waited on Shana and Gwynyth to finalize our move and rescue me from the horrible hotel I was living in.
But this was different. This viewing prompted discussion not only on the proper method for dispatching a vampire but on human relations and the role of women in society and the correct verbing of nouns. That is what most Joss Whedon works are about, after all.
And then, after we'd slogged through the first couple of seasons with their hyena people and preying mantis monsters, NetFlix failed.
Season 5, disk two, LONG WAIT.
But we couldn't skip it, right? I mean, I know everyone was in a hurry to get to the musical episode and everything but even the preying mantis episode gets mentioned again. Watching episodes out of order is just bad form.
So, after gazing at our suddenly unsatisfying DVD collection and dreading even a brief break in what had become a family ritual over the course of about a month, I did the reasonable thing. delivered the Complete Chosen Collection of seasons 1-7 the following day, and balance was restored.
We have since started watching Angel, the Buffy spin-off, since none of us had seen it and Firefly was disturbing and complicated and difficult to explain, not to mention really, really dark at points.
But Angel is only five seasons, and on the other side of that is a glaring abyss of non-Whedon. Bad TV is way worse than no TV.
We aren't the type of family that sits around and puts together quilts, really, but sharing an experience, especially with discussion, has become a needed part of our evening.
I'm not hooking cable back up, though.
There is entirely too much crap television.
Maybe I should pick up some fabric squares and thread, just in case.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Fun With Statistics

And when I say "fun", I kind of mean "mind-numbing horror".
While the numbers aren't well-published, over 100,000 people go missing annually in the US. This number does not reflect abductions by family members, victims of natural disasters, or any case where people have a pretty good idea where the missing person might have gone. This number is people who just vanish.
Further, it does not include people who, for whatever reason, aren't on "the grid". Homeless people and illegal immigrants are rarely reported missing, though empirical evidence would suggest a higher likelihood of just such a disappearance among these populations.
It is possible that some of these missing people just made a break for it, started over, severed ties, but there is no way anywhere near 100,000 could make that happen.
Please feel free to check these numbers on the FBI website. I'm not posting a link to a government website. That gets a person on a special list, probably.
Anyway, we can extrapolate from the over 100,000 "just missing" cases annually that an additional 50% go unreported from communities which historically don't report these things. Wait. That's too high. Let's go with 20%. I personally think it could equal the number of reported cases, but lacking evidence we will use a safe and reasonable number.
If we agree that 120,000 people can just freaking vanish in 2009 in one of the wealthiest nations on the planet, I think it is frightening enough.
This breaks down to .04% of the total US population, just gone, every year.
Statistically, 32 people from my graduating class in high school have just disappeared.
Most of these cases get little publicity for a couple of reasons. The first is that it is common enough to not really be news-worthy. The second is that as the majority of these people are never found it makes us feel less safe, unsettled.
In more remote areas, the number of people who vanish is even more terrifying. Millions of people vanish in Africa annually. Some are the victims of war. Some will turn up again years later in refugee camps. But there are a lot of people vanishing in more peaceful areas of the continent as well.
While the numbers are harder to dig up, and even harder to verify, there are a lot of people doing population studies in Africa right now. How sustainable are the resources available for the surviving population? How much sprawling wilderness should be converted to farmland?
And these studies aren't limited to the human population, either.
In the Serengeti National Park, poaching is still an issue impacting animal survival, as is the availability of drinkable water and foraging area.
Unchanged, as near as we can tell, for millions of years is the rate of loss to large predators. Annually, and concentrating on adult herd animals, .05% of the population is lost to predation.
The rate is close enough to our own .04% loss to beg the question, could something unknown be culling the human herd?
Is it possible human predators are making this large an impact on our own population and leaving no forensic evidence of violence?
I don't personally believe people are smart enough as predators to pull off that particular trick.
All this is just numbers and extrapolation and fantasy, sure. But reality meets a dark place among these statistics.
I think I'm calling off my research project now.

Monday, January 11, 2010


I've been fairly regularly freaking out lately.
Since moving to South Carolina, I've been doing my best to come to terms with the differences between Columbia and Houston.
At the moment, the most noticeable thing is that it is freezing. Wait.
Literally freezing. Outside. Sometimes during the day.
Our driveway ices over. With ice.
Trees change colors seasonally. I'm so used to pines and live oaks whenever I pass a section of forest with great sweeping swaths of crimson and gold leaves, my first thought is that there is some disease -- Tree Blight, perhaps -- eating the forest.
And what's weirdest is that I pass sections of forest all the time.
There is a state park a couple of miles down the road.
Since moving here, without even entering the woods themselves, I've seen foxes, otters and (believe it or not) beavers, just running around outside like they own the place.
These creatures are endemic to zoos.
Everything I know about the natural world clearly puts these creatures in the "zoo and plastic toy" category along with lions and unicorns. But they run wild here. And sometimes down the middle of the four-lane road closest to our house.
Thankfully, the humans who live here generally drive more slowly than an otter runs.
The point is, if I wanted to watch Animal Planet I wouldn't have canceled cable TV.
When I was growing up in West Texas, wildlife had the decency to stay outside of town.
Of course, the desert creatures that live in West Texas wouldn't, as a rule, want anything in town. You couldn't buy liquor there unless you drove to the end of town east of the train tracks. I'm not sure animals are big drinkers, anyway. I actually don't know much about what animals want, I guess.
The safe thing to do, given my lack of knowledge about their motivations, is to assume they are hostile. That's not just safe, really. It's the American thing to do.
I've been researching the latest in snare technology. Oddly, aside from the substitution of polyester cord, there has been startlingly little advancement in snaring in the past eleven thousand years or so.
Don't we have some kind of task force looking at this issue? Where the hell are my tax dollars going?
It is a sad, sad day when I have to pepper my yard with snares designed in 500BCE by Proto-Europeans.
Why don't we have inflatable snares? Disposable ones? USB-powered snares, maybe?
Sometimes I think it is no wonder we are losing the war on nature.

Friday, January 08, 2010

What I Do

I hope my utter lack of details has left many questions as to what it is, exactly, that I do professionally.
I like to think it conjures an aura of mystery about me.
I do know that my family has no idea what I do, only that it involves computers.
When we lived in Houston, one of Shana's friends wanted me to meet her husband since we did the same kind of work and would obviously get along.
We met and talked. I told him what I do and he explained that he is actually a medical doctor who wrote and supports a program which sequences and indexes DNA, the very building blocks of life itself, to work out complex treatments for diseases and extend our lifespans.
There was a moment of stunned silence from me, after which he added,"Of course, that just means my family calls me whenever they can't print."
Wow. Our jobs are somehow fundamentally identical.

Anyway, I have a group of developers. Here is a picture for reference:

I don't know what their code does, technically, and the end result is some kind of math or something so I'll be the first to admit I don't care. However, I currently need them to test it.
I can't do this for them, and I'm not their boss so I can't make them.
Their boss has been emailing me directly about their progress in testing everything. While he can apply the needed pressure, he'd rather not. He has asked me to prod them into action.
So, this morning my job is, effectively, poking a bunch of cats with a stick and hoping that the outcome is that they all move, or at least shift, in the same, and desired, direction.
As my own research, I tried this on a couple of cats we happened to have laying around here.
Of my three test subjects, one bit the stick, one rolled over and rubbed her cheek against the end of the stick and one did not take any action at all. Perhaps I need to poke harder, but she looks so adorable all curled up and sleeping.
I suppose that is the issue I have with this whole process. I can't bother a sleeping cat, who statistically speaking probably spends upwards of sixteen hours per day sleeping. Bothering a human to do some testing of stuff they probably broke anyway is easier, but in principle exactly the same.
I hope this sheds some light on what I do, but not enough to pierce this oh-so-sexy veil of mystery.

Thursday, January 07, 2010


It's been six months since I quit playing World of Warcraft. Six months since I completed a quest. Six months since I trash-talked a battleground. Six months since I carried out complex Damage-per-second calculations while weighing the overall appearance of a new piece of gear. Six months since I defeated the forces of evil. Or good. Well, a lot of that depends on perception.
It has been a hell of a lot longer since I rolled dice in an old-school pencil and paper gaming manner.
I am, however, a gamer.
This isn't an activity or a hobby, really, not in this sense.
Gamer is a personality type. It's almost a condition. There are theories that it comes from wasted brain function, like unused cycles on a CPU endlessly burning through SETI calculations. The brain needs this downtime because of the way it is wired, or something. A diversion from the heavy lifting normally done during the course of a day. The imagination is rarely tapped in a conventional workday. Or it isn't appreciated if it is. At least it isn't appreciated by Human Resources.
Others say the twitch-factor is the key. There is only so much hand-eye action going on in ordering a latte and typing emails, so that energy is redirected towards slaying virtual dragons.
It isn't like this energy could be spent in other areas, either. This is specific stuff, completely incompatible with anything grounded in reality. And, if untapped, it becomes toxic. Probably.
I've joined the ranks of casual gamers. I'm not sure it's working, but it is within the boundaries I've set for myself.
A couple of minutes of diversion on the iPhone a couple of times a day and I can almost totally avoid the shakes.
Something like 145 million people over the age of 17 play these little puzzle games, word games and strategy games with no pressure to grind experience or join raiding guilds or haze the n00bs.
The majority of these people probably wouldn't call themselves gamers, but they play at least an hour a week to get counted, usually between four and six.
There are over a hundred million users on Farmville and over 50 million invites for it on my Facebook page.
These numbers amaze me.
The people they represent are our grandparents, co-workers, strangers in shopping malls and the guy that repressed his homoerotic urges by joining the football team in high school and beating up on smaller guys.
And all of us move around letters or colored blocks or bump each other off in Mafia Wars, for the most part making no contact with others of our kind within the game space. Because that is what is missing in casual gaming. I get no human element in it. The familiar faces are absent.
With massively-multiplayer the multiplayer element is what completes it, cinches the addiction, keeps me coming back to check in with people I know there.
And sometimes get them all killed when my cat decides to clean her ass on the keyboard while strategy is discussed.

Monday, January 04, 2010


First, knitting is like crazy-hard.
I've got the part where a series of slip knots makes a row of stitches. I actually even have one of those rows of stitches all neatly lined up across a knitting needle. After that, though . . . Um . . . Well, I have a row of stitches.
Any help you can offer at this point would be welcome. I've looked at various online diagrams about making the transition and reversing the direction to add the second row of stitches, but none are at all helpful. The YouTube videos also all seem to be either filmed from way too far off or recorded at triple speed.
This hand-knitted Snuggie project is going to take forever if I don't find someplace to buy a thirty-five foot long knitting needle.
We picked up drapes for the floor length windows overlooking the pool. That water-filled hole is pretty depressing during the winter months and the glare was horrible on the TV. Anything which obscured the CGI on the Sony is a bad thing. It has been fixed.
Work is ramping back up to production speed as people return from vacations. I'm becoming more adept at the paperwork involved in delaying progress at a large national corporation. This is a skill every I.T. person should embrace.
One other thing on the to-do list involves a call to the home warranty people.
I need someone to verify our wiring.
Quick end-of-the-year math tells me we've gone through four wireless routers, a microwave, a refrigerator, a dvd player, a desktop PC and two televisions since moving in. This, coupled with the fact that odd electrical fields have been resulting in nighttime hallucinations and there are places where I can stick a pin to the wall using magnetism as opposed to any pin-insertion technique leads me to believe something may be wrong with the way our wiring is . . . Um . . . wired, I guess.
At any rate, even if I had the equipment to test for that, it would likely explode if I plugged it in. It is better for us to call professionals, or at the very least people with the right type of insurance.

Sunday, January 03, 2010


So far, 2010 has been 100% composed of spending time with the family, watching SciFi, and sleeping in.
While I knew the whole time it wasn't sustainable long-term, I enjoyed the absolute hell out of it.
Gwynyth goes back to school tomorrow, and I resume my commute before she boards the bus, but I will drag my relaxation kicking and screaming into the meaty part of 2010 if it kills me.

Happy New Year, everybody.