Thursday, November 5, 2015

Classes in WordPress (make-a-website), Adobe Premiere (video editing), and Search Engine Optimization

If you're in the Seattle area, I'm now teaching a number of short (3-class), inexpensive ($125-150) courses at -- come check them out:

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Making-of video for Die Trying

If you read my last post, you know I've been working on some edits for -- here is the next one in the series: the "making-of" video for "Die Trying" (and if you don't think a "making of" video can be fun, you haven't tried mixing it up with Jonathan Coulton's instrumentals)!

the making of: Die Trying from Jon Peck on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Editing: the very basics

Recently, I completed a quick 2-day edit of a class video for ...and I took an hour out of that time to make this simple intro to video editing. Check it out:

Editing: the very basics from Jon Peck on Vimeo.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Interview by Culture Herd

Interviewed today by Culture Herd for a series on "methods of coping and succeeding as an artist"... check it out:



Sunday, September 26, 2010

Fight, Fashion, Fun

Fight choreography in a fashion show? Come to "Versus" at 7:30pm on Saturday, 10/23. The fun takes place at Chapel Bar in Cap Hill -- where we'll roll out a dozen new designs centered around opposing themes, like Science vs Religion, and Carrier Pigeon vs Text Messaging. Plus, you get to see me get kicked in the nads...repeatedly...everybody's favorite sport!

$15 for a single ticket, or buy a $60 wristband to get into all of the City Arts Festival events:

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Bikes are beautiful

An hour of speed sets five senses reeling:
Feel wind on your face; see foliage greening;
Smell that cut grass; hear two tires coasting;
Taste the black flies; bikes are beautiful... mostly.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Black & Blue: The Art of Violence

This weekend Jon Peck will: (1) play monkey-in-the-middle against three sword-wielding opponents; (2) progress from caveman to officeworker; (3) make several ladies really mad at him; (4) get shot in the leg; (5) imitate a dying pet. Come to the BLACK & BLUE SHOW to see how it all goes down. 8pm this Fri/Sat/Sun at Little Red Studio (750 Harrison St at Dexter) $15/$20

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Spam from Chase Bank

If you're as sick as I am of getting postal spam from Chase bank, here is the privacy department: 888-868-8618 (press 0#, then tell them you want to be removed from all mailings)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Foamiest Beer Evar

Foamiest Beer Evar from Jon Peck on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Cool uses for empty lots

Cool uses for empty lots from Jon Peck on Vimeo.

Artist Dan Corson, sponsored by Sound Transit, has put 3500 fiberglass rods into an empty lot at the corner of Broadway & Denny in Seattle's Capitol Hill; this is the laser-lit result.

More at and

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Google 411

I’ve been meaning to mention this forever, and was reminded when we recently incurred a $2.00 fee for a directory assistance call, because we were foolish enough to dial 411 from our phone.  WTF?  How do the telcos keep charging for this, especially when most such requests are handled by machines?

Here is the free version, which we should have used, provided by the (still, possibly, mostly not evil) people at Google.  Just dial 800-goog-411, say the business (or category) and city/state, and they’ll give you a list of results (and connect your call):

1-800-GOOG-411: Find local businesses for free from your phone.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

“Ye Trajick Tale…” premieres weekend of July 18/19

(I’m Captain Kidd.  Come check it out!)

Umbrella Theatre

Proudly Presents Ye Trajick Tale (of ye Dread Pyrate Robert Culliford and ye Giant Spotted Grouper) Two Shows Only!


Pirates of the Caribbean meets the Dilbert Comic Strip


Saturday, July 18, 2009 at 1 p.m. Sunday, July 19, 2009 at 2 p.m.


The Labyrinth Garden (Outside) at St. Paul's Episcopal Church 15 Roy Street (Corner of 1st Ave N and Roy Street) Directions:

How Much?

Suggested Donation of $10 Children 12 and under free. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Millionair Club Charity who help the working homeless

Buy Tickets?


(or at the door, but we be sellin’ out fast)


The Umbrella Theatre Company turns the St. Paul’s labyrinth into the Adventure Galley, as a group of argumentative pirates offer a lesson in interpersonal relations. And you thought corporate politics and piracy were new! Loosely drawn from a moment in history when Captain Kidd set out into the Indian Ocean to catch pirates at the behest of four venture capitalists!

Ye Tragick Tale of ye Dread Pyrate Robert Culliford & ye Giant Spotted Grouper, is an action-packed comedy of bad manners and a treasure of a tale you’ll be talking about around ye office water barrel for months to come. The cast features Captain Kidd, leading a crew of rascals, male and female, plus an adorable monkey, a mermaid, and the Last Dodo. The sword fighting and the laughs are nonstop in this original comedy that’s both kid‑friendly and adult-entertaining.

Information Hot Line: 206-282-2952 E-mail:

Information/Pictures/Pyrate Lore:

Monday, June 8, 2009

Lee Konstantinou reads from Pop Apocalypse

Seattle-area peeps: don't miss out on a great reading by Lee Konstantinou, author of Pop Apocalypse, 7:30pm this Wednesday 6/10/09 at Elliott Bay Book Company, 101 South Main St in Pioneer Square:

"San Francisco writer's debut novel, Pop Apocalypse: A Possible Satire (Harper Perennial) is a sharp-eyed fictional take on a future that may be coming soon to a reality near you. Actually the reality of 2029 portrayed here doesn't feel so alien. "Abusing the future to make hash of the present, Lee Konstantinou has fashioned one hell of a satire, one hell of a world. The writing is stunning, every sentence so packed with knowledge and with that one's laughter can barely catch up with the story. Konstantinou has shown us the future, and it doesn't work. But this novel sure does." - Roger Rosenblatt.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Baggage Claim: sold out Saturday, tix available Sunday

I'm proud to say that Baggage Claim has been getting some great reviews - and has SOLD OUT for two Saturdays in a row. So... if you're planning on attending this final weekend (and I hope you are), might I recommend buying your Sunday tickets ASAP at ? I hope to see you there! - JP

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Original show "Baggage Claim" this weekend & next (4/18-4/26) !

Looking for a fun way to spend a rainy (bleh) weekend evening this month? Come check out the latest thing I'm in. This isn't my usual sketch comedy bit; this play is a bit more serious (but still has some wicked fun parts). Plus, it incorporates a little bit of dance and some original music.

"Baggage Claim" is an entirely new work, written and performed by an all-Seattle cast, and staged in the cozy Freehold theater at 2222 2nd Ave (Belltown: 2nd between Bell and Blanchard). If you asked me for a synopsis, I'd say something like "a group of grade-school friends gets back together after a decade, reigniting lost loves and rivalries"...but this hardly covers it. Come check us out and support local theater!.

$10 general, $7 student; 8pm Saturday; 2pm & 8pm Sunday; 4/18-4/26.
Head to to buy tickets online!

Hope to see you there :-)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Sketch Comedy just $6 - Saturday 2/21/09

Pork Filled Players, 2/21/09 @ 10pm
Theatre Off Jackson (409 7th Ave S, Seattle WA)

OK, we all know the economy sucks. You're digging through your couch for bus fare. You've considered selling off your first-born for a head of cabbage. You need a break from the daily grind.

What better way to distract yourself than a $6 performance from Seattle's oldest sketch comedy troupe? We're cheap -- and so is our show. And if we aren't reason enough, maybe I can tempt you with our guest performers: Seattle Untimely and Jennifer O'Brien.

So let the bus pass you by, gather up that couch change, and jog your couch-potato butt over to the International District next Saturday night. Tix at the door or in advance at Brown Paper Tickets.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Digital Downloads with no per-transaction fee

I've been looking for this:

The quick summary: easy to set up, flat (cheap) monthly charge, no bandwidth or per-transaction fees. Cool.

Not that I've tried it yet; but hey, Molly is using it, so it can't be all bad.

P.S. yes, geek-friends, we could set this up using OSCommerce or somesuch ourselves...but why waste the time? It's done.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

We can't say it too many times: never pay someone else to hire you!

After seeing yet another get-rich-quick scam ("hiring freelance writers now!!!" -- Google, don't you vet your ad-placement clients at all?), I was tempted to write a quick list of tips for freelances. Fortunately, someone over at has already tackled that problem; check out their Tips For Freelance Contractors article.

The key lesson, though, is this: never, under any circumstances, should you pay someone else to allow you to work for them. Whether you're writing, performing, programming, or creating graphic art, the money only flows one way: toward you. Everything else is a pyramid scheme.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Status Update: Jan 2009 & Performance this Saturday

Tuesday marked a beautiful moment in history, and I'm looking forward to 2009, both on a global and a local scale. For now, though, I'll let better qualified individuals comment on our political and economic future; I'm just here to tell you about some more lighthearted events coming up in the next few weeks and months:

First off, I'll be performing with the hilarious Pork Filled Players at 10pm this Saturday, 1/24/09, at Seattle's Theatre off Jackson, 409 7th Ave South (in the International District). You can get tickets for our Inaugural Spam*O*Rama at Brown Paper Tickets or simply buy 'em up at the door.

Also mark your calendars for the weekends of March 14 and 21, when I'll be taking on a more dramatic role with the Heroes Production Co in an original piece about childhood friends reunited -- more details coming soon.

Lastly, two more of my short stories will soon be available in print. "Clowning Around" (a fun little ditty about evil clowns) will be published in issue 5 of the award-winning Polluto Magazine, printed in the UK but available globally on teh interwebs; I'll post a direct link as soon as issue 5 rolls off the presses. More locally, California-based Falling Star Magazine will be including my 600-word flash fiction "The First Time" in an upcoming issue; again, I'll provide more details once it hits the streets!

Thanks, everyone, for your continued support -- but especially for rocking the vote last year, and helping to ensure that 2009 will be a year to celebrate!

All the best,
Jon Peck

Monday, January 19, 2009

Joss Whedon's Top 10 Writing Tips

On the other side of the pond, Danny Stack (screenwriter, script editor) had an opportunity to republish Joss Whedon's "Top 10 Writing Tips" online; check it out here.

Much of his advice is the usual good common sense, and translates well to noveling: finish the darn thing; every character has their own identity (even if they don't explicitly disclose it); listen (to your first readers, to your editor, to the guy on the bus).

I think the gem here, though, is #5: "Cut What You Love" -- I'm still puzzling over this one. There are certainly cases where I can see this being immensely useful: cutting can motivate unexpected changes in plot direction, and can tone down segments which sparkle for the author but come off as "cutesy" to the reader. Most importantly, well executed cuts can force a writer to subtly work missing information back into other scenes, instead of bludgeoning the audience over the head with their point.

Of course, I can also see this going horribly wrong: if the scene I remove is the keystone to my plot arc, I'll spend the rest of the week trying to mortar the remaining elements back together, and wind up with a ragged, slapdash structure.

The solution, at least for my writing style, is probably to cut early and cut often. If I can streamline my structure before I write anything significant, and reevaluate that structure on a regular basis, then the words I put down become less individually important, more flexible. I'll know which scenes are just there for fun, and which are critical for plot or character development. In the latter case, a well-defined outline will allow me to readily find places to re-insert missing information, and will help me see when I need to be explicit and when I can merely hint at certain elements.

Sounds good in theory. Now on to practice...

Friday, January 9, 2009

HowTo: Rotate Desktop Wallpaper

Want your windows desktop background to change every time you login, but don't want to install a memory-hogging, computer-slowing program to do it?

1. Create a folder called wallpaper inside c:\ and put a bunch of bitmap (.bmp) images in it

2. Open up notepad, paste the code below into it, and save the file as C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Start Menu\Programs\Startup\randwall.bat

Each time your computer starts up, it will pick a random picture from c:\wallpaper to use as your desktop background.

Notes: If you have more than 99 images, change the line "set R=!random:~-2!" to "set R=!random:~-3!" (for 999 images) or "set R=!random:~-4!" (for 9999 images). To use a directory other than c:\wallpaper, replace all instances of that path in the batch file with the new path.

PS Thanks go to Mechanix2Go at for the randomizer script

Here is the code for randwall.bat :

@echo off
setLocal EnableDelayedExpansion
for /f %%A in ('dir /b "C:\wallpaper\*.bmp"^|find /v /c "\"') do (set C=%%A)
(set R=!random:~-2!)
if !R! gtr !C! (goto :loop)
if !R! equ 0 (goto :loop)
for /f "tokens=*" %%A in ('dir /b "C:\wallpaper\*.bmp"') do (
(set /a N+=1)
if !N! equ !R! (
reg add "hkcu\control panel\desktop" /v wallpaper /t REG_SZ /d "" /f
RUNDLL32.EXE user32.dll,UpdatePerUserSystemParameters
reg add "hkcu\control panel\desktop" /v wallpaper /t REG_SZ /d "C:\wallpaper\%%A" /f
RUNDLL32.EXE user32.dll,UpdatePerUserSystemParameters
(goto :eof)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Published: Choose Your Booze

Happy holidays everyone! This year I'm especially excited, because Every Day Fiction has just published my short story, Choose Your Booze.

So, check it out at, then show the great people at EDF some love by typing your email address into the "subscribe" box on the right-hand side of their page. They'll send you great short stories, every day, for free!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Me on TV (well, on the web at least)

In my other-other life, as some of you know, I'm an actor. Check me out in Episode 3 of "Family", a nifty little webseries about poyamory by Terisa Greenan (3 Dog Pictures). You can view:

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sneak peek: an excerpt from [Untitled Fantasy Novel]

"Ha! You can't run forever!" Peale was struggling to keep up, but he didn't let it show in his voice, or let his sword-arm droop as he chased after his prey. "Besides, only girls run away from a fight."

That got her attention. She wheeled on one foot, bringing her weapon to the ready. "Say that to my face, little boy." Ginny stood up as straight as she could, resisting the temptation to go up on her tiptoes. Her eyes barely reached his chin.

They raised their blades in a quick salute, and engaged each other, bark flying as the sticks collided. Each move was a carefully planned simulation; Ginny brought her twig up to cover her head, and Peale brought his down across it. She grunted with effort and pushed his weapon up-and-out, leaving his belly undefended: she could now run him through with the tip of her rapier. Here she paused, waiting for him to dodge to the side. Once his body was clear, she thrust forward, stumbling as the force carried her past his position.

Peale caught her as she passed, pressing his chest to her back and gathering one his free arm around both of hers so that her elbows were pinned. He brought his stick up against her throat. "Surrender now. I'll have your body or your life, woman!"

This was Ginny's cue to drop her weapon. "Oh powerful knight, do not abuse me, and I will be yours!" She turned in his arms, clasped her hands together, and put on her best submissive-peasant face.

"Very well, I shall take thee as my wife, and you shall be the happiest woman ever to have lived" boasted Peale. Tightening his hold, he brought his lips toward hers. At the last instant, she turned her head aside, and his kiss landed upon her burning cheek. She giggled and, suddenly stronger than her captor, broke free of his grasp.

"See you tomorrow, Pea!" Ginny called over her shoulder, sprinting toward her house.

"I told you never to call me that" he yelled back. Peale stared after her for a while, then finally slunk off towards his own home, late to dinner for the third time in a week.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Sneak peek: an excerpt from "The Breeze Against His Skin"

"What do you know about organic chemistry?"

Thirteen-year-old Mark Stanislavsky looked up at his mentor, Doug, with confusion. The answer was obvious: nothing, he had never heard of it. But Doug would expect some sort of rational guess. "Well...chemistry is about how different chemicals combine and change and heat up and become gasses or solids. So I guess organic chemistry would be...chemicals that aren't synthetic? Like, not plastic or manmade stuff?"

"Almost" conceded Doug, adjusting the green headband he always work on his shaved-bald dome. "Most of the time it means chemistry that has to do with life: animals, plants, food, medicine."

"Medicine?" That interested him. His mother was constantly sick. Late nights at the factories on the edge of town had caused her to develop a persistent, ragged cough. Her hacking always woke Mark up when she slipped in the door to their small apartment each weekday at midnight, prompting him to slip out of bed to give her a gentle, groggy goodnight hug before slipping back down into slumber.

"Right. When people develop medicines, they use organic chemistry to figure out how each drug will interact with the human body. And we can use the same kind of science to figure out what a particular chemical is composed of, by seeing how it interacts with a person. Mark, I need you to do something important for me."

His abrupt change in tone brought the youngster to full attention. Doug was only a few years older then him, but always spoke in a gentle, slightly condescending voice. Mark didn't mind: to him, Doug was the only real male influence in his life, and a guiding beacon of sanity in a world otherwise full of violence and stupidity. But now, all the condescension and wisdom had fled: Doug spoke to him as an equal who truly needed his help.

"The people I hang out with, you've seen them before..." Mark had. Every afternoon, as they studied in the library together, a friend or two of Doug's would come by to whisper something in his ear. They all wore the same green headband and razor-close haircut, and would smile and wave at Mark, but they never spoke to him directly. "My friends and I help deliver a kind of medicine to people we care about. But sometimes the medicine gets tainted – polluted – because it isn't made properly."

Mark nodded, wide-eyed with interest.

"We need someone to help us make sure it is pure, so the people who we give it to don't get sicker. You can help us, if you want to."

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sneak peek: an excerpt from "Solitary"

"Oh dear, can I get you an Advil or something?" she asked, rummaging around in her purse. But Eliot couldn't concentrate on her words. The pain was fading – but in its place, his mind was filled with random fragments of thought, almost as if another voice were echoing in his head.

* give me the money and nobody gets hurt - no, too clich̩, they won't take it seriously РI have a gun, and I'll use it if I have to Рtens and twenties only Рis that going to be too heavy? too large? Рnothing bigger than a hundred *

He looked up. The woman was still looking at him, concerned, rummaging through her purse for painkillers. Behind her, the next customer in line, a tall guy with bushy black eyebrows and a full beard, was staring intently at the two of them. Eliot watched as a bead of sweat trickled down his forehead, nestling in his eyebrow. The eyebrow began to peel away from the man's was a fake, and the glue was coming undone.

The man's hand snaked around his back, producing a pistol. "Everybody down, on the ground, now!" he yelled, pointing the weapon at the guard by the door, who immediately placed his hands up in plain sight. All around them, people were diving to the floor, shrieking in fright. Eliot was too stunned to react. The woman froze as well, with her back to the lawbreaker.

"I said, on the ground! Both of you!" The pistol was trained squarely on her back now; though she couldn't see it, the woman clearly had an understanding of the danger she was in. She panicked, dropping her purse.

The next few seconds would be forever burned in Eliot's mind: the sudden motion startling the gunman, the sound of the purse hitting the carpeted floor with a dull thud, the explosion as a bullet escaped from the pistol to tear through her neck, spattering Eliot with blood and drawing screams from everyone but himself and the shooter.

The killer stared open-mouthed as her body fell, and Eliot felt the voice in his head again.

* oh crap they're gonna lock me up forever they're gonna electrocute me why did I ever *

The voice was abruptly silenced as a second bullet, this one from the guard who had apparently recovered his composure, entered the would-be robber's skull.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sneak peek: an excerpt from "Gross Domestic Product"

"What?" shouted Jimmy from across the room. He wasn't shouting for my sake, of course: he was shouting because the headphones sealed around his ears had permanently damaged his eardrums, and Jimmy logically assumed that if he couldn't hear himself, nobody else could either.

"The stock market. News. Massive crash." I shouted back, matching his decibel level, for his sake instead of my own. "Have you looked at the NASDAQ today?"

"Yeah, somebody messaged me something." He clicked an icon and a paragraph of text slid up the side of his monitor. "Huh. Okay. So what? I don't mess with that kinda junk."

"Are you mad? This goes way beyond investors. Have you even begun to think about the implications this will have on the national economy?"

My roommate turned back to his screen with an apathetic shrug. "No big deal."

Linda sat in shocked silence as we argued, occasionally poking at the graph with my trackpad, sliding the mouse over info boxes to see trade volume and projections for her favorite stocks. Most of the text popups were an angry shade of red.

"Jimmy, your pizza-delivery job is shot. Sure, it will take a few weeks. But right now, every mother and father of every god-damned kid in this university is looking at their portfolios and thinking 'little bobby can do without spending money for a few months; we have to pay the mortgage somehow!' All those frat boys are gonna have to start tightening their belts, laying off the midnight pizza and beer, settling their asses into chairs at the dining hall to take advantage of the pre-paid meal plan dollars, because there ain't no more checks coming from the 'rents."

He remained glued to his computer. I stretched my leg out and delivered a sharp kick to the back of his broken-wheeled, dumpster-salvage, faded blue office chair. Incidentally, the wheels hadn't been broken when we hauled it out of the trash behind loading dock C. That was Jimmy's doing. Too much free pizza at work.

"And what's worse, these recessions take like a decade to go away. We're going to graduate in the crappiest economy ever. There's gonna be no jobs for us. Nothing! Get your head out of the ether and communicate in the real world, will you?" I screamed.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sneak peek: an excerpt from "What Goes Around"

"Am I...yeah, I am. I don't even have to ask." Bob felt like he was speaking aloud, although he had no mouth to move, no ears to hear with, no body at all.


"Yaaah!" In his own mind's eye, Bob jumped.

WHAT, YOU'RE SURPRISED TO FIND ME HERE TOO? The booming voice came from everywhere, and nowhere.

"Well – I wasn't sure. I'd hoped so. But it can be tough for us mortals to believe, what with all the wars going on, and science constantly disproving the Bible."


"I'm not just making excuses!"




"Ready? Ready for what?"


He gulped, or tried to. "Oh dear. That little bit at the end...I'm not really like that...right? I mean, the rest of my life, I've been a much better person. I was a good provider for my family. I loved my parents, my wife, my children!"


"Oh, Hell! Erp. I mean – crap, I don't know what I mean."


Oh no. This was going to be bad.


That was precisely what he was wondering. "Well? Is it?"


"Reincarnation? But that's not in the good book!"


"Well, in the Bible...oh. Crap. I'm gonna come back as a worm, aren't I?"


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sneak peek: an excerpt from "Human Suffrage"

Regardless of who wins, the 2016 elections will finally bring an end to the so-called "third and fourth Bush terms in office." McCain will be out, and a popularity rating below 15%, it seems unlikely that the Republicans will be able to gain a foothold in this year's election. Henry probably doesn't even need to head to the polls today, but generations before him would turn in their graves if he did not.

He takes an early lunch break and strolls down to City Hall, only a few blocks from his firm's office. The RFID chip in his wrist clears him for fastlane entry; he proceeds to the executive lane where two armed guards perform a quick strip search, and is on his way to the voting booths in less than ten minutes.

Henry presses his wrist against the booth's entry terminal. "Henry Langston Hughes, African/Caucasian, 62. History of blood pressure, diabetes. Registered Democrat. Sixth district." The machine pauses, considering the information it has just listed. It consults with the central server in Green, Ohio. "Your vote is not needed. Thank you for your time."

Henry blanches. "What!?"

"Your demographic has been accurately sampled to the required degree of statistical accuracy. No more data is required. Your vote is not needed. Thank you for your time."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sneak peek: an excerpt from "Clowning Around"

Pogo kept his ears open while he strolled, listening for the sound of any feet but his own echoing from the sidewalk behind him.

"One missed throw" he muttered. "One simple mistake and they stick me with guard duty for the week. Lucky I don't plan a car bomb on them myself, they are." Blast, he was in a foul mood. He kept moving. A little exercise would clear his mind.

His ears perked up as the characteristic slap of a rubber shoe sounded on the walk, less than a block behind. Pogo didn't break his stride. Keep it cool, he reflected, reaching into his shirt pocket for a banana. Don't change pace; if you bolt, he'll pounce.

The banana was just what he needed. He finished downing the sweet fruit, barely overripe, as a van rounded the corner at full speed. Glancing askance at the mirror of a parked car, he double-checked his aim and casually tossed the banana peel over his left shoulder. Perfect.

His pursuer didn't have time to react. The peel landed just as his shoe came down, sending his foot skidding out from under him. He lurched sideways into the street an instant before the van reached the same location; there was a screeching of tires followed by a dull thump, and a mop of curly orange hair flew up onto the hood.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Comics: Improving

Saturday, November 8, 2008

50 Extroverts, One Stage, 60 Seconds Each

Oh, that every night could be 60 Seconds Max.

The plan: get a whole bunch of Seattle actors, dancers, and comedians. Let each have the stage for, at most, 60 seconds.

Also, give them lots of free beer.

Full original text (I cut it heavily to reach 60 seconds):


(CON MAN in the middle seat of a plane, reading the Wall St Journal or financial section of local paper, big stock graph on front)

The captain has now turned off the rational investing sign. You may move freely about the financial market.

(puts down the paper; excited, twitchy)
Flyin' the friendly skies, eh? Gotta love it up here, looking down on it all. Gosh, everybody looks so small!!
(leans over his seatmate to peer out window)
(turns face to seatmate, too close, really seeing him for the first time. Grabs tie.)
Hey buddy, you look like the type who'd be interested in making a dime or two! Got a little nest egg you'd like to grow? Wanna double it? Triple it? I'm the guy who can take you there!
(backs off a bit to smooth out seatmate's tie)
(hurriedly, manic)
It's not my first time, you know. Nope. I've been doing this for years – I always fly steerage, too. I do. I love it back here. There are always such interesting people to talk to. And such good listeners, too. You wanna hear my pitch? Of course you do!
(stands; dreamy faraway look)
You see, the whole trick is not to sell the widgets...nobody makes any real money there. We're after widget derivatives. Secondary widgets. Tertiary widgets.
(glances back to seatmate)
I'm talking seven figures in the first year, buddy! It's gonna be you and me, flyin' first class all the way! And we'll get Don LaFontaine, or maybe Matt Wright to do the ad:
(focus toward audience; booming voice)
In a world where everything is virtual, your customers demand something LESS than reality. MegaDerivativeCo is here to satisfy that illusion, with the cutting edge tools your business needs...
(rumbling noise / metal flexing. CON MAN rocks unsteadily as the plain hits turbulence)

The captain has informed us that the market is now crashing. Do not be alarmed. Return to your seats and attach your oxygen mask directly to your wallet. If you have a venture capitalist with you, attach your own mask first before attending to him.

(still standing)
Oh, nevermind that, it's just a minor market adjustment, we'll be back on track in no time...

(sounds of grinding metal; CON MAN is thrown face-first to the ground as plane crashes, cash exploding from his pockets onto audience)


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election results? We got em!

And starting us off...Dixville Notch, NH with Obama=16, McCain=6

PS NaNoWriMo: 4500 words

Monday, November 3, 2008

Build the Debate you Always Wanted

Google Labs has come out with a great new feature called "In Quotes"

Pick two people (say, Obama and MCain) and a topic (eg, Iraq or the economy); then read what each has to say on the issue. Build your own head-to-head debate!  For extra fun, pick the same candidate, but two different years: see if/how his tune has changed...

P.S.  Today's little bit of joy: spellchecking this post and getting to click "ignore all" on McCain

P.P.S.  NaNoWriMo count: 3500 words

Friday, October 31, 2008

NaNoWriMo begins!

NaNoWriMo starts in five 0 minutes. My objective: 25 stories, appx 2000 words apiece, written over the next 30 days. I'll try to draw what I can from the topics posted thus far at TakeOneDaily -- and I invite any other authors who dare to join me!

So, please pardon my delinquency if very little gets posted over the month of November. TakeOneDaily will resume in full force following the storm which is National Novel Writing Month.

All the best,
Jon Peck

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me; Vote Smart!

I've done my civic duty (thanks to vote-by-mail); will you? Incidentally, today is also my birthday, and I have just one wish: that you'll make the right choice on election day. Click on the images below to learn more...

Keeping your Cool: do you want a man with this temper leading our country?

War: Iraq has cost each US taxpayer over $16,000. McCain will keep it going for "the next 100 years" and start attacking Iran.

The Economy: McCain's version of "Joe the Plumber" is a blatant lie; in fact, Obama's plan would give Joe more money!

Healthcare: The McCain healthcare plan leaves seniors and children without adequate care, and his "credit" actually ends up costing most families more than they are paying now, since it encourages employers to stop providing insurance.

Bush's "Third Term": McCain has always been an avid Bush supporter, though lately he has been trying to hide that connection because it is so very inconvenient:

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Let the Cartooning Begin

My first cartooning class was today; I can (sorta) draw faces now...some of them are almost recognizable. Note: the better-looking ones are not my own concept; I'm mimicking someone else.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Problem with America's Educational System

Jorge Cham (PhD Comics) hit the nail on the head today.

Education is widely regarded as a predictor of economic success, both on an individual and a national scale. Simply put: if you go to college, you earn more; if a lot of your nation's populous gets educated, your country doesn't fall to shambles.

Unfortunately, the cost of a college degree keeps rising faster than inflation.

Wouldn't it be nice if your favorite American university could give another 30 students full tuition each year? Or afford to hire another 10-15 professors?

It's possible. Of course, we may need to reprioritize a bit: click here.

(P.S. consider asking your own Alma Mater why they pay Bob the Coach ten times as much as the tenured professors)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Dreams come true? If you happen to be a marketer, yes.

How is a writer to keep up?  Last Wednesday, as I'm preparing to (fail to) fall into REM, I have a vivid little hallucination: a friend of mine is standing in front of me; I lift an iPhone so that it obscures my view of him, but instead the phone's viewscreen forms a virtual "window", allowing me to see his digitally augmented self, complete with goofy purple foam coat and Dr. Seuss-style hat.

The very next morning, a friend emails me an article entitled Augmented Reality Makes Commercial Headway, complete with a picture of a customer holding up a iPaq to view the video overlay on top of an otherwise flat advertisement.

This is not a new idea, though the actual implementation is.  The best recent vision of augmented reality that I can think of is Vinge's Rainbow's End, an excellent novel about the future of information, sociopolitical control, and a library's transformation into a walking colossus.  In Rainbow's End, overlays are a constant and highly important addition to reality; they allow in-groups to recognize each other and enemy tribes, convey realtime information about objects near and far, and add the design element to surroundings that are otherwise mundane.

What makes Vinge's world endearing is not simply the extent to which the technology has developed and pervaded (indeed, this could be quite scary if applied wrongly); rather, we become absorbed because the power to create these augmented realities is in the hands of the people.  Various factions struggle for power in his novel, but each faction has a set of real-world citizens that we can identify with.  Even his most powerful military leaders are individuals, and whether we love or hate them, we can see them.

My fear for the real world, though, is that like so much of the first world, power will remain in the hands of faceless corporations.  Go on: scowl, snort your coffee, mutter whatever you like about "those hippie radicals" -- then stop and think for a minute.  How many times have you called up you cell phone provider and been put on hold, only to be connected via VoIP to a talking head in another country?  When did you last speak, face-to-face, with someone who actually had the power to change the policies of the telecom company he worked for?

When we consider technologies, such as augmented reality, which rely heavily on networks, marketing, and mass processing, we must remember that the majority of the power is already invested in the corporate and political infrastructure of only a few large companies.  These companies have necessarily self-interested policies; their practices are geared toward expansion and profit.  Even at the highest levels, it is difficult for an individual to consider any other motive; a manager can always be fired by a superior; a CEO can be removed by the board or the stockholders; the stockholders have, by definition, only profit in mind.  That's why they (we!) own stock.

So, we can expect the first widespread (aka not toy-project) developments in augmented reality to be commercially driven, and we are beginning to see just that.  Soon we'll have ad-blockers on our iPhones just to keep them from interrupting our driving directions with a video streaming from the Citgo sign we just passed.

The real question then becomes whether the YouTubers, the Bloggers, the creative individuals of the world will step up to the plate.  Creating interesting and useful augmentations of reality takes time and effort.  Why are half the videos on YouTube created by bored teenagers?  Because they're bored!  The rest of us have fallen into the corporate routine; our creative energy sapped by the 9-to-5, we stumble home and collapse in front of the idiot box.

But this time, if we creative and talented adults slack off, there will be a much bigger price to pay than an Interweb full of videos showcasing "mah c00l3st Mario-Kart gamez evar", interleaved with 30-second spots promoting Diet Coke and Viagra -- because augmented reality won't be something we can put back in the box, or avoid by browsing only to the websites we like.  Augmentation will invade the"real world" in an unavoidable way very soon.

Consider, for example: someday GPS will become so pervasive that the department of public works will no longer maintain street signs; without digital input, you'll be lost.  If the company which provides the GPS service decides to inject advertisements ("take the next right, and consider stopping for a Big Mac before continuing"), every single person on the road will be at their exploitive mercy.

Once critical information about the things around us is only available through digital channels, the common man will be irrevocably immersed in a world he cannot filter or avoid.

That isn't a world I want to live in, and it scares me even more that I won't be able to opt-out.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Neil Gaiman in Seattle

Part 1

Like all things in the city of mist and caffeine, I hear about it in a cafe, half an hour before the event: Gaiman is in town.  Speaking.  Signing.  Promoting The Graveyard Book.  And what better location?  The Methodist Church, full of wooden arches and candelabras and neon signs loudly proclaiming "EXIT" in green gothic script.

Still dripping from the brisk, rainy bike ride, I arrive at the church to join 850 of his best fans, and we are ushered in to pick up pre-signed copies of his latest novel (for which I am glad -- as much as I'd like to head to the meet-and-greet after, I'm sure the wee hours of the morning would arrive before my turn at the front of the line rolled around).  As we shuffle into our pews, rock music flows into the aisles, but is soon replaced by a rendition of Dance Macabre on...banjo?

After a short introduction, the man of the hour ascends to the pulpit.  His first order of business: reminding himself not to swear in church.

Gaiman's rhetorical style could almost be described as "cautious" -- except that he is clearly at ease with the crowd, cracking a joke or two, relating experiences from his last visit to Seattle.  He is in no way timid; he is simply well-controlled, taking the time to consider each statement carefully and adjust his delivery for maximum effect.  This capacity becomes even more apparent as he begins to read from his latest work, The Graveyard Book.  He will be reading chapter four from the book, which is incidentally the longest chapter.  Neil shakes off his exhaustion and proceeds to delight the audience: from this one author emerges a whole cast of characters, each with a specific intonation, pacing, accent, and facial expressions.  Even playing the 500-year-old ghost of a witch, he is completely believable.   Observing such a performance, one cannot help but realize that Gaiman doesn't merely write his characters; he feels them, in much the style of a method actor or a devoted parent reading bedtime stories to his children.

If you happen to pick up a copy of The Graveyard Book, don't let the first chapter throw you; the initial few pages might feel a little slow as he brings us into the world.  Be assured that, once you have arrived inside the universe of a boy who has "spent his whole life talking to dead people", you will not wish to leave quickly.  Gaiman presents us with a fresh take on gallows humor: his characters are strange but practical, and the graveyard operates like a small village, in which each resident has their own role to play and history to bring into the mix.  As with most good fiction, the plot derives from conflict and coincidences between the players, the clash and concordance of their objectives...but Neil takes things a step further: his creations behave in unexpected ways; when we expect them to dodge right, they suddenly appear behind us; where we anticipate a cliche, we find a wedge of gruyere with a dab of strawberry jelly on the side.

Gaiman assembles his Graveyard stories with cinematographic knack, zooming in on one pair of characters as they exchange a few important words (or blows), panning back for a paragraph or two, then taking us back to a tight shot from the protagonist's point-of-view.  Listening to Gaiman speak, one cannot help but visualize the storyboard -- and speculate as to whether he already has one drawn up to pitch at Paramount.

Finally, to our dismay, he reaches the end of the chapter.  Enthusiastic applause follows, but in the instant between his last word and the first clap of hands, a warm glow of satisfaction spreads across Neil's face.  He is pleased, not as much by the fact that we have received him so well, but more by the act of reading itself.  In this brief moment, it is clear why Mr. Gaiman is so prolific: he simply loves to create, to bring his creatures out into the world where they can feel the sun upon their faces and be seen by all.

Part 2

After a brief intermission, during which approximately half of the audience goes back to reading their signed copies of Graveyard, we are treated to a sneak peek of Coraline.  If you've ever read a Gaiman novel and visualized it in the ghostly style of The Nightmare Before Christmas, then Coraline is the movie you've been waiting for.  Henry Selick has been working on this feature for the last couple years, and hopes to complete the remaining 2.5 minutes of shooting before the release date of February 2009.  Stop-motion filming takes time, y'know.

Coraline will be released in full-color 3D (and is the first major stop-motion film to do so), but no funny glasses for us: a technician hooks a DVD player up to a standard home projector, downs the lights, and...we wait patiently as things are unplugged, replugged, and rebooted.  I resist the urge to fire up BitTorrent and see if someone in Chicago ignored Gaiman's plea to please-not-bootleg-the-preview (and no, I won't be providing a link to any postage-stamp cell-phone videos, thank you very much). 

Selick's style is always characteristic, but if all you've seen is Nightmare Before Christmas, don't be deceived: he has range.  Coraline retains the classic stitched-doll feel of his 1993 work, but doesn't utilize the dim lighting effects (X-Files, anyone?).  It looks much peppier than you might expect.  In fact, the bright lights make his characters seem all the more ghoulish: in 2D, they practically jump out of the screen -- the full stereoscopic version is going to inject nightmares directly into the minds of smaller children.

Part 3

Neil has had a chance to parse through our comment cards during the intermission and movie, and now returns to the stage for Q&A.  He makes it a point to start out with an off-the-wall query regarding his favorite  dinosaur or somesuch, and in answering, reveals his amazing ability to weave fantasy tales on the fly (this is not, incidentally, the most unusual question he has been asked while speaking: "Have you ever belched so hard it hurt?" beats it by a leg).  But even when the questions are predictable ("which story is your favorite?"), his answers take an unusual turn ("that's like asking which child you love most...even the crippled ones...we love you anyway").  Here is a quick list of some choice tidbits:

  • The banjo rendition of Dance Macabre was volunteered by Bela Fleck after the performer read on Gaiman's blog about the desire for such a piece, and is featured on the unabridged audiobook.
  • Neil handwrites, then types; this forces him to generate at least two drafts, and to decide which parts to cut instead of simply cutting-and-pasting the useless passages into another segment of the storyline.
  • His advice on how to become a good writer: "you should read as much as you can; you should write as much as you can."
  • He once nearly got a foreign publisher jailed by contributing a story to Outrageous Tales from the Old Testament; apparently it was so full of gore and mayhem that the publisher was only able to escape prosecution by showing that the plot was derived directly from the Bible, Book of Judges.
  • Aside from being an author, Gaiman is a beekeeper; he once turned down an interview because it would have fallen on the day he had planned on "harvesting my honey...which is not, as it seems, a romantic thing."
  • His favorite banned books include Huckleberry Finn and Where's Waldo (author's note: it's Banned Books Week, so go read something naughty!)
  • Asked how many books he has written, Gaiman quips "I don't know; I really should count...people keep asking."
  • He is a big fan of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, which does lovely useful things like remind uptight small-town cops that the First Amendment is a constitutional guarantee.
  • He is currently working on a script for an upcoming Anansi Boys movie!!!
  • On occasion, Gaiman really does drink Laphroaig, which to him "smells like a mummy in a peat bog" (having repeatedly tasted the stuff myself, I feel it necessary to add that said mummy has been skillfully smoked over every wildfire to burn through California and delicately bathed in the volcanic ash surrounding Mount St. Helens before being towed, waist-deep in seawater, back to his country of origin behind a diesel-powered cruise ship.  It's OK, but Caol Ila is better.)
  • Responding to a (okay, my) question on the differences between writing succinct dialogue for graphic novels and elaborate passages for novels, he notes that "a comic is rather like an iceberg: most of it is beneath the surface.  So you're still writing long elaborate descriptions, they're just not going to be for the reader.  They're for the artist."
  • He is not disturbed by the differences between Stardust the book and Stardust the movie, nor will he be bothered by alterations as Coraline is produced.  In much the same way that he collaborates with artists on his graphic novels, Neil prefers to write the text, then give the filmmaker the artistic freedom required to adapt the work into their own vision.
  • Neil will be Guest of Honor at WorldCon, August 2009, in Montreal
  • His next published work will be an illustrated version of Blueberry Girl, a poem which Tori Amos asked him to write for her then-unborn daughter, Tash.

Watch this space for photos and, if I can obtain permission, a brief snippet of Gaiman reading from Blueberry Girl.  Until then...

- Jon Peck

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Buy Less Crap, Local or Otherwise

I'd like to say that this post was inspired by Scott Adams. But it wasn't. It was inspired by all the dingi (how DO you pluralize "dingus"? "dinguses" has too many syllables...) who responded to his Buy Some Local Crap Tax post.

Okay, not everyone who replied is a dingus; there are some genuinely good ideas on how to "fix" the economy, at least in the short term -- and there's the problem.  Every time someone talks about tax cuts, or stimulating the economy, they are only proposing a short-term fix, because they are missing the real reason that any economy crashes: we spend our money on crap.

Don't get me wrong.  I like spending my money on crap.  Especially gadgets and coffee.  But time is money, so I realize that whenever I spend cash on something I don't need, I'm robbing myself of time.  Doubly so if I spend it on something that wastes my time (56-inch HD TVs come to mind -- no, I don't own one).

I could go on ranting for hours, so lets get right down to basics.  There is only ONE class of "real" jobs in the world:  the primary producers of our economy, farmers and such.  People who convert natural resources -- specifically, sunlight, since that's where all our energy (nuclear excepted) ultimately comes from or came from -- into the stuff that keeps out bodies running.  Scientific note: land and water are just catalysts; but for this reason we might lump "water purification" and similar positions into the same category.  Oh, ok, we need places to live in lets throw a few builders into the mix.  Waste management too.

Got that all?  Okay, then we have an economy that should last for a while, so long as there aren't any major catastrophes and the sun keeps shining.  Of course, when a disease comes along we'll need doctors...and if we use horses and tools to farm, a blacksmith would be nice...if machines, machinists...and so on.  You get the idea.  So far, we are more-or-less OK.

Now the problems begin.  Retail.  Marketing.  Cheap plastic toys which get thrown out after 2 months of use.  At first, these influences seem innocuous.  But over time, more and more of our workforce is devoted to jobs that do nothing.  They are working just to make/help people buy more stuff.  The are wasting their own time to make others waste their time.

By the time we've reached this point, other villages/states/countries are looking our way, thinking "Hey, cheap plastic crap!  We want some!"  Or, worse yet, we have so many people living in one space, producing nothing useful, that we start running out of food and land and water, and start thinking we should go find some more.  Either way, people start building swords, then guns, then warplanes, and we're running off to other countries to take their crap.  We spend billions of gallons of oil just getting across the ocean to blow other folks up so we can take their oil.

If you're still with me at this point, you either don't think I'm crazy (foolish, foolish reader), or you do but find my insanity to be the compelling, manic kind, not the boring, lithium-induced variety.  If you fall into the latter group, take a minute to ask yourself: how many people do you know who actually produce or provide something important on a regular basis?  Do you spend your afternoons growing organic tomatoes which you'll trade for pasta at the local market?  Or do you, like me, browse YouTube at the nearest internet cafe -- burning electricity on a resource-intensive piece of plastic and silicon produced in China, while sipping coffee shipped 8000 miles across three continents and one ocean?

Don't get me wrong; I'm not implying that we should all drop our retail jobs, give up computers, and go farm the land.  But I am suggesting -- nay, stating -- that unless you are an ag worker or a plumber or a sanitation engineer, you have a responsibility to live a little more simply and waste a little less.  Not out of some hippie-yuppie compulsion, but for the sake of our economy.   Every time you throw away an iPod because it's not the latest and best model, every time you drive to the corner store instead of walking your lazy butt the half-mile, every time you buy a Power Rangers figurine instead of reading to your child, you hurt the economy.  You make the whole nation a little less efficient, putting more cash into stuff which creates waste, spending your hard-earned time to waste your time, trickling your income up into the pockets of CEOs and marketers.

Scott has it half-right: DO buy local.  But DON'T buy crap.

DO spend more money on fresh, local, organic produce than you do on your monthly cable bill and gasoline combined.

DON'T drive when you can walk.

DON'T watch advertisements: the mute button is your friend (if you can manage, don't watch TV at all).

DON'T buy anything "disposable"; that word is just a synonym for "wasteful".

DO recycle and reuse: give up tupperware, rinse out that glass salsa jar and put your leftovers in it instead.

DO carefully consider every purchase you make: do you need it, will you throw it out, does it waste your time and money?


PS larrythelabrat's comment (link below) prompted me to add the following:

DO allow yourself to buy things that are worth the time and money you put into them: books, music, art you like.  We all need to have some fun in our lives!  Simply DON'T buy things that give back less than you pay for them.  $1.25 for a bottle of water which is just redistributed municipal water?  Use a mug or a drinking fountain -- it's free and equally healthy.  $4 in gas to drive to work?  Bike for free (and get in shape too) or spend half that much on the bus, where you can get some reading done instead of swearing at other drivers.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

My First Comic

Late next month, I'll begin a short course in cartooning at UW's Experimental College -- and it won't be a minute too early, because my current level of "talent" is despicable. Are you ready to shield your eyes? :

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Google Chrome: conveying technical ideas with doodles

Google has finally built a browser.  This is great news if you happen to own GOOG stock -- and mixed news if you happen to be a web developer.  [WARNING: non-geeks, skip directly to paragraph 2]  On the up-side, we'll finally have an environment with all the perks we're after: multi-threaded, process-isolated, open-sourced.  On the downside, unless everyone adopts it (and not everyone will, since it will never be distributed as Vista's default browser) we'll now have to write our programs to perform reliably in radically different environments...a single-threaded version for IE and a multi-threaded version for Chrome, etc (frameworks like jQuery may ease some of that pain).  *Sigh* just when we thought web environments were beginning to standardize.

But I'm not here today to geek out about all the pros and cons of Chrome.  I'm actually more interested in a little-advertised side effect of the project: cartooning as a means to convey technical data.

When Google made the browser available at, they also included a 39-panel comic...err, "graphic novel"..."visual explanation" drawn by experimental cartoonist Scott McCloud; read it here:

McCloud's doodle manages to convey complex concepts, like process isolation and multithreading, with a minimum of words and only a few panels of graphics.  Those of us who have taught a software development course (or simply tried to explain our jobs to non-developers) will recognize Scott's graphics as a more evolved form of our own back-of-the-napkin sketches.  He has taken those core visuals, stripped out the cruft, and nestled them into a semi-storyline (or, at least, series of situations) which the layman can relate to*.

This strikes me as an indispensable skill, and also as an excellent example to aspiring writers.  Take any description of a complex concept, distill it down to a few short sentences, and add visuals.  If you are a cartoonist...just a add color and a dose of dry wit; you're done.   If you're writing prose, describe the visuals you've just created; you'll end up with something entirely different from -- and possibly much more entertaining than -- your original description.

From now on, I'm going to make sure that all my software consulting teams have at least one cartoonist on hand.  I'm also tempted to say that I'll learn to draw something more than stick figures...but why bother?  It's working out fine for Randall.


* don't start with me; I'll end my sentences with prepositions if I want to.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

SFF Liberalism: the Next Generation

As the stadium lights dim on the 2008 DNC, I find myself pondering the new definition of "liberalism", wondering what ethical challenges the next generation of Sci-Fi/Fantasy authors will tackle.  After all -- and maybe I've been living on the Left Coast for too long -- that is our task as SFF authors, and it seems like all the low-hanging fruit has already been plucked.  Want to stick a poker in the side of religion?  Break out Stranger in a Strange Land.  Racial tension on your mind?  Re-watch the original Star Trek episodes, or crack open any novel with half-elves or alien crossbreeds.  Interested in creating a universe where sex with anyone or anything is A-OK?  I hardly need to give examples (and definitely don't view my pie-chart regarding Gravity's Rainbow).

So, what's next?

Can we construct a plotline in which biodiesel plays a critical role in saving the world, and have it still read more like a thriller than a documentary?  Probably; for fodder, read about how biodiesel is four times more efficient than ethanol, and then pit the conservative pro-corn-subsidy statesmen against a few (starving) radical activists.  Place the novel in 2030, put the radicals on bikes and the statesmen in gas-guzzling flying cars...might come off a bit cheesy, but there is headway to be made.  Don't forget to refute the Niven/Pournelle/Flynn Fallen Angels scenario.

Next up: universal healthcare.  Our protagonist is a pregnant teenager (better be first-trimester or we'll have to be overly cautious with the action scenes) whose mother has just died from an expensive form of cancer; strike that: make up a new disease which is highly curable but costly to combat.  Worse yet, the disease is hereditary...transmitted at birth.  If she doesn't make it to Canada -- whoops, looks like BlueMed CrossCo bought Canada in 2018 and commercialized the healthcare system -- if she doesn't make it to Cuba before the child is born, both she and the child are doomed to join the US Army, the last bastion of affordable healthcare.

Hit me with 'em, I'm listening.  Anybody? Anybody? Bueller?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

That's about right

I cannot tell you how many times this has happened to me (no really, I can't; the confidentiality agreement hasn't expired yet):

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Mozilla Labs: in a land where data is free to roam...

Before you go any further, check out this new video (released by Adaptive Path), showcasing the Mozilla Labs concept browser, Aurora.

Cool, right?  A little messy, perhaps; a bit heavy on the Mac bubble-interface style; but a nifty concept.  Technologically speaking, we could build this next week...well, maybe next year, given a few hundred well-trained monkeys.

But one think keeps bugging me: though it pains me to say so, data is virtually never free.  Open up your browser and take a look at you top-ten favorites "free" sites which provide new information (be it news, humor, or simply weather data) on a daily basis.  How many of them have Google adbars? Pop-ups or flash overlays?  If they don't, do they have teaser stories which lure you into a subscription option, or are they financially backed by a hardcopy version of the paper/magazine?

The facts are simple: while the act of distributing information keeps getting cheaper (I pay less for webhosting now than I did a decade ago), the cost of acquiring new information doesn't.  Somewhere, somehow, somebody is paying for that data to be generated: CNN is using subscription or advertising revenue to fly reporters across the country, a independent blogger (ahem) is slacking off at his job to write a story, or the federal government is building a new weather station in Alaska.

Furthermore, Mozilla's vision of the future not only demands that large volumes of new and interesting data be provided freely by a variety of sources, but that these sources all use standardized, interoperable formats.  Granted, some of this interoperability will be spurred by the widespread use of open-source tools (it is a lot easier to install WordPress than to build a content management system from scratch, and with that decision comes the guarantee that your data can be more easily "scraped": extracted from your website and put into another format)...but profit-dependant organizations (PS "not-for-profit" does not mean "not profit-dependant") will always have an incentive to make it difficult to extract their data.

In the scenario Mozilla presents, data is dissociated from its source and mashed-up with other data from other sources.  In the final mashup view, there are no ads, and no highly visible indicators as to where the data came from.  This leads to two effects: providers of legitimate data start losing money, and thus eventually stop producing usable info; simultaneously, providers of untrustworthy data (spammers and other organizations with a personal agenda) gain more leverage.  Take this to its worst possible outcome, and we find ourselves in a world where most information is hearsay or opinion, facts cannot be trusted, and all the legitimate news sources are dead.

Of course, it does not have to go this way -- if we start providing the right incentives before the technology gets away from us.  Some of this is simple good practice: always provide attribution and links to your source data; fact-check before you post; pay for subscriptions to the info-sources you trust (or at least click on their ads).  But there are more complex, community wide problems to be handled too: is there an effective technological solution to spam, since the law has failed us?  How do we balance the financial incentives for data-provision against the end-users bias toward the cheapest possible source?  Should copyright exist on the Internet, or is it sufficient to cite your sources (and display their advertising stream with their data)?

Sadly, most of these questions cannot be directly resolved by us technophiles, but at the very least, lets get the discussion rolling...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Your rent just went up

If you, like me, prefer the clatter, clang, and steam of an active coffeshop when you write...

And if, unlike me, you're unfortunate enough to live in one of those East (or Middle) Coast towns where $tarbucks is the only caffeine source...

Your rent just went up.

The coffee behemoth is purchasing the company which makes the Clover, a nifty little $11,000 gadget that brews individual cups of coffee at precise temperatures and steeping times. For the true coffee-lover, this is huge: the stuff is delicious. Well before this announcement, I had the pleasure of imbibing the brew at a local indie (aka non-Starbucks) shop. It is definitively the best cuppa that has ever passed my lips.

But make no mistake -- Seattle's best-hated chain is not purchasing the Clover on altruistic gourmet grounds. They're making a concious business decision to price out us campers...the folks who wander in at 10 AM and buy the cheapest possible beverage (drip, drip, and more drip refills) for the next four hours while they work on the next novel. Apparently scrapping the free WiFi wasn't sufficient; they also need a reason to charge upwards of $4 per hit for everything on the menu.

Thus, I still find myself working on the porch of my favorite non-chain coffee shop, whose $0.25 refills of filter-brewed drip remain mellow (if mundane) even after an hour in the carafe. If I want a hint of chocolate in my cup, I can pull out the jar of Ghirardelli powder from my pack...and toss the extra $3.75 in my barista's tip jar.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Aarne-Thompson Classification System

In 1910, Antti Aarne developed a motif-oriented, enumerated classification system for folk tales; Stith Thompson translated and expanded this system, releasing it in 1961 as the Aarne-Thompson Classification System.

I think this has great mashup potential; consider:
- set "Contest between Man and Ogre (1060-1114)" in post-apocalyptic North America
- format "Enchanted Wife (400-459)" for sitcom; film in B&W
- perhaps "The Obstinate Wife Learns to Obey (900-909)" starring Eva Gabor?

Oh, nevermind. It's been done.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Windows Live Writer

Micro$oft does some things poorly, and some things well.  Historically, HTML editing has been one of their weak spots: just view the source code of any Word document after you've selected "Save As > Web Page" and you'll see what I mean.  Third-party integration is another weak spot...from what I've seen (admittedly, from the outside) they tend to force others to adapt to their APIs, not the other way around (JScript, anyone?).

So it comes to me as a surprise that I'm actually recommending an MS tool that does both: writes HTML (XHTML even), and conforms to a third-party API.  In fact, I'm using said tool at this very instant.

Windows Live Writer is a small-footprint (under 10mb) utility which allows users to post directly to their blog.  "What's the big deal?" you ask -- and right you are to do so, since most blogspaces have fairly decent WYSIWYG editors, spellcheck, and the like.  Well, since you asked, here is a quick feature list:

  • offline editing: no more trying (and failing) to cut-and-paste formatted text written while you were offline; edit in WLW on the road, then click "publish" when you're online again
  • posts to all your favorites: Blogger, WordPress, LiveJournal, TypePad, Movable Type...
  • multiple profiles: add each blog you edit as a separate account
  • all the WYSIWIG HTML tools you'd expect: hotkeys and buttons to create lists, tables bold/italic/underline, links, etc; and the hotkeys are the ones you're used to from Word (CTRL-B for bold, CTRL-K for link, and so on)
  • realtime spellchecking: yep, with the squiggly red line under your misspelled words (and if you hate that, you can turn it off).  What's that?  "Spellcheck" isn't in the dictionary?  No problem...just right-click, add to dictionary, done
  • insertion of images and videos (from your computer or the web): plus tools for varying borders, tone control, watermarking, and more
  • drafts: automatically saved every few minutes
  • templated insertion: set up HTML snippets, insert them wherever you like by selecting from a drop-down
  • automatic hyperlinking: do you always link the word "google" to ""?  Add it to your link glossary, and WLW lets you pick it from a list instead of retyping the URL each time

If these features interest you, grab it from -- but don't forget to uncheck all the other checkboxes (like Messenger and Silverlight) when you run the installer, to avoid also adding lots of other M$ B$ to your machine...

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Bad News for Print-on-Demand...and Beyond

"Don't be evil"

Google has been using this motto since 2001, and while they may have made a few missteps, most of us seem to support Brin and Page's long term vision, and applaud the company as it strides bravely into new markets.

If only every megalith adopted this slogan, I wouldn't feel a burning need to boycott Amazon.

As early as March of 2008, the online bookseller began threatening to remove authors' books from its shelves. Their crime: using Print-on-Demand (POD) services from other vendors.

You may not think much of POD right now; it has a bad rep, being mostly associated with vanity self-publishing services. But POD is the unavoidable wave of the future, in much the way that online MP3s sales were the much-doubted future of music. Whoever controls the POD market will, effectively, control all book publishing...and Amazon's track record on this is not-so-good: they charge authors an up-font fee in the hundreds of dollars even when they aren't providing any design or promotion. Yes, you heard me right: Amazon does nothing, authors pay up front, and the megalith still takes 75% of the profit on every copy sold.

For authors, that means reduced profits. For readers, that means higher book prices, with less of the money going to the authors you love, and more going to the corporate machinery of Amazon. This effect will not be restricted to Print-on-Demand; once Amazon gains a monopoly in the POD market, they will be able to leverage this advantage to force authors with mainstream publishers to move to their POD service. In a decade, Amazon could control all book publishing, in every market. Imagine the beauty of a single publisher-retailer for all books: zero competition, therefore no quality-control and no price-control.

So, even if you don't believe in Print-on-Demand, you may want to seriously consider boycotting Amazon, or at the very least signing the petition on your way out...


PS a personal plug: while I don't self-publish, I do endorse LULU as, essentially, a low-cost professionally-bound copy service (just don't get an ISBN or make your project public). If you want to give your first readers a perfect-bound softcover instead of a stapled pile of 8x10 pages, it will cost you about $6-10 per copy to get them printed, bound, and shipped. Personally, I'm willing to spend a few bucks to make sure that my galleys get carried around in my reviewers' pockets, not lost in a pile of other papers on their desks.

PPS read more at O'Reilly and The PI

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Elements of Style

The 1999 revision of Strunk's indispensable book "The Elements of Style" is now available for free online: carefully, because you're only allowed to break the rules [that] you know :-)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Resources for Authors

NorWesCon 31 was a blast! Originally, I had signed up b/c the Foglios were attending -- but as soon as I arrived, the realization dawned on me that there was no better place for an SF/F author to spend his weekend. For three days straight, I attended panel after panel with names like "Is the Short Story Dead?" and "Breaking in through Small Press". When not absorbing Dan Simmons' advice on "How to Make an Editor Cry", I ripped out my vocal chords screaming Rocky Horror callbacks and catcalling at the Fetish Fannish Fashion Show. My notes:

Useful websites about markets & publishers:

For creating bound hardcopies (or self-publishing, if so desired):
Some mags to submit SF/F shorts to:
Small publishers:
SF/F Communities:
Books worth reading/referencing:

The 10% Solution by Ken Rand
Writer's Market 2008 (of course)