Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Most Boring Post Ever

Why am I posting this?  I have no idea. I'm sorry for anyone who reads this, it just bubbled out of me. Actually, I know why I wrote it, my son is trying out for football and basketball this year, and they keep making him have physicals, of course our insurance will only pay for one per year, but they insist that the physical has to be within the last 30 days before it will be accepted by the school. Sigh. It isn't fair. Anyway, I wrote the following in a 15 minute binge of, um, creative whining, enjoy.

Health insurance in the U.S. makes no sense. I often felt like I would have gone a radically different way in life had I not been forced to seek employment for the health benefits. I’m rather conservative by nature, and a bit averse to taking risks. I’m not the type of guy that will have 17 start-ups and declare bankruptcy 6 times before finding the means of succeeding. I’m just not going to do that.

So, what was I going to say? Oh yes, the story about the history of the insurance industry is very interesting, hopefully, interesting enough to read a few hundred words about.  I’m sure I’ll get a few details wrong, as I don’t believe in research. So here goes. Consider it ‘truthy’, if not accurate in every detail.

Way back when the world was young, being a good doctor, at least in the U.S., meant being nice, and having the ability to kinda sorta make people feel better if you could. It didn’t matter if what you were doing was beneficial or not, as long as you were making the effort.

Well, the scientific method had found a firm footing in Europe and some genius decided to put those methodologies into place in regards to medicine. The U.S. lagged behind a bit, but slowly, things started to catch on here too. By the late 1800’s it was still a ‘feel good’ sort of profession here. You wanted to be a doctor? Good, hang a sign in your window and open your shop. You needed more training to be a cobbler than a physician in those days.

Aspirin hit the market and guess what? It actually had some medicinal benefit. After that, folks were starting to expect their doctors to, you know, actually know what they were doing, and prescribing things that would actually help, not just get them drunk.

So, with actual money being spent to develop treatments, drugs, etc, the cost of seeing a doctor was beginning to rise. It was still affordable for the most part, it wasn’t prohibitively expensive, but it was going up. I think that cheap, but still modern medicine (in the sense that the word ‘efficacy’ was being thrown around) was the norm until around the 30’s, when the great depression was wrecking the lives of everyone and even a cheap trip to the doctor was impossible for a lot of folks. A suffering hospital went out into their community and asked if folks wanted to spread the costs out so a single trip to seek medical attention wouldn’t force folks to choose between eating and getting their broken leg set.

Yea, insurance was born. Everyone lived happily ever after.

Until WWII. Damn Nazi’s ruined everything. Companies looking to hire much needed help were competing for a small pool of applicants, with most of the young workforce off fighting across the globe there was a lot of competition for talent. Knowing this was going to be concern, and worried that paying high wages would really screw up our economy, the powers that be froze wages. Companies couldn’t offer more money, they’d have to entice folks with other kinds of… benefits.

A ha!

I won’t get into how, in the 60’s, the modern a la carte model of medical services, dictated by the U.S. government, doomed us all to a runaway inflation for medical services, made middle class doctors into wealthy men, and quickly made the possibility of getting medical care without insurance impossible. That isn’t the point. The point is that every large company in the U.S. was offering health benefits to lure workers in.

That might have been a temporary thing, a stop gap measure until the boys that were off defeating the Axis powers got home to start working again, if it weren’t for one, teeny little thing, an arbitrary decision made by a no-name accountant buried deep within the labyrinth of the government bureaucracy that was asked a simple question one day.

Do we get a tax break for this?

Yep, that’s it, an urban legend was going around that companies that offered medical benefits to their employees could get tax benefits for doing so. There was nothing in the tax code that said it was so at the time, but the rumor persisted, and if the story is to be believed, when a mid-level guy was asked, formally, if this was the case. He had no idea, but said yes.

The official pronouncement spread like wildfire, the government, if they were waffling on the point, had the decision made for them. It was shortly thereafter made official and there it was.

So today, 70 years or so later, workers are tied to their jobs because we can’t pay half a million dollars for a simple procedure because that’s just a bit too much. And the employer based Insurance system we have is all we have. Sure, I could go out and get insurance on my own, but the cost of doing so is also prohibitive, and the level of care I would be getting would be far less than what I get now. For some reason, most Americans think it’s the greatest thing in the world. And if I loved the work I did, like, really loved the work I did, then I might agree. But doggone it. I’m not that thrilled with it. I could make more money doing other things in life. But the person in me who fears that he’ll wake up one day with a third arm sprouting from my skull doesn’t want to lose everything I decide to have said third armed removed. I’ll go and pay my measly little co-pay, have it lopped off, and thank my lucky stars I’ve got medical insurance.

Doesn’t seem right though. It isn’t right. I don’t know what to do about. I may write a blog post about it.

Friday, May 27, 2011

You Are Here

Just in case you were wondering.
See the Yellow sorta circle? Yep. You're there. Click on it to get a bigger view.
I'm impressed, in case you're wondering about the scale. Try 380 MILLION light years. Each little point of light is a galaxy, the smoky tendrils are superclusters of galaxies. Damn. I almost don't have words.

Also, the map is in 3D. So you can get a idea of how far the galaxies are on the Z axis as well.  Pretty cool, eh?

Click for more

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Grand Tour

For the first time ever, I fooled someone into thinking I have something worth talking about. I've got a post up over at Stephen Tremp's blog, Breakthrough Blogs, where I talk a bit about the Fermi Paradox. So please go over and check it out.  If you don't visit his site already, he is a SF author that posts several times a week, almost always on Science or Science related posts.

In other news, I've been sick. It sucks. I would pray for death if I wasn't such a wimpy soul.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Future is Here... But it Feels a Lot Like the Present

I am constantly amazed at the things that a well written software program can do. I think we're at the tip of a an amazing revolution, thanks to the confluence of cheap, disposable processors and clever software. I think of something like Google translate. I work for an international company that communicates with folks all over the world. There was a time, not so long ago, that it would be almost impossible to communicate directly with someone without a language to share, but translation software makes is a snap. I can see in English what was written in German, Spanish, Chinese, etc. Miraculous times.

Of course, one of the great things one can do with such a powerful technology is try to trick it. I think it's a good exercise, and at least for me, a very telling one. It let's us know that computers aren't so smart, they struggle with grammar just as much as we do.

To see where we are at, a fun game, that isn't really new, is to type something in English, translate it through several languages before eventually bringing it back to English again. I thought it would be fun to play with that and see what results I would get.

I wanted something short, but complex enough expose any goofs along the way. So I whipped up a quick sentence to use.

The first time I felt the wind on my face, I knew I would never set foot on the ground again.

That might not win me any awards, but it should do for now. I wanted to see what it would do if I went through several Germanic languages, to see if that would help keep the translation close when I brought it back to English again.

I translated it to German, then took that text and translated it to Swedish, to Danish, to Icelandic, before finally settling back on English. The result?

First time shooting a pitcher blow ansiktet, Jag Jag att knew would never be a true Footgolvet again.

I'm not a linguist, but I thought that running them through several closely related languages (which I did - at least according to this chart) would make a better end result. Granted, there were four translations before it came back to English, so I didn't expect stellar results, but damn. That's near impossible to decipher. 

So I tried the same original sentence again, this time using as many disparate languages as I could. I'm sure a lot of the Romance languages are closer to English than say, Icelandic, but still, I followed the chart

So again, English to Russian, then Russian to Spanish, then to Hebrew, to Hindi, and finally back to English. What did I get?

Ansiktet pitcher hit the first shot, Jaguar Jaguar Footgolvet ATT knew that he really will not happen again.

What did that teach me? Absolutely nothing, except that computers don't seem so smart now, do they? Score one for the humans. Kirk would be proud. If Google goes down later, you'll know why. I broke it.

*edit* Actually, I did learn something, both translations gave me the word 'Footgolvet'. What the hell?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Fan Art PtII

I posted once about fan art, many, many moons ago. Well, I'm kinda sorta at it again. I intended this to be Dr. Emma Earl from Rogue Mutt's series of books, but I kind of went off the rails a bit and ended up with something else.

Think of it as inspired by the works of Rogue Mutt.

Oh. My. God.

I watched Smallville for a season and enjoyed it I suppose. Not enough to keep watching. But still, it was okay. But the guy watching the finale in this video goes absolutely insane. Shouting "America!" and then moaning incoherently for a while. Fake or real, it doesn't matter. Nothing I've ever seen has made me react like this.

Anyone besides me think it gets a bit sexual in there somewhere? It's like the double rainbow guy on acid, or even more acid. I don't know what to think.

Thank you io9, for giving me the best laugh I've had in a while.

Happy weekend.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

On Endings

Or, more to the point, on not knowing how to end things. Lots of folks have spent lots of time talking about what kind of writers they are. Pantsers, Gardners, Architects, Plotters.... what it all boils down to, for me anyway, is this: Do you know how it will end?

To this point, only my first novel, one in which I have rewritten a hundred times, that is out on submission right now, and that I keep discovering things that no real writer does, I did. That book, I had an ending in mind right from the beginning. I also had my premise... but no idea of how to get my MC from the beginning to the end.

That book, in a lot of ways, is a labor of love for me. I don't know if it's really ever going to be publishable. But dammit, it means a lot to me. So I keep tinkering with it, over and over, I've added characters, removed them, added a subplot, introduced a love interest, all after the original first draft was written. I should have trunked the thing and moved on, but I can't let go. I think there is something in there, deep, that needs to get out, but I don't know if I can pull it out of what I have written.

In the end, after I feel like I've done my due diligence when it comes to seeking professional markets, I'll probably create a pen name, and sneak it out to the Kindle or something so I can have my precious, but not quite right, baby.

But that was a big digression, everything else I've ever written. Ever. I've had no idea of how it was going to end when I began. I'm more of a premise kinda guy. "Hey, what if the scene starts with a one legged male prostitute that finds a dead baby cupid in an alley, then he opens a matchmaking service with quiver full of love arrows?"

That's how they all start. Not with that exact premise, but with a scene or set of circumstances dancing around in my head. I'll start there and go until the story works itself out.

I've decided that method may work, but it's inefficient as hell. My last novel that I drafted had a pattern emerge pretty quickly. A group of people were being chased by an assassin, they sit and discuss why they've been targeted for a while, then get chased, talk about why, get chased, etc. The rational part of me knows that is me trying to work out the story myself, so I'm all over the place, essentially asking the characters to tell me what's happening as I write. Ugh.

I do like the premise, of course I like the premise of all my stuff, but it take so much work to turn stuff like that into something that's even readable, let alone publishable, I think I'm going to try to change things up a bit. I'm going to try, and I mean really try, to really plot things out before I start writing my next piece. I'm not saying I wouldn't be willing to change some stuff as I go, but I've got to have a plan, I just have to.

So, I'll finish up this short story, play some more with my Wacam tablet, then get to outlining. Can't wait.

Anyway, saw this pic of mine from facebook and thought I'd share.

I'm not saying it is photoshopped, but I'm not saying it isn't, either.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Poor Man's Wisdom

I've been working on another short story, the difference of course, between this, and virtually everything else I've ever done, is that I'm writing very little, maybe 150 or 200 words per day. It's an odd way to write.

The reasons are practical, I've been busy, and when I write, I want to take 5 or 6 hours and go nutty. To write a masterpiece in a burst of creative energy that leaves me drained and ready for a break. Then, I'll get up the next day and do the same, then again, and again. It's gotten to the point that when I'm writing a first draft of a novel that I'll plan my vacation time around it and go crazy for as long as I can before I can get back to my real work, the one that actually makes me money.

So, I don't want to burn up any vacation time, and I know I can't spend all my waking hours working on something right now. I'm still playing with my new Wacom tablet, catching up on old TV shows on Netflix, reading a lot. So I'm experimenting by trying to write a short story by just trickling out the story, a little here and a little there.

So far, as is always the case, I love it. I have no idea where it's going and how long it will take to get there. If I have a complaint about it, it's that it is way shorter than I would have thought. I've had enough time to get 20,000 words but I've barely got 2,000. I'm afraid I'll run out of gas before I get the story out.

Part of me is waffling a bit on what I should do next. I've got at least 3 novels in various stages in editing that I want to get done, as well as an idea for a brand new one that I want to get started on. Given the way I work, I can't do more than one at a time.

So, I procrastinate. That's okay with me. Procrastination is really just another word for thinking.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Holy Crap

Spend the next 7 minutes watching this video and see if it doesn't stick with you for a while.

I found this haunting, I really did.

Friday, May 13, 2011

What I Learned From the Bloggeroplyse

When I first started this blog, over two years ago, while I was still thrashing about, figuring out what it was I wanted to talk about (turns out, it's whatever I want... but I didn't know that then), I wrote a bit about my fear that computers were going to take over, terminator/matrix style.

Now, I was pretty tongue in cheek about most everything I wrote, but in case folks didn't know already, Blogger  went down for 18 hours or so, and as of this writing, several comments that were made on my last post remain missing. This event of course started me thinking about my fears again.

In the past few years, an increasing number of things that I used to have firmly planted in my possession are now housed in some server out there in cyberland. My books are increasingly read on an e-reader, I haven't bought music in a physical format in years, I've slowed my dvd/blue ray purchases as I've got more and more enamored with streaming services like Netflix. Those physical photos I used to treasure so much  are now in places like facebook.

My fear? That one day I'll wake up and it's all gone. Poof. Photos, music, movies, books, hell, even money... all gone, like they never existed. I don't mean my accounts are wiped out, although that thought worries me too. But I mean all of it.

Things like bit rot are a real problem. Data storage isn't permanent, software isn't perfect. In a thousand years, archaeologists won't dig up our discarded hard drives and find all our family photos and emails perfectly stored and waiting for someone to boot it up. That stuff will gone like in never existed. Entropy always wins in the end.

So, the ease of living in the cloud is nice, and I'll forget about my panic the longer that things continue without a further issues. But it's something that will happen at some point. Count on it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Um... I Don't Know

Today was a beautiful day in the city, and I went for walk downtown to get a burger at one of my favorite places, a restaurant with remarkably bad service and great food. It's sort of a Spanish inspired place I suppose, but again, they do serve burgers, so they clearly aren't so highbrow as to refuse slumming it with the likes of me.

I'm sitting at the bar with my nose in my book and my waiter stops by to check what I'm reading, not so interested in taking my order, but interested in my book. That's a-ok with me. I can get service anywhere, but rarely do I find a person who wants to talk books with me.

I sheepishly admit I'm reading a fantasy novel, but I don't really read fantasy. "What do you read?" he asks.

"Science fiction," I say.

His eyes light up and we have a short conversation about Asimov, Haldeman, and Card before he whooshes away to do something that doesn't involve taking orders. I read.

Sometime later he returns, he reluctantly takes my order and asks me a simple sounding question.

"What one Science Fiction book should I read that I haven't?"

I felt my cheeks grow hot before the question was even out of his mouth, "Um," I say, "Ah..., let's see... er... wait... I know this. Let's see. Hmmm, damn. Geez, can you give me a minute?" Yes, it was a rough 30 seconds.

What the hell? I can rattle off every major sci fi book of the last 70 years. Clarke? Bester? Niven? Stapleton? No. I say nothing besides, "give me a minute." I'm such a moron. He takes off and I can no longer read my book. He didn't even bring me a drink!

The place had a staff of around six that I could see. Including myself there was maybe four customers. I don't know what they had going on, but that guy was pretty scarce for the next 45 minutes or so. I did get back to my book, but I couldn't focus. What one book do I recommend that a science fiction fan must read to be in the club?

Dune? No, I like it, but it's the Lord of the Rings of Sci fi, everyone's read the thing. I don't want to be too obvious. Verne? Wells? No, those are classics and aren't really the sort of thing I'm trying to pass out as a tract for my genre. Besides, the guy has read several sci fi classics anyway, he isn't a nube.

I settled on House of Suns, by Alastair Reynolds, and I threw in Scalzi's, Old Man's War as a bonus. Modern books, but two that I think will age well. I wrote them on a small piece of paper and handed it to him as I left. By the time I gave it to him he seemed to have forgotten our conversation. But I insisted he take it. He probably thought I was getting weird and too much in his space. I told him to look at it and he recognized that I'd only written books and authors down and he got real excited again, swearing that he'd hadn't read either of them. I gave my best wizened, all-knowing look, and said nothing.

The teacher had left the building - totally redeemed.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

You're a Big Fake... But So Am I

A quick wrap up regarding Thor. I loved the movie. Loved, loved, loved it. I was 13 years old again. I was stunned that they didn't weaken him like I expected them to. He was a blond haired superman just like he was in the Comics, they were as faithful as could be expected and made Kirby's Asgard come to life. 'Nuff said.

In other news, I've been thinking. As always, by something I read (Click to have your mind blown). What if I...wait, I'm doing this wrong. Let me start over.

When I was a kid of 7 or 8 I lived with my grandparents. They lived in a scary house, built by my grandfather, deep in the woods. Built into the side of small mountain (or really big hill, you pick). It was scary. I mean, scary like I recall the Amityville Horror came out around the time I was living there and saw a glimpse of it - maybe a TV spot - and I thought  that house seemed much less scary than the one I lived in. It didn't matter how many lights were on, it would be dark inside the house. One side of the house faced a vertical mountainside, only feet from the windows, the other into a mountain a little further away, but still close enough to make out the individual trees. I knew things were out there, things that wanted me dead.

Heck, everything about that place was frightening. The 70 year old door locks, the kind with the iron, skeleton keys (no kidding), meant I was always locked inside a room, and even with a key, I couldn't make it turn the tumblers to get out. I had an episode in the bathroom once that I think left me scarred for life.

Most of those monsters and demons, I'm sure, spent time in the basement. My grandfather had dug it by hand, filling up wheel-barrels with dirt and poured the concrete himself. It had the texture of polished stone. Uneven, natural, curved, moldy, and dark. The brightest day couldn't bring enough light into the place - and the single, naked bulb that hung low in the center somehow only gave enough light to cast shadows. No horror story could compare to the things I envisioned that lived down there, day or night. Fetching a jar of beans from the basement was a worse punishment than any whipping I ever received.

That's all true, true to how it was to me as a child anyway, as an adult I still found the place creepy. But as a kid it gave me nightmares that still haunt me even now. I remember the dreams I had in that house to this day. It's been more than 30 years and I can still can't get them out of my head.

One dream disturbed me more than any other, I awoke in tears and nothing anyone could say would console me. 

I dreamed that nothing was real. Not you, not me, not this world. It was all fake, a lie, meant to deceive. My mother, my friends, my memories - none of it real. Not like the matrix, where I was sitting in a lab somewhere. But where the physical universe itself was false.

The thought that we're currently living in sophisticated simulation is not terribly new - it predates my childhood nightmares. The io9 story I read that sent me on this path today intrigued me though, because the conjectures I'd previously read on topic put the odds that we currently live in some sort of computer simulation at around 50/50 at best.

The paper I linked to at the top of the page puts it more like this - If we aren't a simulation then we're all about to die. Awesome. I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about this too, like the Fermi Paradox, it's always on my mind. But this isn't different in that the arguments are more nuanced and harder to understand.

I wrote last year, or maybe the year before that, about the mathematical model that predicts that we're all about to die. I'd never thought of combining the two unrelated items into a single proposition. So, please read the paper - or if you can't take it, then the io9 article I linked to - it gets more and more weird as we go along. It isn't just that this universe may be a simulacrum, but just like the movie inception, we may be simulations within simulations, like a matryoshka doll of reality.

Bizarre? Awesome? Stupid? You decide.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The God of Thunder Strikes Again!

I'm off to see Thor, I'll keep my fingers crossed that I'm not disappointed. In honor of the god of Thunder, I present my completely digital doodle.

Please click. It took way too much work to only seen this size.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

It's Thor'sday!

And Cinco de Mayo, be sure to get you 99 cent grande combo meal at Salsarita's

In modern times, the worship of Thor has, for the most part, dwindled somewhat. Aside from a few aryian cults that pepper the religious landscape he's relegated to comic book fans and mythology buffs. Not too surprising, they say you can tell a lot from a society by how war-like their gods are. So any society that openly services a beer drinking, womanizing, war-hammering diety is probably not the sort society you want to hang out in for long - a long weekend maybe, a week tops.

Especially if you have a holy day for said deity once a week! So good for us that we don't have to go out and konk each other on the head every Thursday.

Anyway, with the midnight showing of Thor only hours away, I thought I would honor him with something today. But, I woefully underestimated how lame I am with my new Wacom tablet, so it'll have to wait another day or two.

Did you know that the movie opening this weekend isn't Thor's first live action appearance? No, it isn't. Please enjoy the clip from a classic moment in television history... Hulk vs. Thor!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Marvel Comics decided to call him Odin - the father of the gods.

Back in the day - maybe it's true now, but I don't really know anymore - Thor was about as rough and tough as super hero could be. He was Marvel's version of Superman. If the story Stan Lee told was true, he struggled with the idea of how to create a hero as powerful, or even more powerful, than the Hulk. So he decided that only a god would fill that role, and The Mighty Thor was born.
Also, they may have gotten married.

As the mythos expanded, his father, Odin, was on order of magnitude mightier than Thor himself, a cosmic entity that was far above the triumphs and failures of mortal men. For a time, probably for much the same reasons that DC has struggled so much with Superman, it was tough to find bad guys that Thor couldn't just pound to a pulp and be done with it. So he spent much of his time battling other gods, demons, cosmic entities and the like. Leaving earthly concerns to Spider-Man and Captain America. It seems like much of the 70's and early 80's Thor was just pissing off his dad. Dating Jane Foster, Dating Sif, being a doctor, a warrior, a cripple, a god. Blah blah blah.

So the storylines weren't always the most accessible. What was a young and impressionable youth to do?

Get lucky. In my opinion now, looking back, most of Thor was crap. Wasn't my thing then, and isn't my thing now. So why did I love him so?

Because the first issue I ever picked up (#337) started what I think was the greatest story ever told in comic book form. For the next year and a half, I got sucked into the soap opera (before those year long story arcs were cool) and he became my favorite hero. During that year and a half I spent all my time thinking of how lame all other comics were. In fact, once the storyline was complete I  hung on for a few more months, but really, my heart wasn't in it any more. I quit comics for 20 years.

But that story arc brought Odin to the forefront, and I became a huge fan of his too. Just thinking about it makes me want to rush out and purchase all the graphic novels in hopes of reliving the glory. But I'm afraid to read the story again, as is often the case, it might suffer if I read it as an adult.

So, in an ode to the greatest story I ever read, well, at least to an 11 year old boy in 1983. Here's to you Thor, and to your Father, Odin. They should name a day of the week after you, both of you.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Week 25 Years in the Making!

Thor movie week!

This week is dedicated to Thor, the god of thunder. Well, to the Marvel Comics version of him anyway. I will post nothing this week that isn't at least tangentially related to Thor.

Today: How Thor got me through middle school English.

Thor, the Norse god, the mighty warrior who was worshiped by the Vikings spoke Jacobian English, how odd. When studying Norse mythology during my early teenage years in middle school I was tasked with writing a paper on the gods.

Take that, jewel thieves!
So, I picked out a few choice Marvel Comics and shared how Thor lived amongst the inhabitants of Midgard, as their champion. How he slew demons and frost giants and did battle with the world encircling serpent. How he joined forces with Spider-Man to stop some jewel thieves... Wait, was that a tale from old - or from Marvel Team-Up, issue 148?

I jest, but the truth of the matter is that I really did glean just enough actual Norse mythology from my collection of Thor back issues to fool my English teacher and get an excellent grade.