Monday, January 18, 2016

Changeling's Island, and Chicken Sexing

Well, something has happened which I don't like.  Dave Freer's book, Changeling's Island, has been released as a Baen ARC, but won't be out on Amazon until April 5.  And, since it hasn't been released, it isn't eligible for review on Amazon until then.
I'm not organized under the best of circumstances.  And if you knew what I had been experiencing over the past week…  Well, never mind.  I don't wanna get into that.  I'll just use this opportunity to turn a review and a couple of thoughts into a blog post.  That's probably the best thing, anyway.
Tim Ryan is a nice young man who has had a string of bad luck.  Part of that luck is having parents who are much more interested in being nice to themselves than being parents.  Another part is that he has fallen under the influence of a glamour-girl of his own age, who uses her feminine wiles to persuade him to make all sorts of bad decisions, the most recent one being shoplifting (rotten little snip!).  However, unbeknownst to him, much of the bad luck he's having is due to the fact that he is being followed and "assisted" by mumble pixie mumble fairy mumble.
Then we come to a sort of turning point.  Tim doesn't turn, at least not yet, but his circumstances, and therefore his luck, undergo a BIG change: he gets shipped off to live with his grandmother on Flinder's Island.  Important things happen immediately.  First, of course, he gets away from the combined rotten influence of his mother and the glamour-girl  (you can cheer at this point). The second thing that happens is that he meets a girl on the airplane who is not a rotten little snip, and he is nice to her, thereby winning her gratitude.
(two things you need to know: I am not an expert on magical terminology; I am using speech recognition to write this blog post.  I will therefore not attempt to recreate the names and titles and designations of all the magical figures.  I would get them wrong.  Sorry.)
What follows is a wonderful, delightful, classical coming of age story.  Under the influence of his grandmother, a lot of hard work, and a non-toxic school situation, Tim gets a chance to express those good characteristics which were there all along.  Let me emphasize the " hard work" aspect of that prior sentence, because it is that, as much as anything else, which helped him make the transformation.  He has to learn everything: how to milk a cow,  fork potatoes, and herd sheep.  He falls into bed exhausted every night.  Early.  Frankly, it's not a lifestyle I would enjoy, but then I am old, fat, and crippled; if I had gotten the opportunity at age 12, it likely would have been the making of me.
Thus endeth the abbreviated review of a book not yet released for review.  You might get more when it comes out in April.
And now, for the couple of thoughts I mentioned earlier..
I'm going to go on a snarky rant about the cover.  You may want to change the channel now, because this is both trivial and snide.  It's also no reflection on Dave at all, because he has nothing to do with the cover.  It is, in fact, discussed elsewhere that the cover blurb has very little to do with the content of the story.  I do not know how these circumstances come about.  Stuff happens.  If I were running the publishing company, things would be much worse.  I get that.  Even so, I MUST point out that the cover art contains a prominent feature which does not exist in the story: a blond mermaid.  Now, there IS a female aquatic being, but she is neither blond, nor a mermaid.
(At this exact point in my life, my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, Georgia, is in the next room, stomping, sneezing, and slamming cabinet doors.  Speech recognition hears that; gibberish inserted in the text is likely due to that fact.  Sorry.)
Returning to the issue of the cover: I have friends who are artists, and they are… artistic.  They do wonderful, creative things which do not necessarily reflect the reality that we share, but instead are glorious features of their own internal reality.  It's a basic part of what makes them artists.  I have to accept that aspect of their art if I accept ANY aspect of their art.  And let me make this clear: it is excellent artwork on the cover.  It includes most of the significant elements of the story, and it's really well executed.
As I said: trivial and snide.
The second thought has to do with a post Dave made on Mad Genius Club today called "Desperado."He identifies something about the human race which I believe to be a feature and not a bug, which is that young man kill themselves off at a much higher rate than young women.  Beyond a passing reference to bad choices, he doesn't really get into reasons why this should be, he merely points out that it is true.
I'd like to observe that relatively few males are necessary for the species to survive.  In fact, unless a society engages in widespread gender selection, females outnumber males from adolescence on.  And that leads me to discuss China and chickens and decision points.
" Desperado" bounced one tiny little idea off of my tiny little mind: the decisions that are lethal are usually not immediately apparent as being lethal.  You don't plan to die in a fall, you just want to go rock climbing.  You don't plan to die of an overdose, you just want to get high.  And in some of those cases, experience is a truly brutal teacher: it kills its students, removing their genes from the gene pool.  In other cases, the pupil learns without dying, and in the process becomes a better rock climber.  But in every case, the consequences of the original decision are deferred.
Humans are not the only race in which a 1 to 1 ratio of males to females is not required.  When I was 16 years old, the assistant manager at the roast beef fast food restaurant where I worked had a second job on the weekend: he was a chicken sexer.  That's a real job; you can Google it if you want to.  Evidently, you can look at the cloaca of a newly hatched chick and tell if it's male or female.  The males get tossed into one chute, the females into another.  Now, at the point of the decision, it isn't apparent to the chick what is going to happen to it.  All it knows is that it's sliding down the slide.  However, at the bottom of the slide the female chicks are placed into cages where they are fed and watered; the male chicks are killed by some means (I think they smash them with a big hammer).  And that leads into my thoughts about China.
When I was in college, back in the early seventies, there was a lot of talk about  the coming population bomb.  It seems we're going to over populate the earth, and become marching morons or something like that.  It's my understanding that this idea still haunts many of our leaders.  However, I know of no country which took action on it, other than China.  China adopted a "one child per family" program.  And thus, they built a population bomb, which has already exploded and killed them.  They just haven't fallen over yet.
If given a chance for free expression, their program would have resulted in a roughly equal mix of male babies and female babies.  However, that didn't happen.  Because male babies are more highly valued in that culture than female babies, the lives of female babies were terminated at a much higher rate.  This practice has gone on for more than 20 years, and the consequence is essentially death for the Chinese culture.  Within the very near future, there will not be enough young Chinese to support the Chinese who are no longer able to work.  And, since there is a shortage of females, that population cannot be replaced.  Even if they change the policy today, they are still doomed.
And now, I have to wonder about the title "Desperado;" having adopted the chicken sexer program (in reverse), and seeing the consequences looming inevitably, is there outlaw behavior that the Chinese will adopt?  Or,…  There really isn't an "or" available; is there?

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Advantages Of A Really Bad Book.

(another blog post composed using speech recognition)
No, I am not going to tell you the name of this book.
Don't recall the exact set of circumstances which led me to download this book.  Obviously, I was in-between reading books I wanted to review, but I don't remember which books those were.  And another thing I don't know, is how this particular book came to my attention.  I feel relatively certain that it must have been a recommendation by Amazon.  However, some responsibility is mine; I don't know if I was attracted by the cover or by the title, but something grabbed my attention.
After I downloaded it, a particular line in the blurb caught my eye: the 1,000,000 seller.  If that's true, that this book has sold a million copies, it means one thing: over a million people have really, really, bad taste in books.  Because this book is a stinker.
It's not a romance novel.  I could understand it being a romance book, and selling over a million copies, and being something that I did not like.  I don't read romance books.  But this is not a romance book.  It's action, and adventure, and a tiny little bit of science fiction (sort of), and I would have expected that this would be a book I liked.
I say: Nay!  Nay!
Here is the main thing that threw me off: this is a book about advanced, global conspiracy, that kills everybody in the world, by using ancient alien technology.  Why anyone would want to do that, even if it were possible, I'm just not certain.  This is somehow going to release a mechanism that would jumpstart human evolution to the next stage.  Yeah.  Right.
There is SOME good news: I didn't find a single spelling error.
(when the best thing I can say about a book, is that I didn't find a single spelling error, well; draw your own conclusion.)
But this blog post is entitled "The Advantages Of A Really Bad Book." And truly, there is one advantage did this really bad below!  Here it is tell I don't want to read it.  Male, why would that be an advantage?  It's a cause that we'll see it's in my candle library, mostly on real.  And lately, I have found myself in a number of situations in which reading an interesting book just wouldn't be a good idea, for one reason or another.  But, an uninteresting book?  That's an appropriate read in all sorts of situations.  For example: it's late at night, and I want to go to sleep.  That is not the time for an interesting book.  If you read this blog, you know what I'm talking about, because you are a reader too.If you start an interesting book at night, you can just plan on being wide awake at 3:00 AM.  So, that's when you need to be in possession of a bad book.
Another time: waiting to see the doctor.  You aren't going to be able to do much concentrating anyway, so why would you waste the exposure to a good book?  All you really need is something to take your mind off the fact that you're waiting to see the doctor, unless they're running the Home Shopping Network on the waiting room television.  Then you need to be distracted from that as well.
In the end, though, I just don't understand how the legitimate need for a bad book would drive sales of a million copies.  So, there must be something else going on that I just don't understand.  Maybe there are lots and lots of people who like to read conspiracy books.  Maybe it's just the first 49% of the book that's awful, and the last 51% is going to be great.  Or maybe (and I think this is the most likely alternative) my taste in reading material is significantly different from a huge mass of book-purchasing people.
That last bit is rather scary.  My blog is mostly read by authors and  readers.  What if?  What if my appreciation is a sales kiss of death?  Maybe we need to try an experiment.  Keep sending the beta copies of your books and get my opinion; if I tell you  "this book is terrible," then immediately publish it.  If you start getting sales of 10,000 copies a day, maybe we are on to something.
It would be rather embarrassing for me, though.  That would make me some sort of bizarre literary Typhoid Mary, rotated in six dimensions.
It would give me some more things to read what I was trying to go to sleep at night, though.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Straight razors and gun control

(Another post written using speech recognition)
As a 20 year old private first class in 1973, I had a fond affection for old-timey things. That was at least partly because of the indoctrination I had received during my first year at college, before I was invited to discontinue my enrollment.  That, plus a desire to be a contrarian, led to my purchase of a different set of shaving gear toward the end of my first full year in the army.  There were two things I wanted: a shaving brush, and a straight razor.

If I recall correctly, the shaving brush was pretty easy to obtain:  I think I just picked it up at the post exchange.  I was able to buy the soap and shaving mug at the same time.  However, they didn't carry straight razors, and there's a really good reason for that: nobody wanted them.  Fortunately though, I was a medic, and my job involved inspecting barbershops.  That made it easy for me to arrange a little side transaction was one of the barbers and I proudly left the barbershop at Patch Barracks one day as the new owner of a straight razor.  Upon arrival back at my office, at the headquarters building of Fifth General Hospital at Bad Canstatt, I showed off my new purchase to a couple of the other troops I worked with.  One of them, a new trooper named Mike, said, with some excitement,"you should've gotten a smaller one!"
" Why?" I asked, puzzled.
" In case you have to eat it!", he snickered.

Well, I never had to eat it, but after making attempts to shave with the straight razor over the next few weeks, I gave it up as a really bad idea.  I don't know if it's because the hair on my face is like steel wool, or if it's just that I never learned the proper angle, but I discovered a lot of new ways to cause  facial bleeding before I returned to the land of modern shaving technology.  Still have the brush, though, and on those very infrequent occasions when I do shave, I use that.

This really isn't a post about shaving technology, however.  Instead, it's a rather cynical reflection on the administration's latest announcements about gun control measures.  In my opinion, the president of the United States has followed Mike's advice; he selected a smaller straight razor just in case he has to eat it, or have inserted elsewhere.

The last time there were big gun control measures being voted on by the Congress, I watched the results, avidly.  There were all kinds of amendments related to gun control that were being proposed;  some of them were pretty horrible in their consequences, while others were merely bad, but not horrible.  But every single one of those amendments was defeated.  And the next day, the president gave a press conference, and said blah blah blah, whine, whine, whine;  Congress was composed of cowards, bowing to special interest groups.  It was not his finest hour.

If there is a lesson to be learned from the president's statements about his executive orders on gun control, it is that he felt that he'd must Do Something, even if that is meaningless.

And the bits that he talked about in his speech yesterday were, at best, meaningless.  I wish that every thing that he had said had risen to the level of "meaningless".  Instead, his words included at least one total misrepresentation of the facts.  That has to do with online gun purchases.

He stated that anyone can go online and purchase a firearm and not have to go through any Federal records search.  This is absolutely not the case.  Any firearms purchased online must be shipped directly to a Federal firearms license holder.  Since I am not a Federal firearms license holder, I must arrange with a local firearms dealer to have the fire on shipped directly to him.  Once he has received the firearm, I go to his place of business and complete the records search there.  This always happens; there are no exceptions to this rule; two state otherwise speaks of ignorance or willful prevarication.

The part of his speech which is meaningless has to do with the so-called "gun show loophole".  This disingenuous phrase refers to the fact that there is no requirement for me as an individual,  not engaged in the business of firearms commerce, to obtain a Federal firearms license in order to sell a gun as an individual, nor to undergo a background check to purchase a firearm from an individual who is not engaged in the business of firearms commerce.  Why is this referred two as a " gun show loophole"?  It's because sometimes these private transactions, transactions between individuals, take place at gun shows.  That's because the gun show acts as a magnet for people who are interested in the private sale of firearms that they own, EXACTLY as a car show acts as a magnet for people who are interested in the private sale of cars that they own.  If there is evidence that these private transactions having in any way contributed to firearm-related crime, then PRESENT THIS EVIDENCE TO US.  Otherwise, shut up.

Taken together, however, the president's proposals constitute a very, very small straight razor.  I believe that's intentional, because he knows he's going to have to eat it.  He has a republican controlled Congress.  He has one year left in office.  I don't think he has any favors he can do for anyone, nothing that he can barter, and he is on his own.

I just wish he wouldn't embarrass us before he goes.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Writing by Mouth

I find myself returning to something I originally tried many many years ago: using speech recognition software.  I can't tell you exactly what it was a dead product for the first time; I do know that it was sometime in the 90s.  I still got the software package over on my shelf where old software goes to die; if it was really important, I suppose I could look up to date from that.  It's not worth it to me, though, because that would involve moving to lots of stuff around, closing drawers, and probably falling into the cat box.

The way it started  originally,  was an attempt to record some of the stories I was telling my children at the time.  For Mickey the Moose, my youngest, I told him a series of McGinty stories.  Those were about the illustrious McGinty family, all of whom had unusual names.  There was Tow Truck McGinty, Crowbar McGinty,  Tweety Bird McGinty,  and Phillip McGinty.  Now, each of these people had real names like Wilbur and George and Martin,  but nobody called them that.  Nobody, that is, except their grandmother.  She said the nicknames were just foolishness.  She wasn't a McGinty, she was a McGillicuddy.

But, what was originally begun just as an exercise to record stories has now become an attempt to stay in contact with the world in spite of fingers that ache.  I've got this chronic pain issue, and it flares up from time to time.  Changes in weather, and particularly changes in weather that include cold weather, seem to set it off.  I used to be able to take anti inflammatory meds, and that was great. That's no longer an option, because they make me bleed inside.

The biggest difficulty I'm having is not making myself understood to the speech recognition software.  The biggest problem I'm having is learning to think differently.  I started composing using a word processing package, on a daily basis, around 1984 or 1985.  I don't remember what year it was when I last tried to compose writing longhand on a legal pad, it was sometime in the 1990s, but I do remember being very dissatisfied with the results.  And I'm finding, in this bright new year of 2016, that I'm just not as fluent in my thinking when composing while I'm speaking as I was when composing through my fingers onto a keyboard.

I have had some great support and encouragement as I undertake applying this technology.  Some folks have suggested new ways of reducing inflammation in my hands.  Others have suggested speech recognition programs, including some great dictation software which will delete pauses and other conversational hiccups.

But this is all experimental right now.  As I look at what I've gotten written down on paper (actually it's not written down on paper, it written down with pixels on the screen) it's almost repugnant to me.  That's NOT the way I write!  And it's not the way I think, either.  Even little items, like the insertion of a comma, disrupt my flow.  And then I have to go back and make the corrections.  I'm telling you, this is a real pain!

Only time will tell whether this will work out or not.  So far though it's not working.  I look at what I've written, and it seems like I've had my sense of humor cut away in surgery.  (OK, that's what I wanted to say.  Here's what the first draft said: )


If I can stand it, I'm going to keep trying to write using the speech recognition software.  I think that's the best thing for me; however, I doubt very seriously that is the best thing for you, the paltry few who actually read my posts.  It may just be that things are going to be awful for a while.  But, if I don't keep posting, I am going to get out of the habit of doing it.  And, if I get out of the habit of doing it, I'll probably just become a parasitic reader, my only contribution being the $9.99 per month that my Kindle Unlimited subscription costs.  That's discouraging to me.

So, I guess I'm going back to school.  The school of learning how to write while speaking.

Is this gonna be on the final?

Friday, January 1, 2016

Happy Birthday to ME! 28 years sober today!

10,227 days; 1461 weeks; 336 months; 28 years. That's how long it's been since I took my last drink, on January 1, 1988.
It's been long enough that I forget the desperation and horror of not being able to control my drinking; and, in a separate issue, it's been a long time since I experienced the gnawing grief and anger that forced me to drink.
I can, sort of, prove this second premise in a backwards way. I've got a chronic pain condition, called ankylosing spondylitis. Think of it as arthritis everywhere, and you are on the money. It's because my ancestors were Neanderthals, and I still carry their DNA. HLA-B27, to be specific. And there is nothing that can be done for it. It won't kill me, just chew on me, and the only treatment is pain management with narcotics. I've tried frying the nerves with a microwave, acupuncture, and for almost a year, I had GREAT results with the anti-inflammatory meloxicam. I wish I could take that now, but unfortunately, it makes my stomach and intestines bleed.
I had a really hard time with the idea of using narcotics as a recovering alcoholic. I wouldn't take anything, if I didn't have to. Unfortunately, I have to. So, I take them as directed, for the reason they are prescribed, and I haven't ever, in over 10 years, found myself to be over-using. As recently as summer of 2014, I went through a risk assessment with an addiction counselor, and passed with flying colors. If you aren't one who struggles with addiction, you won't understand what a relief that was to ME. See, I am greatly suspicious of me; and I have a disease which is cunning, baffling, and powerful, and if it can, it will find a way to get my mind back on getting high, and away from living life. So, one way I can prove the second premise, that I have discovered a way of life that keeps me from obsessing on grief and anger, is that I came through the risk assessment with no problem. But the second way I can prove it is this: In March of 2012, I was taking a daily dose of morphine of 135 mg per day. I felt it was interfering with my ability to be a husband and father, so I quit, cutting my dose to 30 mg the first day, 15 mg the second day and third day, and nothing after that. I went into withdrawal, and the physical symptoms were rough, but not once did I experience psychological craving. It was just something I had to get through, and I did, eventually. What made the difference between stopping the morphine and stopping the drinking was this: in working the 12 steps, I found out I could effectively process the bad memories of times I had been hurt, times I had hurt others, times I had failed and times others failed me. That was no longer baggage I had to carry around. SO: the morphine was only a treatment for my PHYSICAL pain; I did not need it to treat emotional & psychological pain. I had taken care of that with Steps 4&5, 6&7, and 8&9. For those who are not familiar with 12 step programs, that means (my words) I made a list of the things that were eating at me, shared them with a friend (and God); got ready to give them up, and asked that they be removed; and made amends to people I had harmed except when to do so would injure them or others. There's a formal process for doing this, and I learned it by listening to Joe and Charlie on tape, and Dave in meetings.
Now, with regards to the FIRST problem I had: the nightmare of not being able to control my drinking. Even today, when I think about it, I feel a bit of a rush of adrenalin. I ALMOST didn't make it. It could have very easily have gone the other way. And I found that theme in the lives of the founders of modern sobriety as well; it very, very easily might not have worked for them. And if it hadn't worked for those two guys, Bill & Dr. Bob, it never would have come down to me.

A clarification: I have absolutely no issue with anyone else drinking. I'm definitely not in favor of re-introducing Prohibition. I am denied the comfort that drink brings because I abused the privilege when I was younger, and that responsibility is mine alone. I don't have problems with people talking about their favorite drinks; I even might have an opinion, based on my experience (ummm...scotch tastes like medicine).

There is a LOT more to my story than what I've written here, but this wasn't intended to be a telling of my story. It's just a birthday present to myself; Happy Birthday, me!