In the face of despair

Monday morning I woke up feeling the most despondent I have yet since election night. Well, since after election night. That night was pretty bad.

But I’ve had a sort of energy since then, maybe a bit manic, that may have been propping me up. Yesterday, I woke up and read the news as I usually do, and it hit me. We are in for four years of unmitigated crap. I don’t like this feeling, so I’m setting about to figure out what I can do to, yes, make myself feel better. Here are the problems I see, in big wide generalizations that surely don’t address all of the important issues. And here is what I am doing about them, personally, locally, and nationally.

  • Trump’s campaign, whether incidentally, demonstrably, or even intentionally, has made it okay to be a misogynist, racist homophobe.

What am I doing about that? Personally, I’m wearing a safety pin, both to provide outward evidence that not everyone is an asshole, but also to remind myself to be more intentional in my interaction with folks who might feel targeted. I live in Kansas, and I don’t run into many marginalized people, which makes it all the more shameful that I have not reached out.

There are any number of good groups, locally, I am sure, to which I could give money, or energy. There’s a Social Justice committee at my church, and I am hoping they will help me identify places I can give my time. Our church does a great job with hunger issues and Islamic outreach. That’s a start.

Since the election, Tiffany and I have become monthly givers to the Southern Poverty Law Canter and Planned Parenthood. SPLC counters and protects those who are singled out and attacked in hate crimes. Planned Parenthood provides ongoing health services and support for women and poor families throughout their lives.

  •  Trump’s Presidency will roll back much of the progress we achieved under Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. The trending of the nation’s voting counties towards the right will lead to more challenges for real people’s lives. The economy will provide less for more. The influence of Trump’s white supremacist friends, his oligarch cronies, and the opportunistic extreme right will turn actual, real freedoms upside down.

In a nutshell, he has the full power of the Federal Government, for at least two years, probably four, to enact the agendas of his friends and supporters.

What can I do about this? I can stay active in politics. I work in state level politics in Kansas, where we actually had a retreat from conservative positions this election. We’ve seen the destructive results of unfettered extremist ideology here, and Kansans have chosen change direction. There’s much more work to be done, especially to make this a lasting change, and I will keep working at it.

We’ve also opened up our pocketbook on this issue, becoming first-time monthly supporters of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Natural Resources Defense Council. The ACLU works to protect civil liberties at the local level with an eye towards national influence. The NRDC protects the environment, among other ways, by fighting laws and regulations that affect our future on the planet.

  • In two and four years, the country will vote again. The chance that we could continue down this path is frightening, and must be prevented.

Personally, while I’m not cut out to actually run for office, I have skills and experience that would be useful to those who are. I will continue to be active in politics, in get out the vote efforts, in supporting candidates who will change this direction. I’m well versed in local issues (and the maxim that all politics is local is unquestionably true) and yet I will work to explore issues I don’t know much about.

I plan to learn more about how the Democratic Party works nationally, what can be done to support those local Republicans who are on the right side of the issues I care about (remember, I live in Kansas), and how I can encourage more people, especially women, to step up to public service. Is there anything more awesome than Tammy Duckworth’s smile?

I’m encouraged by the number of people who are looking to get involved, and the number of groups stepping up to offer them an avenue, from established groups to new ones.

This is how it starts. That’s how you defeat despair. You do something.

Where is this horse you speak of?

It has been a little over a month since I have written any fiction. Not a word. But I am getting back on that proverbial horse.

A little over a month ago, I was offered a half time job by a friend, and I took it. Thus a third, part-time career was born. I am writing words for a small, local, moderate political organization. It fits me politically pretty well (I’m an unabashed Liberal, but a registered Republican), and there is a desperate need here in Kansas for anyone with a modicum of sense to speak out. I am encouraging people to be getting on that. I write for our social media properties (see, jargon!) and also “craft” our marketing message. And I’ll be blogging once we get our new website up.

So, you know, getting paid to write!

And even if it isn’t getting paid to write my fiction, I do get to put words together, and that part has been fun.

But.

I’m here to do this. I quit my modest but better-than-this paying job to write fiction. And this past month, I have not done that. It’s been the usual cocktail of work I want to do, work I’m not sure I want to do, personal motivation issues, Life Stuff To Do, and now Job that Must Be Done.

But.

I am up, and I am at ’em. And it is five in the freakin’ morning.

And I am writing.

Ow

I am forty three years old. I have been blessedly healthy all those years, with nary a serious illness, a broken bone, nor a hospital stay. But yesterday, I had the pleasure of my first CT scan.

Let me back up.

Three mornings ago, I had a little back pain. Then the pain shifted around to the front, and became abdominal pain. Then it became very strong gas/bloating pain. And then I was writhing around on the guest bed, trying not to wake anyone up with my mewling. I was retching, and twisting, and cursing and in about as much pain as I have ever been. I finally woke my wife up, and not being in a hazy fog of agony, she suggested medicine. I took a gas thing, and the pain went away.

The rest of the day was fine. I had some plentiful but innocuous gas later on, and I thought all was well. Yay, flatulence!

Two mornings ago, I woke up fine, but my stomach muscles were a little sore. From all the retching, surely. After all, I’d given the muscles a real workout when I was busy dying the previous morning. Then the gas came back, slowly, but surely, and soon I was grimacing and stamping about. At this point we decided I was clearly in labor. Walking felt better, breathing made it tolerable, squatting relieved the pressure. Yay! A new baby! We laughed about that, I took more gas stuff and painkiller, and it went away.

Yesterday morning, it was back. The Internets had been consulted back on day one, and while abject muscle surrender and gas were still the number one choice, appendicitis started to rise in the ranks of probability. I practiced my New Year’s resolution to curse more violently, and even the dog slunk away to hide.

And finally I decided to see my doctor.

Turns out, I have a kidney stone.

Which is a great relief. Because, you know, people die from appendicitis.

But I have to tell you, I anticipate that there will be moments in the near future when I will beg for a nice hospital stay and some surgery.

Plus, there’s a certain cachet to appendicitis. After all, there’s infection, fever, surgery, maybe even an ambulance. It lends a very serious aura to your suffering. That is a mystique that kidney stones just don’t have, because, you know, “Ha ha! It hurts when you pee! Har!”

For the record, the CT scan showed this wee little rock to be six millimeters in diameter. Please find yourself a ruler and check that out. I have pain drugs, and I intend to use them.

One more month of writing

Hey all. So, it was about a month ago that I posted that last update on my writing career. You may be wondering how the writing career is going.

Yeah, how is the writing career going?

Okay. I spent this last month doing a lot of worldbuilding, which was fun.

An aside for non-SF/F fans: if you’re writing fantasy in a world that is not our own, or science fiction in worlds significantly different than our own, you need to spend time working out how it is different, and what that means. Worldbuilding can be brief or complicated. Mine was both, I spent most of my time trying to reconcile two suns and no moon, but I’m “building” the rest as I write.

In that time I’ve also started and scrapped four short stories. The one I am working on now is really more of a prologue to the books I’d like to write. What happens in it is important but would have happened off-screen in the books. It is fun.

So, I am writing. But career? Not yet, I am afraid.

What else is up with the not-working thing?

Not-working? I see what you’re doing there.

Well, I got canned from my social media writing gig, which was sad, but okay. As a result, we decided to dump our housecleaning service ($$$!), and I have taken those duties on. But we also decided we can’t live without college basketball ($$!), so we’re going to add that back in this month. Still a net savings. And I am pursuing a website design job (just a one-off, not a career!) to help make ends meet.

Today, I dusted. The whole house. Blinds, fans, pictures, surfaces, etc. Took about an hour.

But you still like what you’re doing, right?

Oh, yeah. I love it. I dream about it. I think about it all the time. I write myself notes in church about things I want to put in my writing. I would rather write than do just about anything else. I have fun doing it. I even have fun doing it when it is hard.

I had a moment a few weeks ago, when I broke for lunch. I was looking for something to read, and I realized that what I really wanted to do was read my story. My book. I wanted to write it more so I could find out where it is going.

Whaaaat? You don’t know where your book is going?

Yeah, so it turns out that I am not a detail plotter. Or rather, I do plot things out ahead, but as I write I come up with new, better, more detailed ideas. I started writing the story I’m writing now from one character’s perspective. But it was taking too long, he was describing all the things, and they were all new to him (and to the reader). And then I figured out a major plot point that is cool, but he was only tangentially related to it. I mean, he’s in the middle of it, but doesn’t know anything about what is going on. There was no meat for the reader. So I scrapped that, and now I’m writing the same story, but from five (hopefully six) characters, each with their own scene. I think it’s working out really well. But I fully believe I may have to go back and change something again when I figure out how that sixth character fits in.

It is a bit messy, as process goes.

But you know what? It’s fun.

So, you’re having fun?

Darn tootin’.

What’s next, then, guy who doesn’t plot ahead

Well, I hope to finish this story soon. Then I’ll have to do a second draft. I’ll write about that later. Then I hope to get it out to a few trusted friends and/or family for them to comment. Then I’ll draft it again, and then I’ll send it out and see if anyone thinks it’s worth publishing.

One story? That’s a lot of eggs in one basket, no?

It is. And I should probably have a couple other stories going, too, but I don’t have the time, really. 8am to 3 pm goes by really fast. And during that time I’m cleaning, eating, and walking the dog, in addition to writing. After three, the kids are home and we’re managing homework and chores and dishes and dinner and activities (swimming, soccer, Lego League, scouting, etc.) and then we have other stuff (like college basketball, did I mention that?) and groceries and laundry and all that stuff.

It would appear that I may get about two to three hours of writing in a day.

Seven weeks in, I am not sure that is enough time.

Don’t be a downer, dude

No, no. I have to say, even with all that, I really do love my life. Absolutely love it. And the absence of my previous job is still a wonder, I go to sleep on Sunday not dreading the next morning. But more than that, I love building these stories, even the ones I have tossed on the waste bin. I lurve it, even.

So, yeah. I want to be writing more, and I want to write for the rest of my life, and those are my goals. And I am the one that can get me there.

iTunes Match Airport Wall Wart

Delightful name, no?

I would like Apple to build a wall wart1 that connects to my iTunes Match account (nee, my iCloud account) to stream music.

It should be very much like an Airport Express, being wall-wartish, and having an audio out option, but it should be purpose built to connect to my music in my Apple ecosystem. I would set it up via my Apple i(OS)X device, connect to my WiFi, log in to iCloud, save my credentials, and it would be ready to go.

This magic wart would then let me listen to my music, via iTunes Match, without a computer or a copy of iTunes running. I wouldn’t have to plug my iPhone in anywhere, or use minutes/battery to stream music. I wouldn’t have to “Start iTunes, Honey, so we can listen to music.” I could still use Remote (or iTunes on OSX?) to skip, pick a playlist, etc.

How sweet would that be?

Really sweet.

Bonus, it would be ready for iRadio, or whatever Apple calls their eventual streaming music service.

Yes, I know this is very specific to the Apple ecosystem. And it would be fab if Apple would let you connect it to Pandora/Rdio/Spotify/whatnot, but Apple would never do that. On the other side, Apple would never allow a third party wall wart to connect to iTunes Match, so. I am, in my circumstances, stuck with Apple. I can live with that.

But I can’t live without this thing. Build it, Apple!


  1. wall wart (n): electronic nubbin with plug prongs on the back that you plug into the wall where it sits like a parasitic lump, doing “something.” 

AT&T or Verizon for my new iPhone? (Updated answer: AT&T)

Updated! – discount on Vz, too!
Update #2 – no voice+data on Vz
Update #3 – done and done

Hi all. Back to the mundane. Apple announced (or rather, confirmed what we’ve all known for several months now) a new iPhone today. The iPhone 5 will be available for pre-order this Friday, to ship a week later. I will be getting one, as will my wife, as we lurve our current iPhones 4, we are out of contract, and we would like faster more capable phones.

There are three carriers available to us: AT&T (our current carrier), Verizon (with whom we carrier-ed for a decade before we got iPhones), and Sprint (actually a hometown company here in KC).

Sprint is out right away for poor coverage and confusing plans that don’t actually come out to anything better than the others. They do have unlimited data, mind you, but we actually use our phones for phones, and their “add a tablet” options are ridiculously expensive should we ever go that route.

Which leaves the other two.

Verizon. We loved Verizon when we were customers, we always had a signal and never had a call drop. Of course, this was in the stone age of cell phones, and the number of phones, the technology of the airwaves, etc. has changed a lot since then. But we hear from the hoi polloi that Verizon doesn’t drop calls. The plan would cost us $150 per month. Adding a tablet, if we should go there, is $10 per month, per tablet.

AT&T. We have AT&T now, and when we first started two years (more, now) ago, we dropped calls like crazy. Not like, cray cray more-often-than-not crazy, but frequently enough that we pined for good ol’ Verizon. But I regularly use voice and data at the same time (looking up my calendar while on a phone call, for example), which you can’t do on Verizon right now. The plan would cost us $150 per month. And adding a tablet is also $10 per month, per tablet.

Research! Root Metrics surveyed KC and compared voice and data reliability for major carriers. The results suggest that AT&T has improved their dropped calls frequency a lot (borne out by our anecdotal experience), but Verizon still has faster overall data speeds (and fewer dropped calls, technically). But mostly, it seems a wash between those two. Here is the link. Apologies to those of my friends in smaller markets. Also: ha ha!

There are two other factors that will weigh on this decision:

LTE. This is the new supa-fast mobile network the iPhone 5 uses, and both V and A support. From what I read, LTE only does data, and cannot be used for voice. Instead, both use the previous 3G networks for voice calls. (This will change sometime, maybe soon?) Therefore, when an AT&T LTE phone tries to do voice and data simultaneously, it actually drops to 3G for both. A lot slower than LTE, but you can do both. A Verizon phone with LTE, currently can do data and voice simultaneously. It continues using LTE for data, but fires up the second radio device for voice, and runs both at the same time. The jury is out on whether the iPhone 5 is equipped with two radios at once (I think Apple made beef about there being one magic-tasking radio in the iPhone 5 that did all things, but I don’t recall).

Research! Someone explained the reasons why simultaneous voice and data are not possible on all networ… zzzz, tl;dr. Basically, what I said up there. If you really need to read it, here is that link.

State of KS Discounts. AT&T offers a discount for service to employees of the State of Kansas, which we are. Our current AT&T plan has this discount applied. I would expect we could get the discount applied to a new plan with AT&T, which would make it cheaper than the equivalent Verizon plan (though I don’t know how much cheaper).

So, what do I need to do?

  1. Find out if the iPhone 5 can do simultaneous voice and data on both AT&T and Verizon.
  2. Find out if there is a discount for State of KS employees for AT&T still, if there is one for Verizon, and how much a discount might be.
  3. Before Friday.

Update. Okay, so Verizon also offers a discount to employees of the State of Kansas. So yay. Also, it appears from the Intarwebs that both carriers will be able to provide simultaneous voice and data when you are on their LTE networks. Also, when not on the LTE network, AT&T will still provide that ability. But we still have no verified verification of iPhone 5’s ability to do this on Verizon once you fall off LTE. Not sure it matters.

Update #2. So, in this article, it unequivocally states that no, the iPhone 5 on Verizon will not be able to do simultaneous voice and data. Apple would have needed to add a third antenna to the phone for that, and they chose not to. The short of it, technically: AT&T does data over LTE, and when you make a phone call, does data and voice over 3G. Verizon does data over LTE, and when you make a phone call, drops to CDMA, but with too few antennas in the phone, they can’t keep working the LTE for data, so presto, no data while talking.

Turns out it does matter to me, so we’re sticking with AT&T. Also, the Future will be awesome, and you can see how by Googling “VoLTE” (Voice-over-LTE), which is coming Real Soon Now. Honest.

Update #3. Ordered two new iPhones. Had to use the Apple site, because AT&T’s was borked, and had to order them one at a time, because the Store’s system can’t handle more than one carrier subsidized phone at a time, so, whatever. They ship in two weeks, and take five days to ship, and may require a signature. That’s… like, October 3rd or something. Arr.

Forty freakin’ two

Too old to be a child prodigy, too young to be an elder statesman. Today is my birthday. Serious thoughts on the date itself later today, but for now, I just want to give a shout out to my parents, without whom I would not be here, and my family, without whom I would not be here. My life is pretty good right now, and I have only had a little part in that. Much love.

Son of a… blog

Not quite a decade ago, I forked over several hundred dollars to support a little web hosting company that could, TextDrive.  In exchange, they gave me a lifetime hosting promise.  It was a good run, and they even honored their promise across a couple of acquisitions and mergers.

But a week or so ago, they sent out an email to those of us who had supported their initial bid for funds, and told us that their lifetime commitment was being “end of lifed.” We had two months to get out, or we could sign up for a free year on one of their new servers, with a $275 yearly bill waiting for us after that. Have they have gone from small potatoes to too big for their britches?

A lot of the people who got this email were pretty pissed. (A support/bitching group or three have popped up around the Internet.) Most of them were clear that they would not be staying. I just packed up my stuff, and with this blog post, the move is over. Everything now lives at A Small Orange, with whom I am pretty pleased.

Stuff is broken (most notably the images on… I am afraid, all the posts) but those will get fixed eventually.

Here we go, again.

Molting tree?

It would appear that the really big sycamore in our back yard is molting? Um. Help?

Our yard with tree bark all over

Our yard with tree bark all over

This is one piece of bark

This is one piece of bark

UPDATE: I’ve been informed by people more knowledgeable than I that sycamore trees do this on a regular basis. In fact, since this event, we’ve had several more barkfalls, probably exacerbated by the drought this summer.

Simplify: our pre-sort laundry system

When we first moved in to our house in Lawrence, we got a pretty big walk-in closet in the master bedroom. We’d not had one like that before, and immediately set about using it to simplify our laundry tasks.

Before this, we’d collect all our laundry in one basket (occasionally we’d try two, whites and darks). We’d do laundry on the weekends, and it would invariably require a tedious separation of the laundry (usually onto our bed) into warm whites, warm colors, cold whites, cold colors, towels, and jeans (family of four, dontcha know). Then we had to spend all day doing all that laundry, lest we end up with a slightly smaller huge pile of laundry on our bed when it came time to sleep. Then you end up with Mt. Laundry on the floor.

Instead, and armed with all this extra closet floorspace, we bought six laundry baskets. I gave in to my OCD and labelled each as above, warm whites, warm colors, etc. Then we trained the kids (and ourselves) to sort the laundry in situ, as we went. Undress, sort your clothes. When it came to laundry time, we just picked up a basket and off to the races.

This had the added benefit of letting us do one load of laundry every night, leaving the weekends mercifully free of laundry chores. In practice, we usually have two or three loads to do on a weekend, but that beats six loads in one day (or seven if we went through a lot of jeans).

One of my greatest concerns in finding a new house was whether we would be able to accommodate our six hampers. As it turns out, not quite. We have four in our not-walk-in closet (whites and colors), the towels in a basket in the linen closet (big linen closet) and the jeans in a basket at the bottom of the laundry chute. Yeah, we got a laundry chute.

Regardless, the system still works, and I haven’t had to sort laundry in five years.