My wife

My wife, Tiffany, is having a birthday today. It’s been a hell of a year, for a lot of reasons, mostly good, but you know how reasons are, lots of gray in with the black and white. So on the occasion of her birthday, I wanted to remind her that I love her.

She is my best friend, the one I tell all the secrets to. We share the looks that mean this, the tilt of the head that means that, the ancient jokes, the lifetime friends, the history, the tears, the uncontrollable giggling, the cold nights, the despair, and the heights of joy. We have the first house we owned together. We have the first dog we loved together. We have reams of old emails, and years of old texts. We have the books we love together, and too many seasons of guilty pleasure TV. We have those things that we have knit together into our life, together. She is my lover. I know her, until I find new depths to wonder at, new resolve to envy, new whimsy to dance with, and then I want to get to know her all over again. I am amazed by her, her strength even when she doubts, her love even when she hurts, her compassion even when she is tired. There is nothing I desire that she does not embody. There is no other dance partner I fit. I am drawn to her, as to nothing else.

She is my partner. When I flounder, she is there for me, sometimes with a tender gesture, sometimes with a kick in the ass. When there’s blood, she handles it. When something smells bad, I return the favor. When I need to work, she shoulders the load. When she has one of those days, I want nothing more than to take it from her, that she can just enjoy what she loves. I would not have lived this life as well without her. I would not be who I am were she not here. I am in her debt, for all that she has made me.

She is the mother of my children. There is nothing more frightening than plucking your heart out and watching it walk around, play soccer, surf the internet, make friends, laugh, and cry. She is there for them, she is their friend, their partner, their love, their guide, their teacher. They would have half a life, if she were not there for them. I am a better father for her being their mother.

She is herself. Incredibly strong, but not without doubts. Confidently competent, but not without mistakes. Compassionately loving, but not without needs. Curious, but steadfast. Complex, but forthright. Beautiful, but intricate. Funny, but sensitive. Crass, but gentle. She is herself, and nothing else.

She makes me cry when I think about her too much, because she is my everything.

Sweetie, I love you.

You’re safe with me (now with added thoughts)

Earring and safety pin

Yeah, it’s a safety pin.

I’ve got a new piece of jewelry. On my bedside table, next to the earring I wear every day, I now keep a safety pin. In the morning, when I get dressed, I pin it on where it can be seen. I do this to let people who see it know that if they feel threatened, scared, sad, or displaced, I will do what I can to help.

It’s an action that was taken in the U.K. after Brexit, when immigrants and others suddenly found themselves unsettled in their own communities. It took hold here after the election.

A lot of people have taken umbrage at these safety pins. At first the election “winners” called it a symbol of hate. They said it was divisive. They said that it supports a culture of perpetual fear. Soon after, some on this side decried it as a bland, feel-good gesture that is ineffective, insincere, and fleeting. A nicety meant for white people to assuage their guilt.

I gently say to them, bullshit.

I’m not doing this out of shame. I’m not putting it on to look good to my friends. I’m not wearing it to claim some higher moral ground. I’m not belittling the fears of white people. I’m not pretending a safety pin will magically make black lives matter. This isn’t a symbol.

It’s an action.

It’s an offer of rescue, solidarity, and solace.

If you feel unsafe, or alone, or afraid, because you’re white, black, brown or another shade of humanity, because you have an accent or a drawl, because you wear certain clothes, because you work with your hands, or you despair over numbers at the dinner table, because you dare not walk alone at night, or you lie awake worrying about what will happen tomorrow… you deserve better. You deserve safety, community, and security.

I will work to meet people where their needs are. I will engage in my community to recognize these inequalities and make some difference. But I can’t always be doing that. I have a family, kids, the million things we all have that take away our best intentions in favor of just getting through the day.

So I wear the pin because I want you to know, even if I’m just out getting groceries, or going back to my car in a parking lot, or waiting in some line with you, that you’re safe with me.

I may not look like you. Or maybe I do. But you’ll know me by the safety pin. And by the way I won’t turn my back if you need me.

Added: There’s a lot of backlash to the safety pins, and a lot of backlash to that backlash. The article that started it, “Dear White People, Your Safety Pins Are Embarrassing,” has been reposted to Medium and Huffpost, which means it’s mostly click bait now. (His original story at his own site is swamped, and he has a second, more constructive post up now.) The comments, and I’ve read a couple hundred, mostly constitute a backlash of their own. Here are the important points:

  • Some marginalized people are grateful for the safety pins.
  • Many marginalized people are not giving it much thought, one way or the other.
  • No, the white nationalist movement is not co-opting it en masse, whatever one trolling graphic pretends to imply. 
  • Yes, you definitely need to do more than put on a safety pin and pretend you fixed it.

For me, wearing it yesterday, it made me think. It made me uncomfortable, probably in the right ways. More present in the world I was walking through. Aware of what the black woman at the radio station might be thinking.

Finally, my bit above was not meant to encourage anyone else to wear a safety pin. It was explaining why I am. 

I am eager to hear why you might wear one, or won’t wear one, or what you think about it.

How I’m doing: 2016 election edition

It’s been a hell of a week, I won’t kid you. I spent the entire election season being pretty confident in Hillary Clinton’s victory. I guess, I fell into the trap of believing my experience of the world was shared by everyone. Clearly, I was wrong. And intellectually, it seems stupid of me now.

But I believed she’d win, she’d be the first female President, and that much of the progress we’d made under Obama would continue. Because, you know, the alternative was too unbelievable to imagine. But on election day, with no real reason, I began to get nervous. By evening, as the polls were closing, I couldn’t stop thinking about election night in 2000, when we were at a bar watching the returns, and someone looked up at the TV and asked, “Hey, where did Florida go?”

It seems a small mercy now that Tuesday night’s returns were consistently disappointing, with a long slow slide into a Trump victory, no false hope moments to raise us up before dashing us back onto the rocks. (The Nevada win was too late in the evening, at least for me.) But I felt numb, and kind of… blank. I was up until 1 am, just after John Podesta announced that Hillary would not be speaking. I went to bed knowing the outcome, but when I woke up at 4:30 am, I checked anyway.

I work in politics, albeit at the state level, and I live in Kansas, so I’m predisposed to crappy political news. I have spent the last few days reading and reading and reading, and thinking, and talking and thinking some more. I think this immersion in the reactions of others, like a sort of shock therapy, has replaced my mourning period. I’m not much of a mourner anyway (I’ll call it “wallowing” when I’m pissy), and I just didn’t want to dwell on it.

Now I find myself itching to do something. I’m working on understanding, and understanding will reveal the things that need to be done, I know. But until I get there, I need something tangible, some action, some difference to make. I feel, energized.

It may all come crashing down, I suppose. Some day I’ll break down in the middle of walking the dog, or at the bus stop waiting for my kid. But there’s just so much to unpack, I think I’ve got some time.

Don’t get me wrong, if I sound blasé. This outcome is horrifying to me, in every way. If I stop to consider the real consequences, to people, to our country, and to the world, I can feel the gibbering panic creeping in at the edges of my vision. But these last couple of days, I feel great. Like I have purpose, like I’m coiled and ready to spring. It’s weird. It’s interesting. And I intend to take full advantage of it.

SXSW 2014 Cover Art is Posted

I have just posted this year’s album art for SXSW, the Music festival in Austin in eleven days.

But all is not well. SXSW has offered one track from each artist as a download (as a .torrent) since at least 2005. According to the Unofficial SXSW Torrents site, while there are a small number of tracks available so far, SXSW has decided to put the files up on Soundcloud, instead. Soundcloud works hard to prevent capture of the music they play, which makes downloading the tracks… difficult.

Go to the cover art page to get this year’s art, and find out how to let SXSW know that you don’t like this.

SXSW Showcasing Artist Cover Art

No rose garden delivered today

Another month gone by. It went fast, but mostly because I didn’t do a lot of productive writing. I hit what you might call a bad patch. I have never been the best at being relentlessly focused, and when you combine that with two creative blocks, well. Nothing gets done.

Huh. So, are you ready to throw in the towel?

Wow, straight to that, eh? Yes I was, briefly, yesterday. I was invited to participate in something I very much wanted to do, but I can’t because of money issues. This is the first time I’ve really come up against the fact that I’m not making any money. Sure, we’ve been cutting back and paying close attention to what we spend, I’m cleaning the house now, instead of hiring it out, and I have a financial deadline looming in the middle distance, but this was the first time I couldn’t do something I really wanted to do.

I thought about giving up and really looking for a job.

But I did some thinking last night, and I decided against it. Writing, heck creating anything, is like exercise. I know it’s good for me, and when I do it, it feels fantastic. It’s fun, I feel good, and afterwards there’s a glow (endorphins!) about the rest of my life that can’t be beat. I’ve written about this before. Writing is fun. Making stuff up, putting it down, being creative… it’s a rush.

Getting started is hard. Each day. Each moment, sometimes.

So, what’re you gonna do about that?

I thought about getting a tattoo, like “FOCUS!” or something, but they cost money and I already have a tattoo-reward-plan for weight loss. I thought about getting an ADD diagnosis (I expect I am in that crowd), but well, damn, I’m an adult. I’ve come up with a mantra, and some words to live by, to try to inspire/reason myself into working. I’ve thought about asking people I love to hold me accountable (that seems like a dick move, though). I’ve tried to post word counts each day I write (did you notice how not-often I did that? Exactly). I make lists and cross things off. I’ve even changed to-do programs recently, because surely the last one was my problem.

And then there’s the possibility that all of these things are themselves a problem.

So you need to keep it simple?

Why yes, thanks. That is what I was getting at. I need to simplify. I have a few ideas, and I’ll let you in on them next time.

Sure, kick the can down the road. Fine.

I will, thanks.

You said something about a mantra?

I did. For a while now, since last Spring, I’ve had some focus words I try to keep in mind. Goals for whatever I am doing. They’ve evolved a bit, but I think I’ve settled on them now, and I look at them every day. They are not meant to inspire, so much as make me yearn to reach them. Words to live by, as it were.

Last night, I also came up with a phrase, a mantra of sorts. Something to repeat to myself in a moment of sloth. I’m trying it out today, and it has mostly worked. We’ll see.

But you’re not going to tell us what they are, are you?

No, I’m not. I’m over trying to force myself to do stuff by being public about it. Public-shaming myself doesn’t work. This is something I need to figure out with myself, by myself.

So, did you do anything this month?

Well, yes, I did. I hit a block on the short story I was writing, so I took a few days and wrote a children’s book. It was an awful lot of fun, and it wasn’t too complicated. i got to play with language a bit differently than in a longer form. I’m sure it is not terribly good, but I like the idea very much. Right now I am fleshing out the descriptions of the illustrations, pretty integral to enjoying the book. While i was writing it, I was thinking of Jane Yolen and Mark Teague’s How Would a Dinosaur… books, and Brian Floca’s books (Locomotive and Moonshot especially) for inspiration.

Once I have the illustration descriptions done, I’ll send it out to my friends for some feedback. Then I intend to work on it, and finally I’ll need an illustrator. An illustrator who doesn’t want to get paid any time soon/ever. Perhaps a starving illustrator.

Can you tell me what this kids’ book is about?

Nope.

Seriously?

Seriously.

You jerk

Yes, well. I’m afraid the elevator pitch will make it sound like something it isn’t. Plus, the working title is crap.

What ever

See you next month.

I’ve only just begun to write

Some of you may already know that I quit my job a couple of weeks ago. Some of you may even know that I also quit my career at the same time. I’ve been working in Higher Education web development or technology since I took my first part-time job at the University of Iowa in 1996. That’s seventeen years of web development work at three different institutions. It is a lot of time put into a career to flush it all away now.

But I have.

What are you doing instead?

I am going to write.

Um, okay. What are you going to write?

Well, that’s the question, isn’t it? When I started, or rather, before I started, my glib answer was that I’d write anything anyone wanted to pay me for. That felt like the answer I was supposed to give, the answer that made this leap off the cliff at least somewhat sensible. “Sure,” I said/thought, “I’ll write anything as long as it pays. Technical writing, spec writing, social media, whatever.” People who knew even less than I do about the writing business would take that as a comfort. I did for a while, until I figured out I was fooling myself.

As it turns out, I don’t want to write just anything. I don’t want to do technical writing. I don’t want to write web article-ads for pennies “just to get your name out there.” I don’t want to do PR. Is this because I’m only two weeks into it, and I’m still flushed with the promise of a Writing Career? Will I be beaten down by the end, willing to write ad copy for the local FREE Rental Magazine? I probably am unreasonably chipper about it, I’ll admit.

But for now, I want to write three things. I want to write opinion articles (hey, that’s what a blog is for, huzzah!), I want to write feature articles, and I want to write science-fiction and/or fantasy and/or fiction. Basically, I want to write stories.

What makes you think you can make it as a writer?

I know the road to becoming a writer is littered with the carcasses of others’ attempted careers. I know that “starving artist” is a stereotype for a reason. My mother once told me that she believed that people are artists or writers because they cannot help it. They cannot stop writing. They can’t not write.

That’s not me. I am lazy, unproductive and easily distracted.

But my mother also raised me with an excess of confidence, and I do think I am a good writer. I think I can, is the answer, I guess.

How can you afford it?

Well, I can’t, frankly. The wife and I sat down and worked out a budget that would keep our standard of living roughly where it is, at least where our kids are concerned. So we kept after school activities and enrichment stuff, but killed TV. We save on child care but not on health care. We’re not eating out (ever, it seems) and we’re watching our spending like hawks (lazy, easily distracted hawks). And even so we’re in the red. That is, we’re budgeted to be in the red. That’s not good.

So I have picked up a small time gig doing some social media writing, and that is helping us close the gap. But what I really need is to write, so I can sell, so I can write some more.

How long before you come to your senses?

I’m telling people that I’m giving it a year. Some stuff happens in a year that will make it much harder to do this, if I’m not making any money yet. Or, you know, if it looks like I won’t be bringing in any money any time soon, someday. If it turns out that I am a terrible writer.

Okay. So how is it going?

So far it is going okay. I’ve been at it for two weeks now, full time. The first week was taken up with a meeting and time spent on the social media gig. Ramping up on that took longer than I had thought it would. I also had some issues keeping my not-writing boundaries firm that first week. Then last week I kind of lost it a little, in terms of my focus. Focus is an issue for me, as it has always been. If I’m into something, it is easy to lose myself in it, be productive and creative and awesome. If I’m not, it can be a distinct challenge to make any headway (my sister will remember a legendary bout with fractions in the sixth grade…).

Last week, I had too much on my plate, or thought I did. And as a result I drifted. This week, I’m much more focused. The challenge will be to maintain that every day, every morning.

I’ll keep you in the loop on how it’s going.

So, is that it?

Yup. I’m also going to read. I’m told that reading is the best way to lubricate the writing. I hope to walk the dog on occasion, and I’ll be here when the kids get home from school. But I am trying my best to keep the not-writing away from the Writing’s time.

Edit: How I “watched” the Apple announcement

Edit: So, I ended up watching via Engadget most of the time, and when they had hiccups, I went over to Ars Technica. Good job guys.


Hey folks, I am planning on “watching” the Apple announcement (iPhone 5S, 5C, iOS 7, maybe some iPads, ever so maybe a TV-related announcement that might just be new software) today at 10 am Pacific (noon, where I am). Here’s how.

Last time I had the greatest success with Engadget’s live feed. It has lots of features, appears to be homegrown (or at least unique) and worked well during this past WWDC Keynote. If you’re only going to do one feed, do this one:

Engadget’s Live Feed

If you are like me, and you want to swap between several feeds of almost the same coverage with slightly different snark, you might also try the following links:

The Verge
Ars Technica
TechCrunch
AppleInsider

What else is out there? Well, if you like pretentious hair and live video (of people talking about the reveal, not of the reveal itself) you can’t do better (or worse) than C|Net’s ad-driven pre-show page. Oy. Then, there are the luddites. AllThingsD seems to be doing a straight up refresh-and-read approach, and Jim Dalrymple’s The Loop is proudly proclaiming their refresh for new system to be “old school.” I’m on the fence about Slashgear’s approach (they are new to me in live blogging) and MacWorld’s cookie-cutter vendor-product-live-blogging-platform.

Mason, 1998-2013

Mason, our Standard Poodle, died Friday night. We got him from his breeder when he was ten months old, and he was our dog until he died, just one month shy of his fifteenth birthday.

During his long life he survived inflammatory bowel disease, a paralyzed larynx, cancer and a couple bouts with pneumonia. We were pretty sure this last round of pneumonia would do him in, he’d lost an alarming amount of weight, and showed little interest in his food. It took him a long month to show signs of recovery.

Ironically, it was his renewed interest in food that killed him. Friday night he grew increasingly uncomfortable and unsettled. By midnight, it was clear something was wrong, and we suspected bloat, a condition in large breed dogs where excessive gas causes the intestines to twist and tighten, trapping the gas and causing expansion of the belly and ribcage. It requires immediate surgery to correct.

I took him to the emergency veterinarian, and they confirmed the condition. We chose not to put him through the surgery and the long recovery, an ordeal he would not likely have survived, and which would have extended his helplessness, pain, and misery.

They gave him a sedative for the pain, and I got to visit with him for a little while. He couldn’t lift his head, but his eyes were open, and his tail wagged a little. I’d always imagined whispering to him in his last moments that he was good dog, but he’d lost most of his hearing the last few years, so I rubbed his ears instead, which is what Poodles love best. I cried a lot, and worried that I was upsetting him, so I asked the doctor in to end it. I was there when he died, I caressed him, and I cried some more. After it was over the doctor told me I could stay as long as I liked, but Mason wasn’t in there anymore, so I took his collar and went home to my family, to grieve with them. That was 2:00 am Saturday morning.

He spent his whole life with us, and fifteen years is a long time for a big dog to live. He came to us as a crazy, energetic puppy, always running and chasing, hunting bunnies and squirrels. He never caught one, but not for lack of trying. His favorite game was chase, usually started as an attempt to get him to play fetch, transformed by his preference for keep-away. He got so excited when people came to visit, we had to train him to put a toy in his mouth so he wouldn’t nip. I don’t think I noticed when he got old enough that he stopped doing that, and it stopped being a problem. It just did. He never suffered separation anxiety, but when we were home he liked being near us. He’d follow us around the house, settling where we settled, even after he’d grown old enough that stairs were more than an inconvenience to him. In the last months, we would carry him down to be with us while we watched TV, then carry him back up. Bloat may have done the deed, but old age is what killed him.

It seems like he’s been with us for everything that’s been significant in our lives. He was our first child. He was there when our first son demoted him back to dog. And he was still there when our second son demoted him even further, and when our second dog put him in his place. He lived in every house we owned. He went camping and canoeing with us. He visited grandparents and friends, from Minneapolis to Wichita. He was in a family reunion photo four generations deep. He was our family before we had a family. And he was part of our family when we did.

I loved him.

He was a good dog, even if he couldn’t hear me say so.

He can run and play and chase like he used to now, in our hearts and minds.

No dilemma, Apple is a hardware company

John Gruber of Daring Fireball points to this article at the WSJ: Apple Has an Identity Crisis: Is It a Hardware Company or a Software Firm? Gruber notes that this dichotomy has been true every one of Apple’s 37 years.

But I beg to differ. There is no dilemma. This has never been true. Back when I used to write about Apple, twenty years ago, and today, it is quite clear: Everything Apple does is about selling hardware. You can set your watch, your rumor mill, and your stock options by this.

If they don’t think it will further hardware sales, they won’t do it.

Hunters and their guns

So, my wife and I had a little conversation today about hunters and their guns in light of my previous post. We eat meat, and that meat has to be killed; hunters kill animals, and some of them eat that meat… she wondered if there was a problem with my argument in that context. I had to think about it for a moment before I wrapped my head around it.

But I’m good now.

I don’t have a moral problem with killing animals for meat. Never have, really. I have lots of problems with the way we raise and kill food animals, and try to buy my meat from local producers with small scale slaughtering operations. I don’t eat a lot of meat, for health reasons. But I’m fine with animals as meat, killed by humans.

In that sense, I don’t have a problem with individual hunters going out and killing animals for meat. And while I may have a personal distaste for hunters going out and killing animals for fun, that isn’t what my argument is about.

I have a problem with people owning guns.

As I have said before, professional gun owners need their guns to do their jobs. Fine. But recreational gun owners do not need their guns. Recreational hunters do not need their guns. Recreational hunters do not need to kill animals, and they certainly don’t need to do it with guns.

They may want to. But that isn’t a good enough reason to own a gun.

  • You want to be one with nature? Go camping.
  • You want to feel the “thrill of the hunt?” Grab a camera on your way out to the blind.
  • You want to feel like a man? Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Build a house. Read at the library.
  • You really need to kill? Do it with a bow, if you must. I’ll concede that piece of ground.

Your hunting rifle does not make you safer. It puts everyone around you in danger. What is safer than a responsible, trained hunter with a properly secured gun? Not having a gun.

And then there’s this:

“…the urge to kill lies within us all, especially as children. Without proper channelling of these instincts, children often grow into physically abusive and/or murderous adults. Can any of us honestly say that, as kids, we didn’t shoot birds with our slingshots and bb guns, or set homemade traps for other critters? I say that if you can say that, then you either never had an opportunity as a child, or you’re an exception to the rule of human nature.”

From Why do Hunters Hunt? by Russ Chastain

I’m sorry, you have an instinctual “urge to kill” that you need to channel properly? And you had it as a child? I don’t have an alternative for you, except to hope to God that you are the exception, not the rule.


Some of the reading I did for this: