Friday, March 29, 2013

George Takei, for real

Nostrum is back? Is Amazon buying them too?

I really don’t know what to make of this.

There was a posting yesterday on Jules’s Nostrum Nation blog that he and the Nostrumite were bringing back Nostrum. Again. They’re calling it Nostrum Series III, A Very Special (Batch o') Episode(s), (AKA the Codswallop Chronicles), and you now know as much about it as I do. He gave no timetable, and no indication why it was back or what it will cover. For that matter, he gave no indication of what he and the Nostrumite have been up to since they were last heard from a couple of years ago. Has all this talk about my writing somehow lit a fire under them to get back to their writing? Maybe they’re just jealous. I have no idea. I’ll see if I can track one or the other of them down over the weekend and get some details.

Anyhow, speaking of writing, this morning it was announced that Amazon will be buying Goodreads. Now I can’t say that I’m much of a follower of Goodreads; I don’t exactly need advice on reading, given how little I get to do on my own dime. And as the VCA knows, I’m not that big a user of social media. I especially don’t rely on the advice of strangers to recommend how I spend my time, or how I spend my mental energy. Trusted critics are one thing; the Great Unwashed are something else altogether. The Fifty Shades books, for instance, get an average of 4 stars according to Amazon customers. The likelihood that I would enjoy an average of 4 stars worth of Fifty Shadesness, however, is extremely small. If my daughter were to recommend a book I might like, however, I’d pick it up right away, and I’d probably like it. But that’s just me. Goodreads is a big deal in what you might call the reading community, and the last I heard, Amazon is something of a big deal in the bookselling community. Any question why I’m going to use Amazon as the outlet for The House on Summer Street? Amazon may or may not be the latest edition of evil incarnate, but when it comes to books, they are increasingly the only game in town. The are integrated vertically, horizontally, elliptically and widdershins. I can’t wait to hear how the publishing community takes this news. There are going to be some unhappy campers out there.

Come Monday, I’ll get back into writing up my adventures publishing the new book. This weekend should be fun; I’m popping down to NYC tomorrow for some museumness, and then dropping in on O’C, who is screening Willow for the assembled multitudes. Now, I can’t say I care one way or the other about Willow, but I do have a fondness for the assembled multitudes, which will include my daughter and JV and God knows who-all. Then Easter is a family day, out to eat at a local joint that does a nice Easter dinner complete with rabbit stew, which strikes me as either perfect or wildly inappropriate, much like having reindeer stew on Christmas Eve. It gets the Aged P out and about, however, which is a good thing once in a while. And then Monday night, we have a tentative workshop for the Sailor Speecho-Americans heading to the State finals, which means that I keep at least a marginal hand in such things for a little while longer.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Book production, chez moi

Writing is easy enough, or not. You do it until you’re done and you trust that your skills are good enough to pull your readers through it all. What you have at that point is a manuscript.

Books, regardless of whether they’re physical or digital, require certain steps beyond writing per se. One of these steps is production. Obviously the production of a digital book is different from the production of a physical book in a lot of ways. You don’t have to decide on trim size or paper quality, for one thing. And page design in an era where you are trying to be device-agnostic is pretty much plain vanilla, so that people can play with the type size themselves, adjusting to their own taste or needs. A physical book can be a gorgeous item. A digital book is its content. Or at least that’s true when you’re talking about a novel. You can tart up the design a tad, I guess, but otherwise it’s all about the words. In nonfiction, things might be different as the technology develops. I’m reading a book on Da Vinci at the moment, and when I originally bought it I thought long and hard about what format I wanted it in, and decided that, because of the illustrations, I had to go physical. The basic Kindle just doesn’t have the chops yet to deliver good graphics. This will no doubt change over time, and electronic publishing will come to rival print publishing for design and illustration. The iBook app can already do this, but honestly I prefer the passive Kindle screen over the iPad for reading. This will all sort itself out, sooner rather than later. Electronic reading was around for a while before it took off; the arrival of the cheap Kindle made the difference. Henceforth it’s simply a matter of evolution. The revolution is over. For a long time if you wanted to read a book, that meant reading a literal book, period. No longer. Digital publishing won’t put literal books completely out of business, for a variety of reasons, but instead of being the only game in town, the printed book will find niches where it will continue to make sense. I can’t predict the particulars of all of this, but I have my thoughts. Anyone in publishing will tell you roughly the same thing. The amount of wisdom you will hear from them will vary from publisher to publisher.

In any case, while digital novels are, as I say, vanilla, vanilla still needs to taste good. The documentation from Kindle Publishing tells the budding writer to do things like spell check and use Word’s grammar checker. Well, yes to spell checking, of course, but the grammar checker is not only painfully slow but it’s also not particularly useful, at least not for me. My writing, if you ask the grammar checker, is virtually unreadable. My sentences are too long, my use of subordinate phrases and parentheses is mind-numbing, and my word choices are inevitably incorrect.

What’s wrong with this picture?

There might be someone on earth for whom the grammar checker makes sense, but probably not the average fiction writer. Let’s say you’re writing in the first person. Well, then you’d want to mold your writing to reflect that narrator’s thoughts. If your narrator is not a copy editor at heart, he or she will probably not think entirely in perfect grammar. End of grammar checker. And if your writing has any personality whatsoever, first or third person, the grammar checker will simply scratch its head and shake its finger at you and annoy you until you turn it off. I turned it off the first week I had it in the very first version of Word I ever owned. I haven’t turned it back on since.

Some folks tell you that you should hire, A, a professional editor and B, a professional copy editor (and more, which we’ll get to eventually). I don’t necessarily disagree with this, but I didn’t do it. I can do these things myself pretty well, and since, as I explained yesterday, it’s easy for me to distance myself from my work, I’m pretty confident that I lost nothing by not having them. Having, as a writer, dealt with professional editors, and as an editor, dealt with professional writers, I have to say that while editors are great as sounding boards and fresh eyes, it all comes down to the writer sooner or later. “Uh, Mr. Joyce, I was thinking, maybe, that you’d want to clarify some of the writing here. I mean, shouldn’t riverrun be capitalized? And I think it’s two words. And I’m not quite sure who Eve and Adam are in the context of the paragraph…” Or, “Well, Hermie, I like it, don’t get me wrong, but let me tell you, whales just aren’t selling in today’s market. Have you thought of going with Cthulhu? Or maybe zombies? Great White Zombies has a real nice ring to it…”

So I have, to my mind, completely created the book and, following the elementary instructions from Kindle on page breaks and chapter heads and the like for Word, come up with the "production" copy of the book, short of the step of porting it to html and checking it in situ. I have not had to resort to any sort of typesetting, page design, copy editing, galley reading or query answering, which in the normal process of physical publishing can take two or three months. My production work took an hour or so. That’s one real benefit of digital publishing. Regardless of whether the end product is good, bad or indifferent, there’s no question that creating it is a quick business. It takes just as long to write a book, but producing it is virtually instantaneous. This leads, of course, to the availability of way more bad books, since all the expense of production is removed and the means placed in the hands of anyone with access to a computer, but so it goes.

My manuscript it ready. I have a production copy. Onward.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Editing my own work

I can’t really speak to the act of writing a book, having been only marginally successful at it. I mean, yes, I’ve gotten a few books published and done okay with them, but I’ve also gotten a few books not published. I think that, at heart, I’m a pretty good stylist but only a so-so storyteller, and to be honest, commercial success requires more of the latter than the former. Whatever. It’s not like I’m sitting around cursing my life or anything. All that time not writing NY Times bestsellers allowed me to create Nostrum. Twice. If that hasn’t left the world a better place, then I don’t know what has.

Of course, I can speak to the act of reading books, as I’ve done here explicitly as I do it for the DJ. I have a pretty good sense of books in general. I always find it strange reading anything I’ve written myself after, say, a couple of months have passed. I absolutely have no instinctive recollection of having written it. I can look at my own text in a state of total amnesia, which strikes me as rather odd. Most writers I know are completely wedded to their words, indelibly lined to every comma and adjective. They are their books. They are their writing. Their spirit is on the page. Maybe that’s why I never broke through. My spirit, I guess, is somewhere else. But that does make me a good editor of my own work. If I put something aside for long enough, it’s as if it’s not my own work anymore, and I know quite well that I am expert at editing the work of others, having done it for the last 40 years or so. I edit myself just fine. My writing process comprises, first, getting it all on paper in the first place, from start to finish, which is the hardest part. Then I comb through it and comb through it and comb through it, with great ruthlessness. It doesn't come out all that good in the first place, but I can edit it into shape given enough time. And every time I do, it's all new again. I'm probably lucky with that. Otherwise I don't think I'd have the stamina to stick with it.

The process of putting together Summer Street, after I completed enough drafts on my own to send it on, was mostly in aid of polishing the narrator’s voice. It is written in the first person, told by a kid. This is sort of tricky, and I was told to keep polishing it so that any vestigial non-kid writing was expunged. Good advice, and I think that I managed to do it. I won’t be going through it again, aside from checking the formatting per Kindle. It is what it is. I remember looking at Lingo when it first went electronic years after it was published, to see about updating it a little. But that was a mug’s game. Being me, with my personal writing amnesia, I read it as if I’d never seen it before, found it pretty amusing, clarified maybe two sentences that stopped me, and that was it. It was so much a part of its technological time that updating it would have done nothing for it. After all, it was make believe in the first place. How grounded in reality is make believe supposed to be? An old Apple computer couldn’t come to life? Does that mean a new one can? Pul-leeze.

The House on Summer Street, in other words, is as edited as it’s going to get. I spell-checked it one last time, and I’ll look over the formatting after I port it over to Amazon, but that’s it. In other words, I have about five minutes of work left on the text before I pull the trigger and make it live. But there are considerations other than the text themselves. Like the cover, for instance. I spent a lot of time last night playing with that, and I’ll pass along my thoughts next time.

More articles we [did not] [had to] finish reading

These headlines are all real, directly copied from our RSS feed without editing.

First, the did-nots.
  • Sarah Palin’s Writing A Book About Christmas
  • Charlie Sheen Just Told 9 Million People To Throw Dog Shit At His Daughter’s School
  • Justin Bieber’s Hamster Is Dead
  • Recreate Original McDonald’s Menu Items at Home
  • ‘Atlas Shrugged Part 3′ Greenlit, Hitting Theaters Summer 2014

On the other hand, a couple of articles that had to read:
  • ‘World’s First’ Gender-Based Breakfast Cereal, Improves Sexual Performance
  • Nic Cage's Face On All 151 1st Generation Pokemon

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

In which I write a new novel

The new book is entitled The House on Summer Street. I wrote it about two years ago, and went through the rigmarole of finding a publisher, but without success. This was back when Kate was still working at an agency, and they all liked it and gave it the old college try, but they just couldn’t swing a sale. Publishing is like that. I had written it to entertain myself, mostly because I like to write, so I can’t say I had particularly tried to do anything to make it commercial. Come to think of it, I had the same problem with Lingo, although there obviously I did have a publisher and ended up doing fine. The problem there was that, while it was on face a science fiction novel, it wasn’t really genre. Plus, while trying to be some sort of thriller, it was also funny (or while trying to be funny it was also some sort of thriller), and unclear boundaries were claimed to be anathema. So it goes.

The House on Summer Street is, perhaps, aimed at young adults. Perhaps not. And I’ve subtitled it, “A Novel With Ghosts.” Already it sounds uncommercial. After failing to sell it, I let it sit for a while, but I’ve decided, what the hell, I’ll publish it myself. Amazon makes it easy enough to do so. They’ll publish any damned thing, which is why they are in the process of destroying publishing as we (i.e., publishers—don’t forget my DJ) know it. I could write about that at great length (and, knowing me, I probably will), but I’ll stick to the main story for the moment.

I haven’t made too many decisions yet, since as one’s own publisher one is in charge of everything. The first thing I decided, though, was to get it copyrighted. I understand copyright well enough to understand that, officially, this wasn’t necessary, but I’ve been doing this for too long not to. And it’s no big deal to get a copyright. You go onto the government website, click a few buttons, and—

It doesn’t work. Of course it doesn’t work. Our fine U.S. government allows you to register and pay on line and send them an electronic copy of the work, except it doesn’t work on Firefox, Chrome or Safari. Of course not. It only works on IE. Imagine that, Mac users. Internet Explorer. Do even Windows users use IE anymore? I’m surprised they didn’t make me use dial-up. I turned off (and on) every pop-up blocker and javascript allower and whatall-you-name-it in all those other browsers before remembering that I do, indeed, have IE on my Windows 7 emulator (with which I tab). That worked (after more pop-up blockers going on and off and javacripts being allowed or not and whatall-you-name-it) so, finally, after about an hour of nonsense that could only be conjured by the combination of government website and Microsoft, Inc., I acquired a copyright for the book.

Next up, the formatting. Amazon has ways it wants you to Kindle-ize your docx manuscript. So I did them. No big deal. Essentially you make sure that there's no long marches of new empty paragraphs (apparently the great unwashed find forced page breaks the kiss of death, given how many times Amazon warns you that you must use them or spend eternity in hell), you format paragraphs to include indents (no tabs) and you allow a little extra leading between paragraphs. And you style chapters as unique headings (but that doesn't matter much in a novel where they're just numbers). And in the end, you save it as a filtered html file, which would be fine if there were actually an option in Word to save as a filtered html file. That was as far as I've gotten. For a moment I wondered if the U.S. government had somehow crossed over into the process, and that I'd have to do the whole thing in IE...

The adventure will continue.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The website is revised

All right. Enough of this trivia nonsense. Back to business.

I have, for all practical purposes, finished the update of my jimmenick.com website. It doesn’t look all that different from the previous incarnation, but it is better organized. I played around with the design tools provided by my site host, but didn’t really like any of the templates, plus I found them more trouble to adjust than it was worth. I did like the way Squarespace.com allowed me to build the NYSDCA site last year, but I was not interested in porting everything over to them, again in deference to the concept of more trouble than it was worth. So the site is still living inside a very static CSS template I picked up somewhere, using very boring old html that never goes very far beyond a "TD" command. So, it won’t win the beauty prize for site of the year any time soon. But it is, as I say, better organized, and there’s nothing wrong with that. At some point the content of the site is more important than the look of it.

I’ve updated a bunch of things on the forensics page. I find it heartening that most things hold true even as the years seem to change them, and that the underlying philosophies of debate remain the same even as the structures rumble and tumble. I did have to edit a few things here and there to make them viable in 2013, but not as much as you would think. I feel that I can honestly present what is there to anyone putting together a team or to my own students or any other learners and feel confident that they will not be misled. Even some of the occasional stuff like the Geopolitics lecture held up, with a bit of fine tuning to remove it from the immediate resolution that sparked it. There’s a lot of good material at this site.

Now if I could only get the Sailors to take advantage of it…

The newest addition is the writing page, where I’ve tried to isolate things that aren’t strictly debate materials. Granted that a lot of it is debate-based, e.g., Nostrum, but it is nevertheless writing qua writing. It allows me now to push Lingo a little bit, and provides a launching pad for the new book coming out shortly. (I’m self-publishing that one, and I’ll detail its journey here. needless to say.)

I can’t say that I’ve gone and listened to everything on my audio page to clean that one up, but I have, again, organized it better. Needless to say, there’s a lot of overlap on all these pages, and that’s been the hardest thing to keep straight. But I think I’ve done it well enough. In any case, this weekend I took the big old tabbing printer out of the car and put it into the basement, thinking to myself that it is now six months until my next tournament. Holy cow! That’s a lot of time to spend doing something other than tabbing, especially if it’s going to be winter from now until then, as it would appear to be if today’s forecast is any indication. Oh, well. I do have a tendency to keep myself busy enough. And when I fall off the busy wagon, Tik pronounced teek is there to nap along with me. Life goes on.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Final Beans

The final bunch.

Robo-questions, or, These are not the droids you're looking for:
  • In what film did Jude Law play a robot? (They got it.)
  • Name a famous astromech droid? (Zip was on it!)
  • What is Waste Allocation Load Lifter – Earth-Class? (No problemo.)
  • The robot in the Oz stories? (Crickets. Lots of crickets. I would have suggested a Menickean lifeline, but this was the elimination round.)
Water, water everywhere:
  • Where is Easter Island? (No, Disney World is not the correct answer.)
  • Name three countries surrounding the Japan sea. (They got it.)
  • The Coral Sea is between what two countries? (They got it. I'll bet you didn't.)
Our special feature star was the Beeb. No one could possibly know any of these, and they didn't. Neither should you.
  • How many Madame Toussaud's have wax figures of him?
  • How many Twitter followers does he have - 3 million, 33 million, 330 million?
  • What was his highest Klout score?
  • (I didn't ask this one, and it may be the only one you might know.) In what movie did he appear as an alien (on TV monitors)? I'll give you the answer: MIB3.
Then there were thingummies.
  • What is a lunula? (They knew it. I was stunned.)
  • What is a dewclaw? (Nope.)
  • What is a philtrum? (Another surprise correct answer.)
And finally, a few slogans:
  • Life's short, play more. (They should have gotten this.)
  • It takes a licking and keeps on ticking. (They knew what sort of item it was, but not the maker. Not good enough.)
  • Just do it. (They did it.)
  • A mind is a terrible thing to waste. (No, which meant one less Dan Quayle joke for the night.)
  • Breakfast of champions. (Nope. Sailors don't eat breakfast, I guess.)
And so another bout of Beans bit the dust. Lots of questions in these categories were left over, so I'm ready to pick up where I left off at the drop of a hat.

An amazing guitarist



Here's his website: MarkKross.com. (You find the most unexpected things at Failblog.)

Coachean Feed: sexism, classism, Bertrand Russell, racism, our animalistic roots

More links of interest to the debate community.

Virtual Beans #8

Probably the easiest category was this one, food with place names:
  • A hard boiled egg wrapped in sausage. (They liked the sound of it even if they couldn't identify it.)
  • A cake filled with custard and frosted with chocolate. (They got it.)
  • A thinly sliced beef sandwich with cheese and onions. (They got it.)
  • Deep fried potatoes. (As I said, easy.)
  • A pastry with cheese or prune preserves. (Now that we're eliminating panivorous types right and left, the team will eat anything. They got it.)
  • A sandwich with ham and cheese and pickles. (Finally, another one they hadn't had for lunch that day.)
  • Eggy bread. (A piece of cake, so to speak.)
Then they had to translate the following from British to English:
  • zed (yes)
  • kip (surprisingly, yes)
  • starkers (nope)
  • gormless (nope)
  • fagging (nope — thought it had something to do with cigarettes)
  • mufti (nope)
  • barmy (nope)
  • c of e (nope, and honestly, that's not even a Britishism, but I threw it in as a gimme. I didn't have to gim it.)
  • quid (nope)
  • shirty (yes, again surprisingly, considering their bad record on this category)
  • bespoke (nope, but then again, given that the latest Sailor fashion statement at a tournament was fuzzy slippers, what do you expect?)
  • knackered (nope)
  • gobsmacked (nope, although when I demonstrated it the answer was clear)
  • codswallop (needless to say, given the nature of Sailordom, they did indeed understand the concept of codswallop)
  • a dicky ticker (yes, but only because I was demonstrating furiously as I awaited the answer)

Virtual Beans 7

So you'd think that Sailors might know something about NYC, being that if you stacked them one on top of the other the highest one would be able to see it on a clear day? Well, you'd be wrong.
  • What is Tudor City? (They thought it might be a restaurant.)
  • What kind of restaurants do you find on Mott Street? (All they could say was, "Can you spell Mott?" And tell me what street / compares to Mott Street / in July...)
  • What kind of restaurants do you find on Mulberry Street? (Their answer was mulberry restaurants.)
  • Who was Laguardia? (I am still recovering from the shock of hearing the correct answer to this one.)
And then there was Latin. They got all of these wrong except for one.
  • Ecce homo
  • Habeas corpus
  • E pluribus unum
  • Non compos mentis
  • In hoc signo vinces
  • In media res
  • Cave canem
  • Alea iacta est
  • Ars longa vita brevis
Which one? Okay, apparently they watch a lot of lawyer shows on TV.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

I now understand why Steely Dan took so long to get into the R&R Hall of Fame



I crashed while watching this, so I lost the via link. Too bad. I want to remove that site from my feed. Forever. And then some.

Virtual Beans 6

Another one of my favorite categories: Live fast, die young, leave a good looking corpse.

I had to explain it about a hundred times...

  • The guitarist for the Sex Pistols? (They had no idea.)
  • A grungy guy who shot himself? (You'd think that grunge, repeated and emphasized, would have given it away. It didn't.)
  • He liked to light his guitar on fire. (They got it.)
  • He died behind the wheel of his Porsche. (Lost them on that one.)
  • She sang with Big Brother and the Holding Company. (Not a clue.)
  • From "The Day the Music Died" name one of the people who, well, died that day. (They didn't get it. Instead, they told me it was the guy who died behind the wheel of his Porsche. The 50s are a blur to these people.)
  • Finally, a 19 year old who was burned at the stake. (Even when I threw in that she's a nickname at a diner, no reaction.) (French fries, if you didn't know it already.) (I should have asked about Noah's wife.)
Then all they had to do was identify which actor portrayed James Bond in the following movies. The third one was the only one correctly answered, which proves that, when it comes to pop culture, the Sailors totally get it backwards. (Except, of course, pop spelled backwards is, shockingly enough, pop, but that's not my fault): Diamonds are Forever, The World is Not Enough and On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Calvin and Hobbes

Virtual Beans 5

Three more categories:

I'll name the characters, you name the musical. The Sailors got all 3:
  • Conrad, Albert, Rosie
  • Jean, Marius, Fontine
  • Skimbleshanks, Jennyanydots, Rumpleteazer
Ikea meatballs (AKA horses):
  • What did Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed do that is very rare? (Not a clue.)
  • Who is the author of Black Beauty? ("I read that seven times." Pause. "There was a horse in it?" Lifeline was drawn and failed.)
  • Who was Bucephalus? (They didn't know, but spent about six hours not knowing it.)
  • What's a farrier? (Panivore, Jr., could, and did, answer this in his sleep. I'm not sure why he was sleeping, though.)
  • What is the source of the phrase "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts"? (Frankly, I was looking for the author, but with this group, I accepted the general idea.)
And famous pairs. I provided one, they provided the other. Or not:
  • Siegfried and ... (Got it.)
  • Butthead and ... (Got it, of course.)
  • Gilbert and ... (Glazed expression.)
  • Jake Blues and ... (Well, they at least knew it was a relative, but not the name.)
  • Bertie Wooster and ... (I would not have accepted House, but then again, nothing but blank stares were offered.)
  • Pyramus and ... (This was known, surprisingly enough.)
  • Heloise and ... (Even when I told them the answer, the stares remained blank. I kept my "Ouch" jokes to myself.)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Virtual Beans 4

Happiness is just a thing called Joe. That was the category. You had to name the Joe.

  • A husband of Marilyn Monroe. (They knew this, which surprised me.)
  • A Polish author writing in English. (Meh knew that it was the author of Secret Agent, but couldn't conjure the name. A lifeline text to O'C yielded no response [oh, the horror], but then it finally occurred to her. Who thinks of Secret Agent first? Weird.)
  • The founder of a religion. (They missed it.)
  • The father of a political clan. (I might as well have been talking about the 11th Emperor of Oogabooga.)
  • Who is Joseph Ratzinger? (Nope. But to be fair, I pronounced it Joe. Rat. Zinger. Still.... How soon they forget.)
  • A Russian leader. (No sweat.)
  • A tailgunning anti-communist. (Once again my miracle freshman pulled it out of the air at the last moment. She came in 3rd overall.)

Virtual Beans 3

The "Audrey or Kate" category (it can be the same in both) only got hit once. Which Hepburn was in War and Peace? Which Hepburn was in Robin and Marian?

Ditto the Woody or Hitch category: Which one directed Notorious? Love and Death?

My favorite category required you to say if a character was from Nostrum, Star Wars, Oz or Dickens. It only came up once. Again, it doesn't have to be one of each. Go!
Rogue Riderhood
Salacious B. Crumb
Sally Brass
San Hill


And then, there was the category of doctors, real and fictional:
  • Who is Theodor Geisel? (Easy peasy.)
  • Dr. Cliff Huxtable was played by? (They got it, which surprised me.)
  • In what movies do you find Dr Evil? (Nope. Are those movies dead already?)
  • What was Dr. Kevorkian famous for? (Answered correctly. Apparently one never wants to wake up in a hospital and see Dr. Kevorkian's name on the chart.)
  • Name a TV show about doctors in the Korean war? (Piece of cake for them.)
  • Who was the doctor who helped Clarice Starling? (The Sailors are nothing if not perverted. They got it.)
  • Julius M. Hibbert is personal physician to whom? (Not a clue. To be honest, I thought it was a gimme for them, but then again, I had had to look it up.)
  • George Clooney was a doctor on what show? (Got it.)
  • Doctor McCoy was the physician where? (Didn't have a clue.)
  • Neil Patrick Harris played what doctor? (This was one of those questions everyone knew except the person who was supposed to know it. There was much discussion of NPH's hair on that show.)

A Lego Band

A little change of pace during our trivia extravaganza.

Virtual Beans 2

There was a category where Sailors simply had to rattle off the names of something in a given category. This was too broad in most cases, and just led to bean overflow. A limit to this category, say Star Trek series, would help. That was indeed one of the categories, for the freshmen, who only managed to come up with "New Generation." They were so pathetic and it was close enough so I accepted it. Of course, you can name all five of the series. Correctly. (Excluding animation.)

And then, next up, some questions in the category called "Art and Artists." When I mentioned this category for the first time, someone asked, "What exactly does that mean?" I admit to being unable to explain it any more clearly. Obviously a failure on my part to communicate effectively.

Let's see how you do:
  • What exactly did Michelangelo paint on ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? (This was probably too easy, since they got it right away. Then again, maybe Meh is a cardinal and she just happened to spend a lot of time last week looking up.)
  • Describe the work of M.C.Escher. (There was an Escher print in the classroom, but this one was still a gimme.)
  • What artist was famous for his Brillo pads? (The idea that an artist could be famous for Brillo left them, literally, agape.)
  • The artist is famous for painting water lilies? (This was identified correctly. Appropriately enough, by Lily.)
  • Who signed a toilet with the name R Mutt and called it Found Art? (All this got was a sniff of disdain. Obviously no Caveman fans around anymore.)
  • In what century did the post-Raphaelites paint? (The answer they gave was close, just 200 years off.)
  • Who is the musical "Sunday in the Park with George" about? (It disappointed me that our theater people were unable to identify him.)

Virtual Beans 1

I've got these questions, and last night the Sailors had at them. I'll tell you how they did with them, but the real issue is, how well can you do with them?

Your first category: World War II.
  • Who did Germany invade, thus starting WWII? (They all knew this one.)
  • What is the ETO? (They had to lifeline this one. O'C knew it, and then his phone died. Discretion, I guess, was the better part of his valor.)
  • Who was Quisling? (The fact that they thought he was French did not leave them in good stead on this one.)
  • What are fat man and little boy? (They got this in a snap.)
  • Who led Free France? (They had no idea what Free France was, much less its leader, possibly because they were so confused by Quisling. At least this time they were correct in offering that it had something to do with the French; I'm not sure what gave it away.)
  • General Anthony McAuliffe officially responded with one written word when the Germans asked for unconditional surrender at the Battle of the Bulge. What was that word? (Once you know this, you never forget it, but they didn't know it.)
  • Who was the Desert Fox? (Maybe they're all golfers, because they knew this instantly.) (And if you don't get the golf reference, then you've never holed out of a sand trap.)
  • The Allies first invaded Europe in 1943 in Operation Husky. Where was it? (Reason was used to deduce the correct answer, something that hardly ever happens at these events.)
  • What WWII leader's dead body was hung upside down on a meathook? (I was in awe of the freshman girl who answered this correctly. She was obviously a ringer.)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

What I read for the DJ

PJ asked this: “There must be a good amount of narrative driven, family friendly books published every year that are reasonably entertaining. A good deal more than two dozen I would hope that you don't find necessary to ‘throw aside with great force.’ So what other factors generally come into play?”

When I originally started writing that post, the whole first part was criteria. But as I do fairly often, I dropped the opening and cut to the chase, as what I really wanted to talk about was how I processed a seemingly large number of books. But that is the other half of the story, so why not explain it?

At the DJ I read for an audience that we have, over the years, been able to define fairly well, although only in broad terms as far as prediction is concerned. We are talking about book judgments, after all. Still, we have always had some sort of rating system in place to determine how much each of our selections was enjoyed, and while a statistical approach to something like books is often dicey, it’s telling enough. So I have a set of parameters within which to work when I’m selecting titles.

First of all, keep in mind that these books will be edited down to a lesser length by us. This is an odd thing, needless to say, that no one else does much except some magazine staffs (excluding, these days, our own!). While some may argue that an author’s words are canonical and that they want to savor every original one of them, there are others who argue that some judicial slimming down seldom hurts anyone. In the 70s, when paper prices were through the roof and hardcover novels were first going over that $20 barrier, trade publishers pushed their authors to write longer books to provide more value for the money, and most commercial authors obliged, and the habit stuck. This does not necessarily make for better books. Sometimes a book needs to be snappy and fast, and if it’s 460 pages long, snappy and fast it isn't. Many a 460 page long book harbors a 200 page book dying to break out. As a matter of fact, one of our old slogans was that we would find the book within the book. The point is, it’s easier than you think to find surplus words in commercial fiction, even good commercial fiction.

That said, some books, at great length, refuse nevertheless to be trimmed down. If a book has an extremely complex plot, where every scene is linked to every other scene as we reveal a thriller or mystery narrative, or if there are multiple narrators each supplying a different piece of the puzzle (even if the puzzle is a soap opera and not a shoot-em-up), it’s probably not a candidate for us. Some books simply cannot be edited down. We exclude those off the top. If a book is too long in the original, it is unlikely to work for us. So, right off the bat, we can eliminate the bricks.

Our readers like straightforward narrative, books with beginnings and middles and endings where things happen. They like stories. A lot of books, even a lot of good books, don’t necessarily have strong narrative drive. (The opposite is also true: a lot of bad books do have strong narrative drive.) Stories that are primarily interior, thoughtful, literary, etc., are not for us. If I read 50 pages of a book and, as far as I can tell, nothing has happened yet, that’s that.

I like the paradigm of old-fashioned Hollywood movies to describe what works for us. Good story, good characters, inherent moral values, happy endings. Story pulls you along in a novel, obviously. Characters are the company you keep, and they need depth and interest. Usually good guys need to be good and bad guys need to be bad, but we can handle the odd antihero if handled right. I maintain that in really good books, we are more likely to remember the characters than the plot. Humans respond well to narrative, but they respond even more to people. We’re hard-wired that way. As for the inherent moral values, well, look at the sign over the DJ door. We do not reward evil, and we do not want stories awash with sex and violence. As we used to say at my first job, where I occasionally edited Westerns, we could have our characters go into the barn but not into the hay. So if a book is inherently about sex and violence, it’s a non-starter for us, and if it’s too heavy with those elements, and they can’t be moderated with editing (we don’t change stuff, we just delete things), we can’t use it. (For that matter, the only words we’ll literally change in an edit are vulgarities, trading an F-word for a “Hell,” for instance, and not too much of that, since as often as not a simple deletion will suffice and still maintain the original effect.)

So, straightforward narrative and good characters with underlying family values. But not ostensive religious values: we don’t mind being occasionally inspirational, but we’re always non-denominational. Honestly, there are few books where religion is even mentioned that work for us; I just want to make that clear.

Reader favorite genres are mystery/thrillers, family stories, romances, general (whatever that is). SFF and horror are out (although we’ve used the occasional magical tale): our readers tend to be realists who want nothing to do with vampires, zombies, fairies, elves, robots, aliens or spaceships. And, unfortunately, you can eliminate most mysteries and thrillers nowadays, because they’re all series and if you don’t know what happened in the last installment, you’re lost in this one. We look for either standalones or first entries. (Exceptions to this are, e.g., Lee Child and Michael Connelly, who write series so well you that you can start with any one of the entries; this is rare.) Family stories are just that, but today the genre is overflowing with books where something horrible happens to a family and everyone spends the next mournful 300 pages coping and moping—not our cup of tea. I don’t mind a soap opera, but don’t completely bum me out. By romances, I don’t mean sexy and I don’t mean genre; think romantic comedy. You know how good romantic comedy is rare in movies? It’s just as rare in books. Sophie Kinsella rules in this genre. She’s funny and writes great sympathetic characters and her books are fun; that’s as rare as can be. General? Well, just stories that work that are sort of hard to categorize. Like a book about a dog that keeps getting reincarnated (a real tearjerker, that one, and a big hit). Medical stories: it’s okay for the hero or heroine to die at the end if they must, although not as good as a solid recovery. Nicholas Sparks is popular with our folks, in fact paradigmatic to some extent: average folks solving problems, usually with a nice romance but a driving narrative pushing conflict, and even though sometimes the good guy dies in the end or doesn’t get the girl, it all seems right.

Since we provide our readers with a single volume experience, and not all readers like all kinds of books, we must provide variety. Can’t do 4 mysteries at once, in other words, or we lose the romance fans, etc. We’ll almost inevitably get any book we really liked into some volume or other sooner or later, but sometimes we have to put it on the back burner for a while. Since most of our customers read the whole volume from start to finish and judge it by what they read rather than what they were supposed to have read, whether or not a book is a bestseller is incidental for us. We like bestsellers for the name value in our marketing, but the reader, actually reading the story, only wants it to be good. There’s at least one new author in each of our volumes, as a rule, just to keep things roiling. And sometimes we go off the beaten path because we don’t want to be too predictable.

If you look at the bestseller list today, you will find few books that fit for us. More than half are series or supernatural. So as often as not, any book I pick up to read is a possibility because it’s by someone I don’t know. Hope springs eternal, or at least for a chapter or two.

As I said last time, there is also a big unquantifiable, to wit, that it’s a good book, judged by whatever inchoate criteria I use to make that decision. When all is said and done, where you can throw out an awful lot of books on face because of genre or unusable content, there really aren’t a lot of family-friendly books left that will satisfy a grown-up market. If there were, my job would be a whole lot easier.

Are you smarter than a 10th grader?

There will be beans tonight. These are the categories:
  • Wait! What? There were two of them? (AKA World War II.)
  • 2 for each in one minute: I provide the category, you provide examples.
  • Art and artists.
  • Audrey or Kate: Know Your Hepburns.
  • Dickens, Oz, Nostrum or Star Wars: I’ll name 4 characters, you tell me where they’re from.
  • Famous Doctors, Real and Otherwise.
  • Happiness is just a thing called Joe.
  • Hitch or Woody: Who directed what?
  • I'll name the characters, you name the play.
  • Ikea meatballs (Or as they are better known, Horses)
  • It Takes Two to Tango - Famous Pairings.
  • Live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse.
  • Name the Bond Actor.
  • New York, New York.
  • “Or as Frankie Papam would put it.” AKA Latin as a second language.
  • “Place the food” - the name of this victual is or contains a place.
  • Please translate from the British to American.
  • Robo-questions, or, These are not the droids you're looking for.
  • Splash, or, Water Water Everywhere.
  • The Beeb.
  • Thingummies.
  • Which One doesn't belong and why? (Gotta get both).
  • You deserve a slogan today.







Monday, March 18, 2013

Feedly is looking good, fellow Reader orphans

Feedly seems to be the early favorite in the Replace Google Reader race. It pulled in a half a million new users right out of the gate following the announcement. I’ve now used it both on my computers and my iPad, and I’m settling in with it. You have the ability to tart things up magazine style, which I might want to do with some content, for instance Disney sites on the iPad, while you can also go straitlaced and just show full article titles, which makes more sense for debate/politics/philosophy sites. It uses Reader as a backend engine, but presumably will create its own engine going forward, which can’t be that big a deal, considering the nature of RSS. For all I know, they already have their own engine, for non-Reader users. It doesn’t matter. The point is that RSS will continue, even if it isn’t as popular as, say, tweeting. I can live with that, provided that, one way or the other, I still get to live with RSS.

(Feedly does seem to be suffering some growing pains, by the way, but that should clear up once they sort out the scaling of their growing numbers.)

Come to think of it, I could live without Twitter. I guess I use it mostly to keep up on breaking news when I’m in the office. I have it available in one of my tabs, and I check it every half hour or so to see if anything interesting is going on. The whole hit-and-miss aspect of it is why I don’t depend on it for anything. I’m following 85 accounts, and I would estimate that I see a turnover of about 100 posts an hour. Obviously, when I’m not looking at it, that means I miss 100 posts an hour. Since I never look on the weekend, that’s meaningful. Assuming fewer posts go up at night when I also don’t look, less meaningful, but still, plenty of missed content. In any case, my point is that Twitter is this endless stream of communication that, if I happen to go near it, it’s fine, and if I don’t happen to go near it, it’s also fine.

RSS, on the other hand, is there until you dismiss it (i.e., mark things as read, literally or figuratively). You select a number of sources, and you get the latest updates from those sources. Here I tend to go for sites that provide information on things in which I’m interested. Like, as mentioned above, amusement parks and debate-ish things, plus tech and books and general entertainment. I’m using the switch to Feedly to update my feeds. I had really overloaded when we were doing a daily DJ blog with 4 posts a day. Now that it’s just for my own personal entertainment, and I’m winnowing down accordingly. And then I’ll expand again, as I follow recommendations from the software of the like-this-try-that variety. Reading my feeds is what I do when I go onto the internet, hence my panic losing Reader. I gather others feel likewise.

I know that there are people out there for whom Facebook is the internet in its entirety, but I find Fb way too claustrophobic. I go on once or twice a week at most, unless I want to message somebody (it is a great connector). Otherwise, I really don’t care what my Fb connections are thinking/doing all that much. I don’t think they care all that much about me in return. Fb inflates a certain kind of information that is somewhere between real news and gossip and gives it credibility, when it’s really just empty babbling. And, I’m sorry, the number of people in whose empty babbling I maintain any interest is terrifically small. Fb seems primarily for adolescents, whose sense of community is much different from adults (and maybe this is generational and changing, but I really don’t think so). It's more tenuous and chimerical and still in a developmental mode. You don't really know who your friends are when you're not quite clear who you are yourself, so you experiment and are willing to process a lot of possibilities. The Fb universe is perfect for this. Fb also seems to bring out the adolescent in the adults who are big users, which is almost an oxymoron. Few adults are interested in maintaining large personal networks of marginal acquaintances loosely identifiable as friends of some sort. They have other things on their mind. If Fb went away, I would miss the ability to message alums easily as they keep changing their emails, but not much else.

In terms of internet phenomena, there is one other big deal that eludes me completely, and that’s Pinterest. Why people want a bulletin board of pictures from various websites, or want to look at someone else’s bulletin board of pictures, is beyond me. Even when I like the subject (say WDW), it’s just a bulletin board of random pictures. Yet Pinterest is one of the biggest new things going, and some people seem to love it. Oh, well. Some people ain’t me.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

How I Read

Since I’ve been tallying my reading on Twitter, I thought I might explain it a bit. I don’t quite read books for a living, although most people seem to think that is what I do. In fact, I have two main responsibilities. One of them is to select books to be used at the DJ. I am, in the immortal words of 43, the Decider. The other is to edit the selected books. I do a bunch of other stuff too, but that needn’t concern us now. I do not spend my entire working life reading, in other words. I spend only about half my entire working life reading.

Books arrive on my pile on a regular basis, from all your general publishers, either electronically or as galleys. I have a couple of people weeding out the truly impossible, but otherwise anything goes. We have a generalist approach to selection, with an eye on our family values slash narrative loving audience that wants reading as entertainment. So, you might ask, what makes me any kind of expert on selecting for this audience? Good question. I’ve had plenty of staff readers over the years who have been totally lost in this. The thing is, all the books we consider are (about to be) published, meaning that they have already achieved some level of acceptance based on, presumably, an inherent publishability. That is, I’m not just choosing from every book written, but instead from every book published, meaning that the book at hand has already probably gone through an agent and an editor. This is the first obstacle for a lot of readers, because this means that a lot of what we read is perfectly fine on face; that is, it’s not so crappy that you can’t read it. But we know that already, so you can’t let that play into it. Also, publishers publish books for a variety of reasons that may be beside the point of that book itself. Let’s say they have an author they love who has done well for them in the past, from whom they have great hopes for the future, who writes a book this time out that is not up to snuff. They do their best to fix it up, but then they grit their teeth and publish it, knowing it’s not so great, but that it’s an investment in the future. That’s good for them, not good for me. I just need the book at hand. Also, there’s writers who, frankly, a lot of publishers hold their noses and publish because, for some unearthly reason, they sell despite their lack of quality. This works well for their bottom line, but again, not for me. I need the book at hand to be entertaining for my customers.

But still, why me? Well, let me put it this way. I have pretty good taste in books for the market for which I am choosing. (I can demonstrate this with marketing feedback.) I am a critic, in other words, fairly in tune with the people for whom I am criticizing. I have no idea why, or what training I’ve had to make that happen. I started reading the minute I was taught how and haven’t stopped yet, and I went to college and majored in English, and I like to write myself, but a lot of people are like that. I just happen to be a pretty decent reed in the wind. In many ways, I’m easy to please. I hardly ever guess the ending, and I prefer not to. I’d rather be tricked by the author than disappointed. I always mist up at the teary parts: I’m the most sentimentally sappy reader the DJ has ever had. Seriously. I want to have fun when I read, unless I’m reading, say, philosophy which can be a slog. The key thing is, when I read as a selector I do not read for someone else. I do not read thinking that someone else will like this book, even if I don’t. I don’t know if anyone can really do that. It’s very hard to have an opinion on something you don’t like, for which you have no taste. There are some exceptions to this, but it’s a decent enough rule of thumb. If I don’t like it, finis, the end, I don’t like it. I do occasionally read very good books that are simply not right for my audience due to content or structure, so I can like something I can’t use, but that’s fairly rare. The books I don’t like are the books I deem to be lousy. I can only judge with the taste that I have. Why pretend otherwise?

So, how to I make that judgment in practice? How do I decide that the book is not merely publishable (which, obviously, I already know) but that it is right for us? Putting aside questions of content, I know because I start reading, and if I’m enjoying myself, I keep reading. It’s as simple as that. At any moment if I don’t care what’s going to happen next in a story, it’s probably over (given considerations of being tired or needing to get a cup of coffee or take some other sort of break). I am driven by narrative, and when it comes to entertainment in fiction, I expect an author to do that driving. At the point where authors don’t, they’re not doing their job, at least insofar as providing general entertainment. Others I know (Sarrantino and Gaiman in their anthology collaboration, for instance) have talked about that “what happens next” essentiality. For most of us, that’s what writing is all about. (Which is why modernist experiments remained just that, experiments, and we all don’t spend a lot of time reading books that are, say, assembled from random newspaper clippings.)

I pick up the book and start reading. If I get to the end, I probably want to use that book. If I stop reading at any point, I don’t want to use it. That is my yardstick. Some books I read just a couple of chapters (I do feel that they all need about 50 pages or so, to get a decent feel for them), and some I read a quarter or half or more or less. I seldom finish a book I’m not thinking is usable. I am being paid to select winners, not to sit here and read all day for no purpose. I once wrote that up in an in-house memo: “There is only one rule, we read to fill slots.” That is, we have to find 24 good books a year. We are not reading, per se. We are finding 24 good books a year, and reading is the mechanism for doing that. There’s a big difference.

Nonfiction, by the way, has a whole different set of rules, but they need not concern us here because I don’t do nonfiction anymore. Used to, but not lately. Which is too bad, because I firmly believe that the brain needs a little bit of everything, but so it goes. I read my NF at home.

So I’m trying to be realistic in my Twitter tallying. I don’t count every book so that the numbers are fairly true in the end. I only tick over the odometer when I’ve read a bookful of material, which may take two or three books. By the way, I am not a terribly fast reader. I once took a speed reading course that ruined me for months. It had the same effect as a golf lesson: it made me think so much that I simply couldn’t do it anymore, and had to go off into the desert as penance. And I have carried over my toss-it philosophy to my home reading. Why waste time reading a book I don’t like? I mean, I doubt if there will be a pop quiz in the morning, plus life is short. This is advice I would give to anyone, aside from a need to grapple with the canon as a student of literature or anything else, to wit, just read the ones you like. There really is no pop quiz in the morning. You get no credit for sticking with a stinker. There’s plenty of good ones to hold you. Stick with them. That’s what reading is all about.

Friday, March 15, 2013

CFL Grands

We do our CatNats qualifier tomorrow.

This used to be a nightmare of an event, as we ran it with three judges, double-flighted. This required an enormous amount of juggling on our part (JV, Kaz and I are the back-room staff). Each team was required to bring a judge, but so the math works okay, but placement was really tough. The fields were in the low twenties, as a general rule, and after the presets, where the judges usually fell out okay, you would be scraping and scrounging to make it work. TRPC couldn’t do it, so it was all on cards. We’d sort everything out and then just use TRPC as a backup to show that we hadn’t missed something, since it would tell us if a judge was misused. It was painful.

At some point a couple of years ago we demonstrated that the results would be the same with two judges rather than three, that is, the same people would qualify, so we were able to amend the league rules, allowing that 20 or fewer teams meant we would only use two judges. Suddenly we were in a position to single-flight, and instead of getting out at 8:00 at night, we were done by 4:00 or so. We had a habit of shooting out during round 3 for a visit to a local Caribbean deli, but they closed it, which was a real loss, and we saw the benefits of a single double-flighted round for judge conservation, to which we added the incentive of lunch maximization now that we had to go further afield for sustenance, and a pretty good system has developed.

We’ll have 12 and 16 in PF and LD respectively. The way I’m seeing it, we’ll probably have 3 and 4 brackets in the 3rd round, depending on ballot count. Obviously, with no wins or losses—we run on ballot count—there’s no way to really bracket. So we create something on the fly. When there were three ballots, meaning you could have wins and losses, there was always the issue of the high-high pairing of the third round, which is how Nationals is tabbed. Obviously, four rounds, which we have, isn’t five rounds, which CatNats has. Our goal is to be as CatNatty as possible, but it’s easier said than done, as you can see. Every year I spend a bunch of time boning up on the CFL rules and any updates. One must do one's homework.

In aid of my ultimate CatNattiness, I have printed up Nats ballots. And we’ll eliminate the coin flip, disallow tied points (much less LPWs), beg the judges to have no communication whatsoever, and, considering the sponsor, say a few good words about the new Pope. In other words, we will be as CatNatty as we conceivably can. We’ve been doing this all at Stuyvesant since as long as I can remember, back when Greg Varley and RJT used to try to make sense of it all behind the closed tab door. That remains the same. It’s CFL. The tab door is most resolutely closed. So are the rounds. If you aren’t debating or judging, you’re not in the room. If you’re not tabbing, you’re not hanging out in the tab room.

Meanwhile, everyone else in tab is doing the whole Speecho-American thing. We steer clear of them, and vice versa. They're just far enough away that they can't hear our music. And they, of course, have no music, being soulless drones and whatnot. I've been going through my iPod alphabetically, having started at G. I'm now up to H, specifically the Ha's.

Ha!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Mark as read: Google Reader goes under

I had heard a lot of talk in the technosphere that RSS was not exactly setting the world on fire, which I guess I understood, when you get down to it. When I had to organize my troops into providing content for our now defunct DJ entertainment blog, it seemed to me that RSS was the thing to do. We could use Google Reader's group features (which went the way of the dodo long ago, sad to say) to pass along recommendations to one another and eliminate duplicated efforts. I mean, it’s not as if content on the internet is in one place and one place only. Half of what I see that’s interesting, if its not personality-derived content, I see on multiple sites, and as often as not, you have to dig like a dog to find the original posting, which was what I was always looking for. (Members of the VCA are well aware—and usually grumpy about—my enthusiasm for this sort of thing, the fires of which have finally been banked.) To overcome the problems of collecting good links, there was Reader, and I trained or attempted to train about half a dozen people in its wiles. Now, as far as I was concerned, using Reader, not just to follow sites but to add them and divvy them and so forth, was rolling off the proverbial log. For most people, however, RSS was a mystery beyond their ken. They certainly couldn’t get the hang of Reader for finding content or passing it along, much less creating a set of their own personal content. I think this was because the core idea, the underlying understanding of the nature of XML and how, essentially, you would automatically go out and grab some pre-specified data, was just too much like rocket surgery. It made their heads hurt. Also, I think, swimming in vast oceans of incoming information also made their heads hurt. They didn’t see RSS as a way to manage the information, but simply as the information itself. You can apply this to the vast universe of computer users out there, seeing (if they even ever did see) those three little letters in their url box.

They stayed away in droves.

While it was there, especially in its earlier iteration, Google Reader was the go-to application. Even when they “updated” it (for which read, dumbed it down and stripped it of a bunch of features but didn't actually add anything) it was still the standard. There are plenty of apps out there that draw on Reader for its content, for instance, either as standalone IOS or Android apps, either as pretty straightforward readers themselves, or more tarted up as tablet magazines of some sort. Surfing the internet, which was what we did once upon a time (and I’ve always assumed that Safari derives its name from the Beach Boys, although I’ve never seen this confirmed anywhere), was a pretty random activity, at best guided by bookmarks. RSS allowed a much broader scope, guided by related content. Simply put, I have hundreds of sites in my Reader feed. At least a hundred of these are of great interest to me and I like to follow them closely. Try doing that with bookmarks.

But, if anyone questioned the popularity of RSS, the demise of Google Reader pretty much proves it. It’s not that an app wasn’t popular, it’s that a whole technology wasn’t popular. Google Reader, the definitive app for that technology, apparently no longer has a reason for existence, at least in the opinion of that up-and-coming eyeglass manufacturer, Google Inc.

Of course, the scramble is now on to find a replacement. When the announcement hit (you opened Reader this morning and got a message that announced that the spigot would be turned off in July), the interwebs went wild. I’ve been out there beating the bushes, and my early recommendation is Feedly. It has a lot of features, making it either visual or more textual, and it already provides an easy transition for any Reader orphan-to-be. If something better comes along to change my mind, I’ll let you know.

As, to some extent, a content provider myself with this blog, I’ll probably start tweeting posts, just to provide a little extra coverage. I probably should have been doing that anyhow, knowing that many of my readers only came when they remembered, not because they followed religiously. (Tsk, tsk. If CL isn’t a religion, then the Pope isn’t Polish Italian German Catholic.)

And so we bid a fond farewell to Google Reader. As Mark Twain once said of the butler who ran into the burning house to save it but ultimately gave his life to the fire, “Well done faithful servant.”

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Who are you again?

I’ve stocked up on crappy prizes, I’ve put together about 300 questions and answers (the latter more often than not responding to the former), and I’ve printed everything up and placed it next to the actual garbanzos, which means that I’m ready for the grand finale of the season, Bean Trivia, 2013 Spring Edition. I can see the excitement mounting throughout Sailorville.

Meanwhile, I’m slowly plodding my way through my old online materials, punching them up as necessary. As often as not I leave things alone, but occasionally something is really out of date and needs changing. This will hold me for a while, so I won’t get too far out of things during the off-season. I see that many, many teams are gearing up for the finals season, and I don’t want to imply that we are not also doing likewise, but this year it’s our Speecho-Americans who will be on the boards, as our debaters remain too young to pick and therefore need a little more time on the vine. I love reading coaches congratulate their winning teams on Facebook, which I might do too if I were on Facebook more than once a week or so, and then just to read the news and readjust the volume of anyone who posts too much, which is an awful lot of people. FB seems to default to too much information rather than too little, and there are some people for whom FB is the air they breathe. Since I have a fairly non-restrictive approach to FB friendship (I’ll pretty much say yes to anybody but hardly ever reach out myself unless it’s someone I figure I can get to judge for me), there’s a lot of people about whom I am less than thrilled to know what they think about everything ever under the sun. I know that there are others who do want to know this information, possibly because they are enamored of the poster, or maybe they in fact idolize the poster and want to have the poster’s baby. Beats me, because most of what I see there is, in fact, stuff I’d really only want to know about if I wanted to have your baby, and since I don't, it's all sort of meh. Random thoughts about stupid stuff, for instance, is a non-starter. Some folks who are no longer in high school only post pathetic glam pictures of themselves and their friends, which are really depressing and always make me want to comment, “Get a life.” Vicious political rants I rather like, especially if the politics are not mine: I already know what I think, and I enjoy knowing what people who are wrong think. (That’s a joke, son. I’m very Hegelian when it comes to intellectual conflict.) Regular updates on how the world is out to get you are something I can live without, even if I really don’t like you and truly hope that the world is out to get you. And then there’s people who once upon a time must have been remotely familiar, hence I follow them (if they’re also friends with O’C that’s evidence enough that they must be forensic, unless they happen to be from his pool of dish towel collector friends or whoever it is he’s going to Vegas to commune with), but when I look at their pictures or what they’re up to, I am totally baffled.

I just wasn’t made for these times. Obviously I won’t be spending a lot of the off-season hanging out on Facebook.





Via

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

State 2013

Other than that…

Saturday was the running of the NYSDCA State Tournament. It was originally planned for Friday and Saturday, and as we watched the weather during the week there seemed to be little likelihood of any problem. As a matter of fact, even Friday morning all the schools were open, albeit two hours late, and the prediction was for clearing skies.

Which meant, of course, that the skies didn’t clear, the schools didn’t open, the roads were impassable and the tournament was compressed. Oy.

We opened registration at 7:30, hoping to end it by 8:30, but it was more like 9:00, which meant Round 1 hit at about 10:00. (Note to God: Must You always gum up my printer when we’re pressed for time?) Keep in mind that we had something like 10 divisions, including one or two that were implicit (JV buried in V), which means that Kaz, JV and I were pumping these rounds out like crazy. I’ve come to concur with CP’s analysis of MJP in small tournaments, that 6 is better than 5. It works as often as not, and if it doesn’t work, theoretically the discrepancy is smaller. Also, with a very tight pool as we had, it’s a lot better to assign all the judges by hand rather than letting the computer do some and then filling in the rest. I was able to get way more mutuality in about the same amount of time as if I were simply repairing the damage done by the system. Good to know for the future.

We lag paired, which normally is anathema at an event like this, but it was weighed against having one round less, which was not acceptable. We squeezed in 4 prelims and 2 elims (although a couple of finals are postponed to future dates because the custodians were almost literally carrying us out of the building at 9:00). Needless to say, if you read yesterday’s post, I was not happy with a number of people. We were very, very tight on judging to begin with, despite having a nice pool of hireds, just because it was that kind of event. So when people bugged out on us, we were seriously scrambling. Just once I want to collect everyone in the tab room and go out and party instead of finishing a tournament. I mean, we want to do other things too. But we don’t. We stick to our commitments. Which may be why it’s the same handful of shmegeggies week after week: no one else is dumb enough to repeat and also loyal enough to stick.

On another note entirely, it was nice to add Rose Joyce-Turner to the Hall of Fame. She is one of the good people, and I miss her a lot in tab rooms and just generally around. Smart, sane, calm and tough. Some day she has to come back. (If those sons of hers don’t debate, there will be hell to pay!) She was there in person to receive the award, and Greg Varley and others made some nice speeches, and then they all left and I was sitting there thinking, wait a minute, can’t you at least stay an hour or two and judge a couple of rounds of PF? Give me those plaques back, you ungrateful #*(&%@! (There’s a nice picture of Greg and Rose on the NYSDCA website.)

At some point during the day JV and I took a walk down to the main promenade to find some lunch. Unfortunately, the main promenade below HorMan and the rest of Riverdale is not exactly up to HorMan and Riverdale expectations. The classiest joint was a Burger King, which pretty much says it all. At least the weather was warm.

And thus ended the regular season. This weekend we Catholicize, and end the religious season. And then there’s Beans, and I'm outta here.

A Gorey break

Via Maria Popova.

More articles we [did not] [had to] finish reading

These headlines are all real, directly copied from our RSS feed without editing.

First, the did-nots.
  • George W. Bush's Art Teacher Says He's Painted 50 Dogs
  • Ten Bizarre Tales of Taxidermy
  • Semen Raises Its Profile
  • Air Freshener Made From Cow Dung
  • The ‘World’s First’ Underwear For Your Smartphone
  • A few words about love, from everyone’s favorite hopeless romantic, Ayn Rand
On the other hand, a couple of articles that had to read:
  • Here's How Much Bacon and Sausage You Can Eat Without Getting Cancer
  • Mom Confesses to LEGO Spill That Shut Down I-79 in West Virginia

Monday, March 11, 2013

For which we require musical accompaniment

Please play this for a minute before reading: http://youtu.be/ImjRVtYkWxY

My sentiments exactly.

Who, exactly, have I had it with? This time? Well, I think I’ve mentioned these people in the past, but they bear repeating, because they are repeat offenders. It is those judges who, for whatever reason, do not understand that the job of judging lasts for the term of obligation, not the term of their own desires going over to do something else. If you have something else to do, get another judge. “Oh, but we’ll be happy to pay a fine.” Yeah, sure, but money can’t judge a round. (Which I gather is a quote from Soddie via Bro J.)

And then they just disappear.

As a result of these actions this weekend, yet again, from repeat offenders, I am banning these teams from Bump. One of them is being banned yet again, the other will be new to my wrath. Additionally, I will be disallowing anyone from “Will Miss Round One,” etc., from my tournament. Not a full commitment? In that case, don’t come. And if rounds are missed after the fact? $100 per round, + $500 punitive damages for the tournament. Yep, you’re right, you’re not going to pay this, which means I’ll never see you again at my tournament, and when I see you at other tournaments, you’ll hate my guts. Ain’t life sweet. And, also, I’ve decided to take some other private actions that I won’t be writing about here, but I assure you, the ramifications will be felt.

Here’s the deal. I can’t do my job unless everyone else at the tournament does theirs. Most people do, which is why things mostly work well. Some people don’t, which is why tab room staffs have short tempers. We usually manage to pull things off, but only by bribing people to judge in divisions other than their own, or having them do it from the goodness of their hearts. When tournaments run late it is almost inevitably because of tab trying to find judges to replace the miscreants. It’s bad enough people run out on us; as often as not, we don’t know about it until after they’ve run.

And it is always the same schools. Time and time again. Which makes action on my part easy. No, you can’t come to any tournament where I control the registration. Period, the end, finished. Unfair? No. You’ll never do it again? Prove it at the tournaments where I don’t control the registration. Maybe in a couple of years I’ll change my mind, or maybe I’ll retire to Bali and not think about it anymore.

Wonder if you’re on this list? Shoot my an email. If you have to ask, the answer is probably yes.

Sandel

Want to take a course with Michael Sandel and skip that pesky Harvard admissions system?

http://bit.ly/YUJbCr

Friday, March 08, 2013

Coachean Feed: Dworkin, anti-rights arguments, gender roles, women in prison, Glasgow analyzed

More links of interest to the debate community.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

More noodling

When I initially introduce the subject of morality to novices, I ask the simple question, how do we determine right from wrong. Predictably, few people ever respond that we learn the distinction from religious upbringing (from family and community) or any sort of scripture (the particular religion notwithstanding), despite the fact that this is everyone’s first basis for moral calculus. We are taught right from wrong by the people who raise us, and more often than not, this is informed by religion. The fact that my newbies don’t give this answer is not an indication of any sort of raging anarchistic atheism running through Sailorville, so much as, first, they are of an age to question everything, and second, they figure I must want some other answer than the obvious, or as often as not, third, they really don’t know because they’ve never thought about it before. In any case, that is the reality of moral thought. In essence, we learn right and wrong from our parents and our religion, both of which categorically tell us what to do, although plenty of people have been known to question their parents’ dubious wisdom, and most religions have their bean counters analyzing and arguing over the word of God which is not necessarily always clear in the reading. The argument against using morality arguments informed by upbringing/religion in debate is that these dicta, informed by authority, are intrinsically not to be questioned and therefore cannot be argued, and therefore don’t make for much of a debate. Simply put, if I say you can do something, and you respond that God says you can’t do that something, the authority of your source outweighs mine. Word of God always trumps word of Menick, and everyone else. Whether or not God does argue that particular item is beside the point; what I’m saying is that, if God is called upon as the source, then it is inarguable on face. So, we don’t do it.

(This explains the nature of a lot of debate resolutions, come to think of it. We don’t want to argue something that a lot of people might believe is intrinsically wrong, for instance abortion. In the CFL, this topic would be something of a non-starter, to put it mildly.)

If we remove God and parents from the morality equation—although in reality most of us never really do—we are left with the classic choice between evaluating morality deontologically, on the basis of the action itself, or consequentially, on the basis of the results of the action. Or at least, that’s what we’re left with in debate terms. In real life, if we try to judge if something is right or wrong, we use both measures, because while philosophy is all well and good as an academic guide to life, it is not an empirical science that can be proven without doubt. I mean, I can drop a brick from the top of my house, and the velocity of its fall will increase by 32.2 ft/second until it hits the ground. If the house is twice as tall, it’s still 32.2 ft/second. If it’s Wednesday night, it’s 32.2 ft/second. If it’s half a brick, it’s 32.2 ft/second. Any test I wish to apply to gravity will yield the same results in this particular laboratory; I’d have to throw my brick off the top of my building into a black hole to get any sort of different results, but even those results are predictable and repeatable mathematically. Philosophy cannot withstand such scientific scrutiny. Think of the trolley problem and all those things I can throw off the bridge to save those people on the track, or not. The only thing I can say for certain is that if I throw the guy next to me off the bridge he will fall at an accelerating velocity of 32.2 ft/second, but I cannot say if tossing him off the bridge is the right thing to do, even if it will save the lives of five Mother Teresas down the track a ways.

So as individuals, we make our moral decisions using the only basic moral calculus we can muster up other than authority, choosing along the continuums of deontology and consequentialism, with no great certainty that the answer we derive will be correct, and no way of testing it.

Let’s overlay the Foucault calculus on top of this. Yesterday I noodled about a model of the totality of human thought as a continuum, either linear/circular or bell curved. Keep in mind that this was about thought only, not action. That is, we can think a lot of things that we don’t do, and although there are dicta claiming otherwise (coveting is barred by Judeo-Christian commandment), there is no real moral consequence to thinking immoral thoughts. I mean, I can sit here thinking something really horrible, and aside from perhaps breaking a commandment or two, which would only be known if someone or some deity could read my thoughts, nothing will come of it. Gee, it would really be nice to cut off the head of that dog. To cut off the head of that child. To cut off the heads of all children. Et cetera. I can come up with some pretty heinous stuff, and that fact that I can, and the fact that plenty of other people can as well, like authors and filmmakers and the like, leads me to believe that while these thoughts, if they were actions, would be rare, as thoughts they might be, if not common, at least not unusual. I mean, to some extent they comprise our daily entertainments. We read books with all sorts of straightforward evil in them, for fun, and most of us don’t find this immoral. It’s normal, in other words.

An extension of this is that we might all be capable of, and indeed might entertain, what would be considered “insane” thoughts. We don’t have to be crazy to think crazy. Probably these thoughts are, if we accept a bell curve model, off to one side, but they are not beyond us. Acting on these thoughts is another thing altogether, and we might suggest that while everyone has crazy thoughts, it is only people who act on them who are actually crazy. Here’s where the bell curve makes sense to me. Most acts are committed by most people, but some acts are only committed by a small number of people.

It is the equating of normal with moral that becomes the problem in the Foucault analysis. Removing from that analysis the nature of the knowledgeable/powerful, or more to the point, simply assuming it, what can the Foucaultian moral analyst say about things? The core question becomes, is the normal moral, and thus the not normal immoral? The best application to understand this is the sexual one. There is a continuum of sexual activities. Do we all have all thoughts along the continuum? Do we think in some sort of bell curve? If our knowledgeable/powerful are heterosexual, and the leaning of this determining group of experts is straightforward male-female reproductive sex, do they find that point on the continuum that is said straightforward male-female sex and plant a flag and claim, that’s the dead center of normal? Presumably the Foucaultian analysis would say yes. If they are judging on a line/circle continuum, they simply plant that flag wherever that hetero-reproductive sex is, and normal/moral is clearly declared, and the further you move away from it, the less normal/moral you are. If it’s a bell curve, well, the power of the expertise of the analysts allows them to plant the flag wherever they want. Maybe they claim that the peak is somewhere else. Maybe they claim that the peak isn’t normal, just the happenstance of the peak. The point of the Foucaultian analysis is that either way, a certain empowered group is making that claim and enforcing it, regardless of its connection to any reality of normalcy/morality. Normal/moral is what the knowledgeable/powerful say it is. The vilification of the not normal as immoral, e.g. non-reproducing homosexuals, is one obvious result of this sort of thinking.

Getting back to my initial introduction of the study of right and wrong to novices, one thing they absolutely do tend to agree on, thoughtlessly, is that whatever the majority of people think is right is, in fact, right. In other words, we get to vote on what is right and what is wrong, and the most votes wins. I love when this comes up, because it’s so easy to deflate. Of course, maybe it’s true, and I’m just using sophistry. If there is no acceptable authoritative source of moral dicta, and it’s not possible to choose between deontological and consequential premises in the real world, maybe the best thing we have to go on when it comes to evaluating action is the best guess of the majority. Then again, per Foucault, we could instead go by the best guess of a powerful elite precisely because they possess the power.

No, I don’t have all the answers. I barely have any of the questions. That’s why I earn the big bucks.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Power!

We continued down the path of advanced ideas last night.

I am rather taken by the old material, the ideas underlying deconstruction of text to establish what is left out, and how this leads to Critical Theory. I remain interested in the applications of CT to law, race, feminism, etc. Granted that writing about this material (and things I’ve seen presented as “evidence”) can be, shall we say, ephemeral, still, the underlying ideas are valid. I also find Foucault intriguing, because the core idea of the power of knowledge strikes me as true, especially when trying to track down a sense of what is normal. Or, probably better, what is “normal.”

Let’s say that human thought can be seen as a continuum. That is, there is a range of human thought from here to there. From A to Z. Question one: is this range expressible as a straight line?

This is human thought:

____________________________________________

That is, anywhere along this line there is potentially a thought someone can think. If it’s a line like this, then all thoughts are equal in quantity. In fact, it’s not a line at all anymore, it’s a circle.



It doesn’t matter where you start or end in a circle.

But what if the range from A to Z is not a line/circle but a bell curve.



If that’s the case, then the top of the curve can be defined as the pinnacle of normal, i.e., the most normal thoughts that most people have, and at the edges nearing A to Z, you get rarer thoughts.

So here come the experts. We say that these people are experts because, well, they know something or have some experience that elevates them to this expert level. Because they are experts (even though we’ve played fast and loose with the credentials making them experts in that previous sentence, which can be the same as real life), they are given the power to determine issues in their area of expertise. If they are experts in human thought, or more specifically, mental health, we empower them to determine what is mentally healthy and what isn’t. They use their power of perceived knowledge to determine what is normal.

Here’s the problem. We cannot lay out human thought on a continuum, either as a line/circle where all is equal, or on a bell curve with a peak, or on some other mathematically determinable graph. Can’t be done. Simple as that. Which doesn’t stop us from doing it.

If the experts determine that thought is on the bell curve, and that normal thought is from point F to point W, and thoughts before F and after W are abnormal, then we’re simply using the average number of thoughts to determine normalcy. Just because a thought is rare, it’s abnormal. It’s easy to take the next step, which is normal = good, not normal = bad. We can draw moral conclusions based on this perception.

If the experts determine that thought is on the circle, it’s probably even worse. Then they can use their expertise, and the power derived therefrom, to determine what is good or bad based not on frequency but on nothing more than their own knowledge. This one scares me a lot, because then normal is simply what some people say is normal, for some indeterminate reason, as compared at least to the frequency of its appearance on a presumed scale of normalcy. That ones scares me too, just not as much.

One takes this to various conclusions. Foucault wrote about mental illness, crime and punishment, sexuality, global poltics—a number of areas. It can be applied elsewhere as well. One wants to simplify it, as done here, but the ramifications of each point I’ve made are manifold and complicated. This merely opens a peephole into the possibilities.

Which is why it’s so much fun to discuss.

More articles we [did not] [had to] finish reading

These headlines are all real, directly copied from our RSS feed without editing.

First, the did-nots.
  • Knowing You Are Closer To Death Makes You Happy
  • What's In Your Colon?
  • The Retired Man's Guide to Snow Removal
  • Can You Eat Your Own Poop?
  • French lazy, says U.S. CEO
  • Tiffani Thiessen: I Don't Think 'Saved by the Bell' Will Ever Die!

On the other hand, a single article that had to read:
  • What We Can Learn from 10,000 Porn Stars

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

That's one—1, count 'em, 1—State

Well, State is coming. O’C makes us all call it State, singular, to distinguish it from States, plural. If you accidentally misname it, you get an angry email, even if it means he has to stop watching Dallas for the minute it takes him to correct you.

This is what my life has come down to.

Assembling States State is rather bizarre, for some reason. It’s as if all the people who want to come waited until the registration deadline, then thought, Hmmmm, maybe I’ll mosey over and register for this little dogie. It will be a fine tournament, but O’C has been scrambling like crazy to add in the latecomers. My favorite latecomer, in fact, isn’t coming, late or otherwise. “Oh, I didn’t know about that. Oh, well, my team has better things to do that weekend.” Really? They’re going to spend all day resetting their clocks for Daylight Savings Time? They’re prepping for the First Timers’ Tournament next year? Jeesh. It takes all kinds, as the saying goes. At least the Sailors, such as are attending, are all atwitter. I got an email yesterday from George Whose Name is Robert telling me, in effect, that I hadn’t posted the transportation information yet, and as a result I barely deserved the name of coach. Feisty devils, these plebes. I don’t know where they get it from.

According to my countdown widget, it’s 527 days to DisAd14. [Sigh.]

I’ve decided to roll out the updated jimmenick.com pages. They’re hardly revolutionary, but I think they are better organized. I haven’t checked all the links yet, so it’s fortunate that it’s late in the season and not many people will be poking around in there (not that they ever do, come to think of it). I’ll sort it all out over the next few whatevers. I’ll also update what needs to be updated. Some of these suckers are older than some very old thing [fill in your own metaphor, you lazy #%^&%], and it’s not so much that they’ve grown a beard but that occasionally they’ve become inaccurate. Easy enough to fix, but one must in fact do so. I’m on it.

I didn’t meet with the Speecho-Americans last night, due to illness. Theirs, not mine. Nothing seems to be more likely to be taken ill than the 21st Century American teenager. It may just be me, but I’ve never encountered a sicker lot in my life. They’re like the collected characters in a Solzhenitsyn novel, infected with everything from croup to consumption to the creeping crud. If you throw a tournament nowadays, you can predict about a 20% fall-off on registration day from the Debate Reaper. Come on, people. Eat more vegetables! Get some exercise! Don’t touch anything! When I was a kid, nobody ever got sick, and the ones who did had the good sense to die immediately to prove that they weren’t malingerers. Kids now, they don’t know what we had to go through, climbing all those hills in the snow in both directions, taking care to keep off the lawns of our honored elders, etc., etc. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore!

Monday, March 04, 2013

Lions and tigers and bears too. Oh my.

Rough weekend. I couldn’t sleep at all. I kept waiting for the house to fall into a sinkhole. Yet another thing to worry about, on top of asteroids, hantaviruses, earthquakes, rabid bats moving into the garage, and motherhood in the hands of Snooki, Kim Kardashian and Jessica Simpson. It’s not good for me to have time on my hands.

I did manage to straighten things up a bit at Chez HQ. Upstairs is still a mess, but the family room is 90% back together. However, I cannot bring myself to throw away things that absolutely need to be thrown away. Software for PCs I don’t have anymore, and that won’t run anywhere else. Manuals for said software. Lexwegian RR bags with my initials on them, including the ones that are falling apart. Connectors of any sort whatsoever, even if I don’t know what, exactly, they’re supposed to connect. Old music cassettes, including those I’ve turned into MP3s. What I could throw out was old VHS tapes, given that, as far as I’m aware, I don’t have a VHS player anymore, although there could be one in the basement somewhere that will turn up when we start cleaning in there. I am reminded of the moment, years ago, when I threw away my Betamax tapes. I probably should check with O’C before I toss stuff, though. After all, he did take the IIGS off may hands not long ago. What the hell does he do with that kind of crap, anyhow? It’s one thing to find oneself unable to throw it away, and another thing altogether to find oneself acquiring it when other people are throwing it away. Then again, I did take the Captain Rex character he gave me at the Blowout and found a nice display slot for it. Yeah, I contradict myself.

We may or may not be having a speech workshop tonight. Depends on the Speecho-Americans, who may be too tuckered out after the play this last weekend. Fiddler. Which reminds me. Zero Mostel was totally out of control. We did a book with him once when I was working at my first DJ. He’d come to the office and pretty much make everybody stop working while he hammed it up. He was, in a word, on. Which can’t be easy, 24/7. And which may explain why he didn’t do much in film, because he was a little too large for the medium (except, of course, as Max Bialystock). On the stage, however, no one is too large. They just make parts to accommodate your largeness.

I realized at some point over the weekend that State is not the last tournament, as I reported last time. There’s also CFL Grands the week after. We spend a lot of time on the run-up to that one hoping that there will be 20 or fewer entries so that we can single-flight with 2 judges. 21 up means 3 judges and double-flighting. Essentially it’s me and JV and Kaz tossing cards, which is much easier when you don’t have to place that third judge. Anyhow, other than that, the countdown to the off-season continues apace. I always enjoy it for a couple of weeks, and then I get antsy. Oh, well. I’ve already signed up to do the Pups again next year. These guys work way early! Have you got your tournament next year all worked out yet?

Friday, March 01, 2013

We'll always have Paris

More weird computer stuff. There is one entry on the TVFT blog that gets a comment every day. It’s some sort of spam, but when I go to the site to delete it, the comment isn’t there, even though I’m getting notified via email that a comment has been made. It’s always the same post that gets the comment, but that may be simply because it’s the most recent one. Weird. I just flipped off comments for that post, which I assume will end it, but what’s really interesting is that the comment has never been there, even immediately after the notifications. Go fig.

I’m thinking of doing the prefs at State as ordinals. That is, everyone ranks the judges from 1 to whatever, and we try to get as close as we can to mutuality in the pairings. I don’t know if it’s feasible with a small field, but it can’t be any less feasible than normal MJP. I’m sounding out CP on this; maybe he’s had experience with it.

I realize that, after next weekend, I can take the printer out of my car and make room for murdered gangsters or whatever else I want to transport until Yale comes along again next season. Transporting groceries would be nice, but at the moment we don’t have a lot of room at the chez to put anything, since our almost redesigned kitchen doesn’t have any cabinets yet. Soon, I am told. Soon.

The daughter is off with the husband this weekend in Paris. I checked the weather, and it’s colder there than it is here, so I don’t think they’ll be able to flaner as much as one might like, but still, who doesn’t love Paris in the winter, when it drizzles? (I’ll be heading there in June, when it sizzles.) We met up last weekend in Manhattan, and she is nearly back to normal, except she can’t lift any hundred-pound weights on the one side. Probably can't lift them on the other side either, come to think of it. Despite having a certain amount of hardware now permanently sewn in under the skin to hold her together, she did not, as feared, set off any alarms getting through airport security. As I write this she’s probably all moules frites and Chablis and Monet and gypsy guitar music. I was thinking of bringing home Chinese food. Not quite the same thing. Vive la France.