NaNoWriMo Post something or other: Five and the Base

Five opened here eyes and looked at the base spread out across the grays and browns of the asteroidal body it had been planted in.  She didn’t know which base it was, she was fairly certain that it was one she hadn’t seen before.

“We are shedding the kids Commander.” Mother said in Five’s head. A glance showed the twenty roughly similar pieces of rubble that had trailed behind the slightly ovoid blob that was Watcher Sixty five thousand, five hundred and sixty-five were diverging and forming up to make their way into the repair and update bay.

Five looked back at the base. she was looking into the side, though at first glance it was like a city of tall skyscrapers seen from directly above, all sharp edges and spires poking out of the asteroidal body.  The gravity generator spikes speared  ‘down’  from the asteroid.  Mother and Five continued towards the ‘sky scrapers.’  as Five wondered where the word skyscraper had come from, it tasted familiar, but it elicited no definition tag from the tac glossary. 

Mother’s target was now very obviously the ‘bottom’ of the structure, dark blocks with massive lattice structures between above and around them.  That was the BlankBank, like every BlankBank in every other base.  There Five would find her sisters and be able to exercise, eat maybe, think, even sleep, “Perchance to Dream?” a voice not her own or Mother’s seemed to whisper.

“Uh, Mother?””

“Yes dear?”

“Uh did you, hear something?”

“No dear.” 

They were both silent during final approach.  From what Five could see there were at least ten other Watchers docked.  That seemed a lot and if each of the Banks had the same number that would be a Hundred at this base alone, and several thousand more out on their long looping patrol orbits.  Seven minutes later Mother entered a bay and docking arms reached out to snag the camouflaged fighter. Continue reading

“Here’s the problem: there are no grownups. “

I have a new hero!  I love this line, maybe it was just a matter of right words at the right time on the right topic but it is perfect.  Bob Krum was discussing the euro debt crisis among other things (like stupid questions on ‘presidential debates’) in Stop Waiting for Superman.  

There are no grownups; there are just folks (blokes in Brit speak) like us, imperfect humans who are lucky to make a right decision (on issues more complex than whether to turn into the path of that oncoming Mack truck or not) much more than 50% of the time (and we don’t always make the right one regarding the Mack truck.) 

What does that mean? Many things but one of them is that overly complex political, financial, social, technical…etc constructs are asking for problems.  Stable systems are ones that are essentially self organizing, a pile of sand will settle into the same conical shape every time because its stable in its environment.  Small c capitalist, old meaning liberal economies, are self organizing and stable.  The euro zone is a complex web of overly constrained systems that like some cartoon Rube Goldberg steam plant is constantly threatening to blow a gasket and it requires a genius just to know where to apply the next tourniquet. 

In the last few decades we have made vast strides in understanding ourselves and our world (in a thousand different dimensions.)  Then we have often reacted to this increased understanding by thinking we can control more things and implementing more and more rules.  The effects of those rules are often individually complex and unintended but the interactions between them is (IMHO) utterly outside of our ability to cope with.  Among other things I rather suspect that every one of us (barring a newborn baby maybe) is technically a criminal, having violated at one time or another various laws, rules or regulations most of which we had no idea existed or had no way to follow.

Somehow we have become inured to the regulated world, see it as natural, but it’s probably reached its practical limits and is now in the process of imploding.  We have the tools to creat a more self organized – de-bureaucratized world but have not yet quite figured out what it really looks like and how to transition from where we are to where we need to be. 

Maybe that’s just wishful thinking….fueld by a frustration at the idiocy that seems to have become institutionalized in so many places.  But change ‘is in the air,’ though it may still be some years away.  I just hope that the transition can be made relatively peacefully, there are far too many people on this orbiting rock (7Billion!?) for a major disruption to be anything other than catastrophic for far too many.

There is no utopia waiting over the brow of the next hill, and there was never a golden age that we have somehow lost (one man’s golden age was someone elses hell.) We can’t go back to a past that never existed, and refusing to live and work today because the day after tomorrow will be better is foolish and self-destructive.  Tomorrow never gets here, let alone the day after, and your vision of the world will never occupy a future today unless you work for it in the today you find yourself in. Live in the now with a vision of where you want to end up.

NaNoWriMo — Elgin

Elgin was born in Beauty Wyoming, one of the more beautiful places one could be born in this world.  The name on his birth certificate was Elgin Campbell Chalmers IV, though there were no Elgin Campbell or for that matter Chalmers in his family history.  His father who may not have remembered his own real name, thought it was a great name and a bit of a joke. 

Elgin’s mother walked out when he was twelve, never to be heard from again.  From that time on he lived with his father in an old Airstream camper, on the Split S ranch during the summer and on the edge of Beauty the local ‘big town’ on the end of Black Sky lake, during the winter.  His father, one fourth Native American, was constantly fighting the local tribal council for ‘his’ cut of the tribes take from Beauty’s Casino and Tourist industry, spending most winters writing long rambling letters to various people, papers, officials, offices and NGO’s about his terrible plight. Never to any avail.

On Elgin’s sixteenth birthday he left his father drunk on the lean-to porch of the Airstream in the morning to catch the school bus.  He returned to find his old man dead of a massive coronary, his father had been a week less than forty.

After that Elgin was taken care of by an until then unknown network of cousins among the locals, quite a few nearly full blooded indians, among whom the blond, blue-eyed Elgin looked out-of-place.  He was never much trouble though he often hung with the local hooligans.  And though a ‘good looking boy’ and reasonably ‘common sensed’ he was never a good student or a hard worker, though neither lazy or dishonest. 

And so Elgin drifted into life.  At thirty two Elgin lived in the Airstream he’d ‘inherited’ from his father and worked at the ranch job at the Split S he’d also inherited.  He wasn’t exactly a drunk, or a pot head, but he wasn’t sober much of the time away from the ranch.  His only companion was a huge cat called Humphrey, who looked like a somewhat chunky Siamese grown to the size of a small German Shepard. Humf had an appropriate Siamese/GerShep cross bad-tempered arrogance that would have gotten him shot long ago except for Elgin.

Elgin knew he was a waste of oxygen most days and a disappointment to his family, such as it was, but didn’t let it bother him, unless he had a really bad drunk.  The November of his thirty-second year, in the grips of a particularly bad one, he rode into mountains on a Friday afternoon.  Ignoring the oncoming wall of clouds that promised an early snowstorm. 

Saturday, half-frozen and still drunk he drove his horse out of the safety of the cavern he’d camped in, out into the snow and ice.  An hour later the horse slipped and threw Elgin down a rocky precipice into a shallow stream.  Unconscious, with one arm and both legs broken Elgin drowned in six inches of ice-cold water.

It was only then that things started looking up.

Sorry…couldn’t resist, that’s the intro to one of the othe options….which is also a sci fi fantasy as I think you can tell…


NaNoWriMo the Countdown

So the daughter likes the one about the swordmaid and the old mage, sounds like a bad joke in a MMOG. The good thing is that this story is based in the universe of a novel I’ve been working on for a year or more and ‘know’ pretty well.  It could be pretty interesting to work at developing that universe more, with its multiple parallel worlds with different levels and types of magic and different though related inhabitants. 

It’s what one might call a QuantFunk universe where magic works because of differences in the ‘Quantum fabric’ of the universe.  All of my Fantasy is of this type, not because I have a philosophical thing against supernatural magic, but because I cannot come up with a supernatural magic ‘system’ that makes sense to me.  I’ve read plenty of good novels where the author creates good ones, but I just have a mind block, comes from being an engineer I guess.

I had been working on the Five concept, have some settings, characters and plot elements laid out.  All of which Fiona and her Mage lack but that’s not stopped me in the past.

So to Fiona’s universe:

  • I happen to have loved Victorian times long before they became tres chic with CyberPunk, so think of: dress, furniture, buildings, towns, politics and much else as ‘looking’ Victorian.
  • Fiona’s home world is essentially similar to Earth as it might have been if  the tectonic plates had moved slightly differently.
  • In general this is a world where males and females are more equal than not. Sexual dimorphism in size & strength is less pronounced in a world of magic (don’t make me explain why, I can probably do it) Equalitarian systems exist but Patriarchies are common and there are some matriarchies.
  • The world is ruled by the King of Kings, an Elven warrior. The Elves come from a parallel universe. Thousands of years ago they lifted Man up from barbarism but have often regretted it since. The Elves find themselves constantly having to get between factions of Men who want to kill off each other.
  • There is a large faction of Elves who want the KoK to just leave Men to kill themselves off. There are several small political factions of Men who want to exterminate the Elves.
  • There are also Trolls, Goblins and Dwarves. They kind of play the roles you’d expect. With some differences, Dwarves aren’t that small and are engineers and scientists as well as sorcerers and fighters. The Trolls are not only big and mean they can also be brilliant scientists and powerful sorcerers. The Goblins come in two types, one aligned with the Trolls, the other essentially unaligned. While Goblins can be pretty frightening to a human, they can be extremely attractive.
  • All of the races, Elves, Men, Trolls, Goblins, Dwarves are genetically related and can interbreed but its not terribly common.
  • Even with the King of Kings there is no ‘World’ gov’t as such. The KoK tries to control at the international level have a basic rule of law, human rights and fair trade.
  • Local gov’t varies from place to place, from Democracies to Despotisms and the KofK does not interfere unless its egregious and or he is asked for help by the subjects.
  • Firearms never evolved because all forms of gunpowder are too easily triggered by sorcery. 
  • Swords and knives are the standard personal weapons, with ‘carry’ laws varying from country to country.
  • Bows not crossbows are used again because a crossbows too easily messed with. 
  • They have heavy weapons that compress air into glowing ‘meteors’ that can be tossed around but they are relatively slow firing and slow moving, the weapons are electrically powered. 
  • They use kerosene (essence) that is converted in directly to electricity plus H2O and CO2′ in a form of fuel cell for powering most of their technology. 
  • They have essence / electric horseless carriages though they are fairly rare. 
  • Their aircraft are lifted by a form on contra gravity and propelled by fans powered by essence fueled generators, they are mostly wooden and lightly built but can be hundreds of feet long.  Aluminum and other light metals are not commonly available due to lack of industrial infrastructure.

So enough for tonight, more thinking to be done.


Work a day World….which will come

Another article about the end of work as we know it and I have to agree that this is the ‘feeling’ i get when looking and listening to the world at large. My jobs over the years have taken me to many companies, many new, some middle aged, a fair number ‘old line industrial.’ And the way I see it now is that we’ve been overlooking profound changes that were happening without causing much of direct stir while looking in the wrong direction and perhaps (probably) pursuing the wrong ‘solutions’ to what may not be real problems.

The story I would tell is this, that the heyday of the giant integrated conglomerate as a generic solution in the technology arena was probably sometime around the middle of the twentieth century. Not that anyone realized it or noted it, but after that smaller companies were often able to outmaneuver the big guys and started carving away chunks, not directly but by making managers/owners make decisions that marginalized pieces of their business. These middle sized companies started small and sometimes grew big and became conglomerates but on average the company size got smaller and more focused.

Many of the companies I visit have huge factories built in the heyday of mass production. Today these factories instead of producing just one product, produce several, or dozens and the people who service the machines are a fraction of the ‘old’ work force, or much of the facility stands vacant while the still sell just as much in raw value as they did when they had hundreds if not thousands of workers. Many stay in these old factories, because they’re essentially free and/or tearing it down would open them up for problems with the EPA re ‘Brown Field Remediation’ etc.

What happened to all those workers? We’ve heard about the hollowing out of our manufacturing for a long time but the pain was ‘mostly’ pretty low level, why? Because for the first forty years most of the the effects were hidden. Those smaller, mid sized companies were usually, less automated and less efficient but less expensive in terms of human driven overheads (generally younger staff, lower wages, small efficient shops, small effective teams, managerially efficient), and they sopped up, the workers no longer needed by the ‘mainline’ shops.

So why the agony now? I think that the internet bubble then the financial bubble hid the tailing off of the gentle transition, or maybe it kept more of the old line industries / jobs in play and then dropped them on the floor in one steaming pile. And suddenly the staid old like companies appear to have vanished, and the jobs appear to have vanished, but they had mostly vanished a decade and more ago, the rest was financial illusion.

If there had been no 911 and a need to hide the cost of the wars it sparked and a Ranch and Cancun Vacation (instead of bread and circuses) program put on to distract our attention, we would probably have seen the pain earlier and I think less severely. Now we probably are going to undergo a painful decade of recession, maybe more until we understand that the world has changed and work and the economy have to evolve.

How that evolution is going to happen is a blank to me. But what I see as happening over the next several decades is an ongoing evolution of work to highly automated mass production of basic needs, and the creation of more and more boutique, even artisanal companies often supported by constantly shifting teams of people who are engaged for short run needs.

And perhaps the gov’t and many folks who are still looking at the past to guide the future, will stop trying to save industrial age health and retirement systems that are unsustainable in the long run, and look to a much more personally focused system one that is portable across the country and across the globe if we have any sense.

Why I miss coughing

Flying was something you did very infrequently when I was young. By the time I joined the workforce as a junior civil servant it had become quite common for the engineering set. By the time I left deregulation had made it cheap enough for folks to go places several times a year, even fly to Vegas for the weekend.
Those too young to remember should be assured that flying in ‘the good ole days’ really was a different experience, you have to deal with it in a metal tube at 30,000 ft know how horrid cigarette smoke really is, and I even smoked at the time! But they did really feed you and they gave you the whole damn can unless you didn’t want it. People where polite and seemed happy enough. You didn’t often have a full flight. The xray machine was a formality and you didn’t have to undergo the equivalent of a strip search every other flight just to appease the god of a little more security.
These days the only joy I get are the occasional extra special views out the window. A few months ago flying out of Cleveland between storms, looking into the side of a thunder cell at eyeball level and seeing the strokes of lightning lashing down. Flying out over the hot coal orange symmetry of Chicago at night and seeing it end in the moon silvered black of lake Michigan.
But other than that I might as well be on a inter prison subway train with a politer than average set of inmates.

Sometimes I miss that wheezy after flight cough!

Written from an undisclosed location far from the bosom of my family on my trusty iPad.

Ideas for a NaNoWriMo Novel

Anybody got any ideas regarding NaNoWriMo, still not firm on my basic approach or genre or anything….probably should keep it simple and the ideas I have even a flicker are all SciFi  or Fantasy:

  • Elgin Hampstead Chalmers, the down and out cowboy in spectacular north Wyoming who finds out that there is more to life than he had ever imagined.
  • Fifty, the living trigger of an interstellar IED left to wait long after the war she was created to die in has ended in extermination for her creators and their enemies.
  • Jason DoubleHammer, the son of heroes who just wants to be an ordinary boy and sail his boat in the big race. When he finds an odd friend hiding in a tree and quickly finds himself running for both of their lives across a world in turmoil.
  • Finna the swordmaid bodyguard of an elderly mage lord, she just wants to keep out of trouble for a year or so. But mage lord has found a gate into a strange new universe and he needs his bodyguard to come along on his last adventure. 

Any takers?

Pandora…..Its not all about Free

Pandora, another technology and service that has changed my life.  A couple of years ago I stumbled across some mention of Pandora and pushed it aside.  A while later I went looking for a better way of getting music.  I tried Yahoo, Google, iTunes and started listening to internet radio but didn’t like what I found, even for free.  Then I ran across Pandora again and read the blurb on the Music DNA project that the company was based on. 

I started to use Pandora, a little at first, then more and more, finally running into the hours per month limit.  I did that for a couple of months, then had a look at the premium service.  I almost quite because I hated paying for something I’d been getting free. 

Then I had a bit of an epiphany, I cannot expect to always get good to great services for free, and the ones coming closest irritated me with their commercials.  Pandora had already introduced me to multiple new artists and completely new genre and I liked how it worked…

I paid up and have never regretted it.

There are always a lot of words flying about how Free has killed the web, and how so many magazines and papers started providing free services and could not sustain it or get the readers they had to start paying. There were the ones who tried to start charging from the beginning, which generally died out.

But there are more and more places where people will pay for content.  In particular in cases where, like me with Pandora, they really come to love the application and want more and can get it for a modest investment.  The Economist essentially does this, (I was an addict long before the web version, but their current model has gotten me re hooked several times) and there are others out there.

The secret is providing the customer with a compelling experience and charging a fair price.  Providing a me too experience with nothing special is not going to get customers.  Newspapers in particular have yet to develop the right combination of experiences via the web.  Local papers survive in the paper form because/when they have local value and because many of us love the crinkle of the paper in the morning.  But its the value/content that does not transfer to the web. 

I have to say as much as I love my iPad for most other forms of reading I still like the morning paper and its combination of format and topics….and by the way the funnies….the web-crowd always seem to miss how important the morning funnies are to folks.  And its not just  the ones I like.

And maybe that’s a secret someone needs to ponder.  Like Pandora (and the Economist and WSJ etc) the paper pushes content at me that I would not necessarily choose to (or know to) go searching for on my own, I trust the paper to do a reasonably unbiased job of putting out content that is of local importance (even if that importance is in others eyes) making me an informed/understanding local citizen. 

 I cannot know what I should be paying attention to outside of a small set of things that are central to my life.  The newspaper helps me pay attention to secondary stuff, I will not always agree with what is written but it does point it out.  And that is important.

And to receive that daily packet of local color I pay, I would pay for it online if the layout and the presentation were compelling.  But right now I go out to the mailbox every morning, rain or shine, snow and Ice, etc, for that few minute scan of my local environs and a few chuckles or groans at the comics.

By the way I live in Indianapolis and get the Indianapolis Star.  A very good local paper that I hope has many more successful years ahead of it.

iPad, WordPress, Life and Genius

WordPress has a pretty full functioned blogging tool for the iPad which I’ve used twice now. Once for the blog about my covers and how cool the iPad is for the artist inside you.  And now the passing of Steve Jobs, which I caught after I had already gone to bed and was sneaking some browsing time when I couldn’t get to sleep.  The WP tool is especially useful for this sort of short posts and it illustrates a key attribute of the iPad its immediacy and availability at almost any moment to catch a thought, a picture, a moment. 

I’m currently using it to track a recurrence of infection in an old injury. Taking pictures (with a seperate camera because I have an iPad 1 not 2) and putting them in keynote with some notes as to the date and progression of the issue.  This also illustrates the power of the iPad as a life tool.  I used this to brief my doctor on the issue, and as they say a picture is worth a thousand words. There are medical record apps and in the long run this will be how we access our centralized medical records.

Returning to Steve Jobs, I am sure that he did not design the iPad but he was key in many fundamental decisions that brought it forth. He was even more central in establishing the infrastructure that makes it a compelling tool masquerading as a toy. 

Mr. Jobs saw that the PC model was failing the Tech world, as was the Cell phone model. He’d always had problems with those models, I think foreseeing their eventual collapse into commodity cannibalism.

He also understood that while the interface to the user is only part of the story, it is an incredibly important part.  I said the other day, in some ways the iPad seems like an extension of my body.  It is generally so easy that you can pick it up and start using it almost immediately after watching someone else manipulate it for a while, if you have an iPhone there is no learning curve.  And even though it has some almost crippling weaknesses (lack of a true filing system up to this point being one) it is still so useful, so compelling that it has become a principle interface to the world

It was this sort of gestalt that Steve Jobs ‘got’ far earlier than his near peers.  I think/hope that he taught the concept by example to the younger generation of visionary entrepreneurs who are and will follow.

Picture of a world changer

Guttenberg 1398 - 1469

Guttenberg was not the inventor of the printing press per se or of moveable type (really) but he was the person who put them together.  He is perhaps the most important person in ‘the modern era.’ Steve Jobs was our Guttenberg.  Many will say this is overwrought that Guttenberg was much more singular….but I would argue that in his own way Steve Jobs was just as singular perhaps more so, because he had to wade through and stand above the tidal surge of ideas and voices that is the modern tech world, and had to do so over an extended period.