Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Why Multiple Perspectives Are Good in News

The headline in Reuters is "Creativity Linked to Sexual Success," detailing a study that shows creative types get more tail, or at least have more sex partners, than the non-creative types. Higher creative output means more people willing to put out. To whit, their hook:
Pablo Picasso, Lord Byron and Dylan Thomas had more in common than simple creativity. They also had active sex lives, which researchers said on Wednesday was no coincidence.
Over at Scientific American, the story takes a somewhat different angle in the first paragraph:
The list of promiscuous poets and artists is long, as is the list of poets' and artists' children who suffer from mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. Now new research links creative ability and sexual success--and explains why something as seemingly maladaptive as schizophrenia would persist among humans.
Seems the study in question does not just show that creative types are getting more than the rest of us. It shows that both traits are linked to a propensity for schizophrenic characteristics. Scientific American dwells on this more than the original press release, which points out that schizophrenic patients don't normally exhibit the high level of promiscuity, as other characteristics of schizophrenia tend to negate the womanizing.

Of interest, Reuters may be salacious with their headline, but it is the one from the original press release, and their lede is almost exactly the one from the press release. The title of the study is "Schizotypy, creativity and mating success in humans."

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Cable a la Carte

The FCC has now come out in favor of allowing customers to order cable channels a la carte instead of in bundles. I subscribe to satellite TV, but for a moment, let's pretend I'm a cable subscriber and look at how the a la carte system works, vs the current bundle system.

My local cable company, Time Warner, has three basic levels of service before one gets into premium channels. The basic package has 17 network affiliate channels, which are really only 10 different channels since we get both the Cleveland and Columbus versions of 7 networks. This costs $11.66. Under the a la carte system, we'd still have to get this even though we watch exactly 3 programs on any of these channels. The expanded basic cable package has 95 channels (including the 17 of the basic package) and costs $47.50. The digital package adds another 60 channels and $12.49 to that.

Now, in our house, the programs we TiVo regularly are all on 5 channels, two of which are inconveniently located in the digital tier. Occasionally, we'll catch a program on one of maybe 10 other stations. Under the current tier system, we would have to pay $59.99 to get the channels that carry our favorite programming. At the average channel price of $3.90 on top of the basic service subscription, we would pay about 12 bucks more a la carte than we would bundled. If we only purchased the channels we watch regularly, we would save $28.83 per month.

Makes me glad I don't have cable and wish the satellite TV providers did a la carte. Then I wouldn't have to wade through all the "family friendly" channels that show infomercials 20 hours a day.

The funniest part of the article though, it this bit:
Kyle McSlarrow, head of National Cable & Telecommunications Association, called the a la carte mandate a "very dangerous idea." He said it would violate cable companies' free-speech rights and would be struck down by the courts.
I have to wonder, what part of this free speech is free when I'm paying real honest to God money for it? Is it actually a free speech right for the cable company to compel me to to receive Pat Robertson's The 700 Club so I can watch Carl Sagan's Cosmos?

Revenge of the Spamee

The Washington Post has an article with several suggestions for stopping junk faxes. My favorite is the woman who takes a black piece of paper and faxes it to the "reply to" number. Oh, and she tapes the ends together while it is in the machine to create a continuous loop so the junk faxer's machine keeps spitting out page upon page upon page of toner-wasting blackness until someone on the other end notices and cuts the transmission. Add a "please remove" message in white out, and the cathartic gesture might just be effective at stopping them.

Guillemot, I think you know someone who could use this information.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Warning: Irreverant Holiday Content

It's the holiday season, so it was only a matter of time before someone got hopped up on eggnog and decided to bridge Christmas and Hanukkah with the Matzoh House. Picture the bastard child of a gingerbread house and a box of matzoh, and you've pretty much got it.

Mensa Membership

The Mensa membership card came in the mail Saturday. There are all sorts of perks and goodies one can get, but apparently I am going to have to go to a custom bumper-sticker printer to get the one for my parents that says "Proud parent of a Mensan. What was that about your honor roll student?"

Post-WriMo Novel Update

Word Count: 51,762 (yeah, the pace had dropped off a bit)
Chapter 20 of 29

For 28 days, I have pushed my internal editor down out of mind. Now, having finished NaNoWriMo, the internal editor has joined forces with the Plot Monsters to slap my head against a brick wall a few hundred times. Usually, the Plot Monsters have the decency to wait until I finish a story before they show up and point out the plot holes you could drive an aircraft carrier through. This time, they've stepped in when I'm only 2/3 of the way through to keep telling me that there is no way a woman could genetically modify a human embryo and then implant it in herself, all without anyone knowing she had done it or that she is taking hormone supplements to sustain the pregnancy because her ovaries are in a jar (long story). Hence the title, Belly of the Beast. If she does not impregnate herself with a genetic engineering experiment, the title, not to mention most of the rest of the book, does not make sense.

I'm trying to push forward with it anyway. I just keep telling myself this is sci-fi. I make all the rules in the world. Realistic is anything I can convince the readers of.

Friday, November 25, 2005

NaNoWriMo Update

Word count: 50,123

Whoo-hoo! I got my winner banner and certificate! I'm not done with the story yet, but I've been declared an official NaNoWriMo winner (and five days earlier than last year). That makes two years entered and two years won. At the rate I'm going, I should be done in a couple more weeks. Then I start over plotting, outlining, and writing another novel while I forget about this one until February when it comes time to edit.

NaNoWriMo Update

Word Count: 49,069

Almost to the 50,000 NaNoWriMo mark! That is roughly 2/3 of the way through the story I'm trying to tell.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

NaNoWriMo Update

Word Count: 47,080

I plan to hit 50,000 tomorrow, when the website starts validating winners.

Tis the Season

If the stuffing has stopped steaming, that can only mean the Christmas season is upon us once again. We've already had the two events that officially ring in the holidays: the annual near-riot at Wal-Mart over the season's must-have gift (no serious injuries reported from the scuffle over the Xbox 360), and the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon injuries (two in stable condition after The Cat in the Hat took out a light post).

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

NaNoWriMo Update

Word Count: 45,381

I may not make it to 50,000 by tomorrow night, if only because I would have to have a really hard day of writing between making the turkey and the stuffing (see below), sweet potatoes with marshmallow topping, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce. Made the pie ahead. Not likely. I'm not saying I wouldn't be able to keep a train of thought when I break to fix the tubers. It's just hard to type while one is stewing the cranberries.

Geek Women

So, computer companies and electronics stores have figured out that women buy electronics and gadgets. To whit, Dell has started advertising on the Oxygen network and Lifetime Television [or, as I call them, the chick channels], and Best Buy has redecorated 60 of its stores, eschewing the standard blue and yellow for (get ready for this) pastels. According to the article linked above, "A Best Buy salesperson doesn't talk megapixels but instead asks if a digital camera is primarily for still photos or soccer games and if buyers plan to print their own photos."

Which leads me to thinking that these companies may have noticed that 50% of tech purchases are made by people who also receive Pap smears, but they hold on to the notion that women aren't capable of understanding what they are buying. Let's hope the tech companies' next female-related epiphany is that we're not all pink-wearing Oprah groupies who need the specs dumbed-down.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

NaNoWriMo Update

Word Count: 43,219

Almost to the 50,000 word target! And unlike last year, I have not had to resort to blatant word-padding. Last year, I actually gave someone the rank of Lieutenant Colonel just because that was one more word every time he had to give his rank. However, for next year, I am going to remember to not create corporations named Zava, and stick to easy-to-type words for names I have to type often.

Monday, November 21, 2005

NaNoWriMo Update

Word Count: 40,452

Currently writing what is outlined as chapter 16, which may or may not correspond with the 16th chapter that I have actually divided the work into. I don't want to go back and check right now. After the morass of Chapter 9, these last couple of chapters have been exceedingly short. At the moment, 16 stands at 771 words when it should be closer to 2,500. I may resort to finding a subplot to work with. I've been neglecting those.

My goal is to hit 50,000 by Thanksgiving and get my protagonist arrested by the end of the month. After that, it's just a matter of getting her divorced, tried, sentenced, and letting her hit rock bottom. That stuff writes pretty fast.

Today's Lesson Learned The Hard Way

What will fit in a baggie should not be confused with what the baggie will hold. For instance, 5.61 pounds of sweet potatoes physically will fit in the smaller plastic bags in my grocery store's produce section. 5.61 pounts of sweet potatoes will also roll quite a distance when the bag gives way as one puts it on the checkout conveyer belt.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Stuffing's the Word

Thanksgiving is fast approaching. If you haven't started defrosting the bird yet, probably ought to get on it or the giblet pack will still be frozen fast to the body cavity when you need it to make the most important part of the Thanksgiving dinner: the stuffing. The turkey may hog the spotlight on Thursday, but the stuffing is what really makes the meal. So, once again, I offer you the recipe for Grandpa's Stuffing, which is what all stuffing aspires to be.

You need:
2 packages lightly seasoned bread cubes (or see note below about making your own)
1 onion (two if they're small)
several ribs of celery
1-2 Red apples
small handful of chopped walnuts
the giblet package that came in the turkey
[This is my one exception to Rule of Eating #1, "Never eat anything that is now or has been entrails"]
Poultry seasoning and salt
*A tasty alternative to bread cubes for those with a bread machine: make a large loaf of white or whole wheat bread, substituting chicken broth for the water and adding 2 teaspoons poultry seasoning and 1 teaspoon onion powder. Cut the entire loaf into cubes and toast lightly in the oven.

Remove the giblets from the paper pack, rinse lightly, and simmer in 6 cups or so of water until they're cooked through and have produced a tasty giblet broth. Feed the liver to the cats (this is where my liver-disliking self parts company with the original recipe), snack on the neck as you work, and chop the remaining innards into little tiny pieces. Reserve the broth. Chop the onion, celery, and apple, and saute until the onion is translucent.

In the biggest bowl you have, or the lid of the roasting pan, mix together the bread cubes, sauteed onion mix, walnuts, and giblet bits. Mix in poultry seasoning and salt to taste. Drizzle the giblet broth over the bread cubes while stirring, until the mix is well-moistened but not soggy. Use regular water only if you run out of broth. If you have extra broth, use it to supplement the turkey drippings when you make the gravy.

Lightly stuff the turkey's body cavity and neck cavity with the mixture. In the neck, make sure the skin flap completely covers the stuffing, and in the body cavity, protect the opening with the heel of a loaf of bread. If you are not planning to make a big demonstration of carving the bird at the table and do not require a picture-perfect bird, consider bread breast implants. Separate the skin from the breast meat and lightly pack additional stuffing under the breast skin. It isn't as pretty, but it will keep your breast meat nice and moist and provide you with that much more coveted "from the bird" stuffing. Unless you have a truly enormous bird, you will not fit all the stuffing in any available turkey orifices. Put the rest of the stuffing in a greased casserole dish or those nifty foil packets people who are not me are adept at making, drizzle with melted butter, cover and bake for about the last hour of the bird's roasting time.

The end product is the stuffing to end all stuffings. Enjoy, and happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 18, 2005

NaNoWriMo Update

Word Count: 35,048

Bad Greek Letter Hurricane Puns

Well, we now have Tropical Storm Gamma. Let's all hope it stops now, or we'll end up enduring headlines and news crawls like these for the rest of the Greek alphabet:

Delta slams Mississippi Delta
Epsilon Still On Course
Theta Threatens _____
One Iota More
Kappa Kappa Sigh!
Storm Makes Lambda-Fall
Mu-tilation of homes, businesses
Nu in the news again
Xi Marks the Spot For Yet Another Storm
Omigod! Omicron
Pi Squares Off Against _____
Rho, Rho, Rho Survivors to Safety
Sigma adds up to record season
Upsilon Upends Homes in ______
Omega. Really the End?

I left out Zeta, Eta, Tau, Phi, Chi, and Psi for lack of bad jokes that came easily to mind.

So Much For Video Games Being For Kiddies

Just caught a commercial for Neutrogena T-Gel shampoo on CNN Headline News. Someone has finally taken notice of the fact that the average gamer is 30 years old. The result: they're hawking dandruff shampoo using a blatant ripoff of Space Invaders. It's only a matter of time before Ms. Pac-Man starts touting natural menopause relief products and Frogger shills for Ben-Gay.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

NaNoWriMo Update

Word Count: 32,026

The good news is, I'm definitely on track to hit 50,000 by the end of the month. The bad news is, the 50,000 word mark is now in chapter 18 of a 27-chapter-long outline. To make it to the end of the story by November 30, I'm going to have to shoot for about 3,200 words per day every day. So far, I've only had three days that came close to or surpassed that. The growth of the outline is also a good thing, though, as I'm hoping to make this a respectable, publishable book. The usual minimum for a first published novel is somewhere around 90,000 words, so I actually need to come up with another 18,000 words of story. I'll probably end up fleshing out the plot line of a secondary character, since 90,000 words is a lot to devote to the development arc of a single character

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

NaNoWriMo Update

Word Count: 29,007 and hoping to break 30,000 by bedtime

I'm stuck in the gravitational well of Chapter 9, from which neither light nor story line can escape! What was originally plotted as a 2,500-word chapter 9 has become an 8,250-word chapter 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13. Next time, I outline on index cards.

Check The Dilithium Crystals

The rocket that was supposed to blast the ashes of James Doohan, aka Scotty from Star Trek, into space is having engine problems. 'Nuff said.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Death By Chocolate

Okay, okay, even I can't make this one seem novel-related. Still, when I saw the RSS feed headline "Just How Many Cups of Coffee Will Kill You," I just had to take a look. It's a blog that (for entertainment purposes only, not to be taken as medical advice) calculates just how much of whatever caffeine-containing substance it will take to kill you. Of interest to penguin fans, and Guillemot in particular, it also calculates how many Penguin Mints it takes to send one to the coroner. I'm assuming that they are going strictly by a fatal dose of caffeine, since I think I would run into other life-threatening gastrointestinal problems if I consumed 435.92 Hershey's Special Dark bars in one sitting.

NaNoWriMo Update

Word Count: 25,011

Past the halfway mark! It's all downhill from here. It took a day longer than I had hoped to reach 25,000. You can choose as your excuse either the blistering headache I came down with yesterday that kept me in bed asleep until the Aleve kicked in, or the antics of my protagonist. Somewhere around 23,500, her development arc took an unexpected turn. A secondary characteristic came to the foreground and what was supposed to be an undercurrent to her character became a riptide. I've spent the last 1,500 words trying to extract her and the story from that, and it has not been easy. I'm hoping to be out of the 2oK story doldrums by tomorrow night.

Back to the salt mines.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Novel-Related Web Search, I Swear

Did you know you can order yak meat over the internet? The site also sells venison, for those of you for whom roadkill just isn't good enough.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Site Changes

The comment spam keeps coming. It's safely stashed back on a post I made about 400-odd posts ago, so it's unlikely anyone is ever going to read it. Still, I don't like the idea of companies freeloading on my site. If you're a legitimate reader or I'm getting some kind of kickback, bring on the shameless commerce. Goodness knows I plug this site enough.

Henceforth, I will be screening out the comments that are obviously from commercial entities with comment-leaving bots trying to sneak ads on. The only change you should see is that comments left by legitimate humans (whether or not they include blatant self-promotion) may take longer to appear, as I will be moderating them and tossing out the ads for digital subscriber lines.

Friday, November 11, 2005


It has come to my attention that the trial in Dover, Pennsylvania, over a school board requiring a somewhat misleading anti-evolution, pro-intelligent design statement to be read in biology classrooms, is not, in fact, Scopes II, but rather is Scopes III. Scopes II was Edwards vs. Aguillard in 1987, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against teaching Biblical creationism in public schools.

NaNoWriMo Update

Word count: 21,072

I'm a day, maybe two days from 25,000, putting me within sight of the halfway point of NaNoWriMo, and on track to hit 50,000 by Turkey Day (which got a mention in today's Chapter 8). I'm actually only about a third of the way through my outlined story, which is so far pegged for 60,000 words and 24 chapters. It will probably get longer than that, though I still hope to pen the final sentences by the end of November. I may split what I outlined as Chapter 9, since I think the two story points I planned to cover could each support their own chapter. Things are looking up.

I suppose I should mention that you can watch my progress and read a clip by clicking over to this page, my NaNoWriMo author profile. Please note that in the excerpt, you have to mouse over the lower right corner, click, and drag to turn the page. Please also be forgiving that I chose that particular excerpt because it's a major plot point, not because I think I did anything particularly steller with the writing.

Better Living Through Basic Chemistry

During a legitimately novel-related web search, I came across a basic science project that can double as an easy way to polish silver. So, as we approach Thanksgiving and time to break out the good dishes, teach your kids about electrochemical reactions and knock the tarnish of the flatware at the same time. All you need is a glass dish big enough to hold the silverware, baking soda, a sheet of aluminum foil, and a pot of hot/boiling water (it will work with cooler water, but nowhere near as fast). Put the foil in the dish and set the silver on top of the foil. Mix about a half cup of baking soda per quart of hot water, and pour the water into the dish. Tarnish fizzles right off, even out of deep patterns. A word of warning. Silver is also an excellent conductor of heat, so you'll want to handle your newly-polished items with an oven mitt or other insulating material, as they'll be quite hot.

Basically, the baking soda solution and a small electric charge that runs between the foil and the silver piece transfer the tarnish to the foil. This has the added benefit of leaving more silver attached to your original piece. I just tried it on the silverplate candlesticks we got for our wedding, that haven't been out of the box in the five years we've been married. Shiny as new!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Double Take

Can someone please explain the meaning of the word "scrutiny" to the people who run oil companies? Yesterday, the CEOs of the 5 main petroleum companies were called before the Senate over questions about high gas prices and record profits. Today, news is that the price of oil dropped another $1 per barrel. Today, also, my local gas stations raised their prices by 10 cents per gallon.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Related Item

In otherIntelligent Design news, yesterday, voters in Dover, Pennsylvania ousted eight of the nine members of the school board that pressed the Intelligent Design fracas into the courts.

Next, Kansas Redefines Chutzpah

One of the ideas that the Dover Intelligent Design trial (aka Scopes II) has brought to the foreground is that, technically speaking, Intelligent Design isn't science. Science presents testable hypotheses. Part of a theory (standard scientific definition) is that there is a way to disprove it through observation. There is no way to prove or disprove "The world is so complex that there must be a higher intelligence at work in the creation of it." [ed. note--Oops. There I go using the C word.] Intelligent design is actually more of a hypothesis, like my hypothesis that we are culling the lobster morons to dip them in drawn butter, so one day crustaceans will develop intelligence and take over. It might be logical, but there's really no way to prove it through observation. Actually, it would be fairly easy to prove or disprove the lobster hypothesis, which makes that bit of whacked-out paranoia more scientific than Intelligent Design by the common standards.

But I digress. The notion that ID doesn't pass muster as science has trickled its way into the brains of even Kansas, the great square state where they've spent six years so far trying to find a way to squeeze evolutionary theory out of the classroom, lest impressionable young Kansans start questioning Genesis (the Biblical narrative, not the defunct Sega video gaming console). Having their current pet non-evolution theory demoted out of the realm of science presented a problem to Kansas. If ID isn't science, they can't very well teach it in a science class, and that is not an acceptable outcome for them.

You have to admire their ingenuity in solving this little problem. Intelligent Design was incompatible with the accepted standards of science, so they made it compatible. Most scientists would have probably done this by formulating some kind of testable hypothesis for Intelligent Design. Kansas went about it a little differently. Rather than meddle with the content of ID, they decided to redefine science. In Kansas, science is no longer "limited to the search for natural explanations to phenomena." Fortunately for the future of human knowledge, the more limited definition of science will still apply to the 99.969% of the Earth's land surface that is not covered in Kansas.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Gratuitous WriMo Update

Whoo-hoo! 15,000! Time for doubt, panic, and the need for anti-inflammatories to set in.

At present I'm stuck with a plot device character who is taking over and I have no idea what I'm going to do with him in the end, or even how to slap him back down into a supporting role so my legitimately conflicted protagonist can come back center stage. This is, of course, more a fault of my outlining than the writing itself. I wrote him simply so my protagonist would have someone to interact with, and I didn't think ahead to what he would do and how I'm going to get rid of him. My world seems flat because in my effort to turn myself into more of a character-based writer, I'm afraid to put in background characters just for color. My characters seem to exist in a bubble even though I have a very good idea of what their world is like. I need some action to break up pages and pages of dialog. Seriously, I'm at 29 pages and I think I have a grand total of a page and a half that isn't in quotation marks.

Mr. Grooism, this is why I need a WriMo buddy. Whenever you're up for it, I'll always have another novel in my head that needs writing. Right now, this one needs defibrillation. Clear!

NaNoWriMo Update

Word Count: 14,364

Ahead of schedule

Election Day

Lest you forget, today is election day. I just got back from Performing My Civic Duty, which for the first time in my 9 years of voter eligibility, was performed on a punch card ballot. I can see why people want to eliminate them. I am a young, able-bodied, reasonably mentally capable and more or less ept person, and I was concerned that I might not be doing it right. Did I have the ballot seated properly in the slot? Was the booklet lined up right above the ballot? Was the stylus poking all the way through? Did I make sure I poked in the hole I meant to? How do I know the counters are really going to count Hole 37 as a "No" vote? Why are there 8 holes in my ballot if I only voted on five issues? If that sort of paranoia was going through my head, I can just imagine the problems that folks with unsteady hands and no cheat sheet might have. I was so concerned about getting the mechanics of voting by punch card right, I probably wouldn't have remembered how I planned to vote if I didn't write it down ahead of time. As it was, it took a few minutes of examining my ballot after I pulled it out to realize that the three extra holes most likely calibrated the counting machine.

Actually, I only did half my civic duty. I voted on the issues--one economic stimulus measure and four measures trying to fix the snafus from last election day--but I skipped over all the local government official elections, since try as I might, I couldn't find out enough about any of the candidates to say yea or nay on a single one of them. I'm not sure what my county elections board does to inform voters, but I'm pretty much left relying on whatever campaign literature gets left on my doorknob. Considering I live 5 miles out of town on a road with probably 10 registered voters per mile, we don't get a lot of canvassing. Living in Oregon spoiled me, what with the Board of Election's efforts to make sure all registered voters had a reasonable chance to find out all the names of people running for office and some cursory biographical information.

On a peripherally related note, I'm used to running the gamut of campaign workers outside polling places. This was the first year I also had to avoid the school's bake sale.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

NaNoWriMo Update

Word count: 10,113

I'm back on schedule. If I keep this pace up for the rest of the month, I might actually make 90,000 words by the end of the month, which is closer to the length of a respectable novel. Of course, I'll have to find another 35,000 words worth of plot to do that. My chapter outline only goes up to 55,000 right now.

In non-NaNoWriMo news, did you hear about the pirates?

Saturday, November 05, 2005

NaNoWriMo Update

Word Count: 7,004

If I manage to keep this up, I'll be caught up by the end of the weekend. Then I can work on that matter of exceeding the 50,000 word goal.

Friday, November 04, 2005

It's Official

I got my test results back from Mensa. They don't give out the scores, just whether they are good enough to get in or not. Mine were.

Back to the writing. Current word count: 3,258

Thursday, November 03, 2005

NaNoWriMo Update

Word count: 2,217

Slightly behind schedule, but the deficit is still surmountable.

I'm Back

As usual, November blogging has been light to nearly nonexistent for the first few days. This time, though, it is not because I've been pounding out a literary masterpiece. No, the Penguin Parents, who have been trying for about six months now to visit, finally managed to get their employer to send them to my neck of the woods. They took off on the migration back, which leaves me with at least three days worth of novelling to catch up on before I can consider anything like extensive blogging. Check back tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

NaNoWriMo Update

Ten hours, 22 minutes into National Novel Writing Month, and the official word count is 1013.