Inhuman Swill : August 2003

Fair and balanced

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Today my web site is fair and balanced.

(All respect to Neal Pollack.)

Boy, did I have a memorable birthday yesterday. Really, I'm glad everyone turned out to celebrate, but I didn't mean for us all to take over the Queensborough Bridge like that....

I was at work in Manhattan when the lights went out. It was an odd thing -- they didn't snap off so much as slowly give up the ghost, occasionally reviving a bit, over the course of two or three minutes. I tried urging my officemates to leave almost immediately, but we dithered so much as a committee that we didn't pick our way down the fire stairs (pitch dark at some landings) until more than half an hour later. Our phone system relied on office electricity, and none of us could get a call out on our cell phones.

I work at Park and 32nd. I bent my course straight downtown to Union Square (Park and 17th, more or less), where Laura and I have arranged to meet in case of emergency. I walked with two officemates, one of whom was listening to a portable radio with headphones and issuing such reports as that power was out all the way to Ohio and Ottawa. A little disconcerting.

Laura was waiting at our prearranged spot, bless her soul, and the two of us walked across to 2nd Avenue and then uptown. At first we were salmon -- everyone seemed to be coming downtown. Some businesses were giving out water (though Laura and I had both filled bottles before leaving). Around 35th or 36th, we bought very soft ice cream cones from Baskin-Robbins.

At first, there was almost a festive atmosphere. People were gradually spilling into the streets, and vehicular traffic was gradually disappearing. Whether this was because of foot traffic or because the police were blocking off streets, I don't know. But when we crested the rise at 45th Street and looked uptown, the sight was amazing. Second Avenue was filled with a sea of people, as far uptown as we could see. Occasional cars and buses made their way down the street, but mostly it was a pedestrian game. The bars along the street were full and spilling out onto the pavement, and men in shirts and ties were ambling down the street with open 40s of Bud in their hands.

Laura suggested stopping for beer, but I pointed out that the temperature was in the 90s and it would taste real cold and good until we started walking again and found we were dehydrated.

When we got to 58th, we realized that people weren't just using the pedestrian walkway on the Queensborough Bridge to get across to Queens. People were walking onto the roadways, along with the cars. We decided we may as well take the upper roadway -- when would we ever get a chance to walk across the bridge like this again?

Before long we decided this had been a mistake, but it seemed like a worse idea to try to turn around and go back down the onramp. For the first quarter mile or so of the bridge, the cars were putting along in both eastbound lanes. Further along, though, the pedestrians had basically forced all the traffic into the left lane, and by the time we reached the midpoint of the bridge the pedestrians had taken over both lanes. If I looked back, I could see the cars still moving along, more slowly than the pedestrians.

Unfortunately, by this time most of the people were wearing out and getting more short-tempered. I felt like a grain of dust in the air of a wheat silo -- one spark and we could all explode. The trek down the far side of the bridge was pretty tense, but the tension dissipated as we curved down the offramp to 21st Street in Queens.

From there it was just a long slog north. I've just looked up the figures on Mapquest, and in all it would appear that we each walked over six miles. We were both wearing sandals, though Laura was far more used to hers than I was to mine. The last mile and a half was brutal, with the thong digging between my first two toes. But at 7 pm we arrived home and blessedly kicked off our shoes. My feet were numb.

(Note to self: Next time there's a disaster, wear comfortable walking shoes.)

Our power was off in Astoria, of course, but the water and beer in the fridge were all still sufficiently cool and stayed that way throughout the evening. I unplugged all the appliances and electronics. I got a call from our friends Andrew and Stephanie, with whom we had planned to go out for dinner that evening for my birthday. Andrew had just arrived home after his long walk. We decided we would regroup for dinner another day.

All the residents of the house (an apartment on each of three floors) eventually congregated in the back yard, and eventually Laura defrosted some steaks from the freezer by sealing them in Zip-Loc bags and floating them in a sink full of hot water. In darkness, with stars overhead, beers in our hands, and a battery-powered boombox tuned to WNYC, I cooked four steaks on the propane grill out back, which we ate on the patio with Jason from upstairs and his girlfriend Kristin, who contibuted a green salad.

Laura, Jason and Kristin cleaned up, insisting that I, the birthday boy, stay out back and relax. I put the cover back on the grill, then was surprised by a procession from the house led by a Hostess Cupcake with a candle stuck in it. I endured the inevitable birthday song and blew out the candle successfully, a feat eerily reminiscent of the afternoon's events. Then we each ate a cupcake.

We retired by eleven, and fell asleep to the strains of the Mister Softee truck idling in the street outside, doing brisk business.

This morning our power is back on. I'm not getting a TV signal, not even enough of one to set the time on the cable box, though our Internet connection seems to be fine (strange, because it's on the same cable as the TV). The subways are still out of commission, though the bus routes that aren't feeder lines to the subways are running. They're telling us on the radio not to go into the city if we can help it, and we're only too happy to comply. In fact, I think I'll go now and crawl back into bed.

Just a quick reminder that I will be appearing early Saturday morning on Jim Freund's program "Hour of the Wolf" on WBAI 99.5 FM in New York City. While science fiction is the main focus of the show, we'll no doubt discuss my memoir Missionary Man as well.

The show runs from 5:00 am to 7:00 am EDT. If you don't live near enough to tune in, and you're a very early riser, you can catch the RealAudio stream at:

Well, apes, anyway:

Primate Programming Inc: The Evolution of Java and .NET Training

I want to hire these guys. I do. Especially Cathleen. I'm a sucker for her value-pricing.

So I was asking the other day for confirmation of some calculations about centripetal acceleration. Well, in my usual overboard fashion, I created a little CGI script to help myself play around with different values for size, speed, and effective gravity for my station:

You provide two of the three values (ac , r, and/or Δt) and the script calculates the third. You can choose the units for input also; if they differ from G, meters, or seconds, respectively, the results are provided in both the default and specified units. You can also set the display units for the blank value.

The results print in a table that provides acceleration values for different levels of the station, moving closer to the hub.

The script is written in Perl, with most of the units conversions provided by the Math::Units module. Perl is not the best for casual math calculations, so there are sometimes small rounding errors in the results. Also, the script isn't really designed to squeal at invalid input. I didn't want to spend more time on this than I had to, although I still did.

The initial values when you access the script are the ones I finally settled on for my station. (Yeah, it's big. But the station figures in two stories I've already published, and I intend to write more, so it was probably past time to nail down its dimensions.)

The kitchen table doesn't usually look like this, but there's a list of relatives who always need a copy of the newest story. Plus one to my childhood pal Darin, who now lives in Alaska and was in the same college writing workshop where I wrote the first draft of "Pietro Coppino," way back in 1989....

It's out

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To those who were waiting to hear, there are copies of the October Realms of Fantasy at the Barnes & Noble at Union Square in Manhattan.

Well, actually there aren't anymore because they mysteriously sold out during my visit. But that's neither here nor there. The point is, the magazine's out there. Godspeed.


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(via [info]rubylou)

I am the nanobot that brainwashes all torchiere lamps into doing its bidding!

What kind of world-destroying nanobot are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

And I suppose this would be a propitious time to direct your attention here....

Cover boy

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That's what Laura's calling me this morning. Late last night I got home from a dismal movie with friends (Northfork—pretentious, silly, and overrated, despite a good setup and some great moments) and brought the mail in. There were vicious thunderstorms in the city yesterday, and the mail was soaked. That included my subscription copy of the October 2003 issue of Realms of Fantasy.

I woke up Laura before carefully peeling back the wet "protective wrapper." And there was my name on the cover. My first cover.

My name wasn't as big as Harlan Ellison's, but (almost embarrassingly) it was above and bigger than Michaels Bishop and Swanwick. We stared at it for a couple of minutes before even opening the magazine.

The illustration inside was gorgeous.

Oh, yeah, the story is "The Day Pietro Coppino Spoke to the Mountain," and Laura bids me tell you it's her favorite of everything I've written. Should be hitting newsstands soon. I'll let you know.

I'll be making a return appearance as Jim Freund's guest on "Hour of the Wolf" this Saturday, August 9th, on WBAI 99.5 FM, from 5:00 am to 7:00 am, Eastern Daylight Time.

We'll certainly talk about my science fiction, including my recent story in Salon, but it's likely we'll discuss my memoir Missionary Man as well. I may even trot out an excerpt from the book to read on the air. Tune in an see what happens. (It's early, yes, but just think -- I have to be up earlier to get to the station than you do to listen! <wink>)

WBAI serves the NYC metro area. If you can't pick up the station, you can still access the live stream on the Internet at:

Jim Freund and "Hour of the Wolf" have brought the world of science fiction to the airwaves for more than thirty years. Visit and to learn more.

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