Inhuman Swill : February 2008
            

Just a quick note from O'Hare, where I'm on my way to Utah to visit my dad, who is gravely ill.

If you're a member of Denvention 3 or were a member of Nippon 2007 and you haven't sent in your Hugo nominations yet, don't forget! The deadline is coming up fast—Saturday, March 1.

For the record, my two original stories from 2007 were:

Novelette
"Not of This Fold" (PDF) (audio)

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A bit nippy in here

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A new natural gas setback here this morning. This time the leak is in a pipe in our front clothes closet. The pipe comes up through the basement, takes a bend through an elbow joint, and goes through a wall into the closet with our furnace. Well, the horizontal pipe going to the furnace runs at a bit of an angle to avoid another pipe, and that means the elbow joint isn't perfectly sealed.

We had thought we smelled gas in that closet occasionally, but this time the smell was unmistakable. The guys from Peoples Gas wouldn't touch this repair. Instead, they locked off our gas meter and issued a ticket. This forces the landlord to get the pipes fixed pronto, which in this case means he's got a guy coming at 2:00 pm.

Until then, Ella and I are bundling up and huddling together for warmth. At least it's gotten up to 23 degrees today. That's better than it's been the past couple of days. Still, my fingers a bit on the stiff and freezy side.

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Care and feeding of your backups

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Last April I wrote the first draft of a story called "Care and Feeding of Your Piano." It's a short, humorous piece written entirely as excerpts from the interactive instruction manual for a bioengineered piano*.

Armed with some suggestions from my writing group, I sat in my Baltimore-area hotel room a month and a half later and spent two hours applying some heavy revisions to the sucker, which including reordering many chunks of text to achieve more comic juxtapositions. I sync'd the laptop with the USB memory stick I always carried as backup—at least, I presume I did, because that had long been my habit—then rushed over to Balticon for my scheduled reading. I read that story and one called "Timesink" (which was then and is still forthcoming in Electric Velocipede) directly from my computer screen. The reading seemed to go over pretty well, at least according to Jamie Rubin, who was there.

In June, as I prepared to attend the Blue Heaven workshop, I got frustrated with all the cruft slowing down my laptop, so I wiped it and reinstalled Windows XP. At the end of that month, we moved to Chicago. As we unpacked, I became more and more uneasy the longer my black Manhattan Portage shoulder bag, which I was looking for, failed to turn up. I always carried my USB memory stick in a little Velcro'd pocket on the front of it. The shoulder bag has never turned up, one of the very few casualties of our move.

It wasn't until we'd been here a month or more that I went to the desktop machine to take another look at my revised version of "Care and Feeding." I was going to give it a quick polish-and-trim and get it out there—first stop, New Yorker "Shouts & Murmurs" submission. (Why not, right?)

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Why you shouldn't park in a big puddle during winter, zoomed
Late last week, I was going to write that the back yard is a winter palimpsest, with footprints and pawprints overwritten by successive layers of snow. I was going to write that frolicking in that world was like playing a god striding over plains and rugged mountain ranges alike, where deep alpine tarns lurk to entrap the boots that originally forged them. I was going to write of the delicate Mercator projections etched in the newly fallen powder by the rolling basketball the dog pushes with her faces through the runneled lugeways of the landscape, with spalding imprinted perfectly in reverse.

I was going to write all those things, but then it poured rain over the weekend and warmed up to around 50 before plunging back to single-digit temperatures. The rain caused flooding, and the subsequent temperatures froze everything afterward into the kind of rolling, glassy surface you might expect to find after a nuclear blast site has cooled. Walking is treacherous. And the car at the curb in front of our house demonstrates the danger of parking in a giant standing pool when it's still winter. That car's not moving any time soon.

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Bus-ted! (or, Do not drill the bus!)

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Do not drill the bus
Laura and I have started seeing a personal trainer—and boy are my arms tired! (Bah-dum!)

Of the many factors prodding us toward car ownership, this is the one that finally pushed us over the edge. It's an hour each way on the bus, with at least one transfer, to travel the mere 3.4 miles to Payne Management.

Our bus yesterday, once it deigned to arrive, we dubbed The Prop Bus. I didn't seem possible that it was a real bus. I was sitting in a seat adjacent to the railing around the rear door, and when I leaned against it the railing gave way. The streets announcements were more than half a mile out of sync with our real location. And at every stop, the bus driver got out of her seat to wrestle the fare box, which was not securely bolted to the floor, back into its proper spot. I'm surprised this bus didn't let us off on the shores of the River Styx.

Our buses back home were better, but it's no fun spending fifteen or twenty minutes awaiting your transfer unprotected from the subzero wind and bathed in the aromas from a nearby Popeye's Chicken. I said to Laura, "That smells like the Promised Land, the Celestial Kingdom, Paradise, Nirvana, and 72 virgins all rolled up together and deep-fried."

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Cuttlefish camouflage

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Speaking of animals, there's a cool article in today's New York Times about camouflage in cephalopods.

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Daydreaming by shunn, on Flickr
I would like to see someone create one of those quizzie thingies to help people tell whether their dog is a Democrat or a Republican. I'd do it myself but I don't have the bandwidth.

The question occurred to me this morning as I was getting Ella outfitted for her morning walk with Laura. (It's 5 degrees Fahrenheit here, with 16 mph winds, so even the dog gets a coat.) Here was our sweet little dog rolling on her back and making tiny grunting noises while I tried to get her harness on her, but she's also the animal who can't see her upstairs neighbor Bear without seizing his neck in her jaws and trying to put him on the ground.

Her brown eyes looked so alien flicking behind their screen of tawny fur that I suddenly found myself wondering, "My God, what if my dog is a Republican?!" I mean, who knows what her political views might be if should could express them? She's fiercely bonded to her family, of course, and tender with us, but the moment the Other shows up on her turf she's quick to put him in his place.

If Ella were a Republican, of course we would love her anyway, but she's made me wonder whether conservatism might be more a product of our biological animal natures and liberalism an expression of our civilized side. Probably not, but maybe the elephant and donkey aren't really all that distinct from each other as symbols.

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TECH cocktail

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Any Chicago folks here going to TECH cocktail this Thursday?

Time Out Chicago says:

[F]or Frank Gruber and Eric Olson, no element of TECH cocktail, their semi-annual networking party, is too grand. And this could explain the success of the free event for tech-industry workers, which holds its seventh fete on February 21 at Wrigleyville bar John Barleycorn. TECH cocktail offers tech enthusiasts—from casual podcasters to programmers—a chance to connect with each other. They also can snap-up swag doled out by tech sponsors like Web-host company midPhase, which provided ... limos as a way to safely cart off the 350 or so techies who'd been imbibing gratis beer.  [full article]
I'm on the fence, but only because it's hard to leave the house in winter.
Update:  Ah, well, never mind. It's free, but it's still sold out.
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Correction

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An anonymous reader points out that I did indeed hear Africa referred to as "the dark continent" on NPR last week, and that they apologized today on air:

http://www.npr.org/corrections/

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Chicago has defeated us

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No, not in the sense that we're running back to New York City with our tails between our legs. But we are going to become car owners for the first time in 13 and 15 years, respectively. It stings.

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The Accidental Terrorist 30th Anniversary Sale

Signed editions
that even a
missionary
could afford.

Order yours now!

William Shunn

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