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September 13, 2004

Happy Birthday, Whatever

Did you know (and its immediate corollary, do you care) that today marks the sixth anniversary of the existence of the Whatever? Well, it does. No one is more surprised about its longevity than I. The Whatever has been very good to me; directly or indirectly it has been responsible for the existence of four of my books, and a fair proportion of my income since 1998. Again, no one more surprised than I.

As it happens you can no longer read the very first Whatever entries on the site; I took them (and many others) down a couple of years ago when I did an overall revamp of the site. However, for the sake of archaeological amusement, allow me to post the first week of Whatever entries again, so you can get an idea of how much -- or how little -- the Whatever's changed since 1998. Enjoy.

(NB: I'm also going to try out the "extended entry" function here. If you don't immediately see a link to the first week of Whatevers, blame my technical incompetence. Yeah, I know. Even after six years, some things never change.)

Week of September 13, 1998

Hey, there. Iíve decided to try something a little new for me here at this website -- for a little while, at least, Iím going to try to update this front page on a regular basis with new text; the idea here being to give folks who come to the website a reason to come back on a somewhat regular basis.

This isnít a new idea, by any stretch of the imagination. The internet is nothing if not a fount of unbridled egos splooging their opinions out to whomever is within browsing distance, regardless of the quality (or coherency) of those opinions my pal Ivan Brunettiís cartoon comment here says it all.

A number of people out there even keep ďonline diariesĒ: One of my personal favorites is from James Lileks, who updates his site on a daily basis. It shows a certain stick-to-it-iveness that I admire, although Iím not sure that this own space will be updated with the same frequency. I am inherently lazy and will, whenever possible, avoid doing more work than I have to.

Be that as it may, I have several reasons for deciding to do the regular online update. As a writer, one of the things I have done most regularly, and which I think I am pretty good at, is write columns. Iíve been a columnist on various subjects off and on for most of the last decade, and itís something that I enjoy.

Right now, Iím sort of between columnsóI write a music column once a week for MediaOne Express (thereís a link to it, right over there to the left, in fact), and Iím extremely grateful that MediaOne folks have seen fit to pay me to write one; please visit the column several times daily to inflate the hit results, if you wouldnít mind. Still, thereís only so much you can comment on in a music column (hint: Itís mostly music). In the absence of having another column at the moment, Iíll just use this space as my own little soapbox to comment about other things that are going on in the world.

I hesitate, however, to call anything I write in this space a proper columnóthat would bespeak of a certain amount of organizational structure that I canít really seeing myself applying (itís that laziness thing, remember). Nor would I really call it an ďonline diaryĒóStarr report notwithstanding, I think thereís a certain line beyond which personal lives ought to remain personal; I donít plan on using this space to foist my deepest, darkest secrets on the internet. I canít imagine most people would care all that much (especially as there wonít be pictures).

Probably the best thing to call this is a ď.planĒ. Plan files, for the blissfully technologically ignorant, are small files that reveal who a holder of a particular internet account is (by way of the ďfingerĒ function. Donít ask). Plan files generally hold very basic information, but a few folks who have them use them as a place to jot down their thoughts on their life, world events, sports, movies, what have you. In short, a place to muse, somewhat publicly. Itís not about anything in particular, just what that person is thinking at that moment.

Thatís what I figure this will be. Nothing especially deep, just a random thought or two I feel like sharing. My expectation is that Iíll update this every couple of days; drop by when you feel like and see what the hell is going on in my brain. E-mail if you like, or go on in and look at other parts of the site. Hope you enjoy it.



Sammy Sosa caught up with Mark McGwire yesterday when he slammed in home runs 61 and 62. The Washington Post, which is my hometown newspaper, played it up almost as big as they did when McGwire hit 62. I thought that was nice -- outside of Chicago and the Dominican Republic, Sosa is baseball's equivalent of Buzz Aldrin. Sure, he's made it to the moon, but he made it there second.

The Post's decision to play up Sammy's 62nd may have also been partly influenced by the fact that otherwise, they'd've had to have gone with another banner-sized headline about the Lewinsky mess. The decision to go with Sosa above the fold rather than Starr/Clinton/Cigar shows a bit of editorial wistfulness, as if the good that Sammy did on Sunday can somehow counteract all the gutter crud that the Starr Report has kicked up. I can't say I disagree: I know I'd rather hear about the home run race.

My expectation is that at the end of it all, McGwire will probably keep the lead over Sosa in the home run race; so far, every time Sosa draws up, McGwire whacks an entire clutch and pulls forward again. He's the co-dependent slugger; I guarantee that if Sosa hadn't been there dogging his heels the entire way, we'd still be wondering if Maris' record would ever be broken. Everyone knows it, which is why, in the future, McGwire's record will hardly be mentioned without Sosa being in it. What will be interesting is what will happen if Sosa actually is the one who ends up with the record -- how will McGwire timeshare that?

My personal wish would be: McGwire gets the home run record, Sosa gets the World Series. It's been that kind of season. And everyone would agree it'd be a fair trade.


John Holliman died over the weekend; he was the science reporter for CNN, who was going to co-host CNN's "Glenn Returns to Space" coverage with Walter Cronkite. Holliman got into a car accident when he tried to pass in a no-pass area and rammed an oncoming truck. The people in the truck appear to have escaped more or less intact, which is what keeps Holliman's death a tragedy rather than a stupid act -- Holliman was doing something he shouldn't have done, after all, and it's fortunate that no one else had to pay the price (other than a wrecked truck) for his impatience.

I liked Holliman as a reporter; he was genuinely interested in the stuff he was covering. As a science buff, I appreciated that; there's nothing more annoying than watching a science report delivered by some blow-dryed moron who looks good in front of a camera but clearly has no idea what he's talking about. Related to this, I also liked the fact that Holliman looked like the Pillsbury Doughboy in a grey suit. He was pudgy, fleshy, and not an especially good-looking man. It gave me hope that, yes, occasionally people can rise to positions of (relative) prominence in media by being good at the job rather than by being good to look at.

Actually, CNN has a number of unattractive but undeniably competent reporters in its stable; besides Holliman, the most obvious example is Candy Crowley, who may be the only female reporter in any televised news organization that actually has jowls. The first time I saw her on CNN I was stunned that someone like her had managed to get past what was undoubtedly a phalanx of image consultants and makeup artists. It's another reason to respect CNN. Of course, CNN has its share of pretty but vacuous talking heads, and being ugly doesn't automatically mean you're a competent reporter. But the fact that Crowley and Holliman were (and are) there at all says that CNN's priorities are, at the very least, not as out of whack as other news organizations.

I'll be interested to see who CNN picks as their next science reporter. If it's Jim Moret, someone may have to be killed.



Today is invoice day, the day of the month that I remind the people I write for how much they said they were going to pay me for my work, and then hope that their accounting departments will deign to actually cut me a check. In my short life as a freelance writer, I've learned that the writer's natural enemy is not the editor, but accounts payable. It appears to pain them physically to send off a check, or even to acknowledge that it, in fact, exists in our world. What check? This money is ours. I don't see your invoice. I'm plugging my ears now so I won't have to listen to you. Nyah, nyah, nyah.

Of course, if you're the writer, there's not very much you can do but wait -- you've already given over the writing, so you have no leverage. Meanwhile your mortgage and bills crop up. There's some irony in my situation. As a freelancer, I'm making more money than I ever have before. But I can't tell you when my next check will arrive. It's no wonder that banks and credit cards are reluctant to extend credit to people who are self-employed.

Not all my clients are tardy on the payments. One, in fact, often pays well ahead of schedule. Alas, they're only about 20% of my monthly income. The other 80% arrives when it arrives, like a dinner guest without a watch. You're hungry and you've got other things to do, but you can't do anything until your guest arrives. Frankly, I'd quit this gig right now, if it weren't for the fact that any other attempts to make money would probably involve, you know, actually working.


Took the dog for a walk this morning, as I always do. It's one of the mild ironies of my life now that, unencumbered as I am from the corporate lifestyle, I now wake up earlier than I have at any time in the past decade, just so the dog can go out and poop. If nothing else, it's good training for the other mammal I will soon be taking care of during the day, mainly my upcoming child.

Along the way this morning we met up with another dog, who as it happens has the same name as mine: Kodiak. My Kodiak is an akita; the other Kodiak is an Alaskan malamute. There's something about spitz-type dogs, apparently, that brings to mind images of large, angry arctic bears.

And not unreasonably, I suppose. Akitas are large dogs, and by nature are alpha-dominant; if you don't spend time socializing your Akita, the thing might eventually go off and eat their neighbor's cat (or the neighbor, depending).

They're particularly aggressive toward other dogs, although the females less so than the males. This is mildly worrisome to me, as almost all the other dogs in the neighborhood are literally bite-sized. And aggressive, which is a bad combination; the other day while walking Kodi, a dachshund tried to rush my dog -- Kodi could have simply lowered her jaw to the ground and swallowed the thing without so much as a blink. We've been fortunate that Kodi's generally good disposition means she's not interested in eating the other dogs, but I also wonder if she has come to the conclusion that other dogs, dinky and excitable, aren't much of a challenge.

This is why it's always interesting to meet up with the other Kodiak. Kodi is a big dog, but Kodiak is huge -- we're talking close to 200 pounds. The thing has a head the size of a manhole cover. The thing is elephantine. Polyplodial. You want to get a blood sample to check just how much rhinoceros DNA the damn thing has. God forbid Kodiak should ever become rabid. It would make Cujo look like the Taco Bell rat-dog.

When the two met up today, my Kodi was clearly in the mood to play and wrestle, and Kodiak went along agreeably enough, while I and his owner chatted. I used to be worried that Kodiak might actually eat my dog, but that doesn't seem likely -- the dog is pretty mellow. I'm also now of the opinion that, should Kodiak get tired of Kodi's tomfoolery and decide to put her in her place with a quick growl and a nip, it might not be a bad thing. If nothing else, it'd let my dog know that there are other dogs that are bigger and stronger, and all too happy to sit on her to make that very point.

Anyway, it never got to that. They played, we parted ways, and that was that. Kodi appeared to enjoy herself, which I suppose lends credence to my wife's assertion that Kodi wants another dog to play with. The problem with this is, my wife's solution would be to get a dinky dog -- Lhasa Apso or some such mop-like object. I'm worried that Kodi would watch the new puppy's winsome antics for a few moments and then think, I wonder what that thing tastes like.

The worst part is, I don't know that I'd blame her for trying a bite.



For the second time since I've had Scalzi.Com, my service provider went down; considering that I've had it since March, this isn't too bad a record. Anyone who spends any amount of time online realizes by now that outages and brownouts are part of the territory. They're not fun, and it's annoying to try to pull up your very own site and get nothing but a dialog box on Netscape, but, hey, it happens.

I probably have a little better attitude about it than most people, because among other things, I worked on the other side of the equation for two years. In fact, I was at America Online when the Great Outage of 1996 happened. I remember it very well -- got into work, sat down at my desk, couldn't sign on. Asked everybody else if they could sign on. Nobody could. Couldn't do any meaningful work without signing on, so we all waited. And waited. In the meantime, we all chatted, and socialized (we were the people who put up stuff on the service, not the poor bastards down in the technological boiler rooms, frantically trying to fix the pipes).

It was a strange day, a Lost Weekend, if you will -- there was nothing to do, and an entire office full of mid-20-somethings to do it. In the absence of work, but the requirement of physical presence, we reverted back to college; the atmosphere was like being in a dorm after classes were done for the day. Looking back, the OL members obviously weren't happy, but we as non-tech workers had had worse days.

Anyway, I called up my service provider's tech support, and just said "What's wrong?" I figured he'd know what I was talking about, since I couldn't pull up their home page, either. I was right. Apparently their connection to the backbone had somehow been corrupted; they were switching nodes (or something) and hooking up with another backbone while they fixed the issue. Everything should be back up soon. Nice enough guy, and this is here now, so I guess he was right.

Later last night I did a quick reflection about the fact that the conversation the tech and I had was another one that simply would not have made sense 10 years ago (unless he was working for Arpanet, and I was system administrator at a major university). Being online a lot, I get a reasonable number of these, and they're always fun -- shows progress (or at least movement) is in fact occurring. A decade from now, I'll probably have a similar conversation about something else (I'm expecting biotech).

By then I'll be 39, an age when distrust of new technology has begun to creep in; if someone catches me bitching about how things were better when we had open, invasive surgery instead of cellular nanotech 'bots, I hope they'll kill me right there.


Cat went out yesterday morning around 11 and didn't come back until 12 hours later. This is unusual for my cat, who doesn't go out often and tends to stay near the house when he does. By about 5, I was concerned enough that I actually put on shoes and hiked back to the wooded area behind my house to look for the damned thing. I figured that was where he would go. The wooded area seems deep, but it's a suburban scam; 80 feet beyond where the treeline begins behind the house is another, heavily traveled, street. I thought I might hike through and be greeted with the sight of my cat splooied all over Lincoln Street.

He wasn't; eventually he came back, as cats always do. His adorable fluffy white paws were yellow with dirt and grime, and he was clearly irritated that we weren't home when he returned. He had to wait until we came back from our dinner party, which was an imposition on him. We opened the door, and he went through without so much as a pro forma "golly it's nice to see you" rub on the leg.

That's my cat. Ever since we got the dog, he's been distinctly cooler to me and my wife; the addition of another pet was obviously a betrayal of something. Of course, he's still in a bind. Every now and again, he needs his recommended allowance of affection, so he comes over to be petted. It pains him, you can tell, but he's gotta have his fix.

Last night was not one of those times. I got him food, and I was holding it in my hands. I was asking him: Where've you been? What have you been doing? Why are your fluffy white paws yellow with crud?

He just looked up at me as if to say, Hey, are you going to feed me or what?

Cats. I tell ya.

Posted by john at September 13, 2004 01:41 PM

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wendell | September 13, 2004 04:36 PM

Happy Whatever, Man.

I'm about a month away from the fifth anniversary of my 'first' blog (he boasted needlessly). You've always been one of my web-based heroes, and someday I want to grow up to be just like you.

Enjoy your Anniversary. Take your "Whatever" out to dinner, dancing, a movie, whatever.

BTW, "That's not the 'Net, that's Humanity" is one of the best taglines for a blog I've seen in a long time. If you don't start using it as such, I'm stealing it!

Bill Peschel | September 13, 2004 05:12 PM

Congratulations, old timer. There's something to be said for hanging around awhile.

BTW, saw the Tor/Forge catalog in the office and found OMW on page 4. Lovely quotes from Cory, Goodkind and company, especially the "better sex" reference.

John Scalzi | September 13, 2004 05:14 PM

There's a quote from Goodkind? Damn it, man! Spill!

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | September 13, 2004 08:45 PM

Perhaps Bill Peschel's copy of our catalog has a quote from Terry Goodkind. Over here in "Earth-Prime," the quotes are the same ones you've already seen, I'm afraid.

John Scalzi | September 13, 2004 09:16 PM

PNH writes:

"Over here in "Earth-Prime," the quotes are the same ones you've already seen, I'm afraid."

Well, that's fine. They are rockin' quotes.

Dave Ruddell | September 14, 2004 01:09 PM

I have the same birthday as Whatever. I feel so...honoured?

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