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June 30, 2005

Outta Here

All right, I'm heading off. Actually, I'm not going anywhere (actually, I'm on my way to Virginia for the weekend, but I mean, in the larger sense I'm not going anywhere), I'll just be working on a novel. As I've mentioned, I might pop up in the comments from time to time, and I'll be keeping the trackbacks and comments free of spam, but I won't be making entries for a month -- and why should I? The awesome and capable guest bloggers will be keeping you amused and entertained. However, if you find you absolutely cannot live without me, I'll still be putting entries up at By The Way through July, on account that's what I'm paid to do. Otherwise, have an excellent July and wish me luck. I'll be immersed in the universe of The Ghost Brigades, and hopefully the end result is that I'll have a book in which you'll want to get immersed as well. Take care. See you in a month.

Posted by john at 04:34 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

The July Look

In honor of the Guest Bloggers, I've given the site a somewhat less John Scalzi-centric look for the month of July. The cloud design in the background seems almost like a Hopi design to me, although that has less to do with me and more to do with the clouds I based it on. Anyway, I think it makes the site look a little more airy, and I hope you like it.

Update: Did a little more tweaking. Looks less Hopi now, I'd say.

Posted by john at 01:05 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

June 29, 2005

Tidbits, 6/29

Random thoughts on a Wednesday:

* All the guest bloggers have popped in to say "hi" and will start blogging in earnest on Friday. I do have to say it's a little weird to click onto the page and see an entry I don't remember writing -- because I didn't -- but I imagine I'll get used to it. Everyone else seems to be okay with it.

* In case you're wondering, I managed to get all the autographing done yesterday, which means I have one more thing to add to my list of Things I've Done You Probably Haven't: signed my name more than 1,500 times in a single day. Surprisingly, my right hand did not snap off at the wrist, so that's all to the good.

* I've been listening to the new Fountains of Wayne album today, and I suspect that the boys in the band have gotten a little too infatuated with their own verbal cleverness, which I suppose is a danger when you are in fact the smartest band in the room. The most recent Ivy album, however (which features FOW member Adam Schlesinger), is pretty damn tasty so far. I'm listening to both on Rhapsody, which remains my pick as possibly the greatest InterWeb invention evah, since I can listen to tons of music until my ears pop for just $10 a month (Yahoo Music does the same thing for even cheaper - $5 to $7 a month depending on the plan you buy -- but I don't like the interface, and I can afford the extra $3 a month not to be annoyed).

In case one wonders whether this means that I will never buy music again, I'll note that I am downloading Welcome Interstate Managers even as I write this, because being underwhelmed by the new FOW reminded me that I liked the last album hugely and kept meaning to buy it, and yet I hadn't. Well, now I have (on iTunes, so I can suck it into the iPod when I want). Have a cup of coffee on me, Fountains of Wayne!

For all that, I have recently been seriously considering getting a Creative Zen Micro for the express purpose taking advantage of Rhapsody's downloadable ability -- you can download rented tracks onto a Zen Micro and take them with you where you go. I am not philosophically opposed to the concept of renting music, and to be entirely honest, the reason I'd do something like that is to have handy access to music I already own on CD that I haven't already ripped. For example, I have a whole bunch of Brain Eno ambient music, as does Rhapsody, and it's just a hell of a lot easier to call it up on Rhapsody (or, alternately, download it and take it with me when I go) than it is to dig the CD out of storage and burn it. I don't want to have to buy all that music again, which I would have to do with iTunes -- I'm not that lazy -- but having a rented version? Sure, why not.

It is annoying that I would have to get a Zen Micro to do this, since I already have an iPod mini, and it would be nice just to use that instead, but that's Apple for you. Anyway, the iPod actually belongs to Krissy, who is very, uh, proprietary toward it; I had to negotiate to borrow it last weekend when I went on a trip. The only drawback with the Zen Micro would be that I wouldn't be able to load up the albums I've bought on iTunes (again, thanks to Apple's buttheaded-ness), but as I can use download rented versions from Rhapsody, eh, who cares.

While I'm thinking about it, last weekend was the first time I had a chance to really spend time with the iPod, and you know what? Those earbuds well and truly suck. I ended up ditching them for a more comfortable pair of headphones. This is another example of Apple aesthetics getting in the way of actual usage, although to be fair to the iPod mini itself, it is a sweet little machine.

* I didn't watch Bush's speech last night because I honestly didn't expect him to say anything of any use, and judging from the transcripts, I was not wrong to do else with my time. What I think is telling is the fact that hauling out 9/11 didn't seem to do the President much good this time around; people have lived with the Iraq war long enough now to have become used to the idea that there really never was was a connection between 9/11 and our tromping through Baghdad so Dubya could avenge his dad. I don't see how the national opinion of the value of the Iraq war is going to get any better from here on out, and while I don't think most Americans actually support leaving Iraq at the moment as it is (i.e., vulnerable to the terrorists whose supposed relationship with the former government was the "reason" we went in), I also think they think they got sold a bill of goods, and they're not all too pleased at the fella who sold it to them, at the cost of more than 1,500 American lives to this point. In short, I don't think Dubya's going to get any more popular between now and 2008, and I can't say as I think this is a bad thing.

* Good on Canada -- looks like soon anyone there will be able to marry anyone else they choose, as long as they stick to the "one spouse to a customer" rule. In other news, it's been well over a year since people could marry members of their own sex in Massachusetts, and yet my own marriage has yet to be threatened -- even once! -- by the fact. I keep checking, of course, ever-vigilant that the forces of same-sex matrimony are tearing apart my own relationship, but strangely, they don't seem much interested in me or my marriage. Honestly, I feel a little ripped-off about that. I was promised wholesale marriage discord by the religious conservatives! Where's my refund?

Posted by john at 04:08 PM | Comments (36) | TrackBack

And Thursdays are safe with (wait...who's this guy - the one with the kid and such?)

So as the previously-unacquainted blogger mentioned by John as the one with an interesting personal site, I pull up last place on the introductions as your Thursdays in July "Must See Newbie." I'm very impressed with the accomplished shtick presented by my fellow guest hosts and the overall quality of what gets chewed on as phat herein. But then again, I'm a new Dad, so I'm impressed by a weighty diaper and occasional indiscernible phrases...so don't put too much faith in my grander view. I'll throw my considerably sporty frame that's only mostly gone to seed into the heavy lifting, nonetheless. Expect plenty of offerings on politics, sports, lit diversions, writing schools, sausage making, Jarts (unfortunately not really a sport...yet), kitten juggling, Cullyforneeya (I live in San Francisco), Sheena Easton (pre-Prince side-project), theories of relativity or like something sorta similarish, TiVo, the homeless, the home-more (I'm a stay at home Dad), and the career of Keith David (not David Keith). Of course not in that order.

So sit back, then stand up, then sit back again. And I hope you'll enjoy my contributions to the community while you catch your breath. Rock on.

Posted by at 01:53 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Stuck in the Middle with You

Ron Hogan here, your Wednesday guest host. Scalzi and I used to fight pirates on the open seas of Usenet back in the mid-'90s; ahhh, those were the days, when people not only still spoke about "Generation X," but were actually willing to identify themselves as part of it... I stumbled onto Whatever a few months ago, when I recognized his name on the book jacket of Old Man's War, and it was a joyous reunion for us two great tools of the liberal media empire. Today, I make my contributions to the decline of western civilization from Beatrice.com, where I blog about books and authors in the news and my own adventures at New York City literary events. I'm also updating my Gen X credentials by publishing my first book this fall, a pictorial tribute to '70s films called The Stewardess Is Flying the Plane. As you can imagine, there's a really sweet Karen Black pic on the cover, with about 300 more photographs inside. Not all of Karen Black.

Posted by at 09:26 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

June 28, 2005

My, it's hot in here!

Not the blog. I'm actually posting from the road, as part of my fabulous and action-packed professional life as Laurel Halbany, Esq. It's a hundred freakin' degrees here, and I'm hiding in my air-conditioned hotel room, smacking myself in the head for having packed a wool suit. Fashion sense, thy name is somebody else's.

I guess I qualify as a "professional writer" if that means "getting paid for having had something published in a real magazine or book," to the tune of one (1) short story; lots of bits here and there, some paid and some not, in fanzines and gaming books and on the Web. Most of the writing I get paid to do involves saying things like "hereinbefore" and "triable issues of material fact clearly exist"; but I refuse to assault your tender eyes with such language any further, Gentle Reader.

I hornswoggled Mr. Scalzi into letting me be your Tuesday entertainment by promising to write more stuff like the penis post and not so much with the griping about the asbestos bill. Rumors that I sold my pet cat into an unspeakable fate for the privilege of guest-blogging will be summarily denied.

Posted by at 08:48 PM | Comments (7)

Dashing in, slightly out of breath...

John seems to be batting a thousand on his daily assignments, as he gave Saturdays to the Jewish guy. Luckily, I'm a bacon cheeseburger kind of Jewish guy (ham and cheese on matzoh for Passover), so this shouldn't be too much of a stretch.

Hello, everyone, I'm your redundant backup Scalzi for the next few Saturdays. Name's Jeff, and I'm the token non-professional writer here—which is to say, I've written one book and I'm writing another, but there's been a ten-year stretch in between. Looking around at my fellow guest hosts, that appears to put me in the distinct minority.

And naturally, the email from John asking for introductions came during three concurrent crises with my clients, so my hello will be uncharacteristically brief. A longer introduction forthcoming after a few web servers I could mention stop emitting smoke and setting off the Halon systems.

(And to be serious for just a second—hey, it's an honor to be here. I respect John and I respect the Republic of Scalzi, and so I'll be doing my best to keep you entertained. Many thanks to the Grand High Poohbah.)

Posted by at 07:42 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Testing, testing ...

Hey all, Claire here, your Scalzi-July-replacement for Fridays. Very excited. Very excited. I'd give you a more complete intro, but I was planning on making that my first entry in July and frankly, I just don't have that many ideas, so I'll still need to do that.

Instead, I'll talk about Scalzi. Obviously he thinks I'm a loser, since he gave me Friday. Actually, Scalzi, I do have a social life. Just ask my mom. Also, Scalzi seems to be copping to the fact that he needs some sort of affirmative action program on this website. Notice the underrepresentation of women among his July bloggers, and the severe underrepresentation of Asians. Since my other blogging gig is as one of five or six regular bloggers from the staff of Asian American Hyphen Magazine (over there I have Sunday, as befits my active tv watching schedule), and since I spend my weekly blogging space taking advertisers to task for using racist stereotypes, clearly Scalzi thought he could kill two straw men with one stone. We've seen this tactic before, Scalzi, and we shall overcome.

More on Friday. Surely one hadn't planned on allowing me to set the tone?

Posted by at 05:56 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Misspent Youth

I've made a living off of my misspent youth. More about that in a minute.

Scalzi-san's been kind enough to assign me Mondays, which should get everyone's week off to a stumbling start. In about three weeks I'll join the ranks as one of John's publishers, when we release his novel, Agent to the Stars. I've met John twice, and can tell you he's bright, short, bald, dresses better than most authors, and gestures with his hands when excited. His table manners are excellent. He claims to be able to dance, but, thankfully, I've seen no evidence of that.

Back to my youth. Like many a geek, I spent most of my free time buried in one book after another, one magazine or another. Everything from drawing room mysteries to thrillers to SF to my monthy dose of Asimov's Science Fiction. Naturally enough, I grew up to be a publisher.

I've earned my living running Subterranean Press for the past five years, where we've published the likes of Joe R. Lansdale, Dan Simmons, Orson Scott Card, Charles de Lint, and many others. We release 25 hardcovers a year, with print runs ranging from 500 to over 5000 copies.

Enough of the backstory. Starting Monday, I aim to talk a little bit about the smaller end of publishing, the things that are important to an outfit such as ours, what we can offer to readers and writers. If you have specific questions you want answered, I'm glad to consider them.

See you Monday.

Posted by at 03:35 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Holy Crap!

Yes, I agreed to sign all 1,500 copies of Agent to the Stars. But Hoppin' Jesus in a Sequined Vest! I didn't realize what 1,500 copies meant until a freakin' huge box appeared at my door today, with 1,500 actual pages to sign. That's three reams of paper. And I've got to do it all in the next several days.

All I can say is this book damn well better sell out. I'm scribbling myself into crippling tendonitis, here. (Buy it from Subterranean Press! Or Amazon! Really, either way).

And now I'm off to find some pens.

Posted by john at 12:19 PM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

Scardown Hits the Shelves

Elizabeth Bear's Scardown is in the stores today: It's the followup to her debut novel Hammered, which I liked quite a bit and which has been very popular, as signified by the fact that when we were at Wiscon signing books right next to each other, she signed a lot more copies of Hammered than I did of Old Man's War. She's also nominated for the Campbell Award this year for best new writer, so this will probably be your last chance to jump on the Elizabeth Bear bandwagon before it becomes overburdened by all the Johnny-Come-Latelies. And you know how they are.

Posted by john at 11:28 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Winter In July, Film At 11

Hello, I'm Jim Winter. I'm that snarky small press writer who occasionally pops up in the comments section here. I'm not sure how I got picked for this gig, but it may have something to do with Old Man's War and The Book of the Dumb both being on my recommended reads list for extended periods.

I am a crime fiction writer who holds a mind-numbing day job at an insurance company in Cincinnati. Never mind which one. Aren't they all mind-numbing? I mean, it's insurance.

So what am I doing taking up space on a science fiction writer's blog? Ask anyone I went to high school with (who isn't dead or in prison.) They're all shocked, shocked, I tell youse, I'm not trying to become the Second Coming of Gene Roddenberry. It's all well and good. Everything I wanted to do in science fiction's been done. I leave it to folks like John to reinvent the genre.

John, in his infinite wisdom, has opted to give me the Sunday slot, which means one of these will fall during a business trip. (During that time, my own blog will have a guest blogger.) I suppose he intends me to post more contemplative posts fitting for a quiet Sunday morning.

I neglected to tell him Sundays are usually when I post lists of people who need to be forced to wear gasoline-soaked underwear during a Tony Robbins firewalk.

Don't worry, John. I promise to behave myself.

Maybe badly, but I'll behave myself.

Posted by at 09:57 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Meet the Guest Bloggers

As I mentioned earlier, I had several dozen applicants for the position of guest bloggers for July, and from those many worthy applicants, I selected seven -- one for each day of the week. Ladies and gentlemen, here are your Whatever Guest Bloggers for July (click on each name for their home blog/site):

Jim Winter
William Schafer
Laurel Halbany
Ron Hogan
Eric Magnuson
Claire Light
Jeff Porten

You ask: Why did I pick these folks, and not, say, you? Well, as this is the first time I'll have guest bloggers here, I tended to go with people I already knew, either in person or through online correspondence, and I also tended to go with people who are active in publishing, either as authors, editors or in some other capacity. Which is not to say that I didn't pick from outside of these criteria: One guest blogger here I don't think I corresponded with prior to selecting him; I just thought his personal site was interesting. But overall I went with people who had some track record with which I felt comfortable.

If you were not selected, take comfort in knowing that it was actually fairly difficult to pick folks. There are some people who I didn't have guest blog this time around who I would love to hand the reins to if I take another break sometime down the road. It was an embarrassment of riches, really it was. So thanks. I am pleased to see that opening up the process did provide such quality results.

I've asked the guest bloggers to pop in here over the next couple of days (i.e., prior to July 1) to introduce themselves and tell y'all a little about who they are, etc. And when July 1 rolls around I'll step out and they'll step in. The idea is that one guest blogger will "anchor" one day a week (i.e., that's a day I've asked them to post something, so there are no gaps), but any of the guest bloggers is welcome to post at any time, on any subject they like, in any manner they choose fit. Where will I be? Hopefully finishing up a novel.

In case you're wondering, yes, I'm excited about this. I think this is a great group of writers, and I'm pretty sure by the end of the month you'll all be formulating ways to bump me off so they can keep on blogging here. Just remember that most of them have their own blogs, so even when they're not here, you can keep reading them. This will keep you happy and me alive. Everybody wins.

Posted by john at 12:29 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 27, 2005

Comments Out

FYI -- The comment function appears to be disabled at the moment. I'm on it to get it working again.

Update 9:01 pm: They seem to be functioning again. But don't take my word for it -- leave a comment.

That's a request, actually. I know I can leave a comment. I want to see if you can. If you can't, send me an e-mail.

Posted by john at 08:55 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Attempting Upgrade

I'm going to try upgrading my Movable Type now. If the site is inexplicably gone for some reason, that's why. Of course, this note will only work if -- in fact -- you have read it before the site implodes. Well, that's a chance I'll have to take.

Update, 5:45: Ah, I feel so competent. Looks like I managed the upgrade!

Posted by john at 04:09 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Supreme Court Rulings, Etc

Thoughts on today's Supreme Court rulings and other stuff:

* It looks like the Court's "Split the Baby" rulings on the 10 Commandments in courthouses and on government land hasn't made anyone happy, so I figure that probably means it's not a bad pair of rulings. As far as it goes for me, I tend to feel that the Commandments in the actual courthouse is a little too God-huggy for me, but I can't really bring myself to care if there's some slab o' Judeo-Christian rules somewhere on the court property. For example, a couple towns over from me, in Troy, the courthouse grounds has one of those 10 Commandment slabs that was handed out by the Fraternal Order of Eagles right around the time The Ten Commandments came out in the theaters. It's located in one of the far corners of the court's grounds, nowhere near the actual courthouse, and honestly, who the hell cares. Although I do wonder if the courthouses that have the 10Cs in their courtyards would be required to also exhibit a monuments with Islamic laws or say, some of the precepts of Scientology, if someone came around toting such monuments to give away to the courthouses of this great land.

* I think the Grokster ruling is particularly interesting. It points out the elephant in the room regarding Grokster, which is that it really was a system designed to take up the thievery slack from Napster (which is, of course, now a paid service), and that's a legitimate issue. However, it doesn't invalidate the hallowed Betamax ruling, from what I understand; i.e., just because something can be used incidentally for copyright infringement, this will not be an excuse to punt the product out of the market or otherwise make it illegal.

My own (not a lawyer) reading of the ruling suggests there's a simple way around this for producers of file-sharing software and other software that would facilitate copyright theft, which is to make sure the marketing of the product/software accentuates and facilitates the legal uses of the software, and/or offer a rudimentary way within the software for copyright holders to flag their properties as copyrighted, and illegal to copy through the network (for books, for example, a string of non-related sentences that are located within the text, tied to a search function for uploaded files). Would determined copyright holders get around this stuff? Of course they would, but the software manufacturers can show they've made an effort to instruct end users in the correct usage of the software.

What also make this easier for future designers is the fact there is a wealth of freely-distributed material out there, particularly music and text. Preload your software with pointers to that freely-available material and out of the box you're promoting the legal and legitimate uses of file-sharing (or whatever), and that the software is designed with this sort of thing in mind. I could be off on this, mind you (that's the whole "I'm not a lawyer" bit raising its head), but I suspect that this is a ruling that is easily routed around.

* Someone noted to me that there was a Wikipedia entry on me. I knew I was referenced in a couple of Wikipedia entries (my logs show when someone swings by via the Mike Krahulik entry) but I wasn't aware someone put in something about me directly. And the even better news is that while brief, it is also factually correct. Which is always nice.

* I am still accepting applications for guest bloggers for July through tonight, so if you'd still like to apply but haven't, there's still a little time. I'll probably mail people who have applied with the yeas and nays tomorrow at some point. At this time there are a few dozen applicants, so simply by numbers involved, most of you will get a "nay," but I still haven't made final selections, so late applicants still have a chance. How many guest bloggers I ultimately select will actually be dependent on whether I can upgrade my Movable Type license from a "personal basic" one to a "personal unlimited" one (i.e., whether I'm smart enough to do an upgrade install). If I can, I may pick as many as seven. If I can't, I'll pick four. I will of course share my selections with you after I make them.

Posted by john at 02:32 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

June 26, 2005


This is the 1000th Whatever entry since I switched over to Movable Type in March of 2003. This is not actually the 1000th entry of the Whatever, however -- the entries of the Whatever prior to March of 2002, three and a half years of entries, are currently MIA (if you're insanely interested you can pull them up off archive.org). Fold those in and this is closer to entry 1600 or 1700. Maybe I'll get around to adding those in at some point, but I wouldn't stay up nights waiting for it. I am notoriously lazy.

Whatever number entry this truly is, it's a large enough number that I am reminded I have been doing this a very long time now -- seven years this September, which make this officially my longest-lasting writing gig. Certainly other people have clocked in more entries in a similar amount of time (especially "true" blogs, where the entries just a few sentences), but I like to think that Whatever has maintained a reasonably high standard of readability through those several years and four figures worth of entries. I am pretty proud of the work I do here.

Although I am famously always saying that I write the Whatever for myself, I do appreciate that so many of you take time out of your day to swing on by and see whatever damn fool thing it is I am saying today. So for you long-time Whatever readers, thanks. I'll try to make the next thousand entries as interesting as the ones that have preceded them -- and if we're all lucky, maybe even more so.

The picture has nothing to do with anything, incidentally. I just thought it was a nice picture of Krissy and Athena.

Posted by john at 09:04 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

June 23, 2005

Soliciting Guest Bloggers

I've decided to take off the month of July in order to get a little work done (which you should understand to mean I'm just a smidge behind on The Ghost Brigades, and given its relatively tight release schedule, I don't want to give the wonderful folks at Tor a major panic attack). Rather than shutter the Whatever, however, I thought I'd turn it over to some guest bloggers for the month.

So here's the deal: I'm looking for five guest bloggers to ran rampant around here for the month of July. My plan is to assign each guest blogger a certain day of the week (weekends off); they may post here on any day, but they would have to post on the agreed-upon day. That way I know there would be something here every day. They can write whatever they want (because that's what I do) but they have to keep the general standards I keep, i.e., I don't want this to suddenly become a den o' porn (sorry, guys).

The selection criteria: You have to write well. That's pretty much it. Having said that, it will help if you already have a blog/journal so I can see examples, and while I'm not opposed to letting someone I don't know fiddle around here, your chances are slightly better if I already sort of know who you are. I will try for a nice range of guests, but I suppose it depends on who applies. Also, of course, please don't hate me if I don't pick you. You know I love you.

What do you get out of it? Well, the Whatever typically clocks 8K to 10K visitors a day, which is fairly decent, so there's some good exposure there, particularly if you already have your own blog/journal -- perhaps some Whatever readers will follow you home. And as long as every entry of yours isn't "hey, look what I've written over here!" I'm perfectly happy to let you self-promote. Also, you have the benefit of some of the most excellent commenters around, as the Whatever regulars are a damn sharp group. And, oh, I don't know, maybe I'll get you all some nice gift or something. Or maybe an Amazon gift certificate. Or a pony.

How to apply: Send me an e-mail. Put "GUEST BLOGGER: [your name here]" in the subject header. Tell me why I should let you wreck the joint. If you have a blog/journal, include a link so I can see it. If you've got any other writing experience (books, articles, interpretive crayon stylings), let me know, too. If you want to send a writing sample, drop it in the e-mail itself, don't attach it. Attachments make me twitchy.

I'm out for the weekend but I'll make my selections by next Wednesday, so be ready to hop into action. And naturally, if you have any questions, drop them in the comment thread so I can answer them once in stead of over and over again in e-mail (which means you should also read the comment thread to see if your questions have already been asked by someone else, and answered by me). Thanks!

Posted by john at 02:54 PM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

Cracking the Flag-Burning Amendment

I've gone on before about why any Constitutional Amendment to ban burning or otherwise desecrating the flag of the United States of America would be cracked the very second it was passed, but apparently asking the members of the House of Representatives to read is too much to hope for. So for the members of Senate, who vote on the proposed Amendment soon, and the members of the 50 state legislatures here in the US, allow me to offer this visual primer on How to Crack the Flag Burning Amendment.

First, for reference, the American Flag:


If you want to get fiddly about it, here are the actual government specs for the flag, dictating what the standard dimensions of the flag would be, down to the Pantone colors used in the flag. As the proposed Amendment allows Congress and the states to prohibit desecration of the US Flag, let us assume -- for the sake of argument -- that the flag is defined by these standard dimensions. Got it? Fine. Here we go:

An American Flag? Hardly. It has only 49 stars! There's a circle where a star should be. Certainly an American Flag had 49 stars, but it didn't look like this (it looked like this).The true 49-star flag would likely be covered by the Amendment, but this one, not so much. Use it for kindling!

Three cheers for the Red, White and Gray? I think not -- use this one to swaddle a horse. Then feed that horse lots of grain.

The 13 red and white stripes represent the original 13 colonies of the United States -- but what's this? One of the stripes has gone flaming pink! Clearly it's the stripe for Massachusetts. But whichever former colony it represents, we don't salute the pink, white and blue. Use this one to mop up vomit after a Socialist Party USA beer bash!

Green, white and orange. Man, that's not even trying. Use it as a dropcloth for that goat slaughter you have planned.

The 48-star flag flew over America for nearly 50 years, the longest reign of any US flag. But this isn't that flag. This is just some cheap and tawdry knockoff of the American flag suitable for, oh, let's say, being torn into strips and used as emergency feminine protection.

Red, white and blue? Check. 13 stripes? Check. 50 stars? Check. Well, then it must be an Americ-- hey. Wait a minute. Isn't that the Hamburgler in the bottom right corner? I may not know much, but I do know that the great Flag of the United States of America does not feature a second-tier corporate mascot, especially one with acknowledged -- indeed, celebrated -- criminal tendencies. This is not the American flag. Let's soak it in gasoline and roast weenies!

Now, aside from not being the flag of the United States of America, what else do these last six objects have in common? Well, what they have in common is that each and every one of them would fail what I like to call the "VFW Test," which is conducted like so:

1. Go to your local VFW hall on the 4th of July.
2. Burn the flag-like object in the parking lot.
3. See if you don't get your ass kicked.

Do you think a mob of angry veterans won't kick your ass for burning the flag, just because one of the stars is a circle, or one of the stripes is pink, or you've embossed the Hamburgler into the corner? As if. You'll get a stomping, all right, because it looks like an American flag, even if it is not, and burning it feels like you're burning the American flag, even if you're not.

And of course, that's the point: by not burning the Flag of the United States but rather something excruciatingly close to it, you're not violating a Constitutional Amendment, but engaging in free speech, which is of course covered by the First Amendment. You're getting all the impact of burning the US flag, with none of the Constitutional risk (although you may still get your ass kicked by angry veterans). You've cracked the flag-burning Amendment.

Alternately, one could simply dispose of a worn and soiled American Flag in the acknowledged respectful and non-desecrating manner of burning it (see U.S. Flag Code, Section 8, subsection (k)), and, while respectfully burning that worn and soiled flag, in a public place, simultaneously and independently engage in political speech.

"Protecting" the flag with a Constitutional Amendment won't solve the not-at-all pressing problem of people burning flags for political protest. They'll still do it. They'll simply do it in ways that will now additionally mock the stupidity of those who love the symbol of American freedoms more than they love actual American freedoms. And no matter how expansively Congress defines "the American Flag" there will always be something that is not the flag, but is close enough in its shape and structure to feel just like the flag. And there will be the people who will use that not-quite-flag-like object to protest.

And you know what? Good for them. They're being better Americans than those who would pass a flag-burning Amendment. Real Americans don't take away the freedoms of other Americans.

Posted by john at 07:35 AM | Comments (148) | TrackBack

June 22, 2005

Interaction Panel Schedule

Interaction (this year's Worldcon) has mailed me my final panel schedule:

Thursday 5:00pm
How to Participate in and Moderate a Panel

Janice Gelb (M)
Eileen Gunn
Ellen Klages
John Scalzi

Notes: I suppose this is proof people do actually read the InterWeb.

Friday 12:00 noon
The Immortal in Written and Media SF

Ginjer Buchanan
Tanya Huff
Fiona McIntosh
Elaine Nichol
John Scalzi (M)

The immortal characters are a staple of SF and Fantasy. How do the
written and media genres cope with characters who look at the world
without our cultural assumptions.

Notes: This proves someone at Interaction has a sense of humor. When the preliminary panel assignments came out I wrote back telling them they should take me off the panel, since I haven't written an immortal character nor do I have any plans to. Not only have they not taken me off the panel, they've gone and made me moderator. Very cute. But: I accept, and now I'll read up on the subject and the other panelists' work so I can intelligently direct traffic as the moderator. I don't write immortal characters, but I think up of some interesting things to ask the people who do.

Saturday 7:00pm
Is Blogging Helping or Hurting Your Career?

Michael Cobley
Eileen Gunn
Benjamin Rosenbaum
John Scalzi (M)
Martha Wells

Is you blog taking over your life --- or your writing? Are you
talking too much about writing and not actually writing, or is your
blog helping you to write better?

Notes: Heh. Yeah, I guess I know a little about this topic.

There you have it.

Posted by john at 03:14 PM | Comments (24) | TrackBack

June 21, 2005

Open Letter to the University of Chicago Development Office

Dear University of Chicago Development Office:

I'm going to make this simple for you: For every single piece of spam e-mail I receive from you exhorting me to give money to the University of Chicago, I intend to cut 25% off the original amount of money I intended to donate to you for the year. So far -- in the last couple of weeks -- I've received two e-mails from you, so congratulations, you've already halved my intended contribution. Two more and you lose it all, and then I'll have to decide whether to count any additional spam from you this year against my intended contribution for next year, and the year after and so on. If I do this, given your current rate of spammage, I may be in the clear for contributions through 2010 at the earliest.

Why do this? Two reasons. First, I get enough unwanted crap in my e-mail box without additional unwanted crap from you. Second, begging for money through unsolicited e-mail implicitly places you on the same level as the people who are trying to scam my credit card numbers, or trying to tempt me place a bet with their offshore casino, or trying to beguile me with pictures of barnyard fornication -- just the sort of crowd I'm sure you want to be associated with. You're better than that, and with an endowment of $3.62 billion, you can sure as hell afford a goddamn stamp.

Yes, I'm aware that you have provided me with a way to opt out of future money-begging e-mails, but you know what? I shouldn't have to ask you not to clog my inbox with e-mail I don't want. You're the University of Chicago. You should already know that spamming alumni is a venal sin. And I have no assurance that once I opt out, some jackass in the future won't just put me on the spam list again.

So instead, I place the burden on you, and put it to you in a way I'm sure will get your attention: Take me off your damn money-begging e-mail list and keep me off it, or you won't see any money from me. Because you're annoying me, and why would I give money to someone who is annoying me? I'll just give it to my high school, or maybe to my wife's college. They don't spam me.

It's up to you. You've already lost half of what I planned to send you this year because of your spammage. It's all the same to me if you lose the other half. If there's one thing I learned at the University of Chicago, it's not to reward people who just won't learn.

Update, 5pm 6/22: How very nice -- an e-mailed apology from the U of C Development folks and assurance I'm removed from the fundraiser e-mail list. Griping works! And I'm pleased enough by the gracious response that I'm back to making a full contribution to the school for the year. Would that all e-mail issues were so quickly resolved.

Posted by john at 10:24 PM | Comments (35) | TrackBack

Oh My God! They Look Just Like Us!

The New York Times, which recently tried to homo-fy two guys socializing by call it a "man date," continues on its vein of mild heterosexual panic with an article that frets that thanks to heterosexual men deciding it'd be okay not to be a slob every once in a while, and gay men occasionally not giving a crap if their stubble is exquisitely sculptured, it's getting harder to tell the gays from the straights. The horror! The sheer, unadulterated, sexually-ambiguous horror! And if we can't tell the gays from the straights, then the bisexuals are really up the creek, aren't they? Simultaneously wearing a too-tight ribbed tank top and relaxed fit Wranglers won't mean anything anymore.

These sort of articles make me want to smack the Times upside the head and yell at it to try its hand at actual news again, you know, for a refreshing change. I hear there's a war on. Secondly: This is a bad thing? We live in an era in which an active quorum of religious bigots would quarantine gays into concentration camps if they could ("It's just like Guantanamo -- only fabulous!"), and the Times is snarkily concerned that we can't simply visually identify the gay guys anymore? Hell. I'll happily wear a leather armband if it'll flummox a hateful Bible-wielder. And I'll let a gay man borrow my Wal-Mart purchased t-shirt, just to really throw them off. He can't be gay -- that shirt is 40% polyester! Yes, the gay can blend. Just like polycotton.

You know, when I was younger, a lot of people, including members of my own family, vaguely suspected I was gay. Why? Well, all the cultural indicators were there. During high school, I had an overly-dramatic crush on a particular girl which kept me from dating other absolutely wonderful girls even when (on occasion) they were standing right in front of me, waving their hands about and saying "Hey, look over here." Professing to have a long-standing crush on an unapproachable girl, is, of course, very teen gay. So is being verbally clever, slight of build, an active participant in singing and theater groups and enjoying Depeche Mode on a regular basis.

And I took dance. Modern and Jazz. Oh, yeah.

Add it all up and I was queer to the friggin' core. The only thing that really pegged me as possibly being in the heterosexual camp was that I was a freakin' slob and that in addition to enjoying Depeche Mode I was also a big fan of Journey. But as anyone can tell you, gay teens compensate for their queerness by doing things like, you know, picking a random corporate rock band to obsess over, hopefully one with a moderately cute lead singer. In my era it would be Journey. 10 years later: Creed (Today: Well, hell. All those new rock bands seem pretty sexually all over the map, don't they? Have you gotten a gander at, say, Franz Ferdinand?).

So: On paper, as a teen, pretty darn gay. And yet, right through to the monogamous institution of marriage, heterosexual right down the line (it's a short line, I'll admit). Also, I'm not afraid to say it: As a general rule, I like me the women. In theory I accept the possibility that some guy out there could get me emotionally quivery and physically all winged-out, and I wouldn't be all angsty about it if happened. But you know what? Hasn't. Whereas women distract me all the damn time. I'm good with this; for one thing, simply as a practical matter, it's caused me far fewer headaches than the alternative. I am appropriately thankful that I and my life partner have our relationship recognized by everyone as being a marriage, and that there are no exclusionary dickheads hiding their pissy fears behind a Bible and telling us we're going to burn in eternal Hellfire for loving each other and defining ourselves, with our child, as a family. It's one less thing for me to deal with personally. Would every couple were as fortunate as we.

(It doesn't seem likely people would confuse me for being gay anymore, what with the wife and child and rural red-state lifestyle and the Wal-Mart clothes, but if they did, you know what I would think? Good. Here in the US, gay is the new British, which is to say that if people think you're gay, they also think you are smarter, wittier, and more fun to be around than the average guy. Sure, you sodomize other men on occasion, but that's your business, and we Americans always suspected British men had sodomy as a required subject at Eton. So it's all the same, really. And in the meantime you always say the perfect thing at the perfect moment. You're more entertaining than cable! And what could possibly be wrong with that? If people know you're a straight guy, on the other hand, they automatically think you're a beef-witted social dullard in a Linux shirt hoping to delude some poor woman into accepting a sperm packet or two. In a word: Eeeeeeew. I blame Queer Eye for the Straight Guy for propagating this "befuddled pathetic straight guy" meme, but since the New York Times tells us it's getting harder to tell the queers and straights apart, at least it's on its way way out.)

Point is: the gay/straight cultural checklist utterly failed to predict my overt and flagrant heterosexual proclivities. And I don't doubt that even now, somewhere in my sleepy Midwestern burg, there's a guy flying a NASCAR flag, wearing a John Deere cap and owning a pickup with a "W '04" bumper sticker who is trying to decide if he should go see Mr. and Mrs. Smith yet again to enjoy his recommended daily allowance of Brad Pitt, or if he should just stick Troy into the DVD player, and catch Brad in his buff, half-naked, remote-control-pausable Achaean glory. In the real world the dividing line between gay and straight doesn't exist anywhere but in the mind and in the bedroom. It's vaguely appalling that the writers and editors of the New York Times don't actually get this.

Actually, I'm sure they do. But they have newshole to fill. Well, like I said: Rumor is, there's a war on.

Posted by john at 01:20 PM | Comments (47) | TrackBack

How to Get Your Ass Kicked

Four sets of three songs on Dance Dance Revolution Extreme, standard setting, all at once. That should do it if you are a 36 year old somewhat infrequent exerciser, as I am. It's a little under half an hour of seriously aerobic exercise, and it pretty much knocks me on my ass when I'm done.

Yes, this constitutes my exercise regimen; I've been doing it for a couple of weeks. The DDR people even make it easy for you: They have a special workout counter built into the game -- if you enter your weight and a couple other criteria, the game will calculate for you how many calories you burn per session (for me, usually somewhere between 60 and 70 per three song set, in case you're wondering). What this makes you realize is that after sweating like pig for 25 minutes, hopping up and down in a comical approximation of choreography, you've only burned off the equivalent of a Snickers Bar. Swell. That's a motivator, all right: No more Snickers Bars for me.

I am beginning to see the benefit, however: The first time I did it, when I was done I thought I was gonna die. Now after I'm done I know I'm gonna live, I just won't enjoy the half hour or so after I finish. Also, my foot-eye coordination is improving, which is critical if I am to regain the competitive advantage over my daughter in Dance Dance Revolution, because recently she's been wiping the floor with me in the game and talking trash to me about it, and if you want humiliation, you can't do much better than a six year old girl kicking you to the curb in DDR and then, after she's beaten you, turning to you and saying "Yeah, who's the daddy now?"

Yes, she really does say that. Yes, it's awfully cute. Even so. Time for a comeback, I say.

Posted by john at 01:06 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

June 19, 2005

Two Rings


I haven't worn a wedding ring in several years, on account that I've lost not just one, but two -- both in the yard here at the house. The first one I lost the second year we were here, while I was out playing with Athena; it just slipped off my finger. This led to both Krissy and me searching the yard in vain, Krissy with a metal detector. This is the problem when you have five acres of lawn; that's a lot of ground to cover.

Krissy gave the second ring to me on Christmas Eve three years ago; that ring lasted a little over 12 hours before I lost it, playing with Athena in the snow. Krissy, who had every right to be righteously angry with me about losing a second ring so soon after she had gotten it, just laughed instead; that probably had something to do with the fact that I was so hangdog depressed at the fact that I'd lost the ring that there was very little she could have done to make me feel any worse than I already did.

That's where the ring situation stood for the last three years. I went ringless because, among other things, I was mildly terrified of losing a third ring; it seemed like one of those "three strikes and you're out" sort of things. On a day-to-day basis this wasn't a problem, but it did have the interesting side effect of making women I had just met while I was away from my wife suspicious of me. I would talk about my wife and they would reflexively check my hand and notice that the ring was not there. This implied either I was one of those men who refused to wear a ring, which has misogynist undertones (not good), or that I had taken the ring off while I was away from my wife (really not any better). Then I would have to break out the "I lost two rings playing in the yard with my child" story, which, while effective in making me the object of feminine pity, is one I'd rather not have to break out every time I meet someone of the XX-chromosome persuasion.

Forward to Friday, our tenth anniversary, and I've decided that I've been foolish about this ring thing long enough. Fact is, I want to wear a ring -- I want to have a clear and obvious symbol of my marriage, and the tenth anniversary of our marriage seems like a fine time to symbolically recommit. So I went and I got another ring. Nothing expensive, mind you (the paranoia about losing a third ring was still there). Just a simple gold band, like the other two rings I had. I slipped it on my finger in the store and wore it home.

I didn't show it to Krissy in any obvious way; I didn't get it for that reason. I should have been wearing a ring all this time, so I didn't want it to seem like a big deal that I was wearing one now. Of course she noticed anyway, and after a moment of surprise at seeing something she wasn't expecting on my ring finger, she seemed pleased.

Off we went to dinner, and during dinner we talked about the last ten years and the things that have gone into making the marriage work: Love, honesty, devotion and so on, but then Krissy added that the ability to surprise each other also helped. This seemed fairly cryptic until Krissy came around the table and presented with a second ring. Krissy got me the ring because she knew I wanted another, and she decided that I had been silly long enough about it.

The irony here was that as I was going to get my ring, I considered the idea that Krissy might have gotten me a ring, and that maybe I should wait. But the fact is, I didn't want to wait. I wanted to wear a ring on my anniversary. The sudden appearance of a second ring didn't make my decision any less correct; it merely confirmed it was the right thing to do.

I love that Krissy and I both had the same idea at the same time, and for the same reasons. This is the one of the true blessings and strengths of our marriage -- we get each other and understand how the other works, and we sense what the other needs and wants and we go out of our way to make it happen. I love that I had two wedding rings on my anniversary. It says good things about me. It says good things about my wife. It says good things about us. It says good things about our marriage.

Of course, on a day to day basis, two rings is one ring too many. The ring I bought is going back to the store, since the ring Krissy got me is nicer, and also only an idiot would not wear the ring given to him by his wife.

You ask: and just what happens if I lose this ring? Well, the answer lies in the inscription Krissy had etched in the inside of the ring, which in itself serves as incentive to keep track of this one:


Posted by john at 10:52 AM | Comments (34) | TrackBack

June 18, 2005

Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town

Spotted in the wild, and subsequently purchased: Cory Doctorow's latest, Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, which I found at the local bookstore here in Troy, Ohio, the very same bookstore that have never once ever had Old Man's War on the shelves, grumble, grumble. The book's official release is July 1, but Amazon also claims to have copies in stock, so there you go. Cory will be releasing a Creative Commons version of the book online on July 1 as well, but I've read enough of Cory not to have to need a sample prior to purchase, and I'm a strong believer in making sure people get paid. Call me a self-interested atavist. In any event, the book is getting excellent reviews so far (including a starred review in Publishers Weekly, which says it "demonstrates how memorably the outrageous and the everyday can coexist") so that doesn't hurt, either. Kick it, Cory.

Speaking of Publishers Weekly, it published a review of Agent to the Stars this week:

In this slick, lightweight SF yarn from Scalzi (Old Man's War), Thomas Stein, a hot young Hollywood agent, has just negotiated a multimillion-dollar deal for his friend, starlet Michelle Beck, when his boss, Carl Lupo, foists a space alien called Joshua on him. Joshua and his people, the Yherajk, are intelligent, gelatinous, shape-shifting blobs that communicate telepathically and by sharing odors. They've been monitoring Earth's TV broadcasts and realize that before they can make first contact, they'll have to deal with their image problem. Tom takes on the job of making the friendly, odiferous creatures palatable to humanity, while keeping Michelle and the rest of his other acting clients happy. Several entertaining trips to the aliens' spaceship enliven the predictable plot.

Not as nice as the Booklist review, but, eh, not too bad. You can't win them all.

Posted by john at 07:48 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

June 17, 2005

10 Years Part 2


For compare and contrast. And now we're off to dinner.

Posted by john at 07:02 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

10 Years

Ten years ago today Krissy and I were married. There has not been a day in the 3,652 that have followed when I have failed to tell her that I love her. I can't imagine there will be a single day in the rest of our lives when I would.

Today, I would consider it your anniversary gift to us if you would tell someone that you love that you love them. My gift to you is the wish that you find joy in your life that matches the joy my marriage has given me. I can't imagine a better exchange of gifts.

Posted by john at 12:00 AM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

June 16, 2005

So You've Stolen From Me: A Forgiveness Primer

Let's just say, theoretically, you managed to acquire a copy of one of my books in an illegal manner, and after reading the tome, you've become filled with intense regret that your illegal procurement has deprived me of my rightful income and have resolved to correct the issue. Alternately, you borrowed the book from somewhere and after reading the book have the urge to compensate me. Thanks! Now, how to do it? Here are some easy-to-follow steps. Any of these work for me.

1. Buy the book for yourself. Because, really, I don't care if you read it first. Buying the book at any point is a good thing.

2. Buy the book for someone else. If you don't see the point in getting yourself a copy, seeing that you already have one, no doubt there's someone else you know who might like it. Give them a gift. You look good, and I get paid. Simple.

3. Buy the book for your local library. Do you know how much library book budgets have been slashed recently? Chances are pretty good that if you showed up at your local library and offered them a copy of the book, you'd make a librarian really happy. And there are very few things in one's life that are better than making a librarian happy. And certainly I'd be pleased to have my book in another library. You know why? Because I like people reading my book, and this is a fine way to make it happen.

4. Buy a book for a child. If you decide I am simply rolling in the dough and don't need any more cash -- which is false, by the way, but never mind that -- then do the next best thing, which is to take a little of your money and buy a book for a kid you know. It doesn't even have to be an equivalent amount of cash as my book. But don't buy a cheap book; get something nice -- a book you would have wanted to been given as a child. A $1 coloring book from Wal-Mart ain't gonna cut it. The point is to cultivate the next generation of readers, and the way to do that is with a really cool kid's book. Do that, and we'll call it even.

5. Donate to Reading is Fundamental. Don't know any kids, or know some kids, but can't stand them and don't want to give them something nice, like a book? Fine. Reading is Fundamental sponsors literacy programs and initiatives all over the US, which is fairly important because people who are not literate have lives that truly suck, and the number of people who are functionally illiterate in our country is rather greater than most people expect.

Any organization that helps people to read is doing us all a mitzvah. If you take $10 (or more) and donate it to RIF while thinking of my book, an angel will get its wings, and some kid somewhere might learn how to read and thus have a better chance of a life that is worth having. I'll take that.

6. If you can't do any of the above, then for God's sake, the next time someone says "read anything good recently?" Say, "Why, yes! Yes, I have." And tell them about my book. And then tell them that they can find it at their local book store or any online bookstore of their choice. Encourage someone else to buy my book. It's the least you can do.

Posted by john at 08:51 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Practicing for the Nursing Home


For the record, it didn't work. But, you know. If at first you don't succeed, and all that.

Posted by john at 06:57 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

A Public Apology to Chad Brink

So, I was rummaging through my office looking for, well, something to kill a bug, when I came across a copy of Old Man's War. Which I then realized had been sent to me to sign, and I had not returned. And which I also remembered belonged to a person to whom I owed an ARC of Agent to the Stars -- and had for a couple of months now.

So to that person, Chad Brink: Whoops. So very sorry that my brain is apparently 60% cottage cheese. I will send both books out in the mail tomorrow, along with an autographed copy of Book of the Dumb as small compensation for my utter incompetence.

Also, I did not kill that bug with your book. Honest.

Posted by john at 05:19 PM | Comments (6)

The Acclerando E-Book

Let me take a quick moment to pimp Charlie Stross' Accelerando, which is he offering up as a free e-book at Accelerando.org. You should do the following, in this order:

1. Go and get the e-book
2. Read it with your head in a vise so that the top of your head doesn't pop off
3. Go get the hardback when it goes on sale on July 1st (which means, realistically, it'll start appearing in the stores beginning about now).

I'm personally very high on this book, which I think is just ridiculously overstuffed with cool ideas and situations and thought-provoking tidbits, and I'm very pleased that Charlie (and his publishers, Ace here in the US and Orbit in the UK) are open to giving people a chance to check out the goods, since I've been blathering about the book to anyone who asks for months, and now they'll get a chance to check it out for themselves. It is the book to beat in 2005, and it pains me to say this, considering I've two books out this year as well. But there you are. I cannot lie. Check it out.

Posted by john at 11:57 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

June 14, 2005

Trackback Disabled

As with many other folks around the online writing community, I've gone ahead and disabled Trackbacks until such time as I can find a reasonable way to moderate them as I moderate my comments, both of which have recently been awash in spam. The comment spam -- between 600 and 1,000 per day -- you don't see because I've got a moderation widget to block about 99.9% of it. Alas, I do not have a trackback spam widget that does the same job, and while I'm not getting the immense amount of spam that I'm getting from the comment avenue, I am getting about 200 trackback spams a day, which is more than enough to swamp any value trackbacks actually have for me. If I want to see who is linking to me, I have Technorati and my log files -- and you have technorati, too, if you're itchin' to know who's linking to me and when.

I assume at some point in the reasonably near future Six Apart or someone will develop a Trackback widget that will allow me to excise spam trackbacks before they show up on my site, at which time I'll re-enable trackbacks (such a thing may already exist -- if you know of it, please let me know). Until then, however, this site is trackback-less.

Posted by john at 04:34 PM | Comments (12)

Parental Blather, 6/14/2005

Not as if anyone really has any doubts as to whether Athena is really my kid or not, because oh my God, she's so like me, but even so, allow me to present another bit of evidence:


Yes, I'm tickled pink about this particular award. And if I'm correct about this, I do think this story had at least a little to do with it (but not, I should note, my entirely fatuous commentary on it).

Not that I'm expecting Athena to follow in my footsteps, mind you (I think she'd prefer to make her own footsteps, and in any event, she's only six), but she does enjoy making stories, and at one point she told me and her mom she wanted to be a writer when she grew up. Of course, the week before that she wanted to be a fire fighter and the week after she wanted to run a hot dog stand, so by all means, let's keep this in perspective. It's still neat, though.

I'll share an amusing Athena story with you from yesterday. Athena and I are out on the swings and she starts to whine about something.

Me: Don't whine. You know we hate it when you whine.

Athena: Yeah, I know.

Me: Well, if you know we hate it, then why do you do it?

Athena (shrugs): Short-term memory loss?

See, this is where my mother would have whacked me upside the head for being a smartass. But I just think it's funny as Hell.

Posted by john at 10:59 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

June 13, 2005

Las Vegas and Two Unrelated Questions

To catch y'all up one the last few days:

* We had a good time in Las Vegas. I'm not a huge fan of Vegas, but it's not designed with me in mind, since I don't drink, gamble or whore, so this is not a huge surprise. Krissy, however, enjoys two of these three (I leave it to your imaginations to guess which two, you sick freaks), and indeed, thanks to her skill at one of them, we came out with more money than we went in (that would be gambling, by the way. Jeez). Also, thanks to the single unpleasant event of the stay, which involved a jerk on the dance floor, we got about 40% of the cost of our stay knocked off our room bill. This didn't do us much good, since our stay was paid for by other people, but I'm sure they appreciated it. And since the event wasn't really that unpleasant (more like annoying), the ratio of unpleasantness to reward was a good one.

As noted earlier, we were there for a wedding, of our friends Joe Rybicki (who is my editor at the Official US Playstation Magazine) and his new bride Kim. I officiated, which is always a pleasure; there's very little I enjoy more than marrying off two people I really like, and Kim and Joe certainly count in that category. The whole wedding was lovely; it took place at the House of Blues Foundation Room, which if you've never been to is simply a gorgeous little hideout at the top of the Mandalay Bay hotel. Vegas is famous for having places that look like other places, and this place was right out of either New Orleans or Bangkok, take your pick. If you have a chance to go, I recommend it. And the wedding party and the guests were all fine and interesting folks. It's possible you had a better time on Saturday than we did, but I doubt it.

Aside from the wedding, I came to Las Vegas with only one thing in mind, and here it is:

Yes, I had me a Double-Double, animal style. Twice. And it keeps getting better each time you have one. After I was done with my first Double-Double, Krissy asked me if there was anything else I wanted to do in Vegas, and I said "Nope. I'm good." What can I say, I'm a simple man.

Also, a note to all mid-westerners who persist in trying to compare White Castle to In-N-Out: Stop. Just stop. There is no comparison between the two; it's like trying to compare potted meat food product to kobe beef. I wouldn't feed White Castle to my dog. Every time to you try to suggest that White Castle and In-N-Out are even in the same phylum of edibility, you embarrass yourself, and show your ignorance of what a hamburger should be. I beg you. Stop. Now.

Now, two absolutely unrelated questions:

* Does anyone know of a spellchecker one can use with Firefox on the Mac? I'm not finding a spellcheck extension for the Firefox browser at all (much less on the Mac), and I would love to find one since I'm writing these more on the Mac these days, and a spellcheck would make me look less like an idiot.

* Also, I've been invited to appear at Confluence, which is a small literary-oriented con in Pittsburgh (or so they tell me). It's about a month away, and I'm trying to decide whether I have time to fit it into my schedule, which is very tight these days. Has anyone been to this con in previous years? Tell me what you've thought about it.

Posted by john at 02:10 PM | Comments (40) | TrackBack

Tat Me, Babe


Because love is not love unless there's ink involved, and knowing that tattooing has forever cemented the ageless love between celebrities like Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder, and Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton, and because we were in Vegas, the land of ill-advised adventures, Krissy and I have memorialized our love in matching barbed wire tattoos, because of course the symbolism of barbed wire means so much to the both of us (I bring it up here all the time, do I not?) and also the other options were all Celtic braids, and those are just plain silly. So there you have it. Love, in black, tar-like ink! And it hardly hurt at all.

Posted by john at 11:47 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

June 09, 2005

Open Thread, 6/9/05

I'll be scarce around here until probably Monday, on account that I'm off to Vegas to hitch up a couple of friends. Sometimes being an ordained minister is fun, fun, fun. So here's an open thread for you folks to play in until I get back. And to get the ball rolling, a zen-like question:

What's the sound of three hands clapping?

I await your thoughts.

Posted by john at 10:34 AM | Comments (28) | TrackBack

June 08, 2005

Moderating Addendum

If any of you are still at all interested, Nick Mamatas has further thoughts on moderating here, and you can read Nick and me engaging in a certain level of snark-fu on the subject in the comment thread here. Enjoy.

Posted by john at 03:44 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

World's Crappiest Interview

Writer Jim Winter inaugurates his "World's Crappiest Interview" feature on his blog with an interview of, well, me. It's here.

Also, Jim: I've actually been on Oprah.

Posted by john at 08:52 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

June 07, 2005

More on Moderating

Some interesting comments on my earlier post on moderating panels at science fiction conventions and how I plan to excise "not a question, more of a comment" ramblings from audience members at future panels at which I am a moderator (these interesting responses include additional comments here, at Wild Irises' LiveJournal). Given the volume and the quality of the comments (i.e., high), I thought I'd address some of the issues that were brought up. This is my warning to you that unless you've read the previous post and/or care about the issue of moderating panels at science fiction conventions, this entry may well be impenetrable and deadly boring.

* One of blowbacks from people responding to the earlier piece is that it seems to be fairly harsh on panel audiences while ignoring the sins of panelists who derail panels from their subjects as frequently if not more so than audience members. I plead guilty as charged to this for the simple reason that I was not trying to encompass the entire role of a panel moderator in the earlier piece, I was focusing on a single aspect of it -- in this case, how rambly audience members who don't have a point when they raise their hands annoy me, and one strategy I plan to use in the future to avoid rambly pointlessness on their part. Rest assured, dear readers, I also have strategies to avoid rambly pointlessness on the part of panelists as well, but that's the subject of another entry entirely.

However, I will certainly agree that panelists can benefit from active moderation as much as audience members can, if not more so, as they are expected to be engaging and interesting and informative and may therefore need coralling when they are not. In the not-so-recent past I've sat on panels where there have been panelists who don't say in ten words what they can say in 10,000, and others who seem content to sit there and hunch over their little plastic cup of water, stay silent and count the minutes until the panel is done. Neither is optimal; a moderator needs to work with both to get the best out of each of them.

* Another idea floated in comments is that at a panel, the audience and the panel are equals. Well, no. Generally speaking the panelists are actively chosen by the con to be on a panel based on their interest/expertise on the topic; the audience self-selects -- some of them may also be experts on the subject, some of them may have a passing interest, some of them may be there because they think one of the panelists is cute, some of them may be there because the room the panel is taking place in has a clear signal for the hotel wireless and they want to do a blog entry. In general, it's reasonably expected that the panel will take up the bulk of the panel time tossing about ideas like seals with a beach ball, which will on occasion be thrown out into the audience with the hope the audience will bounce the ball back with an interesting new spin. In terms of the discourse of the panel, the panelists are primary participants, and the audience secondary.

No, it doesn't have to be that way, which is why I used the weaselly qualifying term "in general" in that last paragraph. There is absolutely no reason a panel can't be largely audience driven in certain circumstance -- at Noreascon I moderated a panel on massively multiplayer online games which I threw open to audience questions almost immediately, in no small part because there were only two people on the panel, and one of them (me) was not a programmer for MMOG, and I sensed that the audience would ask the other panelist (who was a MMOG designer) far more relevant questions than I could. My job at that panel was simply selecting who got to ask the next question and occasionally throwing in a follow-up question for the other panelist. I think that panel worked beautifully.

And for that matter, not every expert-audience group interation at a con needs to be a panel. In the comment thread, people note interesting experiments with the panel format at particular cons, which blurred the roles of panelist and audience member; I would heartily encourage lots more experimentation. A panel is not the right format for everything, and I think a fair number of the dead panels I've seen were so because the panel format didn't lend itself to the best exploration of that particular topic. Panels are merely the default format, and science fiction folks, of all people, should be willing to leave the default behind.

That said, there are times when the classic panel format is perfectly right for a subject, and in those times, it's the folks on the panel who should be assumed to be the primary conversationalists. The audience members can, do and should participate, but while the panel is for their amusement and edification, it's not about them, or featuring them in a primary way. It's about whatever the topic is, and it's primarily featuring the panelists. In general.

* Some comments suggest that forcing everything the panel audience says to be phrased as a question will keep certain commentorial avenues from opening up. Yes it will. That's indeed the point. But the underlying complaint here is that it will limit interesting discourse, which I don't know is true. This is true: Asking all comments to be in the form of a question is a little bit of hoop jumping. But the intent behind it -- keep the conversational ball in the air -- is the point, and making the audience aware that as a moderator you see it as their responsibility to keep the conversation moving forward when it thrown to them is not a trivial thing. The issue with "not a question, more of a comment" isn't that it's a comment, per se. It's that they derail the conversation taking place in the panel. Having audience comments in the form of a question implicitly recognizes that the conversation is intended to go forward, not to deflate and die in the fifth row. That's worth a smidgen of hoop-jumping. Anyway, science fiction people are smart people -- I have faith that they have the ability to have an interesting point in the form of a question.

* I suspect that at least some of the flak for my "no naqmoac" position is the "you're not the boss of me" rebellious streak science fiction fans have toward anyone and anything they feel is making arbitrary decisions in an attempt to affect their behavior. Something along the lines of you know, I wasn't going make a comment, but now that you've said I couldn't, I think maybe I will. Also, and complementary to this: No one likes a dick, and telling people to ask questions rather than comments seems dickish, even if it's for a good cause.

I certainly understand the "you're not the boss of me" attitude, because, you know, I kind of have it, like, all the time. Nevertheless, panels are not (or at the very least, should not be) unstructured environments, and while I'm sure we all agree that we would never launch into a long, blathering, and utterly pointless comment as a panel audience member, we all know people who would. As a moderator, my job is to help the panel achieve its goals of staying on topic, being jam-packed with interesting ideas, and rolling along in an engaging and interesting manner, whether the person speaking is a panelist or an audience member. Someone's gotta drive, in other words, and the person who's gotta drive should also be willing to turn this damn car around right now and go back home if you kids don't stop that this instant.

Now, naturally, when laying down the ground rules for a panel, the moderator should be pleasant as possible and do what he or she can to make sure the audience (and the panelists) understand the need and desirability for certain ground rules. Most people, I suspect, will understand and attempt to honor them. And -- this is an important point -- if the ground rules are getting in the way of the panel reaching its full potential, the moderator should kick the ground rules to the curb and let 'er rip. A smart moderator (in my opinion) sets rules but is not a slave to them if the situation requires change. Most of the time, I suspect, this won't be necessary, but it's nice to give one's self the option.

Ultimately, however, the moderator's role is management, with the goal of enlightenment. Occasionally a moderator may need to get snippy -- snooty! Snotty! -- with someone to get that done, and as you might have guessed by this point, I don't have a problem with that, although it's not my first choice of behavior (a gentle subtle nudging of the conversation back to the topic is a good start, followed a slightly less genial "let's move on" is that doesn't work, and escalating from there). But better the moderator put his or her foot down to keep things moving than the panel gets derailed. People remember a derailed panel.

* Claire Light suggested I become Panel Commissioner for the next Wiscon. Bwa ha ha ha ha ha! No. I'd rather plan a totally awesome dance.

Posted by john at 10:35 AM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

June 06, 2005

Sympathy for the Publicist

One piece of advice I like to give new authors (should they ask for advice) is that one should always, always be nice to one's publicist and do what one can to make the publicist's life easier. There are two reasons for this.

The first is that -- duh -- that person is promoting your book, and if you're a jerk to your publicist, that's going to affect the fervor with which they talk up your book to their various promotional targets. Since in addition to being a writer I am also a critic and exist on the other side of the publicist/artist equation, I know whereof I speak; the publicists I know will never not act professionally, but for all that you can tell who and what a publicist is excited about, and who and what they are not. This is subsumed under the whole "Don't be an ass" advice given here.

The second is that the life of a publicist has remarkable moments of personal trial. I submit to you this bit of publicity sausage-making, from the floor of the BookExpo America in New York City:

On Friday afternoon, four young publicists from Tor Books were spotted in a corner trying to get one of them, Melissa Broder, into an 8-foot-tall hot-dog costume; it did have an air pump so the wearer could breathe. They were promoting "Invasion of the Road Weenies" (Starscape/Tor Books) by David Lubar.
Finally, they zipped Ms. Broder up. Fiona Lee took her hand, or paw, or whatever, and led her across the convention floor. "Would you like your photo taken with a giant weenie?" Ms. Lee asked, over and over again.

Would you like your photo taken with a giant weenie? Say it. Now. No, say it out loud. Now imagine saying it over and over and over again, to strangers and passersby, while you're holding the hand of a fellow publicist, who is dressed as a giant weenie. And that's your job. One does hope that David Lubar (who -- as coincidence would have it -- used to write for humor articles for me when I was an editor, and good ones, too) appreciates everything these publicists were doing for him, and sends them flowers or something.

Now, as it happens, Fiona Lee is also my publicist at Tor, so I know from personal experience she rocks the publicity game in a magnificent way. And to her, I make the following solemn vow: My dear Fiona, at no point in our hopefully long and fruitful author/publicist relationship will you ever be required on my behalf to ask people to take pictures with a giant weenie, if for no other reason than I am a mere five feet, seven and some-odd inches tall, and am therefore an average-sized weenie at best. I also give massive props to Ms. Broder, who is not my publicist, but by God, being swaddled inside of a frankfurter would send me spiralling into a deep existential crisis, so I can only presume she is a better and mentally stronger person than I.

In any event, authors: Have sympathy for the publicist. It's not an easy job, in several critical senses of the word "easy." I'm not saying you need to hug your publicist or anything -- depending on the author and/or publicist, this might be a bit much. But a nice "thanks for the work you do" is always in order. In that spirit: Thanks, Fiona. You're the best.

Posted by john at 08:37 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

June 05, 2005

Sunday Sky


View from the back porch, sunset, 6/5/05.

Posted by john at 09:57 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

June 04, 2005

Booklist Review of Agent to the Stars

The first Agent to the Stars review is in, from Booklist, the American Library Association's magazine, and it's a positive one. Here's the fun part (for me, at least):

With a plot that starts out as the rough life of a young agent in Hollywood and rapidly metamorphoses into B-movie territory as a remarkably intelligent first-contact yarn, this book is absurd, funny, and satirically perceptive.


I also have word from Subterranean Press that based on pre-orders, they've gone with a print run of 1,500 copies for the signed edition. This is 50% more than the estimated initial print run of 1,000, so that's excellent. I'm also somewhat selfishly pleased we're not going to go to 2,000 copies, which was an amount bandied about, because that means 500 fewer books to sign. It does mean that my promise to contribute $500 to the Child's Play charity if a print run of 2,000 sells out won't work, though. So: If we sell out the entire run of 1,500 copies before the end of 2005, I'll contribute $350. That's slightly more than proportional to the original promise.

I'll also mention again that if you pre-order the book through the Subterranean Press site, 10% of the cover price will also be contributed to Child's Play, which is a charity that provides video games and toys to kids awaiting or recovering from treatment in childrens' hospitals all over the US. So, naturally, I think you should pre-order it from there. But you can also pre-order from Amazon and BN.com. Subterranean tells me the pre-orders are moving briskly (recent nice notes from Instapundit and Vodkapundit helped that, you can be sure), and at the moment there are no plans to do an alternate book version. So if you do want a physical copy of your own (remember you can read it online), you may want to consider pre-ordering if you've not done so already.

Anyway, a good start. I'm happy.

Posted by john at 11:16 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

June 03, 2005

Music and Book Memes

The good news is that after a fair absence, Rick McGinnis appears to be reactivating The Diary Thing, which was a favorite stop of mine back in the day. So: Yay! The bad news is that his first post since reactiviating is that damn book meme that's going on at the moment, and he's "passed the baton" on to me. Normally I wouldn't do this sort of crap, but because it's Rick, and he is bringing back The Diary Thing, I'll do it. Just this once. Also, as long as I'm doing the book one, I'll jam the music one in as well, as I tagged by Dave Munger to do it a few days ago, and it would be unfair to do the book one and leave Dave hanging. Damn my sense of morals!

Books first:

Number of books I own: Good Lord. At this very moment, there's probably somewhere between a thousand and two thousand books in the house in various stages of packed and shelved-ness, and we accrete them at the rate of at least two or three a week. Not all of those are mine, to be sure -- Athena and Krissy both add up, Athena particularly gathering books at a furious rate (as it should be). We'd have more but I have a tradition of occasionally doing a library dump, which is to take books I haven't read in a while and I know I won't get to again soon and donate them to the local library. Over the years I've probably offloaded a couple thousand books this way.

Last Book I Bought: I just bought the entire Kushiel series by Jacqueline Carey for Krissy, so aside from some books for Athena, those are the last books to show up on my credit card. The last book I bought from myself was The Forever War by Joe Haldeman, because so many people see so many similarities between it and Old Man's War that I figure I ought to read it. However, I probably won't actually read it until after I'm done with The Ghost Brigades.

Last Book I Read: Succession, the SF Book Club collection of the Scott Westerfeld novels The Risen Empire and The Killing of Worlds, which as it happens were written as one novel and then cut into two books as a marketing maneuver by the publisher. Whatever. As a single tale, it is pretty excellent, and I'm not just saying that because Scott's a pal who reads the blog. A really nifty space opera, and I had fun going through the book looking for all the little elements I'm so totally going to steal at some point or another ("easy gravity"? Brilliant!). Outside the SF genre I'm currently reading Michael Cook's A Brief History of the Human Race.

Five Books That Mean a Lot to Me:

1. Cosmos, by Carl Sagan: The best popular exploration of the universe and the history of the humans who explore it.

2. Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin: Lovely writing. I read it for the joy of reading words at play.

3. Time Enough For Love by Robert Heinlein: I figure it's the closest thing to having a conversation with Heinlein as I'm going to get.

4. A Mencken Chrestomathy and other Mencken collections, by HL Mencken: Smart, practical, snarky and less-over-the-top than you've been led to believe. And yes, someone who isn't a damn conservative can immensely admire Mencken. This conservative co-option of Mencken would probably appall him (as would a liberal co-option attempt, should one ever be tried, which seems unlikely).

5. The People's Almanac and its sequels, edited by Irving Wallace and David Wallechinsky: Coming across this book when I was six kickstarted my intense desire to know as much about every possible thing as I could, a desire which remains to this day, and every day I thank God for it, because it's sure made my life more interesting.

And now, the music meme:

Total volume of music files on your computer: 7,405 songs, 21.5 days, 35.98 GB. I'd note that this is but a fraction of the volume of music I own total, which is over two thousand CDs across most genres. What can I say, I'm lazy and I haven't ripped them all.

The title and artist of the last CD you bought: Probably Everyone is Here by the Finn Brothers. But like many people, I've largely stopped buying CDs and download albums from iTunes. The last two albums I bought there, bought near-simultaenously, are Nine Inch Nail's With Teeth and Weezer's Make Believe.

Song playing at the moment of writing: "Instrumental" by Figurine. I'm listening to it off my Rhapsody streaming music service. Figurine sounds a bit like The Postal Service on an off day.

Five songs you have been listening to of late (or all-time favorites, or particularly personally meaningful songs): I'll go the "recent" route:

"Yellow" by Bill Frisell & Petra Haden
"Since U Been Gone" by Kelly Clarkson
"Perfect Situation" by Weezer
"Too Pieces" by Yaz
"Helpless" by kd lang

Passing the baton (for both music and books): Nah. If you want to do either, go ahead. I won't put pressure on you, though. You hear me? NO PRESSURE.

Posted by john at 11:43 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

June 02, 2005

Music for Girls

Whatever reader Dennis is asking for music recommendations for his girl children. He writes:

Hey John, I have two daughters and I'm ever on the lookout for good music that they will enjoy. In particular, I like to find bands where girls (women, whatever) actually play instruments. Since my girls are still young, I also try to find bands whose lyrics aren't too degrading or boy-centric as well.
There are several decent-quality Christian bands my girls enjoy, including, Barlow Girl, Superchic[k], and the Halo Friendlies. Non-Xian bands are harder to find. We like the Japanese group Puffy (AmiYumi) for one.
Can you think of any others you have turned Athena on to? Or another good place tolook for such?

I don't tend to differentiate music for Athena, so she listens to what we listen to (although I would personally second Puffy Ami Yumi, since I like them, too). So I thought I'd open this up to y'all: Name some girl-oriented bands/artists suitable for the pre-teen set, and not too heavy on the "boys are the reason for living" tip (which I would also agree with).

To open this up a little more, in addition to naming bands, if you can think of particular songs that would fit the bill (even if other songs from the band might not be appropriate for a pre-teen) go ahead and offer them up.

So: suggestions?

Posted by john at 06:23 PM | Comments (53) | TrackBack

June 01, 2005

Needed: Book Indexer

The pages of The Rough Guide to Science Fiction Film are coming back to me with the request to build an index for the book, and I just don't have time at the moment to do it myself. So this is an ad: I need someone to create an index for my book. The gig entails going through every page of the book, noting names of filmmakers, films, studios & etc., and then entering them into an Excel document. It's dead simple drudge work but it requires an eye for detail. The job would start NOW and would need to completed asap. I currently have seven chapters out of nine in formatted pdf form to work with; the other two chapters will come fairly shortly (this means as a bonus and a consequence of the work, you'd get a sneak preview of the book).

Payment: $10/hr. There will be a cap to the total payout (because I'm not made of money) which we can discuss. I don't know if $10/hr is decent pay for something like this, but it's what I can offer. Payment can be sent upon completion by personal check, money order or through Paypal.


1. Writing/editing experience vastly preferred (if you've ever created a book index, obviously, you jump to the head of the list). Please list recent references.

2. Access to a pdf reader (preferably one that will let you cut and paste text into an Excel document as this will save you an immense amount of time typing).

3. Access to Excel or a program that makes Excel-compatible spreadsheets.

4. The ability to work quickly and accurately with absolutely minimal supervision (which is to say I need this done in the next several days and don't have the time to make sure you're actually doing the job).

5. The ability to start immediately (i.e., Wednesday 6/2/05).

Naturally, in addition to getting paid I'd also place you in the acknowledgements of the book, and I'll also send you your own copy.

This is a serious work request and it's on a compressed schedule, so please don't apply unless you have the time to do it now, the ability to work independently, and a copyeditor's eye for detail.

How to apply: Send me an e-mail with your qualifications and your phone number, as well as when I can call to chat with you about the work; please note your time zone (don't apply in the comment thread to this post -- send an e-mail). Hopefully I'll make a decision in the next day or so (for the record: It's now 9:30 ET on 6/1).


Update, 12:04am 6/2/05 -- The position is filled! Thanks to everyone who applied.

Posted by john at 08:42 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Not a Question, More of a Comment: Killing the "Naqmoac"

In his wrap-up of Wiscon, writer Barth Anderson said some nice things about my panel moderating skills:

I also want to take a moment to commend John "The Black Hand" Scalzi. Good panel-moderating requires a whip, and Scalzi wields hot leather from the word go. As a result, the "First-time Novelists" panel was packed with info, I thought, with very little rambling, whining - and NO chance of hijacking. My advice to Wiscon - require all moderators to take a Scalzi-run boot camp on moderating panels.

(For those of you lost at sea here: at science fiction and other writing conventions, four or five writers will sit on a panel and discuss a particular subject and take questions from the audience as well. Usually one of the panelists acts as a moderator, asking questions of other panelists, choosing which audience members get to ask a question and making sure things keep moving.)

While Barth rather modestly neglects to mention that the primary reason the panel was so good was because of the overall excellent quality of the panel participants (which aside from Barth also included Kelly Link and Virginia G. McMorrow), I will say that I agree that good moderating is key to most successful panels that I've seen, and that I try to be a good moderator. That means paying attention to what your fellow panelist are saying so that followup questions flow naturally, making sure each panelist gets enough microphone time and doing a fair bit of audience management. In my experience, science fiction convention panel audiences want to be actively engaged in the panel, which is good, but they sometimes also forget to do the simple things, like raise their hand for questions. Which is bad. This is why I tend to remind panel audiences at the outset that they need to raise their hands for questions, otherwise they risk my wrath.

After Wiscon (but not directly because of Wiscon, because I've been thinking about this for a while), I think I'm going to add another panel audience instruction to my opening statements, which is that any attempt to break out the "Not a question, more of a comment" strategy is going to get squashed under my moderating heel like a bug.

For those of you unawares of this, the "Not a question, more of a comment" gambit (hereafter acronymed to "naqmoac" -- pronounced as "nackmoack") is when an audience member temporarily and unilaterally elevates him or herself to panelist status and proceeds to blatherate at length on a subject that's usually only nominally related to the subject matter at hand. The panel momentum comes to a standstill as the usurping audience member drones on and once they finally finish, there's no question at the end of it, so the panelists are left there going "uh... okay," the other audience members wonder why they had to spend five minutes of a 50-minute panel listening to this jackass, and the moderator has to cold start the panel. Have a couple of these "naqmoac attacks" in a panel, and the panel can sink without a trace. As Barth notes, it's a hijacking, and that shouldn't be tolerated.

So: in the future when I moderate I will tell all my panel audiences that, as in Jeopardy, comments must be phrased in the form of a question, and that any attempts to get around this will cause me to get immoderate in my moderation. If one's comment cannot be phrased as a question -- and a good, meaty and succinct question at that -- then one might consider holding it until the end and then chatting with the panelist about it afterward. Also, if one actually starts a naqmoac with the phrase "Not a question...," on a panel I moderate, with God as my witness I will interrupt and say to rephrase as a question instantly or sit down and let someone who knows how to follow the rules ask a question.

It's not just about me being a strutting martinet, mind you. I sincerely believe that naqmoac attacks are usually unfair to everybody else at the panel: It deprives the panelists of time to make their points and to engage audience members who want to ask them questions, and it deprives audience members of their access to panelists and of the ability to follow up on the comment, since if the audience is just going to talk amongst itself, one has to wonder why there's a panel up there at all and (also) why the Hell the moderator isn't doing his or her job. Which is the perfect point to note that it's unfair to the moderator too, because it leaves the moderator to clean up someone else's mess. I concede that on a rare occasion a naqmoac might be useful, but I have to say having been at a fair number of panels now, both as panelist and as audience member, the proportion of useful naqmoacs is not nearly high enough to tolerate them in a general sense.

Anyway, that's my plan: Death to the Naqmoac. With luck and moderating skill we can purge it from the panel dynamic and usher in a new utopian age for all humanity, or at least the portion of it that goes to science fiction writing panels. And that'll be enough for me. For now, anyway.

Posted by john at 06:31 PM | Comments (28) | TrackBack

Quick Note About Comments and New Months

I've noticed that the moderating widget I use for comments will block posts at the beginning of the month until I approve them manually (thus resetting the comments for each entry). So if you post and don't immediately see your comment, don't panic. I'll approve it sometime reasonably quickly.

Posted by john at 01:31 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack