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Buzzing? . . . Oh, I’m Just Shaving my IQ January 21, 2008

Posted by caveblogem in Blackberry, fiction, information management, literature, Management, Other, Science Fiction.

I just got a new Blackberry last week. Lovely, sleek little device, and I must confess that I’ve always wanted one, even before they started actually making them. I wanted something that would let you type in text and store it and send it places, etc.

But what amazes me is that I can already see what they do to people a little more clearly. If you attend meetings with others who have these things you are already familiar with how distracting they are. Any time an email comes in, these people pull theirs out and look at it to see if the email is something important. My assumption was always something like the following:

What a jerk. They actually don’t know how insulting it is to constantly monitor some hand-held electronic device while somebody is talking about something that they consider important.

And I immediately draw the following conclusion: This person is stupid.

But I have revised my analysis a little, after getting one of these myself. You see, these people didn’t start out stupid. Actually it was the reverse (no, really, bear with me for a second.) They rise up in the company hierarchy because of their brains and other abilities. Then the organization decides that they need to have access to a constant stream of data, so that they can be more efficient. They must be constantly available for consultation. They are then given a Blackberry, or Treo, or other electronic device that does this sort of thing (even phones which are used for instant messaging, I suppose, although I know very few executives who would do this).

The stupidity creeps in at that point, the receipt of this handheld device. The experience of being outfitted with one of these things has, thus far, reminded me of a great story by the late Kurt Vonnegut, “Harrison Bergeron.” In this story the United States government makes everyone equal by imposing handicaps on the most able. So if you have really good vision, they give you blurry glasses, for example. Or if you are really strong, they make your clothing really heavy (although I have doubts about this one; the clothing would just make you increasingly stronger.) Finally, if you are very smart, the government makes you wear a radio-earphone thing that emits a loud, irritating buzzing noise every once and a while to break your concentration.

Which is where the Blackberry comes in, of course. These people started out relatively intelligent. But the constant interruptions handicapped them.

The thing was sitting on the counter buzzing away this morning while I was trying to help my son with his mathematics. My wife, just back from Peru, said “aren’t you going to check it?” That’s when it all came together for me. Math’s hard enough, without a Blackberry going off.

My capable IT person showed me how to shut the stupid thing off. So now I’m all set.

King of Horror December 7, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in bookmooch, Books, fiction, Other, Paperbackswap, writing.

This fall I find myself re-reading some of Stephen King’s books, many of which I first read when they were first issued in paperback. I’m doing this partly because I like the genre, partly because I see Mr. King as a really good writer, from whom I have a lot to learn, and partly because I have one of those unique minds that can forget all but a few basic plot elements from a novel I read only a couple of years back. This special skill allows me to enjoy a book just as much upon second, third, or fourth readings. It can save money during those times when you are mainly reading for entertainment or escape.

I’ve long since lost or loaned or sold the novels that I am re-reading, of course, assuming I ever owned them, so I turn to Bookmooch or Paperbackswap for a fresh copy. I usually opt for hardbound books, when I can get them, knowing that I am likely to keep them, and that since I live now in a house with dry and ample basement space, and am likely to be here some time, there is a place to store them. Plus, I just like them.

This week I am reading The Dead Zone, which I was surprised to discover I had never before read. I saw the movie, of course. Anything with Christopher Walken in it is a must-see. But all of my memories are from the movie–I’m almost certain. Most shocking of all, though, was this picture of the author on the inside of the jacket.


Would they have sold more copies if his picture was on the front cover? Or would they have scared off potential readers? You decide.

100 Books Meme – Tag Mirrored September 19, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Books, fiction, folksonomies, librarything, literature, Other, tagging.
1 comment so far

While I was putting up my own LibraryThing Tag Mirror yesterday I was also puzzling about the list of books comprising the 100 Books Meme.   Then, suddenly, and somewhat painfully, ineinsbildung!  [When backed into a corner, exclaim something in German.  Even fewer people (one of whom is this blogger) know German than know Latin.]  

It occurred to me that I should give the same treatment to the idiosyncratic list that is the 100 Books Meme.  So I created a LibraryThing account comprised just of those books read by half or more of the bloggers who did the meme.

What sort of tags do those books have?  Well, these (click to enlarge):


And here is the tag mirror for the entire list of 100: (click to enlarge):


What does this tag cloud say about the composer of the list? I’ve got to get to work, so I’ll leave the rest as an exercise for the student, posting about it later only if I can make some sense of it.

Click here to examine the 100 Books LibraryThing tags individually or perhaps here would be even better.

K.F. Gallagher Writing Contest Deadline Today September 14, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in fiction, writing.

I meant to put up a post about this earlier this week, but got swamped with work and a ton of other things I seem to be in the middle of.  Sorry, Kaitlyn. 

I don’t think I’ll have time to participate in her cool contest, which is to start a story with the line “I am sister to the serious octopus.”  Click here for rules.  Participate.  Have fun.  I must write stupid stuff for somebody else today and prepare for a ridiculous-yet high-stakes meeting scheduled for this afternoon.  Good luck!

K.F. Gallagher Writing Contest July 9, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in blogs, fiction, Other, Rock, writing.

Kaitlyn has started a writing contest with a prompt from an old Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers song.

I love Tom Petty. I recall quite vividly the only time I ever saw him in concert. Even though it was twenty-three years ago I can remember it almost like it was yesterday (which is often pretty hazy for me). One of the opening acts was Men at Work, that flash-in-the-pan Australian group. They put on a very nice show, but the crowd was not treating them very well. Some guy down near the front kept pelting the lead singer with chips of ice, and eventually he began to threaten the audience member with bodily harm. Many of us (some 30,00 people or more) were hoping that this Aussie would dive down into the crowd and rip the asshole’s head off.

But when Tom and his band took the stage they owned the crowd. The music was perfect. The atmosphere was perfect. It was amazing. If anybody threw ice at Tom the whole crowd would have decended upon the assailant and tore him to shreds, I think. At one point, Tom was just walking around holding a bottle of beer. I think it was during an extended introduction to “Breakdown.” Tom eventually gave his beer to someone in the crowd. You would have thought he had knighted somebody, from the reaction.

When we were driving back down to the valley after the concert (which was in the Sierra Nevada foothills) we sang every song we could think of in that Pettty-ish nasal whine (although we probably sounded more like Bob Dylan than Tom Petty). What a day.

Anyway, I have an idea for a story, which is something I haven’t had for a while, and I’m in. So stop by Kaitlyn’s blog, check out the rules and join me, allright?

Which words do you own?–Miami Rhapsody June 11, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Blogs and Blogging, Books, fiction, Haiku, libertarians, linguistics, luck or time, narrative, vocabulary.

[Note: This is part of a continuing series on the actual vocabulary in use in the blogosphere.  Posts on this subject started here and will continue on a somewhat weekly basis. There is an interesting (to some) analysis of the most common words here.  And there is some discussion of method here and here.]

There is a potentially offensive word below.  You have been warned. 

I just finished reading Carl Hiaasen’s Lucky You, a novel about two people who play the same lottery numbers and win the same Florida Lottery jackpot worth $28m.  One is a black woman in her late twenties who is working as a veterinary assistant in a small town.  The other is a racist living in the Miami area who wants to use the money to finance a militia group, which he will use to fight the UN/Nato/Jewish/race-mixing invasion force he believes is preparing in the Bahamas.  So the guy steals the woman’s lottery ticket.  The story’s about how she gets it back. 

I’ve been thinking about the story a little for a number of reasons, but the most pertinent of them is that the racist character in Lucky You can’t utter the most prominent word in the vocabulary cloud below.  When he was in his early teens he spoke this word at home, once.  Then his father, who never used corporal punishment, but for this one exception, beat him with a razor strop.  After dad was done with him, his mother took him inside the house and washed his mouth out with a well know abrasive tub and tile cleaner containing bleach.  Consequently, he has this gagging reflex whenever he even thinks this word.  The only other member of his militia, his accomplice, teases him about this. 

Carl Hiaasen uses this word in the book a number if times, which seemed daring to me, in a weird way.  Hiaasen makes this word come from the mouths of racist bad guys, and some of the story attempts to explore racism and bigotry (but not so much that it disrupts the comedy).  Nevertheless, it seemed daring to me because I don’t think I have ever spoken this word, though I often curse like a sailor.  My parents never beat me for anything, much less using this word.  But I grew up in a family of Libertarians who pretty much ignored skin color.  And I was sheltered enough in white suburban California that racial issues were never prominent in my experience.  Racism in the news always seemed somewhat unreal (well, a lot of the news did).  It was only later, studying history in college, that I began to see racism as a real and contemporary problem.  Well, that’s how sheltered I was.

Say the word as an insult and it brands you a stupid bigot.  Say it ironically, or even analytically (as a commentary on language, for example) and it is too easy to be misunderstood, or come off as a priveledged white intellectual (which is what I am, basically, but I try not to flaunt it).  It was an easy word to avoid, until this post.

Anyway, the blog under the microscope today is Miami Rhapsody, a truly fascinating read published by Yvette.  I recommend subscribing.  She won’t fill your inbox as often as many others, and seems to write only when she has something interesting to say.  Her word sample runs from July 28, 2006 to June 1, 2007–every word she posted up to that point.  There were only 20,000 words in the sample, so the numbers will look a little low in comparison to other blogs examined recently (where the samples tend towards 30,000)  Yvette added 510 words.  There were 3,608 different words in her sample, a little above the norm, I think.

Here is a word cloud comprised of the words used more than twice by Yvette but not at all by any of the other 23 blogs sampled thus far.

And here’s those words in a font called Floribetic:

And here’s the Venn diagram I usually make out of these words.  The left lobe consists of words that were new in the sample, that nobody else had used, sized relative to the frequency of use.  The middle lobe consists of words that everybody has used so far, sized according to how much more frequently Yvette used them in the sample.  And the right lobe consists of only two words that everyone else sampled thus far has used, but that Yvette did not.  She doesn’t seem to care about money or looks.  Refreshing, isn’t it?

Here is another effort by my Haiku-generating algorithm.

You professor’s racists!
The louder nuns not potted
are the nuns you mow.

“Professor’s racists.”  I kinda like that, although I’m not sure what it would mean.  A group of brown-shirted nerdy bigots?  Something in the phrasing seems like a badly-translated Maoist slogan of some sort.  And “mowing the louder nuns” also puts me in mind of those jokes we told as a kid: What’s black and white and red all over? 

As always, the vocabulary clouds and Haiku are the property of the volunteers, except that said volunteer may not have them taken off of my site but may otherwise do with them what they wish.  Thanks for participating, Yvette!

Next up: two more Floridian blogs, A Mom, A Blog, and the Life In-Between, then “Klotz,” as in “Blood,” then Silverneurotic, who is not from Florida, if I remember correctly.

What Would Reacher Do? May 17, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in bookmooch, Books, fiction, information management, Management, Other.

I haven’t been posting regularly or visiting anyone’s blog because work has been a mad scramble, lately.  It’s the first time I’ve ever had a staff to manage, and I’m finding the whole thing pretty difficult and draining.  I don’t really get energy from talking with people.  But apparently managers have to do that a lot, so I’m exhausted at the end of the day.  And forget about posting during working hours. 

It is so much easier to get things done if you can mimic somebody’s style.  When I taught, I had a tremendous list of teachers I could imitate.  But not so as a manager.  I have never had a really good manager to look up to as a role model, nobody I can think about that and ask myself, “what would so-and-so do?”  My last boss, the one just before the current one (who I will not be talking about at all in this post, of course), was a great guy.  He is a genius, and I respect him a great deal and like him personally (though he’s not without his faults).  He didn’t like managing, and he wasn’t good at it.  He told me so, and he was right.  I’ve had a couple of other bosses who I liked, but most of them were disorganized, emotional, egotistical trainwrecks.  

So, by default, I am aping the style of the protagonist, Jack Reacher, of Lee Child’s series of deservedly popular thrillers.  I started reading these books about three weeks ago because they were recommended to me by someone who has never steered me wrong.  They are amazingly well-written, engaging, funny, and apparently addictive.  I have now read all but two or three, I think.  I have read One Shot, The Enemy, The Hard Way, Pursuader, Killing Floor, Die Trying, Running Blind, and am currently reading Without Fail.  I have two others on order (bookmooch).

Reacher grew on military bases all over the world and went to West Point.  Then he was a military policeman for 13 years before the Great RIF of the early 1990s, when he was honorably discharged at the rank of Major.  He becomes a drifter of sorts, and runs into trouble of various sorts.  Most of Child’s novels seem to take place during this time of drift, after Reacher left the military. 

There are similarities between Jack Reacher and myself. 

  • Reacher prefers to use his head to solve the mysteries with which he is confronted.  So do I. 
  • Reacher is about six and one-half feet tall.  I am exactly six and one-half feet tall.  He outweighs me by twenty to fifty pounds (depending on the book), but only because he is clearly more muscular.
  • Reacher does not carry a gun.  Neither do I.
  • We are both blonde.
  • People often find Reacher intimidating and scary.  Same here.  Perhaps I should smile more, but Reacher says he tried that when he was younger, and that people became even more terrified of him.  So maybe there’s no reason to work on that.
  • Reacher is a fictional character created by Lee Child.  I don’t know who created me, but I have been called a character.  I could be fictional, too.  How would I know?

There are a lot of differences, too.  But most of them are surprisingly unimportant, in the scheme of things.  Reacher can be extremely violent.  For example, in Pursuader, Reacher is attempting to save an FBI agent and find a guy he thought had killed one of his subordinates from his MP days.  All of these people are holed up in a house in Maine.  Reacher sneaks up to the guard house in front of the compound.  He has been in there before, so he knows where the guard is sitting, and sneaks to a position right under a nearby window and taps on the glass with a fingernail a few times, then a few more.  The guy gets up and presses his face against the glass, trying to see down, thinking it is mouse or something.  Reacher, who has wrapped his hand in a shirt, punches the guy through the glass, breaking his nose, then steps in and disarms him.  Then he asks the guy whether he will attempt to get his gun and shoot him.  The guy says he won’t.  Then,

I paused for a moment and thought about asking him some more questions.  He might be reluctant.  But I figured I could slap him around some and get all the answers he had to give.  But in the end I figured those answers didn’t matter very much. . . . I just stepped away and was trying to decide what to do when he made up my mind for me by reneging on his promise.  He came up off the floor and made a dive for the handgun on the sofa.  I caught him with a wild left to the throat.  It was a solid punch, and a lucky one.  But not for him.  It crushed his larynx.  He went down on the floor again and suffocated.  It was reasonably quick.  About a minute and a half.  There was nothing I could do for him.  I’m not a doctor.

I am a doctor (but not of medicine) and I’m not violent.  So that’s two differences.  But I’m not violent because I try to tackle problems that don’t require violence to solve.  Reacher was an MP, which, as portrayed in these novels, requires violence as part of the basic problem-solving toolkit.  That’s one of the reasons they carry guns.  Reacher doesn’t go looking for violence (except when it is important to exact revenge, or accomplish an important task.)  He just works doggedly to accomplish his goals and doesn’t shy away from use of force.  It’s just that the problems he tackles (kidnapping, murder, counterfeiting, gun-running, etc.) often require a partially violent solution.

So I’m starting another occasional series here which I will tentatively call What Would Reacher Do?  First tip for the new manager is the following:  You have nothing to fear

Reacher has nothing to fear.  He is huge and well-trained and wicked smart.  He has sources he can rely upon for information.  And he is a fictional character.  He can’t be killed, because there wouldn’t be a next book. 

So you could say that being unafraid is easy for him.  Regardless, there is a great deal to be gained by not fearing anything in the workplace.  I used to be afraid of losing my job, for example.  That fear didn’t get me anything.  The summer before last I was trying to get a promotion and wanted to put pressure on my boss to either promote me or let me relocate to another part of the University (it’s a much longer story than you could imagine, and much of it is strikingly uninteresting.)  So I sent him a written resignation, and took three weeks off.  I traveled to Idaho, Washington, and California.  When I came back I sent our human resources office a letter un-resigning.  He had to take me back, partially because I was very candid about why I was quitting.  He decided that he was in enough trouble that people wouldn’t even support a decision not to accept such a strange request. He’s gone now, although I don’t know how much I had to do with that fact.

I still find that although I am extremely engaged in my work, I am not at all afraid of losing my job or being demoted.  Very freeing, that.  It helps you make the right decisions, because you don’t have to think about making safe ones.  And if you make the right decisions, you can often go on to find ways of limiting your risks.

To be continued . . .

Writing Contest at The Moon Topples April 30, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in fiction, literature, Other, writing.
1 comment so far

I plan to enter the writing contest Maht is running at The Moon Topples.  I had also planned to enter the one held recently at the Clarity of Night, and actually wrote two completely different stories for it (both crap), but after torturing them to death I decided not to subject myself to everyone else’s ridicul.  My own was enough. 

I have been pretty distracted lately.  New responsibilities at work and the start of allergy season here in New England (mating season for plants in California, where I grew up, is intense, but mercifully short) have meant that not only has my writing suffered, but that I haven’t visited your blog and commented, which I try to do at least once a week.  I’m sorry about that. 

I will try to do better, as soon as the itching stops and I can once again concentrate.

At any rate, enter the contest Maht’s running.  It will be fun.  There will be some great stories, if last time was any indication.  It will also be a global event.  The winner of the last one lived in Islington, London, England.  Contestents came from as far away as New Jersey, New Zealand, and New England.  But they came from old places, too.  And all of the genres were represented, so long as they were small enough and fiction.  So don’t be left out of the fun. 

Which words do you own?–Neil Gaiman March 16, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Blogs and Blogging, bookmooch, Books, Cartooning, fiction, literature, Neil Gaiman, Other, vocabulary, web 2.0, writing.

Note: This is part of a continuing series on the actual vocabulary in use in the blogosphere.  Posts on this subject started here.] 

I began to read the work of Neil Gaiman last year when somebody suggested I read Good Omens, a collaboration between Mr. Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.  Then I read American Gods and Neverwhere and everything else I could get my hands on.  The only thing I haven’t been able to get ahold of is his latest, Fragile Things, which nobody has posted on Bookmooch or Paperbackswap (have to be a little frugal this year, I’m afraid.)  Anyway, Mr. Gaiman is a tremendously talented writer of creepy and interesting tales.  And he writes a darn good blog, too, which I subscribe to and read whenever I can.

I sampled 22,000 words from Mr. Gaiman’s site, spanning the period January 6 – March 14, yesterday morning.  I had to run the spell-check a little differently from the way I normally do, because Mr. Gaiman uses the English spellings of words like color, organize, check (cheque, a draft on one’s checking account), favorite, and orangutan.  So I just changed these to the Americanized versions in his list so that I could merge it in with the others.

I have started to add some words to my spell-checker, and with Mr. Gaiman’s blog I added googled, blog, blogger, blogging, edamame, and perhaps a couple of others that I forgot to write down at the time but which I was absolutely certain were correctly spelled words.

The Blogger’s Vocabulary List is getting larger with each blog I incorporate.  The latest, which includes samples from Three Quarks Daily, Daily Kos, this blog (Pretty Good on Paper) and Neil Gaiman’s Journal, contains 9,383 different words.  In a couple of months I should be able to make a pretty good estimate of the size of the vocabulary in actual use out there (here?) in the blogosphere.  Check this space for updates.

Mr. Gaiman added 1,112 words to the list, an impressive feat at this point for an individual blogger.  Here is a vocabulary cloud composed of the words Mr. Gaiman added to the list, with font sizes at twice the point size as the number of times they appeared in his 20,000-word sample (click for a larger image).


I’ve decided to stop estimating the size of the vocabularies of individual blogs in this study because such estimates are too artificial.  Even bloggers and writers use most of their words in conversation.  And since your vocabulary is altered by each conversational partner, (your conversational partner asks a question about broccoli or oysters and you find yourself using these words yourself, if only to ask for clarification) estimates of this sort don’t seem all that relevant.

What does Mr. Gaiman’s vocabulary cloud say about him as a blogger?  What does it say about the bloggers to which his words were compared?  What will Raincoaster‘s vocabulary cloud say about her or us or anything, when it is added to this growing pool tomorrow? 


Fiction Page March 6, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Blogs and Blogging, fiction, Other, writing.

I put a new permanent page up on this site today for fiction that I have already put online through entering contests (untrue stories).  I don’t know why I feel compelled to do this, since none of these stories are really favorites of mine anymore.  But I won’t be sending these around, trying to get them published, so it seems like it would be nice to have them all in one place, easier to find.

I have also this week put my name on the list over at authorsblogs, which is a site for authors who blog and bloggers who write (yes, I’ll do most anything for a link).  I felt like by finally submitting a story last week to an actual print magazine I had crossed some sort of threshold.  Before that I was entering contests.  Now I am out there using Duotrope’s Digest, trying to find markets for the stories that I seem compelled to write.  I am now an aspiring author, waiting for rejection slips.