Posted on November 30th, 2009 in braindump

Hands up, who “won” NaNoWriMo this year?  Heehee.  Oh, I’m sorry, I just love this joke, so much – and I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t actually get that it was a joke until a couple of years back.  Seriously, I was one of those people who cringed and tsked every time someone posted their exciting wordcount, and I was quick to list the unhealthy habits and ideals the “competition” encouraged.  And then one day I actually took a look at the site, and it is dripping with so much delicious irony that I finally caught on.

It is just not often that you see a work of satire so brilliantly crafted, and so delicately balanced that an audience continues to participate in the joke year after year after year.

Some of you think I’m being sarcastic, but I’m really not.  You don’t even have to take my word for it.  Here, I’ll cut and paste directly from the NaNo site.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

So. Delicious.  And since the post-modernists aren’t usually self-aware enough to pull off a statement of intent like that, I realized I had to be looking at the sly wink of a cunning trickster.  Or, rather, tricksterS, as I’d soon find out.

It took about a year of asking the right questions and proving my trustworthiness (hah!) through complicated trading games and moonlit ritualistic sacrifices to get to the origins of NaNo.  Which is silly, because all I probably needed to do was ask one of my friends – but I really can’t deny my fondness for the occasional complicated ritual sacrifice.  What I’m about to reveal to you will very likely get me a stern talking-to by hooded assassins, but I assure you, it’s worth it.

The truth must out.

You see, back in 1998, the internet was a wild-wild-West of untamed AOL accounts and blinking Geocities pages.  A handful of professional writers had made their way online, thinking perhaps this new land of connectivity would serve them well for networking, but those foolish enough to have left their email addresses public soon found themselves inundated by misspelled and confusing mails from fans and mental patients alike. The common threads running through many of the more whining or angry letters were some variation of the following: “I want to write novels.  Will you read my novel? I should be writing novels instead of you but I don’t have the time that you do because I am very busy.  I hated your last novel and I would have written a much better one if they’d paid me what they paid you.  Novels are just words, and I can make words, so how come you’re famous and I’m working at a gas-station outside Alameda?”

That last may sound a bit specific, but there really were a lot of gas stations outside Alameda in ‘98.

Anyway, it was weird and more than a little creepy, you know?  These were folks that were used to death-threats when they slowed between volumes, but this was an entirely new sort of entitled crazy. The authors asked their friends in the medical and machining professions if they were getting the same sorts of whines and sniffles: were people saying they’d be great doctors if they only had the time but they were stuck instead with a useless degree in advance basket-weaving? But no – it seemed to be a writing-specific phenomenon. 

And something needed to be done.

Here the history gets a little hazy – I’m uncertain if the first NaNoWriMo (allegedly held in the summer of 1999 in the Bay Area) is a bit of invented history to add to the perceived authenticity of the hoax, or if the shady shadowy cabal of those early internet pioneer writers (if you’ve assumed they were mostly SF writers, then you’ve got good instincts, because those guys are pretty mean) just rightly assumed that the Bay Area was going to drive internet memesites for the next decade, and talked some poor suckers into beta-testing the joke.  All I know is that the premise of the confidence game was simple and brilliant, with a fantastic payout: If all the folks that would be sending them annoying emails were otherwise occupied writing miles and miles of absolute crap in an invented competition with no cash reward, that’d be a month of peace and quiet for the real writers to get some work done.

And it worked better than they could have dreamed. 

As LiveJournal rose in popularity, the folks with a whole lot of nothing to say quickly circled their wagons and word of the competition spread like frontier herpes. Soon there were entire easily-avoidable communities of folks exchanging tips and tricks to make it through the month of pointless distraction.  And as more pro writers found their way online, they were quietly briefed on the con so that they could endorse the month and further the con with a cheerful “Good Luck, Everyone!” before settling into their own month of relative peace. Of course, there was the tiny unforeseen side-effect of a few annoying word-count widgets and twitters, but those are easily blocked and forgotten. 

But it gets better, as all the best jokes do:  Although the original intent was simply a stealth-variation of the classic “if you think you’re so clever, then you give it a try. Test your strength, win your girl a bear!”— well, it turns out that the crippling defeat of failing to spew out 50K in a month causes some people to be so embarrassed that they actually stop talking about wanting to be a writer until the next October!  And even some of the “winners” are so caught up in attempting to edit what essentially comes down to a brick of Lorem Ipsum that they’re out of the blog and email circuit for months, too.

It truly has become a gift horse that keeps on giving.

But, look.  I’ve been so on about creativity and Making Things that I cannot, in good conscience, fail to at least give you the chance to right your course.  And I haaaaate that, because NaNo is so funny, and I’d really rather just keep laughing at… sigh.  No, I’ve got to stick to my intent, here.  Stupid intent.  You’d better be worth it.

So, okay, fine, you’ve been had by (perhaps the greatest, at least for November) bit of farce on the net.  And now you’ve got fifty words, or 50K, of absolute crap — and you’re either feeling completely dejected because it sounded so easy to finish, or completely overwhelmed because you did finish… but it doesn’t look so much like a novel and you’re afraid that means there’s going to be even more work and no one said anything about any more work.  But, really, it’s all going to be all right.  I mean, first off, you gave me a good laugh, and that’s a worthy result right there.

But, ahem, right, helpful: you did, at least, crack open that word-processing program and start something.  And whether you got 50K words in or fifty, you did have An Idea, right? That’s good. We’ve talked about this: that’s your start.  However far you got, the simplest way to finish (and, again, really, those of you with 50K are a waaaays away from finished.  Seriously.  Is that middle section even a real language? Or were you so hopped up on sleep dep and caffeine at that point that you were just smacking keys with your face?  Yeah, thought so), the only way to finish, in fact, is not to stop now that November is (almost) over.

Oh my god, I know, but you’ve just got to keep going.

Yes, even with the holidays coming up.  Oh, I know it’s impossible to find spare time in December, but you’re just going to have to do it anyway.  If you can’t or won’t, or if you think I just made all this up, then you’re a hilarious example that proves their and my point.  Because guess what writers do?  They write.  Every day.  Even on national holidays.  And when they finish writing one thing, they start on the next, or they’re already halfway into it.  And then they write some more.  If you do that, and only if you do that, then you’ll get there too,

And it’s not as glamorous as it sounds, and it doesn’t sound very glamorous, no.  But if it’s what you are, then you already know you haven’t got a choice in the matter.

But again, you know, I’m sure you’re right if you think this has all been a work of fiction.  Absolutely.  I’ll see you next year when you start NaNoWriMo 2010.


Not entirely related, but speaking of long-running-or-soon-to-be jokes on the internet: Warren’s and my TOTW just went live. And, oh, this week’s made me grin. Go take a look.

Be Biopolitical At Home via Jamais Cascio

Tuesday December, 01 2009 05:31 PM PST

IEET has announced that Friday's Biopolitics of Popular Culture Seminar (referenced here and here) will be live-streamed for those folks unable to attend in person.

Those unable to attend the event in person will be able to follow along in real-time.

In order to make all of the valuable information being presented at this week’s “Biopolitics of Popular Culture” seminar available to as many people as possible, the IEET has arranged to have the entire event live-streamed online.

It will be shown at this page on the IEET site, and can also be viewed on TechZulu.

Times are from 8:30am to 5:30pm PST (11:30am to 8:30pm EST) on Friday, December 4, 2020.


Pigeon: Impossible via Lee Barnett

Tuesday December, 01 2009 02:32 PM PST

Haven't seen this doing the rounds, but it will...
A rookie secret agent is faced with a problem seldom covered in basic training: what to do when a curious pigeon gets trapped inside your multi-million dollar, government-issued nuclear briefcase.
I was sent it by a friend, and it's... well, watch it:

Induced Epidemics via Warren Ellis

Tuesday December, 01 2009 01:09 PM PST

I have a couple of friends in this one, if you’re in the LA area:


You just keep on trying, until you run out of cake. via Wil Wheaton

Tuesday December, 01 2009 12:54 PM PST

Yesterday, I wrote:

Well, the power just went out, so it's time for me to pack up my Mac and head out to a cafe with WiFi where I can work on my novel in front of people and get this posted. The weird thing is, while it's likely going to take an hour at least from the time I finish writing this paragraph until it actually posts on the internet, there is no perceived delay from whoever reads this, because as far as you're concerned, the post didn't exist until it was published, though it already existed for me.

Um. Yeah. I'm sure someone who's actually studied physics is going to knock me around for that, but since my knowledge of the field is limited to what I've picked up on my own, it's a fun thought exercise.

Okay, little post, go sit in an eigenstate for the nice people.

Reader Gevmage says:

Your analogy is reasonable. The post existed on your laptop while you drove to the coffee shop, in a state such that it was stable but not portable. Once you got to the coffee shop, by connecting to the internet, you promoted it to an energy state where it could slide easily through the intertubes to our screens.

Since quantum mechanics describes ONLY the behavior of the very small, it has problems when extended directly to the macroscopic (which the idea of Shroedinger's cat is an illustration). You extended the notion as well as it could be.

The eigenvalue then is just a scalar logical value indicating if the post is visible to the world. Every eigenvalue has to have a corresponding operator; the operator is a complicated set of tests of whether or not if you point our browser at, you get a certain character string that's in the post.

Why yes, I am procrastinating, why do you ask? :-D

Even though I don't understand the math behind quantum physics, I have a good enough grasp of the theory behind quantum physics to allow me to follow along when the math is discussed. Put another way: I know enough French and Spanish to put together what someone is telling me, but not enough to actually sit down and compose a letter in that language.

I'm sure I've just oversimplified the whole thing, and insulted a lot of actual scientists and mathematicians, so let me apologize for that before I continue, because I think I'm about to make it even worse.

I was easily bored as a kid. I wasn't athletic, strong or coordinated, but I was smart and I loved to read. I still enjoyed playing tag, hide and seek, and riding bikes, but none of that stuff satisfied me the same way that exploring imagined worlds in my mind did. Those imagined worlds were usually delivered in the form of Science Fiction and Fantasy books, within D&D modules, and occasionally created (or spun off from existing imagined worlds) using action figures. (I guess it's no surprise, then, that I make my living and found my place in life using my imagination.)

I always loved exploring strange new worlds in books and magazines (Dear Asimov's, I never thought it would happen to me, but ...) and there was even a time in my late teens when I actively sought out all the weird conspiracy, occult, UFO and supernatural stuff I could find (I truly despise that crap today) because even though I knew it was bullshit, it was yet another weird and fantastic imagined world to explore.

As I wrote in an old Things I Love post, it was the book Hyperspace that fundamentally changed my worldview:

[S]omeone (I think it was my brother) suggested that I read A Brief History of Time. I picked it up, read it in just a couple of days, and realized that my life could be divided into before I read it, and after I read it. On my next trip to the bookstore, I went straight to the science section, and looked for something ? anything ? to continue my education.

My eyes fell on a book with an interesting cover, and a provocative title: Hyperspace: A scientific odyssey through parallel universes, time warps, and the 10th dimension. It was written by a guy called Michio Kaku. I pulled it off the shelf, and after just a few pages, I was hooked.

There's a story in Hyperspace, right at the beginning, that I'm going to paraphrase. It's the story that grabbed my attention, captured my imagination, and fundamentally altered the way I thought about the nature of existence. I already had "before and after" with A Brief History of Time, and when I got to the end of this story, I had "before and after I read about the fish scientists." The story goes something like this:

In San Francisco, there's this botanical garden, and near the entrance there is a pond that's filled with koi fish. Dr. Kaku describes standing there, looking at the fish one day, and wondering what it would be like if the fish had a society as complex and advanced as our own, but the whole thing was confined to the pond, and they had no idea that there was a whole other world just beyond the surface of the water. In the fish world, there were fish scientists, and if a human were to pluck one of them from the pond, show it our world, and return it to the pond, it would go back to the other fish scientists and say, "Guys! You're never going to believe this. I was just doing my thing, and suddenly, this mysterious force pulled me from our world and showed me another, where the creatures don't need gills to breathe, and walk on two legs!"

The other scientists would look at it, and ask it how it got to this new world, but it wouldn't be able to explain it. They'd want the scientist to recreate it, but it wouldn't be able to. The fish scientist would know, however, that the other world was there, and that there was something just as complex as life in the pond on the other side of some mysterious barrier that they couldn't seem to penetrate.

I'm sure I've mangled the story, but that's essentially what I remember from it. I thought, "Well, shit, if there could be a world like that in the pond, maybe we are in something else's pond!" I didn't know if it was possible, I didn't know if it was just science fiction, but I didn't care. It was this incredible possibility, and my world opened up again. I felt like I'd been granted membership in a secret society. I devoured the book, and I began to think about the nature of existence in ways that I'd never even considered before. When I finally read Flatland a few years later, I was blown away that Abbot had written essentially the same story a hundred years earlier, in 1884, and I was thrilled that I could actually understand it.

My elementary school teachers were real good at putting the fear of God into us kids, but they were just horrible at teaching us math. I tried and tried, but I never understood it, and "you have to learn this because you have to learn it" wasn't the type of inspiration that worked for me. Even today, I'm not very good at math, never having found that teacher who could translate it into something I could actually use and appreciate. 

Growing up, I was a creative kid, an imaginative kid, and while I loved reading and learning about scientists and mathematicians, I never had a teacher or tutor who could help teenage me understand their work the way I understood their lives. (NB: My tutor while I was on Star Trek, Marion, who took me through most of high school, did everything she could to help me get excited about math, but to borrow from a parable: that ground in my brain had never been cultivated, and it just wasn't fertile enough to bear fruit.)

My lack of mathematical ability held me back in science, and it prevented me from ever studying physics or astronomy at anything exceeding the "for dummies" level. Here's a sad and embarrassing truth: I still can't sit down and develop equations for things, I struggle to calculate simple problems that my kids can do in their heads (they were taught math in a fundamentally different way than I was) and few things make me feel as stupid and frustrated as a simple algebra problem.

But when I sit down to read books like Hyperspace, articles about the LHC, anything my friend Phil Plait writes, or comments like the one I quoted above, I understand what they're talking about. I get excited, and take a look at a world that seems fantastic and imagined, but is actually real and right here.

I seem to have wandered away from the reason I sat down to write this post, so let me try to bring it all back together: I love exploring fantastic worlds that only exist in books and my imagination. But I also I love exploring the real world, which is so amazing, it just seems imagined.

(I once read a story about this for an audiobook. I forget the title, but it was about a kid who wanted to leave Earth with a dimension-hopping guy to explore the universe, and the dimension-hopping guy tells him that he shouldn't leave Earth for parts unknown until he really explores all the wonderful and incredible things that Earth has to offer, because due to the laws of dimension-hopping, it's a one-way trip. I wonder if that's still in print? I'd love to listen to it.)

I still wish I had a better understanding of the science and math that makes understanding and exploring the most fantastic parts of our real world possible, but until I do, I'm happy I have a pocket phrase book and a tourist map to help me get around a little bit.

Laurenn McCubbin: Speaking to Las Vegas in the Language of Las Vegas via Warren Ellis

Tuesday December, 01 2009 11:09 AM PST

Laurenn’s new art project, a massive thing:

In February, I’ll be presenting a gallery show that I’m calling Speaking to Las Vegas in the Language of Las Vegas. This is going to be an art installation that combines sculptural elements, performance, audio, video, photo documentation, and illustrated portraits of Las Vegas sex workers. The purpose of this show is to investigate the connections between the Las Vegas economy & the legal & illegal sex work that happens there….

Laurenn McCubbin

Links for 2020-12-01 via Warren Ellis

Tuesday December, 01 2009 11:00 AM PST

  • Archaeologists find a 10,000-year-old weapon at site of new Ontario arena
    "She said the artifact comes from Paleoindian hunters often called the ?first people of Ontario.?"
    (tags:history )
  • World around us: Prohibition of death - There are really some places where death is illegal
    "Prohibition of death is a political social phenomenon and taboo in which a law is passed stating that it is illegal to die, usually specifically in a certain political division or in a specific building."
    (tags:history culture )
  • Rainbow trapped for the first time - physics-math - 26 November 2020 - New Scientist
    "Oh, to catch a rainbow. Well, it's been done for the first time ever ? and with just a simple lens and a plate of glass at that. The technique could be used to store information using light, a boon for optical computing and telecommunications."
    (tags:sci )

Do Projects via Warren Ellis

Tuesday December, 01 2009 10:34 AM PST

Do projects. Books and art and things. Available as paid print object or free digital object.

Do is Nurri Kim and Adam Greenfield, "accompanied by a loose network of friends and collaborators", and I love their statement of purpose:

Some of our ambitions are to:

- develop words and images that make the people who encounter them re-see themselves and the world around them;

- find the most appropriate containers for our ideas;

- craft the kind of books that please their readers in the details of their conception, design and construction as much as in the things they say;

- and figure out what ?do-it-yourself? might mean in an age when new production technologies, informational and logistical networks give the independent amateur producer unprecedented power to reach out and make things happen.

First up is Nurri’s TOKYO BLUES:

Now available for purchase or free download, Tokyo Blues is a photographic record of Nurri Kim’s 2002-2003 investigation into this humble industrial material and the very wide variety of uses to which it’s put in the everyday life of Japan.

From construction sites and homeless settlements to cherry-blossom viewing parties in the park, the ubiquitous blue tarp is a constant of Japanese life and a bearer of multiple registers of meaning. In sixty-four images from the boulevards, alleys, sidestreets and interstitial spaces, Tokyo Blues explores these dramatically different contexts, returning something ?we see too often, and then forget to see? to full, vivid visibility.


Things I Do Not Want For Xmas via Warren Ellis

Tuesday December, 01 2009 09:40 AM PST


(thanks to Andrew Ducker for making me look at this, you fucking bastard)

Matt Fraction: Autodidact via Kelly Sue DeConnick

Tuesday December, 01 2009 07:58 AM PST

Matt Fraction: Autodidact, originally uploaded by Kelly Sue.

Happy birthday, my love.

SHIVERING SANDS: Ebook via Warren Ellis

Tuesday December, 01 2009 07:46 AM PST

Well, a bunch of people asked for SHIVERING SANDS as a download edition. So we’ve turned it into a PDF and put it on sale for USD $7, a little less than half the price of the print edition. And you can find it here at the IEU/Lulu storefront.

last shot via Trixie Bedlam

Monday November, 30 2009 09:16 PM PST

trixiebedlam posted a photo:

last shot

Night Music: Xela via Warren Ellis

Monday November, 30 2009 07:31 PM PST

Discovered Xela just the other day. If you come across an EP by Xela called THE DIVINE, grab it. This is from the album THE DEAD SEA:

?Ayn Rand Assholism? as Institution/Ideology via Meredith Yayanos

Monday November, 30 2009 06:26 PM PST

GQ link via Tertiary, thanks.

If you read any rant today, make sure it’s “The Bitch Is Back”. (Be warned: should you happen to think Objectivism is nifty, you may not appreciate it quite as much.) Andrew Corsello’s essay for GQ concerning author/philosopher Ayn Rand’s followers and her work’s lingering influence over global economics and politics is a raw, rambunctious, damning piece of work. Here’s a choice excerpt:

In the end, it’s not the books but the smug, evangelical certainty of Ayn Rand Assholes that causes me to loathe Ayn Rand in a personal way. The thing I liked most about college was being around so many young people who were as earnest as they were dauntingly smart. People who didn’t (yet) feel the need to own every room they walked into. People who knew how to ask questions. That was it. All that elevated question-asking, and the pliancy of temperament it entailed.

We were children. Then came Rand, “the Rosa Klebb of letters,” as entertainment journalist Gary Susman calls her, to body-snatch some of the best of them. Rhetorical question: Is there anything more irritating than a 20-year-old incapable of uttering the words “I don’t know”?

Actually, there is: an 82-year-old Alan Greenspan admitting in October 2008?at least ten years too late?that he’d found “a flaw in the model that I perceived as the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works.”

WORD. Wish I still had the email address for this kid in my high school econ class who used to carry Rand’s photo around in his wallet and habitually referred to people as “subnormals”, just so I could send him the final, frothing paragraphs of Corsello’s essay.

See also:

Post tags: Books, Crackpot Visionary, Opinion, Politics, Uber

November 30, 2020 via Cherie Priest

Monday November, 30 2009 04:56 PM PST

Hey. Guess how many words I wrote today? NONE! HAHAHA! THAT’S RIGHT, NARY A SINGLE SYLLABLE OF FICTION, SO THERE. Ladies and gents and everyone else, I’ll have you to know that every single Draft Zero in my queue has officially been composed. And this morning I sent “Reluctance” off to its editor (squeaking in under deadline, BOOYAH), which means that my deadline list is looking MIGHTY FINE.

Of course, any minute now editorial feedback and rewrites are going to come down the pike for Dreadnought, Clementine, and Fort Freak … but please — let me enjoy the moment while it lasts. I can scarcely tell you what a leisurely day this has been, with no obligations except my day-job work. This must be what it’s like to only have one job! It’s been so long, I’d nearly forgotten the sensation.

To celebrate the occasion, I shall give you links!

  • First up! Mark Henry - As you know Bob, Mark is our Chief Male Member of Team Seattle (which somehow sounds filthy, but ’tis only fitting). In short, his books are absurdly awesome — irreverent, hilarious, disgusting, and intensely perverted. Something for everyone! I swear, his Amanda Feral stories are a guaranteed recto-stick-ectomy. So please click the link and go show him some love … some dirty, dirty love …

  • Because Subterranean Press is evil - Bill is offering 50% off preorder titles. This is your chance to pick up some great reading material at unbelievable prices - just click that-there link and follow the directions to textual bliss. Offer lasts until end-of-day Friday, December 4th. Merry Christmas, y’all! (Sorry — Clementine isn’t available for preorder yet, so there’s nothing of mine to be nabbed. But I’m sure that even the most casual browser among you will find something of interest.)

  • Kyle Cassidy and Crew - Yesterday, Kyle and his lovely wife (plus two lovely guests) came to visit, and it was just plain amazing. He even took some shots for the Where I Write series, of which you can see an iPhone outtake right here. I don’t know why I look a little pissy, staring off like that. I was listening to/looking at Trillian over on the couch. It’s hard not to look at her. She’s really pretty. Anyway, I know for a fact that Kyle has about a jillion pictures of me laughing and looking like my usual cheerful dork self, on account of how he had me laughing most of the time he was holding the camera :)

  • Steampunk Exhibition Ball — Right here in Seattle, at the Museum of History and Industry, Saturday night. I SHALL BE THERE. I won’t have any books for sale, I’m afraid; but if you bring me yours, I’ll be happy to scribble all over ‘em for you, at your discretion. I believe I’ll be reading a bit? Details remain a little fuzzy. But trust me to be there, bedecked as a shipwrecked steampunk pirate — via a costume I’m building around this gob-smackingly lovely corset (which is even more gob-smackingly lovely in person, believe it or not). Anyway, if you’re also at this event — do stomp up and say hello! I love meeting new people, and will talk your ears off if you give me half a chance.

SUPERGOD #2: Preview via Warren Ellis

Monday November, 30 2009 03:50 PM PST

Out from this Wednesday, several pages up for your inspection at this link.