Saturday, January 31, 2009

Hell Week

A couple days ago, I showed some daytime pictures of the chaos behind my house (scroll down a bit). It's saturday night. Here's what it looks like just a few minutes ago. It's a little blurry because the camera was on automatic settings and it knew that it's dark outside and tried to compensate.

And here is a 10-second clip of what it sounds like on my back porch. Dunno who that band is, but I can certainly hear them. It's louder toward the end of the clip. that's what I have to live with all week. Last year, the event drew 538,000 people over the course of the week. That averages out to almost 77,000 people per day, but the attendance is heaviest on friday, saturday, and sunday. In 2006, they set the PGA single day attendance record with over 168,000 people. This is all in my back yard and they follow it up with live bands until 1:00am in a tent that's maybe 2000 yards from the house.

After tomorrow, it's over for another year.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Getting out

Here's a short video I shot driving out of the neighborhood early this afternoon. It's still tuesday so the traffic is not bad yet, and the waiting is minimal. I'll try to do the same thing later in the week when it's really bad.

Living Near a Major Sporting Event

I live in the middle of the traffic mess for the FBR Open (aka the Phoenix Open). Half a million people over the course of a week. Following this link will take you to a parking map. I live in the white area where it says "PASSES 3-7."

Here are two pictures I took a few minutes ago off my back balcony. The first one is looking in the SSE direction toward the parking. Not too full today as it's only tuesday and the real action doesn't start until thursday. Just out of shot to the left is a huge white tent called the Bird's Nest. (It's hidden by a tree from my balcony, but it's marked in black on the map linked above.) Yes, not only do we get Superbowl traffic for a week, we also get loud rock and roll concerts for free until 1:00am all week. I live far enough away that I just get bass and then rowdy drunk people in my neighborhood.

This picture is looking due south down the jogging path in the park. This is maximum zoom looking at one of the traffic guys. The tent near the top of the picture to the left is part of the tournament entrance where all the vendors sit and hand out free goodies. You are forced to walk through the tent to get to the golf course.

It's only tuesday. It gets worse as the week goes on.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Being a Parent

Back in September, author John Scalzi posted a wonderful essay on being poor. For better or for worse, thoughts on being a parent started appear in my head today in the same format. So, since I know he is also a parent, I dedicate this blog entry to John Scalzi. John's essay makes you stop an think about how we treat those less fortunate than ourselves. I hope mine will make you appreciate what you have. If you enjoy it, feel free to add your own lines in the comments.

Being a parent means waking up several times a night to feed the baby.

Being a parent means not telling him that when you did it, you got away with far more.

Being a parent means you get only one ice cream bar from a box of twenty.

Being a parent means things that worked perfectly for fifteen years are suddenly broken.

Being a parent means the person causing all the mischief is named "Not Me."

Being a parent means spending your evening studying subjects you thought were gone from your life forever.

Being a parent means eating sugar-coated cereal again.

Being a parent means playing with toys without people thinking you are weird.

Being a parent means singing silly songs.

Being a parent means feeling the loss of the tragedies you see on the news.

Being a parent means you no longer have a life.

Being a parent means tremendous worry when a normally noisy child is quiet with fever.

Being a parent means hearing gems from the mouths of babes.

Being a parent means having a different favorite every day.

Being a parent means having no favorites.

Being a parent means discovering what your parents meant when they told you they don't love you any less than your sibling, only different.

Being a parent means always thinking of them as your baby.

Being a parent means surprise notes and calls from the school telling you that your little angel isn't.

Being a parent means great frustration.

Being a parent means catching yourself saying the same things your parents said, you know, the things you swore you'd never say.

Being a parent means hearing them laugh at the clothes you wore as a teenager.

Being a parent means being strong when she says "I hate you."

Being a parent means letting them grow up.

Being a parent means going out to dinner at Chuck E. Cheese knowing you'll eat when you get home.

Being a parent means washing clothes that you know were only worn for ten minutes.

Being a parent means discovering that between your arms is a safe haven.

Being a parent means losing your temper.

Being a parent means sacrifice.

Being a parent means you get to watch cartoons again.

Being a parent means watching Hannah Montana yet again.

Being a parent means sending kids to bed on New Years Eve at 9:00PM because you live on the west coast and that's when the ball drops.

Being a parent means celebrating with sparkling apple juice.

Being a parent means cleaning up after the kid's dog.

Being a parent means going on field trips to places you would never have thought about visiting.

Being a parent means wondering why it went in as you pull the rock out of her nose with a pair of tweezers.

Being a parent means saying 'no' when you want to say 'yes.'

Being a parent means saying 'yes' when you want to say 'no.'

Being a parent means smiling at the cloud-9 on a new parent's face because you know that ain't gonna last.

Being a parent means waking up one day to discover he is taller than you, and wondering how he can still have the same baby face.

Being a parent means a warm feeling when she wins.

Being a parent means hiding the disappointment when he loses because he needs you to tell him it's okay.

Being a parent means saying "No, we aren't there yet."

Being a parent means watching them sleep, even when they're big.

Being a parent means tough love.

Being a parent means spending time together.

Being a parent means understanding that Harry Chapin song.

Being a parent means wishing the house were quiet, then missing the noise when it is.

Being a parent means fixing the lawn mower together.

Being a parent means you have the best date for the father-daughter dance.

Being a parent means no boy is good enough.

Being a parent means accepting their life decisions, even if you disagree.

Being a parent means letting them learn from their own mistakes.

Being a parent means being an important part of a family.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Beard Revisited

By the way, the beard is now gone.

Managing the Undiscovered Career

The company who recently released me from service was kind enough to hire a career transition company called DBM. It is the first time I have ever tried using that kind of company. Sure, I've used headhunters before, and may again. This is different. They are a resource to teach you effective ways of job hunting.

I've always kept a live resume, updating and modifying it from time to time. It was effective enough for me, especially when I wanted to stay within the industry. When it comes down to it, a resume is effective if it gets you the interview. After that it's up to you.

I say was effective because we live in unusual times. In today's economy, with so many jobs being eliminated, it's hard to stand out. I'm learning that there are better ways to present yourself on paper. There are ways to change industries.

Part of the problem most people have is boiling work experience down to accomplishments. Even in jobs I despised and spent the whole day wishing I were on my way home, I accomplished something of note. (In this case, I'm not thinking of any recent jobs. I'm thinking of that place I worked before my oldest kid was born, the place with bags of iron oxide everywhere.)

The problem is how to translate that into something that makes you look like a person who can accomplish things. That's where I'm finding this place helpful. It's one thing to say that you wrote awk/sed scripts in UNIX. It's something entirely different to say that you wrote awk/sed scripts to retrieve often-needed line-items of data that takes 3 seconds, when it took 5 minutes to do it manually. Boom. You demonstrate a skill and an impact.

I'm still constructing my technical version, but I already have a freelance writing version that I have already used. Time will tell if it is effective.

Monday, January 19, 2009


Nobody outside my immediate family and the people I've come into contact with over the past 6 weeks know that I have been growing a beard. Now that the layoff is a 3-day-weekend removed, it's time to get serious about the job hunt. That means, the beard has to go. But, since most people haven't seen me with a beard, here are some pictures.

I was rehearsing the melody to the piece I'm getting ready to record and was actually playing when my daughter Audrey snapped the pictures. I'm not smiling mainly because I'm concentrating on where to put my fingers. I have a capo on the 10th fret for two reasons. First, I want to use the low strings for the melody to capture a fatter sound. Second, most of my sheet music, and especially my fake books, are written for Bb instruments. I'm making the guitar into a Bb instrument with the capo two half-steps below the octave.

From another angle. For those interested, not only do I transpose the instrument via capo, I also have the low E string drop D.

Here, I'm rehearsing the bass part of the song, which I'm going to do on keyboard with a somewhat techno but more Vangelis-inspired riff. That's why I'm standing down by the left end of the keyboard. The highest note I'm using is below middle C.

The keyboard is set to tone 308, which is "slow saw lead," and transposed down two half-steps to convert the keyboard to a Bb instrument, as well. I'm only about half done with the keyboard arrangement, but it's tricky because it's all staccato eight notes at quarter = 144, combined with a low F# (concert E) drone. It should help get the "cosmic" sound I'm looking for.

Anyway, after 6 weeks the beard still looks scraggly and I probably would need another 6 weeks for it to fill in completely. So, goodbye beard.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Day 2

My first full day of free-agency in 14 years started with the same alarm clock time and the same morning routine. Gotta get the wife out the door to work and the kids out the door in time for the school bus. At the same time, it felt like I was getting ready to go, too. Except no lunch to pack.

Spent the first hour or so reviewing the requirements for the scout troop camp out for February, then poked around on a few local company web sites. I'm still recovering from the shell-shock, but there have been a lot of warm emails from well-wishers, and I appreciate that. Thanks.

This afternoon, I need to get started with the career transition firm that I get to use. I'm not going to post a daily play-by-play of this period of change. It just isn't good form and probably it would be a jinx anyway.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Economy Hits Home

The fear and dreaded anticipation are over. The axe fell today and I was among those released into free-agency. I was shocked to hear some of the names that came before me, and I suppose I would be shocked to hear the names of those that came after. Good people and trusted colleagues. This is a major restructuring and the cuts appear to be severe. Not even the veterans with all the product history in their heads are immune.

It never occurred to me before today what to do in the afternoon if you are hit by layoffs in the morning. I was given a resource package. I spent a little time going through it, but the reality is, the work environment is so dynamic, charged, and intense that it's really hard to simply stop like flipping a switch. I was giving a pass-down to my supervisor as he watched me clean out my desk and walked me to the parking lot. He's a good guy. I like and respect him and I want to make cleaning up the pieces easier. I like pretty much everyone who I interfaced with on that job, and I still care about how the pieces fall. I still care about service and response to the customers.

I still have action items on my mind. This one is almost done except for three things. I just asked the factory to collect some data last night. Where will it go? What about that qualification I have been involved with forever? What about that failure analysis job I just submitted? I am--was--involved in so many simultaneous urgent projects/incidents that I'll probably be thinking of them for weeks, even months. It's very difficult to simply turn it off.

I'm not sure where I go from here. I need time for my thoughts to settle.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Most Interesting Dream

You know how dreams change in mid-scene? I had a weird dream last saturday night. That in itself is unusual as I rarely remember my dreams. In this dream, there was a scraggly bird trapped inside a window between two panes of glass. It was pecking away at a part of the wall, trying to escape. The bird looked like it had been there for days, its tan feathers disheveled. Change in mid-scene. The bird turned around and revealed itself to be a cardinal, neatly preened crimson feathers and a bright yellow beak. Instead of trying to get out, it stood its ground and insisted on staying in the window.


Monday, January 12, 2009

New Story Out

The Random Eye is a new annual web-zine and the first issue is now out. It features one of my stories, "The Budget Hath No Mercy." You can find it here.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Check out the Cover

Here is the cover for issue number one of M-Brane SF. My story "Road Rage" will appear in this one when he decides to release it.

Year's Best

Before I get to today's main topic, I want to welcome all the new blood passing through and looking for eggs in my basket off to the right under my profile. I know you swing by to find hatchling eggs, but do I hope you'll occasionally take a look at the content here.

I ran across this interesting observation today, asking the question "Is Short Science Fiction Moving to Original Anthologies?" It's an interesting question, but it's incomplete. The real question is where will we find short fiction (not just the spec fic stuff, but all short fiction aside from literary, which writes its own rules).

Circulation in the short fiction print periodical markets has been declining for a long time, and this little depression in which we find ourselves doesn't help matters. Online markets are thriving, but online markets that pay pro rates are few and far between. Much of my short fiction is published online. Not all, but a significant percentage. I have not had anything appear in a print anthology, mainly because I rarely submit to them. given the observation I linked, I may start submitting to them more often.

Problem is, right now the short fiction market doesn't really know where it is going. I know some very successful writers who are banking on portability in the form of stories that can be read on iphones. Still, many readers like the feel of paper in their hands. I do think the print anthologies, particularly from small presses, will always be around.

I'll leave you with a question. If you read short fiction, in what form would you prefer? Print magazines, print anthologies, web sites, or portable electronic? Or, perhaps you have another idea.

I almost forgot, if you follow that link, at the bottom of the page is the table of contents. Four of my friends appear. Congratulations to them.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Plateau and Growth

One thing about learning a craft, there are always plateaus. In writing, specifically, there is no one right way to do the job, but there are plenty of wrong ways. The difference between a right way and a wrong way often has to do with the writer. What might work for one could be a disaster for another.

For any fiction writer who takes the craft seriously, there comes a point where you know how to write. That isn't the problem anymore. The learning moves from how to write into what to write. Learning how to tell a story is far more demanding than learning how to write. That's where the plateaus happen, at least for me.

Learning the mechanics of the craft can be tedious if done by rote, but they can also mostly be learned by osmosis--reading and paying attention to how sentences are put together. A serious writer will blow through this phase pretty fast. Even if you earned Cs in English, you'll reach a level of competence that is good enough most of the time.

Story-telling. Now, that's a different matter. I began the first version of Neanderthal Swan Song in October of 2004. That's when I think I started taking writing seriously, and I learned a lot in the process of writing it. Looking back, I can see a much better writer in the last chapter than in the first.

In 2005, I attended Orson Scott Card's Literary Boot Camp. (If you are interested in this, keep your eyes on this page for announcements.) What I learned there carried me into publication on a paying basis. I learned even more from some exercises David Gerrold gave me. That, and writing consistently got me into publication regularly.

I went for a long time selling, but not to my target markets. I kept on keeping on, but my work plateaued for a long time, probably about two years. It gets frustrating, for sure. The problem is, once you get to a certain level, you know something is missing from your work, but you may not necessarily know what it is.

When I redrafted Neanderthal Swan Song, I doubled the word count despite axing a full sub-plot. (I knew better what I was doing.) I finished that in June of 2007. The manuscript sat in the Baen slush pile for over a year. I won't go into detail as I discussed that here. Recently I have been shopping the novel to agents. In the process of that, a more established writer friend look at my first chapter.

Now, I had been of the opinion that the novel was fairly polished, and in fact, this is how my friend's feedback began:

You're opening is good. There's really nothing at all wrong with it as is.

Which is pretty good, but the next sentence went like this:

But I don't feel like you're swinging for the fences here.

Okay, what does that mean? Obviously, at this level the answer to that will be as unique as each writer. I won't go into torrid detail of the wonderfully constructive criticism that followed those comments except to say that they illuminated what I think has been missing from my prose and keeping me in AAA-ball. Elaborating probably won't be helpful to many people because the details are so specific to my own circumstances.

I've had some of this illuminated in the past, but not quite in this way. This time, I was slapped in the face with the problems hard enough to see them. For that, I am grateful. I feel like it was one of those epiphanies that a writer feels when finally getting off the plateau and climbing to the next level. I hope so.

So, I am yet again redrafting, at least the first chapter. Whether the rest of the novel needs a redraft or just some massaging, I don't know yet. This new insight has been so illuminating that I have considered the option of pulling back and doing some more shorts, or scrapping the novel and starting over, or even setting it aside to work on something new and coming back to the novel in a couple years.

I'm not sure where it will lead because I'm still digesting the insight. It took about 6 months before the skills I learned at Orson Scott Card's Boot Camp to start showing up in my material, so I'm not sure if this new stuff will show up immediately.

The point I have a point? Of course. I always have a point, even if the point is that it's pointless. But here, I do have a point. Writing can be frustrating. I'm coming to learn that at no matter what point in a writing career you happen to be, there are always holes and there is always something to learn. There are always plateaus and always new techniques to apply. It also gets harder to see the holes by yourself. Since there is always somebody better than you at some aspect of the craft, it pays to have a network that you can leverage. As long as you keep at it, the climb to the next plateau will eventually start.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Snow Day

Despite their father growing up in Wisconsin, my three kids (11,12,13) had never seen snow until this past Monday. We drove up the hill to Flagstaff and played in the snow for about an hour. Then we went home. The good thing about Phoenix in the winter is that it's possible to enjoy winter on a day trip basis. Well, you can see in the pictures below, the kids really enjoyed their first snow experience.

We couldn't find a park that had an open parking lot, so we squatted at a local school. Don't worry, we took only pictures and left only footprints.