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“The Biggest Man in Lilliput” is now on the Nook Store

Just a quick note to let you know that my ebook short story, “The Biggest Man in Lilliput,” is now available on the Nook Store, priced at $0.99. Buy it here.

And its also available on the Kindle Store. Buy it here.

More formats to come. I’ll probably go with SmashWords for everything else. I have downloaded what feels like a prodigious amount of documentation for getting started with that.

“The Biggest Man in Lilliput,” my first ebook, is on sale now! Is this exciting or what?!

The Biggest Man in Lilliput” is on sale now at, priced at $0.99.

This is a huge deal for me. I’ve dreamed about being a published science fiction writer since I was a kid. And now I am. Well, sort of. This is not the way I imagined it when I was a teen-ager; I thought I’d first get a couple of short stories published in science fiction magazines, then get books published through traditional publishing. This is a different path.

And, truly, I won’t really feel like I’ve achieved the dream until I’ve sold at least 100 copies. That’s my initial goal — 100 copies.


“The Biggest Man in Lilliput” is a battle of wits to save the 21st Century nation of tiny people from a mob of human religious fanatics. Mayor Yoby of the Lilliputian City of New Mildendo has to save the day by outthinking his enemies. It’s got thrills, humor, and a little satire.

It’s a short story, 5,600 words, and should take about 35 minutes to read.

Julie did the cover, and also was my most valued first reader and copy editor. Didn’t she do a terrific job? That’s right, this ebook is a family project. SO IF YOU DON’T BUY IT THAT MEANS YOU’RE AGAINST FAMILY VALUES.

The photo on the cover is gorgeous, you can take a closer look here. It’s by Scanrail. It’s a photo of Stockholm, Sweden, standing in for the fictional city of New Mildendo, Lilliput, in my story.

I’ve submitted the piece to Barnes & Noble for availability on the Nook; I expect approval by Thursday. I’ll let you know here when its available.

Update: And now that’s done. Buy “The Biggest Man” in Lilliput on Nook for $0.99.

Here’s an excerpt to get you started.

It rained the morning the mob of Gullivers descended on Lilliput, the kind of fast, driving rain that was typical for summer storms in that country. Rain was a deadly threat to Lilliputians caught outdoors. A few unlucky Lilliputians were pummeled to death by raindrops, or drowned, every year.

But Lilliputians had centuries of experience protecting themselves from rainstorms. They dealt with the threat. They either stayed home to wait out the rain, or commuted through a network of tunnels under the city.

The morning the Gulliver mob descended on the City, Mayor Yoby stayed home in the Executive Mansion to wait out the rain, coordinating weather control by phone. When the weather cleared, he headed in to City Hall.

He rode the public omnibus to work, a long metal tube strapped to the back of a domesticated lizard. He liked to ride the bus. The political bloggers of Lilliput said Yoby’s favoring public transportation was an affectation, an ongoing PR stunt. They were right. But that was only part of it. Yoby just plain liked meeting the people of the city, letting anybody who had something to say come right up to him and say it; riding public transit gave him an opportunity to do that.

That morning, Yoby got an earful from one of his constituents, a dowager complaining about an infestation of ants in her candy store. The knee-high insects were harmless, but they terrified the children, and left their damn smelly pheromone trails all over the premises. Yoby was in the midst of reassuring the woman that the Sanitation Department would get on the problem when the bus driver paged him in a barely intelligible voice on the vehicle’s scratchy public address system.

Yoby excused himself. The bus was packed with Lilliputians, but they shouldered out of his way when they saw him coming. They recognized the mayor.

Yoby was hard to miss, a man with skin the color and texture of a well-worn, favorite boot, a bald, egg-shaped head, and a barrel-shaped body, wearing a sharp business suit. At more than six and a half inches tall, he was a veritable giant among Lilliputians, towering more than a half-inch over most of his fellow citizens.

When Yoby got to the front of the bus, he found two uniformed cops waiting for him, accompanied by the mayor’s chief of staff, Piopo, a handsome, middle-aged Lilliputian woman.

“You’re needed in City Hall,” Piopo said. “Code Rampaging Giraffe. We have a mount waiting for you here to get through the crowds. We must get moving immediately.”

Yoby indulged his only two vices. He lit a cigar and swore.


Gullivers were both lifeline and threat to the Lilliputians. Since the destruction of the home islands by a volcano shortly after the historic visit from Lemuel Gulliver, Lilliputians had settled in a diaspora all over the globe. Eventually, they formed a new nation, on the east end of Long Island, just a few dozen miles from the Gulliver city of New York.

Lilliputians traded with Gullivers for food, medical supplies, rare materials, and perhaps most important, knowledge.

Artwork and scientific discovery had the same value no matter what the size of the producer. Lilliputian livestock and vegetables were prized for their delicate flavors. Lilliputians worked in the movie and TV industry, especially as actors — they could do a normal movie on a tabletop, and put on an entire, sprawling epic in a single room. The entirety of James Cameron’s classic Titanic was filmed with Lillputian actors in the bedroom of a suburban house. And, with their tiny hands, Lilliputians excelled at delicate work.

Lilliputians and Gullivers were partners in commerce and culture. And yet, the so-called threat posed by Lilliputians was a constant thread running through the more bigoted wings of Gulliver politics. The Gullivers claimed Lilliputians hated America, were stealing human jobs, corrupting morals, distributing pornography, collaborating with terrorists, selling drugs, pirating music on the Internet, and every other imaginable sin.

Get the ebook. Read the rest.

If you’re a “Love, Actually” fan, and you haven’t seen the deleted scenes, do. They’re a treat.

We watched the movie again over the weekend. It’s definitely in a class of movies I could see every few years pretty much forever, along with A Christmas Story, Die Hard, That Thing You Do, Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, Wonder Boys, My Favorite Year, and Almost Famous.

One of the many things I love about Love Actually, with its too-many-to-count story lines loosely weaved together, is that at least two of the storylines end unhappily. It makes the ending of the movie more bittersweet.

Something I noticed this time around: One turning point in the movie is when Alan Rickman’s character goes shopping for Christmas gifts, and buys an expensive necklace. Has he already decided to buy it for Mia? Or is he still thinking at that point he might buy it for his wife?

Hugh Grant’s Prime Minister character is less and less believable every time we watch the movie. And I still don’t care, because Hugh Grant’s character just gets better and better. Watch his face in the scene at the end when his bodyguard starts singing “Good King Wenceslas.”

The cut scenes are a treat. We didn’t watch them again this year, because we watched on Apple TV rather than a DVD, but I would have wanted to watch them if we had them.

I’m not usually a fan of uncut scenes and director’s voice-overs in DVDs. I’ve watched a few and enjoyed them, but I don’t anymore, and I don’t miss them.

Love, Actually is the exception. The uncut scenes are very good, because they are entire vignettes and story arcs, some of them featuring characters not in the released movie. Other DVD extras are just scenes or fragments of scenes, but these are whole stories.

Fans of the movie will remember Emma Thompson’s character complaining about their troublesome son Bernard. In the uncut scenes, we see a sequence where Bernard gets into hilarious trouble over a school assignment. In another sequence, we see the headmistress of the school caring for her terminally ill girlfriend. One nice touch in these two story lines: In the first one, the headmistress is a stiff, unlikeable authority figure, and then when she cares for her girlfriend, we see another side of her.

Another storyline deals with two women in an African village. The African storyline is loosely woven into the stories of the main British characters through a very clever device.

Yet another storyline deals with Liam Neeson’s character, whose computer has been taken over by a virus that displays porn pop-ups in his browser, just as his late wife’s parents are about to come over for dinner.

I understand why those stories and scenes were cut. One reason is that the movie is already very long. Another reason is that the Bernard and porn stories don’t fit the rest of the movie. They’re broad farce; the rest of Love, Actually is broad, but nowhere near as farcical as those stories. The climactic line of dialogue in the Bernard story, delivered by Emma Thompson, rings false. It’s too Hollywood.

But still: The deleted scenes of Love, Actually are well worth seeing, if you’re the kind of fan who sees the movie more than once.

And here they are on YouTube. Or, two of them at least:

Bernard’s story:

The headmistress’s story:

P.S. We also watched A Christmas Story again this weekend. My insight this time around: Ralphie is a horrible, horrible brat. The Higbee’s Santa should have kicked him even harder.

The Foundation as the villains of the Foundation Trilogy

Non-violence is one of the biggest themes of The Foundation Trilogy. Other space operas are filled with space battles and thrilling hand-to-hand combat. There’s very little violence onstage in The Foundation Trilogy. Mostly, the novels consist of people sitting around and talking.

The Foundation explicitly shuns violence. It’s founded on a planet without natural resources, by a colony of academics. They don’t fight their enemies because they can’t; they have to out-think their enemies instead.

One of the major characters of the trilogy is Salvor Hardin, a politician whose motto is, “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.”

So the Foundation Trilogy is, on the surface at least, an extremely ethically advanced series. Forty years before the publication of the original stories during World War II, we had a president, Theodore Roosevelt, who loved war. TR embraced combat; he though war was essential to making nations great, and he said so publicly. In The Foundation Trilogy, we a philosophy of war as something to be avoided wherever possible, and avoidable by any competent person.

And yet the Foundation trades war for deceit, trickery, and cooperating in oppression.

The opening sequence of Foundation deals with Gaal Dornick, a young man from the provinces come to the capital to study mathematics under the great Hari Seldon. Once he arrives at the capital, Dornick learns that Hari Seldon has arranged to have him arrested. Any sensible person would have nothing to do with Seldon afterwards, but Dornick doesn’t seem to have much sense, because he becomes one of Seldon’s loyal acolytes.

Dornick and Seldon are on trial together, and they manage to escape imprisonment, but only by agreeing to leave the capital city, along with Seldon’s 100,000 followers, to the remote planet of Terminus. Seldon remarks that this was exactly what he wanted; his followers would never have gone willingly, so he had to force them to come with him.

Does this sound like the behavior of one of history’s good guys? Apparently so, because the Foundation reveres Seldon. They continue to revere him even after learning that the mission of the Foundation was another lie. Seldon had said he wanted the Foundation to prepare a great Encyclopedia of human knowledge to shorten the dark age following the fall of the Galactic Empire. Fifty years after the founding of the Foundation, Seldon comes back in a recorded message to reveal that, too, was a lie. He was only interested in getting all those academics isolated from the main body of the empire, unarmed and helpless, so they could use nonviolent means to start the climb to the second Galactic Empire.

The Foundation continues in the tradition of its lying founder. Faced with hostile neighbors with more military power but much less advanced technology, the Foundation gives its neighbors the secrets of atomic power. But the Foundation also starts a fake religion, with the premise that its technology isn’t the result of science and engineering but of miracles and magic. Thus, the Foundation perpetuates the ignorance and oppression of billions of its neighbors so that it can strengthen its own power.

So who, exactly, are the villains of this series?

My first ebook: Getting closer

Julie did a bang-up first pass at creating a cover for my ebook short story. It looks sharp and professional, playful and a little bit serious, capturing the tone of the story nicely. It uses a gorgeous cover photo too; it’s the one titled San Francisco Cityscape With Cookware on this page. I love the photo — I love all the photos on that page — but I don’t think they’re quite right for this particular story. And I don’t have permission to use them. So we’ll have to find another photo. That’s OK, there are plenty of public-domain cityscapes available on the Internet.

The story, by the way, is called “The Biggest Man in Lilliput.” It takes the premise that a colony of Lilliputians built a city on North America, and now it’s survived to the present day, with Internet access and political blogs and all the other accoutrements of modern life. I guess you could say it’s a fantasy-comedy-thriller. It’s short. I’ll be selling it for $0.99. Or maybe $1.09, because apparently $0.99 is a red flag that says crappy shovelware just dumped into an ebook file without even being proofread.

No, I think I’ll just go for $0.99. Pricing for electronic goods, where the cost of reproduction and distribution is near zero, is hard.

I want to have the story for sale by Christmas. E-reader sales are going to be huge for Christmas, and all the people with empty new e-readers will want something to read right away. So that’s an opportunity to make some sales.

I will be using ZappTek LegendMaker software to handle the conversion, which is supposed to be automatic and easy. But I vaguely remember little quirks of ebook formatting that don’t appear to be covered by the LegendMaker documentation. For example: Covers for epub-formatted ebooks, which is the format used by most ebook readers, need to have opaque backgrounds. But the Amazon Kindle requires a transparent background. Or maybe I’m misremembering. Or maybe it’s the other way around. I need to look into this.

I don’t just want the book available in one place, though. After the Kindle store, I’ll put it up on the Barnes & Noble Nook store. Then here, adding a storefront page to this Web site. This blog runs on WordPress, and I understand it’s not difficult to set up a cash register on a WordPress site. I’ll also want to put the book up on as many other ebook sites as I can find; I understand SmashWords is good for that.

Now here’s a fun idea: Con-Dor, a local science fiction convention, is March 2-4. I’d like to print up postcards with the book cover and promotional materials to give out at the conference. Better yet: Postcards to sell, with redemption codes for the ebook. Buy the postcard, come to the Web site later, enter the unique redemption code on the postcard, and claim your copy of the book, prepaid. As if that’s not nerdy enough, I’d like to get a Square credit card reader so I can take credit card payments when I’m just walking around. But only if the convention rules allow it; I don’t want to be a dick about it.

Also: Writing. The most important part. At this point, I have a lot of material in the pipeline — several short stories written and abandoned that need shaves and haircuts, two novel drafts requiring revising, and a third novel in progress. Lots to do.

2012 is going to be a fun year.

Day one of my productivity experiment was a success. I think.

For those of you who skipped yesterday’s post: I read an interesting story about how successful people don’t work longer hours than their counterparts; they’re just more focused. And they aren’t even focused the whole time they’re working; just a lot of the time. And the successful people devote a lot of time to just relaxing.

Put it that way, it sounds pretty simple. Just common sense. But it seemed insightful to me at the time.

So I tried it out Sunday and Monday. Most mornings, I get to work right away, but Monday I eased into it, spending a short time fooling around on Facebook and Twitter before diving in — that would be the “relaxing” part — and then doing my best to focus myself 100% on work for a long time. And I did feel more focused.

But the distractions accumulated as the day went on. Emails came in that needed my drop-everything attention. Several times a day, I need to stop what I’m doing and make a sweep of The CMO Site’s message boards, reading and responding to new messages. I need to devote a big block of time in the morning just to reading the business, marketing, and technology news just to identify trends and stories to pursue. I had two scheduled meetings, plus one impromptu phone call. And there was my lunch break in mid-day followed by my exercise break in the afternoon.

All of that conspires to prevent achieving mind-like-water flow.

I think I got more work done in less time than usual. But I still had a lot of writing to do after dinner. My goal is to be finished work by dinnertime most nights.

I’ll stick with it, and try to find a rhythm.

Losing weight and staying fit over the holidays

Knowing that I’ve lost 90 pounds[1. On purpose. Sometimes people ask me about that. They’re worried that I’m sick.], and kept it off for nearly 11 months, people often ask me how they can lose weight (or keep weight off) and stay fit during the holidays.[2. Actually, nobody ever asks me that.]

I have a two-word response: Don’t bother.

Improved nutrition is not like alcoholism or quitting smoking, where the goal is zero tolerance. “Never again!” is the goal for an alcoholic or a person who has quite smoking. That person wants to never have another drink, or another puff on a cigarette, ever again.

But the goal for improved nutrition and fitness should be moderation. It’s right to occasionally indulge in rich food, candy, dessert, and booze. It’s right to occasionally do a lot of that, and slack off on exercise for a little while, and gain a few pounds.

Then, when you’ve done that for a while, it’s right to resume a healthier lifestyle.

I was on vacation for the past 12 days, which included Thanksgiving. I drank a lot of wine, ate dessert at almost every meal, ate a lot of red meat and fried food, didn’t exercise many days, and had a great time .

I gained four pounds in the last 12 days. And that’s fine. And now it’s time to resume exercise and take the weight off again.

The goal for fitness is not zero tolerance. The goal for fitness is to lead a healthier, better, and more enjoyable life. And good food is a part of that kind of life, as is a schedule that sometimes does not permit exercise.

The only thing that bothers me about these 12 days is what I’ve learned about myself. For the past few months, I’ve been hoping that one day soon I might be able to give up on compulsively weighing and measuring my food, and logging everything I eat, and instead I could just eat whatever I want. What I learned in the past 12 days is that’s not going to happen. Or not soon at least. When I let myself off the leash, I go back to my old habits of physical sloth and compulsive eating. Oh, well.

Getting closer to publishing my first ebook

I had a fine weekend at LosCon, and when I returned had a pleasant discovery. Julie had finished proofreading and copy-editing “The Biggest Man in Lilliput,” which is going to be my first ebook.

She’s also doing the cover. Until she finishes that, I’m fooling around with software for converting documents to ebooks.

According to my research, 80% of ebook sales come from two sources: The Amazon Kindle store, and Barnes & Noble Nook. Everything else, including Apple’s iBooks, is small change. The Kindle uses a format called .mobi, and Nook (and many other ereaders) use epub.

What’s the difference between those two formats? I don’t know, and I don’t think I need to. I just need to be able to convert to those formats.

This multi-part series describes how to format ebooks manually. It doesn’t look hard. It looks like it’s just simple HTML, the kind of thing I’ve been doing for many years to create blog posts.

Alternately, you can use packaged software. The free Calibre, which runs on Windows, Mac and Linux, creates ebooks and converts between formats. I use it to manage some of the ebooks I read. But it looks a little complicated for making ebooks.

Alternately, Michael Stackpole, a science fiction writer and self-publishing evangelist, recommends Legend Maker for the Mac, which he helped design. It’s $50 on the Web. The demo version looks a little scanty, allowing you to only make ebooks up to 100 lines in length. So I took a leap of faith and spent $40 to buy Legend Maker from the App Store.

I’m a little hazy on the next steps after I create the ebook. As far as I can see, I can upload it myself to the Amazon Kindle Store, as well as the Barnes & Noble store. I’ll probably hit iBooks too because, well, why not? At some point down the road, I’ll post it to Smashwords, an ebook publisher that distributes to a variety of online stores. Smashwords takes a 15% cut, on top of the cut taken by other online bookstores (Kindle, for example, takes a 30%) cut. I think I can use Smashwords to distribute the book to other bookstores but not the Kindle, Nook, and Apple store. I need to look into that.

Another very important step: Make the book available for sale from here, on this web site. I get to keep 100% of that money. Woo-hoo!

Pricing: Stackpole recommends $1 per 10,000 words, figuring that’s about the amount most people can read in an hour. So a 100,000 word novel, which is a typical length for science fiction and fantasy, would sell for $9.99. “The Biggest Man in Lilliput” is 5,700 words. The Kindle store sets a floor on prices of $0.99, so that’s what I’ll sell it for. Unfortunately, that leaves no room for future discounts, but so it goes.

Marketing is another important step in the process. I plan a series of blog posts describing what inspired me to write the story, a little bit about my research, and the story’s influences. As you possibly guessed just from the title, a certain book by Jonathan Swift was the main influence — the movie wasn’t out when I wrote the story and we didn’t even see it until a couple of weeks ago. It wasn’t bad.

I’m excited about this, and I hope you’ll by the book when it’s available.

Where to find me at LosCon

I’m here at LosCon, the Los Angeles science fiction convention, having a good time. I’m speaking on a few panels Sunday, so come by if you want to see me flap my jaws on various subjects. Where to find me:

Robert A. Heinlein’s Future History: What it got right, and what it got wrong. That should be a fun one; I always like to talk about Heinlein. Also on the panel: Robert James, Brad Lyau, and June Moffatt. The moderator is Bill Patterson, author of the biography Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century: Volume 1 (1907-1948): Learning Curve. Even if you’re not a crazy Heinlein fanatic like me, you should read that biography; it’s an entertaining and informative history of life as it was lived on that alien planet and time known as America in the first half of the 20th Century. And if you are a crazy Heinlein fanatic like me, you already read it — it’s great, amirite? I interviewed Patterson in one of the last episodes of my Copper Robot podcast.

Where: Marquis 2
When: 10 am Sunday.

Online Publishing/Publishing Methods: Also on the panel with me: Maya Kaathryn Bohnof, Yolanada Pascal. I’ve been doing a lot of research into online self-publishing lately, preparatory to getting my own work out. I’ll have something for sale in time for Christmas. I’m looking forward to learning on this one as much as I am to speaking. And that’s saying a lot, in-love-with-the-sound-of-my-own-voice-wise.

Where: Chicago
When: 11:30 am Sunday.

Internet, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, blogging and other social media: Technology marketing Web site, what you need to know. The title of this panel is kinda confusing, ain’t it? Basically, I’ll be leading a group discussion about using the Internet and social media for marketing, drawing on my experience as editor in chief of The CMO Site and as a science fiction fan. To prepare for the discussion, I’ve talked with Michael Stackpole, Kate Elliot, Joe Haldeman, and Charles Stross, all of them writers who successfully use the Internet and social media for marketing. If you’re a writer, artist, or have a business you’re looking to market on social media and the Internet, come on down and share some ideas.

Where: Saddle Brook Room
When: 1 pm

That’s three opportunities to see me at LosCon. I’ll also be attending the con today, tonight and tomorrow, so if you see me there come by and say hey.

The Foundation Trilogy: “If you ask me, the Galaxy is going to pot!”

I listened to a big chunk of the audiobook of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation while walking over the past few days. Still enjoying the hell out of it.

The series originated as a series of eight stories published in Astounding Magazine between 1942 and 1950, then published as The Foundation Trilogy in 1951-53, according to Wikipedia. I’m pretty sure I remember reading somewhere that the very first story of the first volume of the series was actually written last, for the book publication. Let’s say that was 1950.

The publication history is important to know, because it places the series in time. When you read it today, you’re not just reading a ripping science fiction story. You’re getting a glimpse of what a leading intellectual of 65 years ago — literally another century — thought the future would look like.

And what does it look like?

As I’m listening, I’m finding it easy to imagine the Galactic Empire as an art deco science fiction world, like the 1936 HG Wells movie Things to Come.


More images from Things to Come.

The future is big. Trantor, the capital of the Galactic Empire, is a planet entirely covered by a single city, with 40 billion plus people.

It’s centralized. All of those 40 billion plus people are employed in governing the Galactic Empire. Here in the real world of 2011, we’re seeing a failure of big, centralized institutions. But back when Asimov was writing, the huge bureaucracies of the West had pulled the world out of a Great Depression, and kicked Nazi ass. So it was reasonable to assume that a huge, bureaucratic government would be the best way to govern the Galaxy.

It’s REALLY big. The viewpoint character of the first section is Gaal Dornick a young man from a small town in the Midwest come to New York for the first time– oh, wait, no, I mean a young man from a provincial planet on his first trip to Trantor. He is processed in a vast open office, filled with row on row of desks, a room so large that he cannot see the far wall, just desks vanishing off into the mist. A filmmaker around the time Asimov was writing used a similar image; in that film, the scene was soul-deadening wage-slavery. In Foundation, it’s a source of breathless wonder.

Everybody’s in a hurry, everything is crowded. People are helpful but in a brisk way that can be taken for rudeness. Several characters comment that nobody on Trantor goes outside, or sees the sky, ever, and they’re fine with that. One character has to consult instrumentation to find out what the weather is. People take taxis to get where they’re going.

In other words, it’s New York written large. Of course, New York isn’t like that in real life. Not exactly. But I remember a conversation with a shoestore clerk on Manhattan who said he hadn’t left that island in fifteen years. He seemed matter-of-fact about it, even proud. So it’s easy to imagine a future where the entire city is just converted into one big building. And indeed Asimov wrote that future too, in The Caves of Steel.

Some of the Galactic Empire’s technological wonders are things we take for granted today. Super-scientist Hari Seldon owns a pocket calculating machine, which is described as a featureless little slab that displays numbers in red. I remember Asimov bragging about 30 years later that he’d predicted pocket calculators, even getting the colors of the digits right (early pocket calculators displayed digits in red LEDs). It’s also a good description of an iPhone — except our iPhones today are way better than the Galactic Empire’s calculators of 10,000+ years in the future. Hari Seldon can’t play Angry Birds on his gadget.

Seldon is described as so brilliant and driven that he actually sleeps with his calculator under his pillow, in case he is struck by inspiration during the night. If he were that brilliant, he’d sleep with it on his nightstand, as most of the rest of us do today in the real world.

Other than the pocket calculator, information is presented on actual pieces of paper and microfilm. No iPads and notebook computers in this world.

So we’re more advanced than the Galactic Empire in that regard.

Indeed, our technology here in 2011 is in every respect more advanced than Asimov’s vision of the future world of 2011, except for two things: We don’t have a mathematical science for predicting the future, and we don’t have interstellar travel.

Plastic is cool. Saying something is made of plastic in Foundation is saying that it’s a luxury item, hi-tech, top-drawer. Asimov describes Galactic aristocrats wearing plastic helmets, and presenting guests with cigars in plastic boxes. This is unintentionally comical today, after decades of plastic being used for cheap consumer crap. But Asimov wrote before all that.

Speaking of that cigar box; Asimov describes it as appearing perfectly to resemble water. How would that work, precisely? I can’t visualize a box made of water.

The title of this blog post comes from a line of dialogue in Foundation where a character laments the decline of the Galactic Empire. I’ve seen it cited as an example of how clunky the book is to modern eyes. I say phooey to that. I say it’s charming, as is the characters’ use of “Space!” and “Galaxy!” in lieu of swear words.

“Boardwalk Empire:” Thanksgiving at the Darmody house has got to be all kinds of awkward

We love this show. Or, at least, I do. Julie watches it with me and does not appear to be having a bad time.

I can foresee how this season ends: Jimmy Darmody dead, killed by the Jewish butcher who gets tired of waiting for his liquor. Harrow escapes, to return in some future episode down the road. Nucky Thompson triumphantly returns, to punish the people who betrayed him and take up his position once again as the Treasurer of Atlantic City.

It’s hard to imagine the show without Jimmy Darmody and his family. They’ve been central. But it’s hard to imagine it ending up any other way.

Even by the standards of Boardwalk Empire, relationships are deranged between Jimmy Darmody, Momma Darmody, the Commodore, and Nucky. Momma Darmody “kissed his little winkie.” Nuff said. Jimmy hates Nucky because Nucky pimped Momma Darmody — which is true as far as it goes. But Jimmy and Momma ally with the Commodore, who is the person that Nucky whored Momma out to. And, while Nucky was kind to Momma (turning-out-as-whore aside) and like a father to Jimmy, the Commodore raped Momma — and Momma still hates him for it — and ignored Jimmy for Jimmy’s whole life. And yet Momma and Jimmy turn on Nucky and ally with the Commodore. Why? BECAUSE THEY ARE BATSHIT CRAZY, that’s why.

Thanksgiving at the Darmody household has got to be all kinds of awkward.

I could totally watch a series about Meyer Lansky, Lucky Luciano, and Arnold Rothstein as they’re portrayed in Boardwalk Empire.

I love a show like Boardwalk Empire or The Sopranos where all the characters are evil, and you choose who the good guys and bad guys are based on their likability and personal courage. Nucky is the hero of Boardwalk Empire because he is the main character, and he is kind to Margaret and her children and basically anybody who doesn’t threaten him, although he is also ruthless, a liar, and a crook. Darmody and Eli are bad guys because they betray Nucky, but really he’s no better than they are.

Is there a name for this kind of genre? I remember reading that it was popular during the Renaissance; I seem to recall Tamburlaine by Christopher Marlowe (a supporting character in Shakespeare in Love) was a drama of this type.

Re-Reading Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation Trilogy”

I just started listening to the audiobook of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy, which I last read when I was a teen-ager. I got a bug in my ear to re-read it after a review by Jo Walton.

First impressions, based on my memory of the books and my having listened to about five minutes:

The Foundation Trilogy retells Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire as space opera, with a Galactic Empire replacing the Roman, and the entire Galaxy — millions of inhabited worlds — standing in for the Earth.

It really helps to know something about Asimov, the period in which the stories were written, and how they were written. The trilogy was written during and just after World War II. This was the period when America was at its greatest power, and we often compared ourselves to Rome.

Asimov was an American, an immigrant, and a New Yorker who didn’t travel or even go outside when he could help it.

As Walton notes, the planet-sized city of Trantor is New York in the 30s, where Asimov was a teen-ager, writ large. Back when Asimov was writing, technology meant that things were going to get bigger and faster — the Hoover Dam! Skyscrapers! Airplanes and cars! Today, technology means things get smaller — iPhones! Genetic engineering! So it was reasonable to assume, in Asimov’s day, that cities would one day grow large enough to encompass whole planets.

The Foundation Trilogy assumes that the Roman Empire was good. That’s a supportable position. But the people Rome conquered might disagree with it.

I love that thing Asimov does where he starts each section with a quote from a made-up history book, the Encyclopedia Galactica, supposedly written a thousand years after the action of the novels.

The first few minutes of the book spend a lot of time talking about how travel through hyperspace works in getting starships around the galaxy. That would all be completely unnecessary today, it’s just a given in science fiction.

The viewpoint character of the first section is a young man on his way to Trantor (New York, remember?) to participate in the Seldon Project. I’ve also been listening to Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynmann, a spoken-word memoir of the physicist Richard Feynmann, who was Asimov’s contemporary, and also a New Yorker. Feynmann traveled from New York to participate in something called the Manhattan Project. It’s hard to avoid seeing parallels.

That’s a lot to get out of five minutes of listening. I hope I enjoy the rest of the book as much.

Creative writing: What I’m working on

I started work on another novel this weekend. This means I’m currently working on:

  • Two novels and two short stories in various stages of revision.
  • One novel, newly under way.
  • One more story waiting to be revised.
  • Another story which I’m seriously considering trunking, while maybe cannibalizing the characters and situations for some future work.

Yes, I know this sounds like I have become the guy who’s always starting things and never finishing. But I was eager to get started n the new novel. And I have a plan: I want to always be working on something new, while also revising, publishing, or promoting something else. So really I’m only working on two things currently — the new novel and one story I’m actively revising — while the other work is waiting.

I’m really enthusiastic about self-publishing and e-publishing right now. I’ve talked to some professional novelists and book editors and they support it as well. That’s important, because as little as five years ago, these same people viewed self-publishing as a massive con job (with certain narrow exceptions).

What’s changed? E-book readers, of course, like the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook and their iPad apps. Also, Amazon CreateSpace for self-publishing print books, along with the collapse of Borders making traditional publishing less attractive by removing a huge percentage of the nation’s retail shelf space at the stroke of a lawyer’s pen. I’ve been reading blogs by Mike Stackpole, Dean Wesley Smith, and Kristine Kathryn Rusch, as well as James Macdonald, all of whom have had successful careers at traditional publishing, all of whom are now exploring self-publishing. And I’m thinking: I can do this. Publishing on the Internet has been my sole source of income for eight years now. I know how this works.

I got to talk with Mike Stackpole a bit at World Fantasy Con a bit more than a week ago (actually, more like I was allowed to be a fly on the wall while he talked with another pro), and came away with the insight that the sweet spot for e-books is likely to be series of 50,000-word short novels with recurring characters and situations. And that’s the new novel. It’ll stand on its own as a short adventure novel, and also serve as the beginning of an open-ended series.

Advice to a friend who’s hit a plateau losing weight

I hit a plateau on my weight loss until I took two steps:

Increased my daily exercise from a half-hour to an hour. There was a medical study that said that people who exercised a half-hour a day had difficulty losing weight. But people who exercised an hour a day were much more successful.

The cut-off was around 54 or 56 minutes.

The study was done on women, but I have been given to understand that women and men are the same species.

On the other hand, women seem to find it much, much harder than men to lose weight; their metabolism fights them much harder to keep the pounds on. So a study of weight loss done solely on women is likely to be less applicable to men.

Still, it worked for me.

Adjusting calories. I lost weight by counting calories using the Lose It! iPhone app. After a long period of weight-loss plateaus, I evolved the following thumb rules:

– Any week where I kept to my eating program and maintained or gained weight, I would cut 25 calories from Lose It’s recommended daily allowance.

– Likewise, any week where I lost more than 2 pounds, I’d add 25 calories to the Lose It recommendation. Because losing weight at a moderate pace is one of the keys to maintaining weight loss.

I’m following a similar calorie-counting regime to maintain weight; if my weight is getting too low, I add 25 calories per day to my program, and if I gain more than a half-pound or so, I subtract 25 calories per day. My weight has been swinging between 171 and 174 since January, which seems pretty good to me.

Yes, all of this calorie counting and fiddling seems like an enormous hassle, but (1) I evolved this system over the nearly two years it took me to lose weight. It started simple: Download Lose It!, use it to keep a food journal of every bite you eat, measure everything, keep within the Lose It! recommended calorie limits. Over time, it got more complicated as I made adjustments, but it’s all been very manageable. (2) It beats being fat. I think of myself as a disabled person; I don’t have that barometer part of my brain that governs eating and exercise in normal people. As disabilities go, it’s not a bad one to have (although I don’t get a special parking space, dagnabbit).

For OmniFocus nerds only: A big feature request

OmniFocus is the control panel of my life. I write down everything I need or want to do in OmniFocus, and then when the time comes, I do it. This post is for my fellow OmniFocus nerds only; it won’t make sense to anyone else.

Here’s something that bugs me about OmniFocus, and that I’m hoping to see fixed in Version 2.0: The Folders/Projects/Groups structure is plain confusing. We should instead just have items which act as projects if they contain other items, and act as actions if they don’t contain anything else. Actions can exist at the top level, they don’t need to have containers.

Users should be able to nest these action/projects to an unlimited number of levels.

Eliminate parallel projects. They’re just confusing. I know what the theoretical difference is between parallel projects and the other kinds of projects. I just don’t see parallel projects as useful. To the contrary, I see their existence as harmful.

Single-action lists do essentially the same thing. The default for new projects should be configurable in preferences as either sequential or single-action lists.

I plan to write this up as a feature request and submit it to the appropriate email address at the Omni Group; I’d just like to show this to other people first, to see if I overlooked anything.

The day Steve Jobs hung up on me (Warning: This story is less interesting than you’d think)

It was 1992 or so. Jobs had been out of Apple for years. Apple was a struggling vendor with a couple of niche products. Jobs was now CEO of NeXT, which made a $10,000 workstation that looked a lot like the Mac would ten years later. But at that time it was an expensive white elephant. The NeXTstation ran an operating system based on software called Unix, and I was a senior editor at a publication called Unix Today.

I was scheduled to do a phone interview with Jobs about something NeXT-related. It was going pretty well. He then mentioned something about NeXT earnings, which was a slip on his part. He said, “That was off the record.” I said, automatically, “I’m sorry, but going off the record is an agreement, and I won’t agree to that.”

He said, “Then this interview is over.” And he hung up on me.

See? I told you this story is a lot less interesting than you’d think.

I was shaken up by the event, and I think the PR person on the call was too. We talked about it a while, and she said, “Don’t worry about it. Steve can be like that.”

And Steve and I never talked again. And I started following Apple closely 15 years later, and had trouble getting access to them. But I don’t think that had anything to do with my earlier encounter with Jobs. Apple is like that. Maybe that will change under new management, but I don’t expect it to.

I may have interviewed or met with Jobs at other times earlier in my career. I don’t recall. I started covering technology a couple of years after Jobs had already been kicked out of Apple. Jobs wasn’t STEVE JOBS!! back then. He was an impressive figure, but he was also kind of a has-been, a one-hit wonder. He was an important person, but I’ve interviewed a lot of important people, and very few of them intimidate me. The ones who intimidate me tend to be personal heroes, and often less famous and admired generally than some celebrities I’ve interviewed.

Later on, of course, Jobs became one of the greatest businessmen to have ever walked the Earth, and one of my personal heroes. But that was later. And one of the things that made him one of my personal heroes is that he came back from being a has-been. It gives hope to the rest of us underachievers.

I handled that interview badly. Later, when in the same situation, I just keep my mouth shut until I decide whether I even want to use the information. Because I never did use that earnings information; it wasn’t something our readers at the time were interested in.

The best possible tribute to Steve Jobs

I only read a couple of the tributes to Steve Jobs that appeared after his death.

I thought at first that I had an obligation to read more of them, as my own tribute to the man.

Then I thought that the best possible tribute would be for me to create something great.

Then I thought that I might not have it in me to make anything great. The overwhelming majority of people never do.

Then I thought, well, if I can’t make anything great, I’ll just do the best work I can do.

And that’s what I did.

The sanest man running for President: Gary Johnson, Republican

Is This the Sanest Man Running for President? by Lisa DePaulo, GQ

He climbed Mount Fucking Everest with a broken leg. So you think anemic polling numbers and a tiny campaign chest is gonna spook this guy?

As presidential candidates go, Republican New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson seems to be the best of a bad lot. I can even see myself getting enthusiastic about him.

He’s correct on Culture War issues: He’s pro-choice. He favors civil unions. I’d be happier if he favored legalizing same-sex marriage. But civil unions are a start.

He wants to “stop pissing away money on border patrols and erecting fences and walls across the Mexican border, and let immigrants earn work visas ‘and actually contribute to our economy.’”

He wants to end the Perpetual War and bring the troops home.

Personally, he seems like a decent man with a lot of integrity, and as a two-term state governor in New Mexico, he has executive experience.

On the negative side — and this is a huge negative: He’s a hardcore libertarian. He wants to slash government by nearly half and shut down the Department of Education. But his views are no more poisonous than the crony capitalism that currently prevails in Washington. When you’re looking at a government that gave a trillion dollars to bankers who nearly destroyed the economy, you’re looking at a government where the bar for too-crazy-to-hold office is set pretty low.

Outside of New Mexico and political junkies, Americans haven’t heard of Johnson because the mainstream media anoints who’s worthy of being taken seriously as a candidate and who isn’t, and Johnson isn’t considered serious. As a two-term successful state governor he should be considered a serious candidate and included in the debates, even if his numbers are polling low. Just another thing that needs fixing in the election process.

Immediate gratification, FTW!

I just ordered the $79 Kindle Wi-Fi after reading this convincing argument against touchscreens on dedicated ebook readers.

Shorter version of the argument: When you’re reading books, you don’t need to tap and swipe all over the screen, getting the display all shmutzy. The main thing you need to do is keep turning pages, and for that a hardware button does the job nicely.

Not mentioned in the article: I’d have to wait nearly two months for the Kindle Touch, but the Kindle Wi-Fi will get here Saturday.

My two cents on the new Kindles

I expect the tablet will finally be the one to grab some serious market share from the iPad.

People talk about the “tablet market,” but there really is no “tablet market.” There are iPads, and then there are a million other tablets, none of which have sold any significant market share.

I expect the Kindle Fire will change that, because of the Amazon brand and the low price. I haven’t played with it myself, or read any credible reviews, so I can’t speak to the quality of the product — whether it’s a well-designed machine or shoddy merchandise like all the other iPad competitors. But Amazon did a great job on the Kindle, so we can be optimistic that the new tablet will be a good machine too.

We’d already decided Julie is getting a Kindle reader (she seems to be leaning that direction at the moment, rather than a tablet). She has trouble holding the iPad for long periods, because of its weight. Because mostly what she does on the iPad is read, a Kindle is a natural choice for her.

And I think I’ll get a Kindle reader too (not the tablet), for similar reasons. Unlike Julie, I am comfortable holding the iPad for long periods, but a lighter-weight and smaller device would be even more comfortable. Like Julie, I mostly use my iPad for reading. So a Kindle seems like a natural choice. I’d been holding out because of the price, and because the keyboard strikes me as a waste of real estate. Both of those problems seem to be fixed on the new Kindles. I’m not sure which model I’ll get, but I’m leaning toward holding out for the high end, which I think comes out in November (?).

All in all, an exciting announcement. And Apple’s new iPhone comes out next week! A great month for personal tech.

So far, of all the endless speculations about the iPhone announcement, this SplatF post seems to be the only one worth reading. It’s a short post, with three questions of things to watch out for. Two questions are interesting to me:

(1) Will Apple even mention iAd?

(2) Will there be an Apple TV announcement?

If there’s a new software update, I’ll be doing the happy dance. New software is always fun! If it’s new hardware, I’ll be a bit frustrated, since we just bought an Apple TV. But on the other hand, the Apple TV is cheap.

If Apple announces the rumored flatscreen Apple TV, well, I’ll just be weeping like a character in The Oatmeal, because we just shelled out large coin for a 52″ flatscreen TV and it’ll be at least seven years before we’re due to buy another one.

NYC etiquette

This Quora thread on NYC etiquette makes me a little homesick:


“Don’t say you’re “from New York” when you’re from New Jersey or Long Island.”

I say I’m “from New York” if I’m out of town, which I am most of the time because I’ve lived in California for more than a third of my life.

Julie and I disagree on whether I’m also “from California.” After this long living here, I say yes.

Or, rather, I say, “Yeah, dude.”

Don’t ask people where you can find good “New York Pizza.” In New York, it’s just called pizza – most New Yorkers don’t even know “New York Pizza” is a thing outside New York, or that there is a “New York-style” (see Where can you get New York-style Pizza in London? and its ilk). Just go to the local corner pizza shop and help yourself; I promise it’ll have “New York-style pizza” unless it says very explicitly otherwise.

Yeah, but it might not be any good. When I’m visiting my brother, I rely on his recommendation. When I’m in the city on business, I ask the hotel concierge. When I do that, I do specify that I want New York pizza, at a little hole-in-the-wall with formica tables and a counter in front. I don’t want no damn tourist pizza.

New York eats late – don’t propose dinner earlier than 7pm unless the other party has kids. People won’t hate you for violating this, but they may give you a strange look.

This is a big source of disagreement with me and Julie. She’s from the midwest [1. Also a source of disagreement with me and Julie. She says Ohio is not the midwest, it’s the Great Lakes Region.], where folks sit down to supper at 6 or so. I keep New York dinner hours. I think I wore her down on this one over the years, which I’m not proud of. On the other hand, I do enjoy finally getting to eat dinner at a normal hour.


  • Don’t steal someone else’s cab, along with guidelines on how to make sure you’re not doing that. I’ve broken that rule, I’m afraid, although I didn’t know I was doing it. I’ll know better now.

  • “When you refer to locations in Manhattan, don’t give the Avenue first – always start with the Street.” I never knew that was a rule, but I do it instinctively.

  • “Perhaps less of a faux pas, but a sure tipoff that you’re a tourist; if you’re in Manhattan, don’t refer to “North” and “South;” it’s “Uptown” and “Downtown,” respectively.

  • “New York is a walking city.”” One of my favorite things about it.

  • “Don’t touch a stranger’s kid.”

  • Do feel free to talk about where you live and how much you pay for it, even though that would be considered too personal elsewhere. “New Yorkers are obsessed with real estate.”

There’s lots more. Worth reading the whole thing.


About authenticity and writing ethnic characters

Fantasy and science fiction writer Kate Elliott has an interesting discussion of authentic portrayals of ethnic minorities in fiction. Worth reading.

The heroes of my current novel-in-progress are a Mexican-American woman and an Indian-American man. The storyline itself is very traditional; it could be lifted from a pulp magazine from the Truman administration. I gave the characters those ethnicities for a number of reasons, among them that I wanted to add a more contemporary flavor to the story.

I don’t have any close friends or family who are Mexican-American or Indian-American, so I’m relying on a lot of reading and Googling.

I’m writing a scene right now where the Mexican-American woman has a conversation with her mother, father and sister. The way I wrote it, the heroine and her sister are college-educated, the mother is strong, loud, opinionated, and not very well-educated (so she’s a good person for the main characters to explain things to, and in so doing explain them to the reader), and the father is largely silent. Like I said, I don’t know much about Mexican-Americans, but I do know families with that dynamic.

I also know a lot about immigrant families, having grown up in one and around others. Growing up, it seemed like everyone I knew had grandparents who were born in Europe.

My little experiment could prove to be a spectacular failure. But you know, I think a lot of Mexican-Americans and Indian-Americans would be willing to cut me some slack. Maybe they’ll even help out as first readers when the time comes, and tell me what I’m doing that no person of that culture would ever do.

Although first readers can be tricky. Cory Doctorow, a Canadian who’s lived in America and London, wrote a novel For the Win set largely in the slums of China and India. He described how he gave sections of the manuscript to people of both cultures to read, and one reader would come back to him and say,”This part here? Very authentic!” while another reader would say the same part was inauthentic. These would be people who grew up within a few miles of each other. Even within a single culture, customs vary.

Similarly, growing up in my family, we never celebrated Christmas in the house, but we certainly enjoyed the TV specials and the shopping seasons. Other Jewish-American families celebrated Christmas. Still others celebrated Hanukkah using Christmas rituals. And we all lived within a few miles of each other.

(These days we celebrate Christmas. It means a lot to Julie. And I like it so what the heck.)

I like “Prime Suspect,” starring Maria Bello, a lot

I almost bailed out after the first few minutes because it had too much cop stuff, and seemed too derivative of NYPD Blue.

As a general rule, I am tired of cop shows. One reason is the way that they routinely portray police brutality. Cops get confessions out of suspects through threats of beatings, and sometimes actual beatings. And in the world of cop shows, that’s OK. In the real world, it’s a terrible thing.

But my dislike of cop shows isn’t primarily a matter of principle. It’s just that they seem to be all the same.

There’s the discovery of the body, often by a couple of interesting characters we never hear from again. That’s in the prologue, before the credits.

After the credits, the main characters, who are detectives, arrive on the scene. They are briefed by uniformed officers, examine the murder scene, and discuss the B-story, which is unrelated to the main murder — somebody’s relationship or career problems or whatever.

After the first commercial, there’s the scene where the coroner shows the detectives (and the audience) the interesting wounds on the body (don’t watch this scene while eating dinner).

There’s the confrontation with the by-the-book lieutenant.

There are the interviews of the suspects and witnesses in the interrogation room.

There’s the scene where the cops, wearing bulletproof vests, run from room to room in an apartment with guns drawn, shouting “CLEAR!” “CLEAR!” “CLEAR!”

It’s like Taco Bell: Same four ingredients, mixed up in different ways and called different things.

I can get into a cop show anyway if there’s something else going on I enjoy. The Closer is one of my favorite shows, and I was a huge fan of NYPD Blue.

I also loved Homicide.

And Prime Suspect seems to have many of the same qualities as Homicide, being about flawed people doing the best they can. Prime Suspect also looks a lot like The Closer — at least the first couple of episodes of The Closer, when Brenda was still fighting for her place. But where Brenda candy-coats her toughness with Southern charm, Maria Bello’s detective covers her toughness with another layer of toughness, with New York “fuck me? no fuck you” attitude.

Also, Maria Bello. I’m a huge fan of hers. She was particularly fantastic in The Cooler, with William H. Macy and Alec Baldwin. [1. I was at a corporate cocktail-party for work around 2005 where I was chatting with the wife of a colleague, and learned that this woman had actually been a roommate of Maria Bello in New York, back when Bello was still a struggling actress. I had just seen The Cooler and loved it, and I said so, and my brain sent these words down to my mouth: “And she was really something in that scene where she dances for William H. Macy! Hubba hubba!” But fortunately at that point, my brain started to visualize a conversation with HR about workplace-appropriate discussions, not to mention a conversation with my colleague about appropriate discussions with his wife — he’s much bigger than me. Not to mention a discussion with my wife (which I’m probably going to have anyway after she reads this). So my brain sent down a signal, “ABORT! ABORT! ABORT!” and instead my mouth just said, “I really liked The Cooler. She was good in that!” And thus disaster was averted.] She’s great in everything she does. I’m just going to pretend The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor didn’t happen.

So far, it’s my favorite program of the new season. Although I think I only watched one other new program, 2 Broke Girls. I didn’t care for that one, although I might give it a half-dozen episodes to find its legs and then come back and give it another try. Assuming it lasts that long.

About what Tony Bennet said

Tony Bennet’s military experience in World War II:

Drafted by the U.S. Army in November 1944, Bennett served as an infantryman in Europe, moving across France, and later into Germany.

“The Germans were frightened. We were frightened. Nobody wanted to kill anybody when we were on the line, but the weapons were so strong that it overcame us and everybody else.”

He “admitted that his two years of service gave him enough time to witness the horrors of war.”

“The first time I saw a dead German, that’s when I became a pacifist,” he said.

He told [Howard] Stern that he was left forever shaken by the sight of death.

“It was a nightmare that’s permanent,” he said. “I just said, ‘This is not life. This is not life.’”

Wikipedia has more.

The man then named Anthony Benedetto was drafted into the United States Army in November 1944, near the end of World War II. He was assigned as an infantryman, and crossed France and Germany with his unit. As March 1945 began, he joined the front line and what he would later describe as a “front-row seat in hell.”

Benedetto was part of the forces that pushed the Germans back to their homeland. They fought bitterly in frigid winter cold, often hunkering down in foxholes under heavy German fire. Then they crossed the Rhine and fought house-to-house.

During his time in combat, Benedetto narrowly escaped death several times. The experience made him a pacifist; he would later write, “Anybody who thinks that war is romantic obviously hasn’t gone through one.”

Then he helped liberate a Nazi concentration camp.

Later, he got easier duty. He worked for an informal Special Services band unit entertaining nearby American forces. But then he had a meal with a black friend from school at a time, against the rules of the segregated Army. So he got demoted and was reassigned to Graves Registration Service duties, the unit that retrieves, identifies, transports and buries fallen military.

I figure Bennet gets to say whatever he wants to say about war.

Getting ready for the zombie apocalypse in San Diego

We were in the dark for ten hours during the San Diego blackout earlier this month. That impressed on me that we’re pretty unprepared for emergencies.

What if power goes out again, this time for much longer? What if we have to evacuate, perhaps due to fire? We’ve nearly had to do twice in the last ten years.

Since the blackout, I’ve been taking stock and making plans, which I’ve done using two of my best skills: (1) Reading on the Internet and (2) Buying things.

There are four scenarios we need to be prepared for:

Short-term power outage. Something like the one we had recently. We did pretty well there. There are a couple of things I think we can do better, but those relate to the next scenario, so I’ll talk about them there.

Longer term power outage. One that stretches on for many days, perhaps combined with breakdown in other utilities.

In this scenario, we’re hunkered in the house without electricity, maybe also without gas and a supply of pure water.

We need to do a bit of work to get ready for this. We need food, pure water, illumination, and communications.

Water: FEMA NY and a couple of other places recommend a three-day supply of pure water. That’s one gallon, per person, per day, plus a quart per day for pets. Different sources give slightly different info on how to prepare the water, but it seems all you really need to do is pour it into food-safe containers, seal the top, put it in a cool place away from direct sunlight, and you’re good to go.

Food: We’re pretty well covered there. Thanks to Julie, we always have food in the house. About half of it is perishable, but half isn’t. We both like nutrition bars of various flavors, so we always have a lot of food.

Illumination: Julie stocked up on candles. They’re warm and cozy for a ten-hour blackout, but not really practical for longer than that. They don’t cast a lot of light, and they’re dangerous. Julie also bought a lot of flashlights, and a couple of them are very good.

I bought two of these rechargeable lanterns from We’ll keep them plugged in in the pantry room off the kitchen at all times, which is where I think we should keep our little collection of emergency supplies.

We need to think about solar lighting or hand-cranked rechargeable lights.

We need to make sure we always have a supply of D-Cells.

If we had a lot of money lying around (which we currently do not), I’d get one of these GoSolar! fold-up solar panels, to charge laptops, cell phones, give the car a jump-start, and more.

Communication: Julie has a hand-cranked portable radio, which we listened to quite a lot during the blackout. I think I will probably also get this one, which also includes the ability to recharge a cell phone over a USB connection.

The Internet is a major source of communication, of course. I kept plugged into Twitter during the emergency, but my iPhone ran down just before the blackout ended. Since then, I bought a Mophie Juice Pack, which doubles the lifespan of the battery. I’ve been thinking I want one anyway for business trips. I’ll make a point to keep it 100% charged at all times when it’s not actually in use.

During an emergency, the car isn’t just a source of transportation; it’s also a source of electrical generation. I already have a car charger for the iPhone. It’s actually an adapter that turns the cigarette lighter into a USB power source, so I should be able to use the car charger for the iPads too. And the car has an electrical outlet built in to run conventional household power, which we can use to charge the iPad and my MacBook Pro.

Evacuating by car: Take all the above, throw them in the car, and go.

Evacuating by foot: Store as much of the above as we can carry in knapsacks, take them with us and go.

Still needed: Print out copies of legal documents, store them with emergency supplies. Get copies of prescriptions, store them with the emergency supplies. Julie says we have a first aid kit — is it any good?

You’ll note the absence of a fifth scenario, which has started to appear frighteningly likely since the financial meltdown of 2008:

The collapse of civil order. Think: Russia, 1990. Government simply stops working, cops and courts disappear, money is valueless. How would we survive then?

I’ve done some reading on this on blogs like Ran Prieur and Global Guerrillas. The two things that are valuable in that situation are community ties and practical skills that matter in that new world. I don’t have much of either, I’m afraid. I don’t see my abilities as a blogger, content marketer, and journalist as having much value in a post-breakdown world. And as for community — for more than a decade, my community has been on the Internet rather than where we physically live.

You’ll also note the absence of weapons on this list. This is not because I am a pacifist; it’s just that survivalists who think they can fight their way out of societal collapse are deluded fools. You’re most likely going to lose a gunfight or a knife-fight or a bare-knuckle brawl unless you’re trained and practice every day. I do none of those things.

What I can do is talk. I’m more confident of my ability to talk my way out of a conflict than I am in my ability to fight my way out. I may get a gun at some point, but only partly for self-defense, and even then it’s a real risk that the gun would most likely be used against me, or, even worse, Julie.

My friend Jim Macdonald recommends never, ever going below a half-tank of gas. It’s a good rule, and one we never follow; we usually let the tank get well below a quarter-full before refilling. That’s the way it was at the time of the blackout. We really need to do a better job of keeping the tank full.

Internet resources:

Tips for an apocalypse, by Teresa Nielsen Hayden.
Real emergency preparedness, by Teresa
Jump kits (Go bags), by Jim Macdonald.
FEMA NY – Water
FEMA NY – Food