Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Games That Give

Far be it from me to condone time wasting on this blog--well, except for all the times I've done it before, but if you really do insist on playing games online instead of, say, housecleaning, you may feel a little better about yourself if you play some of the games on the Games that Give website. Basically, for some unknown reason, corporations donate money for every minute you play to some worthwhile charities. So far, they haven't seemed to get into Multiplayer roleplaying games, but if you like tetris or solitaire or puzzle games, you may as well play them here as anywhere else.

And now, back to Red Star Fall.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Remedy for Christmas Cheer

If you work in retail like I do, right about now you might be in the mood for something other than Christmas carols and Yuletide festivity, and in fact, feel a bit of identification with the unreformed Grinch or Scrooge. If so, you could do worse than to join the folks reading along at Do Some Damage, where a regular festival of Xmas Noir is going on. Faithful readers of this blog, if there are such, may recognize a name or two as it goes along...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Wizard of Oz--the choral version

I've already sent this around to a few on my email list. Yep, you're either going to love this or hate it. Iguess it's pretty obvious which camp I'm in...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Speed Mural Painting

Got this video of a local mural being painted from our local web service twitter feed...

Abundance For All: Raining Acorns from Bob von Elgg on Vimeo.

It's actually only a few blocks from my house.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Zadie Smith Takes On Facebook

While you're waiting for Zadie Smith to come out with her next novel, you could do worse than reading her  New York Review of Books essay on Facebook, the life and the movie. Take a look at it here.

A couple of points that particularly intrigued me. First, the idea that programming happens haphazardly, but is easy to get locked in, because, though mediocre, it becomes too big, or in this case, too interfaced, to fail. I buy this. I work in a store where we are still working with IBID, a DOS-based program. Believe me when I tell you that we are not the only bookstore operating back in the dark ages. It is stable, but ridiculous. In the case of Facebook, Smith urges us to keep in mind that this program was created by and retains the traces of the desires of a college sophomore.

The second point I'll just quote:

To ourselves, we are special people, documented in wonderful photos, and it also happens that we sometimes buy things. This latter fact is an incidental matter, to us. However, the advertising money that will rain down on Facebook—if and when Zuckerberg succeeds in encouraging 500 million people to take their Facebook identities onto the Internet at large—this money thinks of us the other way around. To the advertisers, we are our capacity to buy, attached to a few personal, irrelevant photos.

So check it out. Although I wasn't that crazy about her third novel, On Beauty, she is one of those writers I will always read.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Friday is World Toilet Day

No, don't worry, I am not getting into bathroom humor here. No,  I got an email that Friday is the day that Water For People has deemed "World Toilet Day". This (slightly) humorous celebration is meant to underscore the fact that 2.6 billion people lack access to a toilet. I know--that's a hard number to believe, right. But apparently true.

So check out this site for things you can do so that people can have access to something you pretty much take for granted...   

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Matchbook Story #3

Remember me mentioning Matchbook Story awhile back? Of course you do! Well, you'll be pleased to know that my good friend and coworker Susan McCloskey's story became the "inside the cover" story for Matchbook Story #3. Maybe the matchbooks aren't in your area yet (though believe me, the enterprising editor Kyle Petersen has a growing empire), but don't fret. You can read the matchbook--and hear the interview--here.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A sports post? Moi?

Okay, I know this is already going viral so almost everyone will have seen it already. But just in case you're as out of the loop as me, check out this fiendish football play:

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Nanowrimo--are you in or are you out?

Well, it's Halloween and a bit last minute to be posting this, but tomorrow is the day that National Novel Writing month begins. More usually known in its condensed form of Nanowrimo, this is the month when thousands of  people all over the globe (the contest having long outgrown its national boundaries) attempt to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November.

Why? Well, that's a good question. There is no real prize, and there isn't really even any judge. You could easily paste in 50,000 words from, say, Project Gutenberg, and still win. No one but you will know.

No, the process is its own reward. It's why so many people come back to it year after year. It makes November feel slightly insane, and there is almost invariably some unforeseen challenge that makes it seem absolutely impossible. Last year, for instance, I had typed the whole thing on a non-internet linked computer called a Neo, due to some problems with my laptop, and then couldn't find a way of connecting them to upload my story until the 11th hour. But I still won! 

Which brings me back to the question: Nanowrimo--am I in or am I out? I still haven't jumped and am not sure I will this year. But only time will tell. Now how about you?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Boys of Summer, by Michael McLaughlin

I'm not really a huge fan of contemporary public sculpture. And I have to say that personally, I haven't been all that taken by the downtown Santa Cruz street sculpture that has become part of the scene through the auspices of SculpTOUR, though  I think many people have really enjoyed the new fixtures on Pacific Avenue, and I do laud the effort.

But I do like the "Boys of Summer" installation by artist Michael McLaughlin that appeared about a year ago. As it's Santa Cruz, and not exactly the Arctic, you'd expect these to be sculptures of surfers. But no, it's a series of two foot penguins that grace both sides of a block or so of Pacific Avenue. I see half of them pretty much five days a week as I walk to the bus station and they never fail to cheer me up a little after the work day. I find them marvelously expressive and give me a lot of hope for representational sculpture.

You can see a lot of these up close and personal on Cosmo Curiosity's photostream, but here's a nice group shot from when they first arrived from the sea. (Yeah, I don't know why they didn't sink either...)

There was a nice article about all this by Wallace Baines in our local paper if you'd like to know more.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Interspecies sports

A friend just sent me this link. Knowing how far away from cutting edge I am, it's probably something that's already gone viral, but it's pretty fun if you haven't seen it yet. 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Did I say short stories?

Well, yes, once upon a time, I did. Initially I thought this blog was going to be devoted to them, but it's evolved, or devolved, into something else. However, I've recently come across a couple of pieces of Flash fiction that are clever and enjoyable, and that you can sandwich in pretty much anytime.

Here's Sean Patrick Reardon's  "Night Games" over at Thrillers, Killers 'n' Chillers, and Dorte Jakobsen's  "Alley Cats" and Daily Newsover at the intriguing Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, which seems to operate in both English and Indonesian!

Anyway, all three of these stories are nice and twisty...Not to say twisted.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


Quite some time ago, on Nathaneal Green's excellent but too infrequent blog, 500 Words on Words, he did a post on Languages deader (or dyinger) than Latin. One thing led to another and I found myself expressing my interest in helping one of these beleaguered languages continue its existence. When I started pursuing this somewhat seriously, though, I realized that there were a few obstacles. When I asked our reference guy at the bookstore about whether I could learn something through CDs, he said that the problem was that if a language was so close to extinction, no would be commercially viable to produce a series of CDs for the general bookstore market. I understood his point.

However, all hope is not lost. Because in researching a writing project about my dad's family in Northern Illinois, I discovered that the tribe that had inhabited that part of the North American continent were the Potawatomi. And it turns out that the Potawatomi are not vanquished, but in fact, rather flourishing. And, in fact, they teach language lessons! On line!

I must admit that I haven't gotten very far with this goal. But when I mentioned this rather quixotic quest to a friend recently, he almost stopped the car he was driving in his astonishment. "But I'm one fourteenth Potawatomi!" he said.

I haven't seen him in a bit, but I did give him the website. Perhaps one or the other of us will actually keep hope alive.

I am not, however, betting on me.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Waiting for trains

I love this kind of stuff.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


Had my doubts about posting this one. First, it is certainly classified under the category of 'time-wasters', and second I suddenly lost access to it last week and have only just now gained entrance again. But that may have been only my computer. Anyway, ye can but try...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

I Am a Camera

I have to admit that I'm not sure if anyone who doesn't already read Adrian McKinty's always entertaining blog reads this one, but just in case, do head on over and check this out.

the psychopathology of everyday life - Adrian McKinty's blog: Trippy: "(keep the sound turned up and be patient/zen out for the first two minutes)"

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Smut--a contest

See? I knew you'd keep reading. Well, far be it from me to promote smuttiness, but hey, it's a Guardian blog. 

If you're interested in winning the Battle of the Wankhs, just hurry on over here.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Declan Burke's Digested Reads

Too busy to read this summer? What, not even the latest thriller? Why not take a look at Irish crime writer and mystery reviewer Declan Burke's dabbling in the area of digested reading? I'd seen a few of these kinds of things in the Guardian before, but Declan is no slouch at the form. Try here and here.

These are fun even if you haven't read the books. And you should be reading his blog anyway. Maybe we can encourage him to do a few more...

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Look at This Blog--Now Look at Yours

Because I am not likely to be first at knowing about anything, especially when it comes to what's gone viral on the internet, I'll assume that anyone reading this will already have somehow seen the fantastic Old Spice ad that is making the rounds. Since I got it from Girish Shahane's always excellent blog, I think I'll refer you to the link by way of his. But I do encourage you to watch the fascinating making of the commercial link that is provided there. It might seem long but it's quite interesting. By the way, not even my title is original. I stole it from one of the commenters there.

My dad was an Old Spice kind of guy. Now I'm beginning to wonder if everyone's father was...

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Tom Swiftys

I just got an email from Narrative Magazine announcing their latest contest which I liked so much I thought I'd share it here. It invites you to come up with your own Tom Swifty. What's

a Tom Swifty? By all means, click here.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

This Just In--Winner of the Saturnalia Book Prize

I learned this afternoon that fellow blogger Martha Silano and poet (uh, probably the wrong order there) has just won the 2010 Saturnalia Book Prize for her poetry. Read about her response here.

Don't know what the Saturnalia Book Prize is? Well, neither did I. You can read about them  here, though. Although it looks like I may have scooped their official announcement. A first for this blog, believe me.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Super Sad True Love Story--a trailer.

No, I haven't read it yet either. But I think the author would approve...

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Red Remover

I don't  know if this game actually teaches you physics, as Slate magazine's Procrastinate Better column so  hopefully has it, so much as nicely exploits its principles, but it is fun. Although I've followed the link from their site a few times, sometimes it hasn't worked for me, so here's another way to gain access.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Matchbook Story--another batch of Exquisite Corpses

Kyle Petersen has just posted the results of the Exquisite Corpse game played at the launch party for Matchbook, Volume 2. Since I was there, I'll take a little credit (but not much) for authorship in these.

And my friend Susan McCloskey was chosen as pick of the week this week! Check it out!

Oh, and don't forget that you too can submit a 300 character story. Just go here and you'll see how to do it. It's fun. 

Monday, July 5, 2010

Philosophy Bites

Yes, I can hear some of you out there saying, Amen to that, Sister! Philosophy does bite. And I might have agreed with you--until now. Through some series of links on which I am already not quite clear, I came across this website, which offers free short podcasts on philosophical topics--it's kind of like those Audioforum lectures you always see advertised with famous professors, except that these are short, free and, well, manageable.

Actually, in theory, I like philosophy, as long as it is, uh, dumbed down enough for me to comprehend. Sophie's World, by Jostein Gaarder was about my level, mainly because it was originally written for children, and there's a popular book called Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar, which is about understanding philosophy through jokes that I enjoyed skimming through.
Anyway, you can go to Philosophy Bites and listen to a sample and if you like it sign up for their email. I just got one last night about Meaning in Life by Susan Wolf. This was a relatively straightforward piece, but I liked the way she laid it out. I do think she was a bit hard on Sudoku, though. And unlike Wolf, I don't even attempt them.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Just a Reminder

Did you remember to do your July 1st eavesdropping today? I almost did myself, but remembered suddenly while I was at a large gathering, so have some material if I'm so inclined. There's still 40 minutes to go, California time, so if you're sittitng in some San Francisco bar, shoulder to shoulder with some conversationalists--go for it! 

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Matchbook Story, Issue 2

Although this may not be particularly relevant to anyone who doesn't live within commuting distance of Santa Cruz, Matchbook Story is having a bash for the second matchbook volume on July 1st at Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery, which is located at 402 Ingalls Street. I'm not an entrant this time, so this doesn't  smack even a little of ruthless self-promotion.

Editor Kyle Petersen probably doesn't really need my help. He had a front page story in the  Santa Cruz Sentinel.

Did I say there was no self-promotion involved? Well, maybe just a little. I was interviewed in said article to hold forth on Matchbook Story and the fate of small local presses in general. Who knows? The words in the article may even be more or less what I said.

Friday, June 18, 2010

July 1st is eavesdropping day in England

I don't live in England, but if I did, I would be very tempted to take part in this interesting competition sponsored by the Guardian. On July 1st, they're challenging everyone to eavesdrop on their neighbors and then take what they record and make some kind of story or other written art piece out of it.

Now frankly, I'm not sure if this really cool, or just mainly cool and a little bit creepy, but in any case if you follow the rules and live in the UK, you might see your work up on their blog or even anthologized. And if you don't live in the UK, why not play along anyway? You can post the result on your own blog, or send it to me and I'll post it here. Subject to my own discretion of course, and you aren't going to be getting any money. Or fame, for that matter. Or copyediting. Basically, you won't be getting anything. Sorry.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Ulysses, or the downside of ebooks, part one

Sure, I work in an indie book store and ebooks apparently threaten our very livelihood. However, that may well just end up being collateral damage of the tech revolution. At any rate, that's not the problem I want to write about today. After going to my  Finnegan's Wake group last night, it's not surprising that this bit of info from Slate's The Big Money feature. In  a rich bit of irony, Ulysses is once again being banned for indecency, this time in the form of an online graphic novel called Ulysses "Seen" where you will have the, uh, titillating pleasure of seeing Buck Mulligan in mid-nude dive.

Although it does raise questions about a corporation like Apple getting foolishly involved in censoring a classic, the good news is that  at this point in time, there are easy enough ways around it. So check out Ulysses "seen".  It's your civic duty to do so...

Monday, June 7, 2010

Jonathan Franzen on The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead

There's a nice essay by Jonathan Franzen on  rereading The Man Who Loved Children by Australian author Christina Stead  in the latest  NYT Book Review. I assume it's a preface to the new edition of the book.

I first came across Franzen through a long rant of an essay about novel writing in the late stages of the twentieth century ( "Perchance to Dream", Harper's, April, 1996, for those who have access to it), so I actually know him first as a  brilliant essayist and only later as a wonderful novelist. It's not easy wearing both these hats so well, but I sincerely believe he does.

I first learned of Stead's The Man Who Loved Children many years ago when I was either just going into college or in some summer hiatus in between. As Franzen says in his article, it has never been widely adopted in college courses, and  I am quite sure that it was through some extracurricular reading that I learned of it and not in the classroom. It's actually a book I've heard endorsed many times over the years and as Franzen says himself, if an intelligent introductory essay by Randall Jarrell in a previous edition at a much more opportune moment in literary history hasn't put it over the top into the classics category, it is probably destined to its outsider status.

I'll admit to having started it once or twice. (Actually, I suddenly remembered that the first reference was a New Yorker article, because I remember quite clearly that there were quotes that I didn't understand the importance of. I was not dissuaded, because I have rarely if ever been wowed by quotes in the New Yorker in reviews. I'm a bit quote  deaf,  I think.) I don't think that at the first stab, I was really old enough to appreciate Stead's effort, but Franzen's essay makes me think I would like it. A lot.

My one quibble with the essay is that it makes out that  Stead was unattractive as a child. That's hard to quite believe from the picture in the review.

Does this mean I'm finally going to get around to tackling it? I would like to say definitely, but I don't know. I'll get back to you on that one.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Requiems for the Departed, edited by Gerard Brennan and Mike Stone

I've been excited by the announcement of this book for some time now, but it didn't seem quite right to put it in my book review blog, as I haven't even laid hands on a copy yet. And you can pre-order it now, but apparently only if you're in the U.K. . But I thought I'd contribute my small bit to the pre-publication buzz by mentioning it here. Perhaps some random British reader will press the wrong button and find him or herself on this page and get interested.

I've followed Gerard Brennan's blog  Crime Scene NI for awhile now, and found it to be a consistently good source of information on the abundant wealth of great Northern Irish crime writing to be had right now. How exciting, then, that he and Mike Stone have managed to assemble so many of its authors between the covers of one small book. There are writers from other parts as well, but the theme they have all to deal with in these stories is combining contemporary crime with Irish myth. How fun is that?

If you check out Gerard's abovementioned blog, you will find both interviews with the authors and their own explanations of why they chose the story they did. It will whet your appetite for the tales themselves, I'm telling you.

Anyone in the U.K. can pre-order their copy of Requiems for the Departed   here. As for the rest of us, we'll just have to hope that a little thing like the Atlantic and maybe a random volcano or two doesn't prevent us from grabbing a copy of this fun collection for too very long.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

He's back!

Even a rather ardent fan of The Believer Magazine like myself couldn't help but feel there was something missing from issues of these last many months. That something was Nick Hornby's mostly monthly column, Stuff I've Been Reading. But rumor had it that he would someday return, and now, that rumor is true. Hornby is back. Sure, he's encouraging the hip young reading demographic to read stuff like Austerity Britain, 1945-51, by David Kynaston, but buck up, youth. Everyone's got to graduate from Harry Potter sometime.

Frankly, he must have a civilizing effect, because it's the best issue I've seen in awhile. Although they're going to make you pay if you want to read all of Hornby's column, you can actually read some other great stuff for free on line. There's an excellent article on Leonard Woolf, pre-Virginia, in Ceylon by up and coming novelist Lev Grossman, for example. And in the non-free category, an article I haven't gotten all the way through yet by Annie Julia Wyman on one of the best books ever, Mimesis, by Erich Auerbach.

Also? Ninjas. Apparently, one may be closer than you think...

Monday, April 26, 2010

Is This the Best Space Image Ever?

I don't know, but Wired Magazine seems to think it is.  It's actually courtesy the Hubble telescope and celebrates the twentieth anniversary of Hubble's being out there looking around.

Better take a look now, because even interplanetary space voyagers apparently don't live forever.

(I'd have put the picture here, but it wouldn't be as impressive as Wired's version.)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Ian McEwan, reconsidered

I've read a small amount of Ian McEwan, and seen a movie or two. (Cement Garden is very good and very weird.) I think up till now, I've kind of held myself back from his work, as I had a sense of him as being a bit cerebral. But after hearing him interviewed last night, I've reversed my decision. What is it with these Brits and their charming accents and their unassuming manner and excellent education? As a red-blooded American, that should be enough for me to hate them. Sigh. I don't. In fact, I am just the tiniest bit in love.

Don't trust me, though. You can judge for yourself at Rick Kleffel's website

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Science in the 21st century

A friend sent this to me and I liked it a lot.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Script Frenzy, 2010

Time to do one of those promotional plugs. Starting April 1st, Script Frenzy will host its fourth annual challenge to write a hundred page script in a month. Although I believe that a sizable majority of participants will be writing screenplays, in fact there is room for scripts of all stripes--plays, comics, even videogame scripts. The only criteria is writing one hundred pages of, well, something in the month of April. There are even people who fancy themselves Script Frenzy Rebels, who have decided to not write a script of any type, but instead, something completely different. (No, don't ask me about that. I'm a conformist.)

Scripts do not take a lot of room on a page, so this challenge isn't actually as difficult as it might sound. Getting something you'd want to show to another living soul at the end is, of course, the tricky part.

Okay, even if you don't want to write a script of any stripe, you should at least check out the Script Frenzy website and give the old plot machine a couple of spins. What's the plot machine, you ask? Click for yourself and find out.

Did I mention that this is all free? Sure, you can donate out of gratitude for the fun you'll have or will have had later, and in the process help out the Young Writers' Program, which is a cool venture, but only if you are both willing and able to do so. Really.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Crime Always Pays, Shakespeare-style

Amazingly enough, Declan Burke, Irish crime novelist and reviewer, has managed to dig up Shakespeare's own treatise on writing. Yes, I could just post the discovery under my own name, but apparently theft is only allowed if you're a genius. Crime always pays, except when it doesn't...Here's the Bard's first rule of writing:

1. Write ye not a new tale if’t can at all be helped. Plunder thou yon histories, myths and pre-Renaissance Italian romances for plot, setting, character, structure, style and theme. If anyone notice, claim ye homage.

For the other nine, I'm afraid you're just going to have to hit the link.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


Photography can be a bit hit and miss with me. Much of what gets raves in contemporary art culture leaves me a bit cold, and with photographs in particular, I can often feel that the virtues of composition don't make up for the fact that I can't connect in any meaningful way with them.

But coming across Massimo Vitali in the Winter 2009 issue of The Paris Review, I realize that I'm not that as jaded as I might think.

I'm sure we've all seen countless pictures of crowds on beaches and in the water. For me, at least, they are usually more interesting if they are historic shots. You tend to focus on what is different than today's beach fashion and etiquette, and maybe have a kind of ghostly people about people long vanished. Sometimes it's just the sheer density of the crowd that attracts the eye.

Somehow, though, Massali's photographs are all about individual human beings. Although the Paris Review article talks a bit about how he does it, I'm not sure that this goes a long way toward explaining how he manages this multi-individual focus. I think the comparison they make to Breughel is apt--you do see a vast crowd and then slowly stop and look at individual details. But the difference from Breughel is also instructive--Massali doesn't have entire control over who falls within the frame and who doesn't.

And what people are doing in these pictures is not necessarily so entertaining (because foreign to us) as Breughels are of a long vanished culture. And yet Massali has a way of making them all dramatically interesting. You sense that they are all involved in their own life dramas, which are as interesting to them as your own are to you.

The palette, too, is beautiful, which is also surprising. The bright colors of contemporary swimwear against pale beaches and often pale tropical seas is striking. I think we tend to look on cheap commercial fashion colors, and yet seen from afar we can know it as both beautiful and vital.

In the end, I'm not sure that I have explained the allure of these photographs at all. What I can say is that I stopped and reveled in them for awhile in wonder.

Friday, January 29, 2010

More shameless self-promotion, but for a good cause

After my last post, this is all bound to look a little fishy, but I found out today that my submission has been chosen "Pick of the Week" for the Matchbook Story blog. You can view it here, at least till February 5th, when the next pick of the week will appear there.

Which, if you get a move on right now, could be you!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Matchbook Story

Here is a very cool idea from a friend and former coworker, Kyle Petersen. If you check out Matchbook Story you'll pretty much figure it out, but I just thought I would vouch for the enterprise and also say that I'm pretty excited about someone I know getting into the publishing game. From small seeds grow...well you get the idea.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sneezing at the Sun

I happened on an interesting article about sneezing over at the Care2 website today. Although this post may seem like a lazy way to keep the blog updated--which, in fact, it is--in truth, there are one or two things that have puzzled me about sneezing for a long time. Although I understand about sneezing with colds and allegies, there are a couple of things that make me sneeze which puzzle me. One is chocolate--okay, that might be an allergy, but there is no other effect, and given that, I'd prefer to remain in denial if I can. The other, though, is that if I happen to look up towards the sun, I sneeze. It's actually one of my earliest childhood memories.

Thanks to Care2, I now know that there is something called "photic sneezing", or "autosomal dominant compelling helio-ophthamalic outburst". Which, not quite convincingly, is turned into the acronym ACHOO. What it means is that bright light causes you to sneeze. The only bright light that has ever caused me to do this is the sun, as far as I know. One in three people do it and it's hereditary.

At least according to Wikipedia, sneezing is governed by the trigeminal nerve, and it appears that in some people the optic nerve and this one are very connected, so that when the first is overstimulated, the second causes you to sneeze. In fact, there's some evidence that the overstimulation of any nerve near the trigeminal nerve can create this effect--suddenly breathing cold air, or eating very strongly flavored food.

Interestingly, no one in my family ever seemed to know what I was talking about when I mentioned this experience. It would be a shame if, after all these years, this was the way I found out I was adopted.