Potpourri, June 18th (2016 edition)

1959ish, I'd sayIt’s been a few months of hardware madness here — and if you know my tastes in computer stuff, you know they lean towards the software rather than the hardware side of things. So I haven’t been entirely happy during that time…

Back in mid-April, my two-terabyte (2TB) hard drive abruptly failed. It took me several weeks — educational ones, to be sure — to admit that I probably could not resuscitate the thing. I replaced it with a 3TB one, and all went swimmingly at first…

…at least, until I installed Windows 10 on it.

Here’s how my computer at home has been set up, now going back maybe five-six years:

The hard drive is divided into two (main) partitions, running two entirely different operating systems: Windows in the first partition, and Linux in the second. This is called a dual-boot setup: when you boot the computer, you’re prompted to select which operating system you want to run for this session. The default for me is Linux, but I do occasionally (rarely, actually) use Windows for one specific program or another.

The Windows side has moved progressively from Windows XP to Windows 7 and then finally to Windows 10, via the automatic (i.e., forced) upgrade which Microsoft “offers” to users of older versions. When I installed Windows 10 on the new hard drive, I was actually restoring it.

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Potpourri, June 18th (2015 edition)

[This year’s Potpourri, I reckon, will be shorter than its predecessors. I’ve got just as much I could post about, and of course today’s the only day I can post a Potpourri entry, but The World Is Too Much With Me this time around. So I’ll just write, off and on, and hit the WordPress Publish button when the clock runs out.]

Apropos of nothing: I am really feeling anti-technology at the moment. Practically every program I need to use every day seems to be broken, and — at least on my work PC — some mysterious force prevents me from making the changes I need to make in order to get some of them running smoothly. Symptom: the error message which pops up informing me that I need permission from [username] to make the change (a simple file rename). Why is this a problem? Because I am signed in as [username].

If my PC here were trying to serve me donuts right now, I’d be walking away from the counter in disgust, shaking my head.

On the other hand: My recent adventures in site redesign have reminded me of both (a) the pleasure of getting my hands into the guts of a technical problem, and (b) the satisfaction of knowing that I (alone among the people I know really well, at least in real life) can solve said problem.

Oh, no no no — I’m not even close to done with this yet. Still, it’s good to feel (rightly or wrongly) that I can still do what I have been trained and have learned to do.

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Potpourri, June 18th (2014 edition)

JES, circa 19955 maybe?[Latest in the apparently annual June 18 tradition, of (as I said last year) commenting about whatever the heck I want to…]

Ongoing genre confusion: As a rule, readers of fiction tend to latch onto a favorite sort of fiction, to the exclusion of others. They may or may not read “literary” fiction, or that large, unclassifiable body of titles called “mainstream” — but they often return to mysteries, say, or romance, or fantasy, or science fiction, especially for “escape” purposes. They also do not in general read one or more of the other categories.

Which can be a problem, for certain writers anyhow:

Agents, publishers and retailers need to know how to optimize their pitches for a book. Readers who prefer a certain kind of SF, for instance, might be put off by a book cover featuring a man and woman dressed in gauzy lavender; a horror or Western fan, visiting Amazon or the bookstore or library for the umpteenth time, will tend to return to the same genre-based sections, over and over.

So you’ve got to know how to classify your fiction (which comes down to: you’ve got to know your audience, whether they’re book professionals or not).

For the past six or eight months, I’ve been enjoying writing something SF-ish — one long story and one (yet incomplete) novel, as of today. It’s real science fiction: adventures in space, technology, and time. But it also falls squarely into the mystery genre. Furthermore, and maybe worse, it falls into a particular mystery sub-genre. If you know the old Thin Man films, from the 1930s and ’40s, you’ll have the right idea: a charming, sophisticated, and (I hope) funny husband-and-wife team solve crimes which may involve blackmail, murder, and so on… but not crimes of the grisly action-packed thriller sort.

Oh, no: I didn’t even come close to inventing the mystery/SF blended genre, as even a fairly simple Google search will tell you. But modern readers — and the people charged with getting books to them — tend to have edgier tastes. “Nick and Nora Charles in space” does not seem a tagline likely to draw many readers.

…Sigh. It’s hard enough to write without worrying about all this. It’s one of the dilemmas which drive people to self-publishing: I’ll write whatever I want, they say, and I won’t waste time trying to win over professional go-betweens like editors and booksellers. Readers like good books, regardless of genre!

But I don’t really believe genre doesn’t matter, do I? Do I?

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Potpourri, June 18th (2013 edition)

[Continuing in what seems to have become an annual June 18 tradition, of commenting about whatever the heck I want to…]

[Video: Neil Gaiman signs 1200 copies of his newest novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane.]

Medium-lukewarm: I’m still posting occasionally over at Medium. (Most recently, a brief appreciation of Carl Sagan.) But I still don’t get it, quite. The first time I posted there — the “Scribbling Books” piece — was right after receiving the invitation to contribute to Medium. My medium.com 'stats' page, as of the morning of June 18, 2013Within an hour or two of its posting, I got an email reporting that the thing had made a list of Editor’s Picks.

Exciting news, right? It certainly boosted the page’s view count (see image at right; click to enlarge.) And yet (as you can also glean from the image) there was little if any spillover to subsequent posts. I have no way to figure out why the drop-off, alas. All the possible reasons I can think of are sobering, if not depressing. If a post makes either the Editor’s Picks list, or a similar list of those most recommended by other Medium readers, you apparently can count on some good exposure. Otherwise…

Because of the way Medium is organized — very little information about those posting there — aside from their thumbnail photos (and, of course, the topics they choose to address) there is no way to know with any certainty the context in which they write. How old/young are they? What other sites, even what other Medium writers, do they read most often? (No blogrolls.) On what posts have they commented?

I can sorta tell that most of them are young, probably under 40 years of age. They tend to have professions rather than jobs. They’re politically astute. It’s almost charming how willingly they offer life advice: I’ve read numerous posts which begin, not in so many words, something like: Now that I’m 30 years old, I can say with assurance that X is true (whatever the X of the moment). I wonder if I ever had such confidence. (Probably not.)

Monkeys: Today’s Writer’s Almanac e-newsletter features this poem:

To Help the Monkey Cross the River,

which he must
cross, by swimming, for fruits and nuts,
to help him
I sit with my rifle on a platform
high in a tree, same side of the river
as the hungry monkey. How does this assist
him? When he swims for it
I look first upriver: predators move faster with
the current than against it.
If a crocodile is aimed from upriver to eat the monkey
and an anaconda from downriver burns
with the same ambition, I do
the math, algebra, angles, rate-of-monkey,
croc- and snake-speed, and if, if
it looks as though the anaconda or the croc
will reach the monkey
before he attains the river’s far bank,
I raise my rifle and fire
one, two, three, even four times into the river
just behind the monkey
to hurry him up a little.
Shoot the snake, the crocodile?
They’re just doing their jobs,
but the monkey, the monkey
has little hands like a child’s,
and the smart ones, in a cage, can be taught to smile.

(Thomas Lux [source])

Oh, to know which target to aim at…

Department of Conspicuous Consumption: So, The Missus has offered to get me a tablet device. All other considerations aside, for me this really boils down to a question of…

Well, it’s like Facebook. You know how everybody started getting on Facebook, and they’d say things like And you can do X, Y, and Z, and then you can do X and Z together, and… etc.? The big question back then was: Well, okay, but why would I want to do X, Y, and Z at all???

This is the same question I ask myself on the getting-a-tablet front. Of course, just as with Facebook, I can easily see myself no longer asking that question after a few months’ use.

Answer hazy. Try again later.

Sparkle someone else’s eyes: I’ve had a weird fascination for the 1970 song “American Woman” ever since I first heard it. It’s got a very distinctive sound — what the heck is that buzzing effect, anyhow? is that just a weirdly fuzzed-up electric guitar? — and its lyrics, as I thought then, were nicely incisive. But then I found out that the Guess Who — the band who recorded it — were Canadian… which really added some punch: this wasn’t just an American band, this was how outsiders see us. A lightbulb-over-the-head moment.

[Below, click Play button to begin American Woman. While audio is playing, volume control appears at left — a row of little vertical bars. This clip is 5:10 long.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

One further association with the song probably didn’t hurt its appeal for me:

The high school I attended had an annual spring tradition, called Sports Night, which pitted two teams of girls against each other in a variety of contests of one kind or another. These teams were named after the school colors, which were maroon and white, and (as I recall) girls remained with one team or the other for the entire four years of high school. For one such contest — at least that year — each team had to perform a group dance to a contemporary song. I favored the Maroon team, because all the girls I had multiple overlapping secret crushes on (crushes I’d nurtured for years) were Maroons. And guess which song they danced to? Yeah. I believe it was, in those pre-music video days, the first time I’d ever seen young women do anything so, well, sexy as members of a coordinated ensemble — certainly do it and get away with it. A lot of fanning of the self took place among the teenaged boys in the bleachers that night.

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Potpourri, June 18 (2012 ed.)

[What I saw on Google’s home page today. (Almost certainly, YOU did NOT.) You rock, Google.]

On this day in history: The US declared war on Great Britain in 1812, initiating the War of 1812. So glad we got that out of our system, finally. (Well, declaring war on them, anyway. We’re still working on being satisfied with everybody else — although by now it feels absurd to add, “Give us time.”)

Speaking of the (more-or-less) British: Also, Canadian actress Linda Thorson was born on this day, in 1947. Thorson’s biggest career splash (well, so far) was her role as Tara King on the British light-action TV series The Avengers. (That’s her over there at the right, hamming it up with series co-star Patrick Macnee (who played John Steed).) Tara King replaced the outgoing Emma Peel (Diana Rigg). Mentioning (or remembering) Emma Peel still induces heart flutters among men of a certain age, but, alas for Ms. Thorson, mentioning (or remembering) Tara King has relatively no effect among that audience. Not her fault, I think. Those were very tough leather boots to fill.

The problem, honestly, was rooted in the character, not the actress. Audiences had been teased for years by the playfully flirtatious yet respectful on-screen relationship between her predecessor and Steed. In Tara King, the series producers opted for a sexy-cute character, nothing at all like Mrs. Peel’s sexy-dangerous. (And Patrick Macnee had obviously been given the message, too: Don’t just waggle your charming eyebrows and smirk your charming smirk. Hit on her, man!) Mrs. Peel had seemed like a step forward for women as action heroes; Tara King seemed to have wandered onto the set from the typing pool on a 1950s-era sitcom.

Speaking of women’s effects on men, and vice-versa: A good online friend is experiencing a rather prolonged, none-too-subtle online bullying from an acquaintance of the opposite sex. Guess which of the two in this scenario is a guy.

Yeah. Still.

Now, even those of us guys who imagine ourselves to be enlightened still have a good way to go. (See, e.g., the whole Emma Peel-vs.-Tara King routine above.) I don’t worry about my friend, who is tough in her own right, but being tough is not the same thing as being happy. Ironically, the guy she’s dealing with does confuse the words tough and happy, evidently imagining that (a) he’ll be happier the tougher he is, and (b) my friend is unfathomably weird for not operating under the same principle — and he must convince her! (Neither proposition is true… but since when does truth ever factor into human decision-making?)

Somehow, somewhere, sometime, and for some reason, the continuum of “normal,” balanced human psyches — from assertive to unassertive, each with its own virtues and dynamic — seems to have widened. Maybe it’s an effect of capitalism, according to which aggressiveness brings success (and reticence, failure). Or maybe it’s genetic, involving a particular combination of genetic markers (most common in men? dunno) suited for combat but not so much for, well, satisfaction.

Whatever the cause, this sort of swaggering can’t-you-take-a-joke aggression just oughta be laughed at and dismissed. Except, of course, that the can’t-you-take-a-jokers cannot under any circumstances “get” a joke which is on them. Sigh.

Speaking of this day in history, and British-American relationships, and sexy/cute vs. sexy-dangerous: It’s also the birthday of Paul McCartney (1942). Holy cow. SEVENTY.

At the height of the Beatles’ popularity over here, I guess you could say that McCartney was the sexy/cute counterpart of Lennon’s sexy/dangerous. In early photos, like the one at the left, I always thought the latter looked waaaay more convincing than the former in the James Deanish, black-leather-and-denim style they affected back then.

By the time they switched over to the “mod” look — matching suits, white shirts, often with dark ties or (later, the gods help us) Nehru collars — McCartney seemed the more comfortable.

(And, post-Sergeant Pepper, just before and eventually after they broke up, as they settled into solo lives and careers they showed us how they’d probably always have preferred to be: McCartney more like You just gotta love me, eh?, and Lennon settling into something along the lines of You don’t think I look like this for YOU, do you?!?)

…but, well, holy Matilda. SEVENTY?

Speaking of Paul McCartney: Here’s the song widely regarded as the best on his 1970 debut album, McCartney, although the album version (says Wikipedia) was never released as a single:

[Below, click Play button to begin Maybe I’m Amazed. While audio is playing, volume control appears at left — a row of little vertical bars. This clip is 3:49 long.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Finally, because I’m allowed to be self-indulgent today: Here’s the opening paragraph of the work-in-progress, a short story called “The Lift”:

Webster had never had to learn the rules of crowded-elevator etiquette, because they were Webster’s rules for every social interaction anyway. Don’t touch anyone. Don’t move if you can help it, because that only increases the odds of breaking the first rule. Don’t make any eye contact. If someone insists on getting your attention, continue not-making eye contact: acknowledge the “conversation” only with little nods and glances out of the corner of your eye. Don’t talk, and if you must talk for God’s sake say nothing of consequence, do say it only to a specific person right beside you, and say it, furthermore, in a low voice, chuckling softly afterwards in a way which suggests that if the hearer missed it, it doesn’t matter anyway so please don’t talk to me further. And finally, once you’re in it then the only thing that matters is getting out.

Thanks, always, for reading.

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