My way-back pages

It began with this:

I duly followed the link, and came upon this:

Remember those claims that Publish America was a traditional publishing house, and would only publish worthy manuscripts? What if you set the quality bar as low as you possibly could, on purpose, and you still got an offer from them? Wouldn’t that be something? In 2005, a group of Sci-fi and Fantasy writers and some other willing pranksters got together to test the theory that Publish America would publish anything at all. Over a holiday weekend, they bashed out the worst manuscript they could come up with, an utter travesty. They called it Atlanta Nights and submitted it, under the author name Travis Tea (lol), to Publish America. Travis Tea got his book deal. This, then is your unicorn chaser. Read more about Atlanta Nights here, and check out Travis Tea’s website (not produced by Publish America). As soon as the writers made their jolly jape public, Publish America retracted their offer. Atlanta Nights lives on, and is still available for purchase through Amazon and B&N.

The point of that piece, of course, was that Publish America had resurfaced under a new name, and writers ought to beware. But I fixated on that title: where had I seen it before?

The answer: on a table in the hallway.

Yes, boys and girls, I paid actual American dollars to Lulu.com for a copy of Atlanta Nights, circa 2007. I remember it being terrible, if not necessarily trollfic terrible, and, now that I think about it, it may have fallen a notch below the pace-setter for this class, 1969’s Naked Came the Stranger by the nonexistent Penelope Ashe. To my horror, there’s even a Wikipedia page for Atlanta Nights.

I must also note that I once wrote a piece about music publishers seeking poems from amateurs, which they promised to turn into actual phonograph records, so it’s not like I had no idea this could have been somebody else’s business model.

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Demand persisting

Each year, BookFinder.com puts out a list of the top 100 most searched for out of print book titles from the previous 12 months. For 2013, the top three slots are occupied by two people. One wrote under his own name for one and under a pseudonym for the other; the other maybe should have adopted an alias, but never would have.

The latter, in the Number One slot, is Sex by Madonna, which perhaps earns its place at the top for reasons other than the subject matter:

The book itself is spiral bound and actually quite fragile making fine copies relatively rare; copies still found in their Mylar wrapping sheet command an extra premium… After the book’s initial, albeit large, print run Sex has never since been reproduced as Madonna has very typically moved on from this phase of her career. As such one can assume that Sex will probably remain out of print indefinitely.

I’m betting most of you can guess the author of the next two.

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Accounting for the offbeat

One reason I gave up the piano after a couple of years is that I could never get the notes on paper to sound correctly inside my head: they were all there, but they fell all over each other, as though they’d just been shoveled in with no regard to tempo. Actual musicians, however, can keep track of these things:

If musicians always played the music in front of them exactly as scored, it could be dull. And, they aren’t automatons — they hear a piece in their own particular way and want to express what it means to them and they have plenty of freedom to do this, within limits. We, the audience, give them that freedom, and also adjust whatever internal metronomes we listen to music with (even those of us who failed 4th grade music have developed a sense of timing) to go with the flow of the music we’re listening to — within limits. This is the rubato. But there are limits, and apparently they are internalized.

According to Wing et al., musicians use linear phase correction to regain synchronicity with either other musicians or with the tick of a metronome. That is, they know when their count is off, because it has been set previously, by the relationship between note values and time between notes, and they are able to tell when they’re off, and adjust to get back into the beat. Musicians learn their skill by spending tens of thousands of hours counting notes; that they can internalize it quickly, and correct it when it’s off is no surprise.

Music is a fundamentally mathematical enterprise, so it should be no surprise that non-musical endeavors based on numbers produce similar phenomena. For instance:

Just last night I was casting on stitches to make a scarf. The pattern called for 85 stitches. There are too many distractions for me to be able to count stitches as I cast on, so I just take time out to count them a few times as I go along. Remarkably — at least I think so — last night when I stopped to count I had cast on exactly 85 stitches. But I’ve had this happen when the pattern called for 285 stitches too. No phase correcting there, do I have an internal counter that turns itself on as I start to cast on, and then alerts me when I’ve met the target number? If so, it seems like a rather frivolous way to spend brain cells though, even if useful.

This variant, however, I have experienced:

And then there’s the internal alarm clock that always goes off 2 minutes before the alarm we’d set. I don’t remember the last time I’ve heard an alarm — except when I couldn’t figure out how to turn the bloody thing off on my phone.

If the alarm is set for six, I almost always find myself sleepily staring at the clock at 5:58. The sense is weekday-sensitive: I don’t stir at anywhere near that time on a Saturday. And I think it’s confined to one particular alarm clock: I tend to sleep through hotel alarms, though I must concede the possibility that I had no idea how to set the darned thing in the first place.

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The diminution of culture

Not everyone who writes ponylore is a lowbrow, or even a mediumbrow. This discussion has broken out at FIMFiction, and it’s interesting enough, I think, to bring over here. It begins with a difficult — in several senses of the word — piano piece by Brian Ferneyhough, and goes from there:

[I]f Ferneyhough is great, I don’t want to be that great.

The march to self-isolation always starts with great works by a great artist — Picasso, Stravinsky, T. S. Eliot, Miles Davis, Joyce. People imitate them, and try to take it further. Then it goes too far, and no one can admit it’s gone too far because by that time everybody in the elite power structure of that art has gone on record praising it.

Is this a uniquely 20th-century event? Has it happened before in history that the leaders of an entire art form deliberately isolated it from the masses? As far as I know, it hasn’t.

I pointed out that the leaders decide who gets the grant money, and this inevitably must affect the artists, few of whom are independently wealthy. But it seems to me that there’s probably something involved besides retention of face and/or grubbing of money.

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Dessert monitor

I dropped into Sprouts over the weekend and somehow failed to divert myself from the baked-goods section, which means that I brought home a pie: blueberry, with a lattice crust.

Somehow I made it last through Wednesday evening. As is my wont, I washed out the little aluminum pan, and discovered on the bottom the ominous letters N-S-A.

It took me a moment to regain my composure. “Oh, yeah. No sugar added.” But after forking out $50 that evening on prescription drugs, I figured that it’s just a matter of time before the government starts watching my groceries — assuming they’re not already.

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Present at the creation

This year, proclaims the Guardian, “the Blog turns 20,” and they interviewed three of the old-timers. One section resounded with me:

What was blogging like 20 years ago? What kind of tools did you use? What did the web mean to you?

Dave Winer: My first blog post was on October 7, 1994. I was playing around with some scripts to do stuff on the web, which was new and I found fascinating. I started out timidly at first, to see what would happen, and quickly saw how powerful this was. I could publish all on my own, and get lots of interesting people talking, and push that back out to them. It felt risky, but I loved the feeling.

Meg Hourihan: My first post on megnut.com was May 9, 1999, and I considered that my blog. I was using a database back-end to manage entries, and I was consciously putting new posts at the top of the page, but keeping the older ones too. Before Megnut, I hand-coded entries and just over-wrote whatever was on the page. With a new domain, pictures and a database of entries, I felt like I was starting my own publication. It was incredibly empowering.

Justin Hall: My first web page went live in January 1994. My first daily entry on the front page went live in January 1996. When I started writing regularly on the web, the pages were crude — basic pictures and text. Meg describes the feeling of owning a publication and it’s true — blogging felt like you’d launched your own magazine. I started writing on the web because I could. Because it seemed easy.

I know from crude pages: mine certainly were. (Some might argue that they still are.) But “incredibly empowering,” I suggest, actually understates the case; if you ever harbored notions that you just weren’t good enough, there are literally (in the literal sense) millions of blogs out there, and some of them are written by people who actually get paid to come up with that crap.

Everything here was hand-coded from the finest-quality bits from spring 1996 to summer 2002, when I first decided to install something resembling a content-management system. The static pages still are written and maintained by hand; it’s too much trouble to merge them into WordPress. (And there are more than 8,000 of them.)

Says Dave Winer:

There will always be a small number who are what I call “natural born bloggers.” They were blogging before there were blogs, they just didn’t know what it was called. Julia Child was a blogger as was Benjamin Franklin and Patti Smith. I inherited my blogging gene from my mom, who is 81 and has a blog.

I don’t think I have any genetic component in my urge to write — or if I do, it’s because of a beneficial (maybe) mutation that occurred after I started.

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Extra dry

As always, no one says it quite the way the British do:

(Found at National Review Online’s The Corner.)

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As I have foreseen

Back in 2011, on Bill Quick’s 10th blogiversary, I made a list of predictions for 2111. In the middle of the list were these two items, which are happening a lot more quickly than projected:

6. Top-level domains with fewer than 11 letters will no longer be offered

5. Google “upgrades” your thermostat

Two weeks ago, Nest Labs, which makes a “learning” thermostat that can be set by remote control, was acquired by Google.

And while two- and three-letter TLDs can still be had, there are about to be a lot more, a lot longer:

[I]n June 2008, more than two years after an internal policy group first started considering it, ICANN’s board approved recommendations to create a fourth set of new gTLDs [generic top-level domains]. Rather than planning extensive consultations about what they should be, this time ICANN allowed the market to decide. Anybody could apply to run a new domain, so long as they met certain requirements and coughed up a $185,000 application fee.

Many did. Google applied for 101 gTLDs through a subsidiary. Amazon bid for 76 of them. Donuts (“We are nuts about domain names. We are Donuts.”), a firm set up with more than $100 million specifically to make a business of gTLDs, went after 307 new domains.

One of those on Donuts’ application list is .sucks, which has yet to be granted. It will be expensive, though maybe not the most expensive:

The .guru TLD is open for pre-registrations (before it officially opens to the general public) on GoDaddy for $39.99 per year. A domain on .ventures is $69.99. One on .luxury starts at $799.99 per year. One of the applicants for .sucks has declared it will ask for $25,000 during the “sunrise period,” a 30-day span during which trademark holders can register their domains to avoid domain-squatting.

I can see someone registering really.sucks, and then selling subdomains to the pissed-off.

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Installing a Heat sink

News item: Using generally accepted accounting procedures: American Airlines Group — which included the former US Airways numbers only since Dec. 9 — lost $1.83 billion in 2013, compared with a $1.88 billion loss in 2012.

American, whose name is over the door where the Heat play, might have been smiling early on despite that bottom-of-the-report report: the Thunder made the first shot, and didn’t make another until Miami had rolled up 20 points. Somehow OKC pulled to within nine at the end of the quarter.

And suddenly, there was an generally unaccepted loss. Oklahoma City outscored Miami 70-45 over the next two quarters and then opened the fourth with a 7-0 run. With 1:46 left, the writing was on the arena wall, and the starters vanished; the ticket-holders were already gone. Oklahoma City 112, Miami 95, and I’m not saying it’s a preview of the Finals, but — hey, it could happen, right?

This game was billed as Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James, and that aspect of it turned out to be a draw. James had 34 points, Durant 33; James shot 12-20, Durant 12-23 (though KD made four of nine treys, LeBron one of five); James delivered three assists, Durant five. But as KD will probably tell you, he got a lot more help than King James did: the other two members of the South Beach Triumvirate, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, had 18 and 15 points respectively, but nobody else in black hit double figures. Chris “Birdman” Andersen led the bench with, um, eight.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Lamb and Derek Fisher banked treys from all over the place, Lamb nailing four of six for 18 points and Fisher hitting five of five for 15. It helped that Scott Brooks saw the wisdom of playing small against the Heat: Kendrick Perkins played the opening five minutes and was never seen again, and Steven Adams appeared just long enough to appear in the box score. And it looked like the entire team was hosed down with Battier Repellent: Shane disappeared after 19 minutes with three points and four fouls. But here’s your Telltale Statistic: OKC forced twenty Miami turnovers, thirteen of which involved simply swiping the ball. Serge Ibaka had to block only once. Then again, Serge also threw down 22 points.

Of course, what you’re going to see in the highlight reels is the last couple minutes of the third quarter, with James and Durant going at each other. You could do a whole SportsCenter just on that.

Friday night: in Brooklyn. Not a joke. Saturday night: in Washington. Also not a joke. For now, let us laugh.

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From the Office of Terrorist Credentials

And there will be one. There has to be:

The United Nations Security Council Monday passed unanimously its Resolution 2133.

In it, UN member states are urged not to pay ransom to terrorist groups who have kidnapped someone and who intend to use the money to finance terrorist operations. Private citizens or companies are also urged not to pay these ransoms.

Does this mean that if a group is just a plain old garden-variety criminal enterprise kidnapping people in order to pay for a new supply of blackjacks or cement mix for overshoes, the UN says that’s OK? How exactly will kidnappers certify themselves as regular organized crime instead of terrorists? “Sure, we broke a few legs and we burnt a couple of stores what was late on their protection fees, but we didn’t aim for the violent overthrow of the government and established social order or eradication of the state of Israel.” Does the group get a sticker from the U.S. Attorney General? “This seal affirms that the holder is a traditional criminal organization operating according to the standard principles of graft, corruption, extortion, money-laundering and prostitution but has no known affiliations with any politically active terrorist groups and would, if called upon by their government, unhesitatingly make such groups an offer they couldn’t refuse.” The current AG and staff seem to have difficulty keeping track of who are good guys and who are bad guys, so how well would they do differentiating between groups of bad guys?

UN resolutions generally come in one of two flavors: useless posturing that doesn’t cost much, or useless posturing that costs a bundle, much of which the US is expected to pony up. Until the Office is formally established, this qualifies as the former.

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Curve negotiation

Don Gammill has a nifty weekly column in the Oklahoman called “Traffic Talk,” much of which is devoted to answering questions from people who are tired of being stuck in it. This particular example wasn’t, but it was pertinent to me for other reasons. Sharon writes:

When … on Interstate 35 going north and turn(ing) west onto I-44, you curve off to the left and go on a large curve above I-44 and nowhere is there a sign to reduce your speed in the curve. I don’t feel the speed should be the same as on I-35 as it is in that curve. The same is true when you exit I-44 from the west to go south on I-35, again there is no reduce speed sign of any kind. As an experienced driver, I know to reduce speed, but young drivers don’t necessarily know or realize this.

You may remember this little expostulation from 2009:

The ramp from I-44 eastbound to I-35 southbound, which I use five days a week, sometimes six, is about a 75-degree curve that I routinely take at 60 mph unless it’s wet or the 6:30ish traffic doesn’t permit. (I’m going from a road where the speed limit is 60 to a road where the speed limit is, um, 60, so 60 seems like the most logical speed.) In fact, I consider this a test of car and/or tires: if there’s any squeal, it’s a fail. Hardly anyone else pulls this sort of stunt, which makes me wonder if I’m pushing too hard.

Since then, I have switched to tires with a little more cushiness and a little less stick, so I’m usually taking that ramp at 55 now. Curiously, the other ramp in this stacklet, from I-35 north to I-44 westbound, I seldom take at faster than 50. There are two reasons for this: on the return trip, there’s generally a lot more traffic, it being on the bleeding edge of rush hour, and what’s more, this ramp is very narrow and lined with Jersey barriers, which allow for a whole lot less slop.

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Quote of the week

I know, it’s only Wednesday, but we’re not going to top this description of a quadrennial revulsion:

The annual State of the Union pageant is a hideous, dispiriting, ugly, monotonous, un-American, un-republican, anti-democratic, dreary, backward, monarchical, retch-inducing, depressing, shameful, crypto-imperial display of official self-aggrandizement and piteous toadying, a black Mass during which every unholy order of teacup totalitarian and cringing courtier gathers under the towering dome of a faux-Roman temple to listen to a speech with no content given by a man with no content, to rise and to be seated as is called for by the order of worship — it is a wonder they have not started genuflecting — with one wretched representative of their number squirreled away in some well-upholstered Washington hidey-hole in order to preserve the illusion that those gathered constitute a special class of humanity without whom we could not live.

It’s the most nauseating display in American public life — and I write that as someone who has just returned from a pornographers’ convention.

A friend of mine, before the “event,” said that she didn’t subject herself to such things anymore:

I used to, believing “This is something grownups are supposed to do.” Now I look to see what’s on Cartoon Network instead.

Which makes perfect sense, since Cartoon Network, unlike the participants in SOTU, has effective adult supervision.

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Be sure to brush after brushing

I’m used to fluoride treatments in fruit flavors, but that’s a dentist’s-office thing: citrus-y toothpaste is a non-factor in the marketplace.

And what’s beyond citrus? How about — chocolate?

Chocolate mint, anyway. Like brushing your teeth with a Junior Mint. It’s part of a new line of Crest toothpaste called Be. On a recent earnings call, the company’s finance chief told the reporters and analysts who hang out on earnings calls about this exciting new product. He says that the new line was designed for “experiential consumers,” whoever that is. People who like to experience things? Isn’t that “everyone”?

Anyway, Crest Be will start with the chocolate mint thing, then introduce “Lime Spearmint Zest” and “Vanilla Mint Spark.” Both bold new flavors, but they can’t quite let go of mint.

I imagine four out of five female dentists will happily recommend the choco-Crest. Me, I’m holding out for bacon.

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Two roads diverging

A couple of members of the state House, noting the absurdly high divorce rate in these parts, have come up with schemes to make it harder to split up. Arthur Hulbert (R-Fort Gibson) has proposed a minimum six-month waiting period for a divorce — maybe, just maybe, you’ll change your mind — and Sean Roberts (R-Hominy) has called for “incompatibility” to be stricken from the list of legal grounds.

To Patrick of The Lost Ogle, who has at least as much legal background as any of these guys, these approaches are bass-ackwards:

Instead of spending so much time on draconian legislation that makes it harder for unhappy people to get a divorce, maybe our legislature should make it more difficult for people to get married. Crazy idea, huh? Maybe introduce a 6-month to 1-year probation period before a marriage becomes official, or raise the legal marriage age to 25? I bet that would lower the divorce rate.

Or, lacking that:

Another solution would be to make a couple pay a $1,000 marriage deposit. If a couple stays married for 7 years, they get the money back with interest. If they divorce prior to the 7 years, it goes into a marriage education fund. Who would be against that? It would make people seriously consider whether or not they should get married, and encourage them to make it work if they do. It’s an idea so logical and brilliant it will never see the light of day.

Make it $5,000, and this state will never have another budget deficit.

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You too can be Zooeyfied

Amazing how these things find their way to my inbox:

To Tommy, From Zooey.

It sounds a bit like a love note, but is in fact something different altogether — the name of a new capsule collection designed by Tommy Hilfiger and Zooey Deschanel, the doe-eyed actress, musician and star of the hit TV show New Girl. The collection, which will mainly consist of flirty dresses, will make its debut at Macy’s this spring.

Well, this certainly seems flirty enough:

Dress from To Tommy From Zooey line debuting spring 2014

We will try to overlook the miraculous job they did of transferring every last sign of age from ZD to the steamer trunk.

The dresses will be priced at retail for between $98 and $199, and 14 of the 16 styles will launch at 200 Macy’s stores beginning April 14.

On April 21, the entire lineup is set to reach tommy.com and Tommy Hilfiger anchor and specialty stores in North America, Europe and Japan. Select Tommy Hilfiger stores will also carry Deschanel-designed jewelry and handbags.

Tommy has an outlet store here in Oklahoma City; I expect to see these dresses no earlier than Memorial Day.

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Such preserveness

This was dropped into the spam trap yesterday, and I suppose there are posts it might fit:

What a information of un-ambiguity and preserveness of valuable know-how about unpredicted emotions.

I mean, if there’s anything I know about emotions, it’s unpredicting them.

(Is it just my imagination, or is comment spam starting to converge with doge?)

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