Steamin' Fresh!

Put His Head On a Stake

I’ve been into a lot of historical stuff lately.  In addition to a lot of nonfiction reading, I’ve devoured a lot of Dan Carlin and Mike Duncan’s The History of Rome podcast.  Maybe it’s just me, but a lot of Roman history involves separation of heads from bodies.  Before the empire, you had key players like Pompey, whose decapitation at the hands of the Ptolemaic Egyptians was assumed to be a move to please Julius Caesar—the current Ptolemy at the time, in his youthful ignorance, must not have heard of Caesar’s reputation for forgiving his enemies and his amiable relationship with his ex-co-triumvir.

In the current period of Roman history I’m into, the Crisis of the Third Century, Maximinus Thrax has just laid siege to a Roman city on the way to charging in to Rome to put down an ‘insurrection’ caused by the senate electing its own emperors, when his soldiers decide the whole ‘invading the homeland’ thing wasn’t working out so well and turned on the formerly loved drill instructor.  To prove to the citizens of Aquileia that they should go ahead and open up the gates so they could come in and bum some food off of them, they mounted the heads of Thrax and his son/heir on poles as proof.

And what a head: Thrax was reportedly 8 1/2 feet tall.

People of the time were different.  This sort of thing is yet another piece of proof, and something that I think traditional history as taught in school really drops the ball on: connecting you with what it was like to actually be there.  Who could do that nowadays?  If Seal Team Six had been ordered to relieve Osama Bin Laden of his head, and toss it in a bag, and bring it back to Obama to prove they’d carried out his mission, we’d all consider it one of the most ghastly things ever ordered by a president.

Plus, let’s toss the squeamishness aside:  Have you ever taken a whole chicken and turned it into fried chicken?  It’s a lot of work to chop one up.  And that’s tiny compared to a human head.  It must not have been very easy.  A big, sharpened sword may have made the job easier, but a lot of this grim sort of work was done after battles, when weapons had already seen a lot of edge-dulling use.

Something to keep in mind the next time you decide to write historic fiction, horror, or that psychological thriller.


They're all gone.  I wiped them all out.  Probably your loved ones got excised with all the others, but unlike God promising not to wipe out all of Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of a hundred, then fifty, then twenty, then so on good people* I don't have that kind of patience.

I deleted all of the comments on my past blog posts.

I'm sorry if your legit, well-worded post reply got swept up in the storm.  Too many spam comments by robots prompted draconian measures.  I suppose the true tell that a comment is trying to sell something is that it begins with "I love your post" or "Very good post, I come here often".

Yeah, if it kicks off by being sycophantic, chances are there's a link going somewhere.

I've even gotten emails from owners of other sites, stating my blog is illegally linked to them and asking me in cease-and-desist fashion to remove the offending comments.

So I went through and nuked over 2600 of the buggers.  It felt kinda good, not gonna lie.

Okay, this is a writing website, so I shouldn't say it felt good.  How about: As "I hit the 'delete' button, a wave of relief came over me and I grinned like a wrongly convicted man facing a freshly-opened prison gate."

Side note about that reading from Genesis: it always struck me as odd that Abraham took so many bites at the apple when it came to reducing the ceiling of good folk God was willing to spare the cities over.  In classic storytelling-examples of which are all over the New Testament parables-such things are done in threes.  That Abraham exceeded three tries even struck me odd as a little kid trying not to sleep through that long Easter Vigil mass with the candles after nightfall.

In Defense of the Kaiju

So in my last post I went all Angry Nerd on Pacific Rim.  Remember, at the beginning, I tempered it by saying I liked the movie.  So, to balance out all the bashing I did at the impracticality of it all, I figured this post could be dedicated to how it could all be real.

Physics need not be damned for thirty-story creatures to walk the earth.  We just have to take a journey to the very edge of our insignificant understanding of what makes up our universe and how all its little particles and energies interact with each other.

Let’s start with the most obvious of these:

Gravity Manipulation

giant ant When I was a kid, a really cool science book from the fifties or sixties explained why the giant ant that had so recently been featured on film (in cutting-edge special effects, I’m sure, like projecting a close-up shot of an insect on a screen behind some scenery and then filming the actors’ reactions in the foreground).  After all, a carapace with proportional thickness would weigh tons, and the little muscles connecting them and moving the critter would twang like over-tightened guitar strings.

And, just a ‘duh’ scale-up of a 220 pound man who happens to be six-two (I’d have no idea who this would be, incidentally) to just 62 feet—a tenfold increase in height—would be a 10-cubed fold increase in weight.  22,000 pounds.  The cross-section of a femur is what—call it an 1-1/2 inch diameter cylinder.  Pi-r-squared that and you’re at about 1.8 square inches.  It bears all the weight during walking (more during running, but I won’t run the calcs and you can’t make me) so 220 pounds over 2 square inches (close enough for this drill) gives me 110 psi of stress that bone is taking.  Scaled up?  Lets say the femur radius goes up tenfold too, so the cross-sectional area is 154 square inches.  22,000 pounds on that is north of 14,000 psi. Bone is strong but not that strong.

So Kaiju, not collapsing under their own weight, have something else going on.Click Here if you really want to go down the rabbit hole.

Hey, the bad guys were sophisticated enough to rip wormholes from their to our plane of existence…or, at least, to exploit naturally-occurring ones and lock them so we couldn’t get in from our side.  So perhaps they not only know about Higgs Bosons, but also how to manipulate them.  Now say one of these Kaiju are, oh, I dunno, 700 tons?  That’s what, fully loaded, some of the world’s biggest mining trucks weigh.  But what if that’s only the creature’s mass?  What if, built into these monsters like so many little pacemakers, are a string of Higgs Field disruptors?

Now you’ve got a critter with scale-size muscles, and all they have to worry about is fighting the inertia of their own mass…but no gravity.  Well—very little gravity because fighting without being able to root yourself to the ground would be extremely difficult.

Which is why these guys always grab each others’ jerseys when they go at it.

Maybe it’s Hell’s Version of a Macy’s Parade Balloon

Any scientists that could figure out how to make a kiloton of mass just…disappear from the fabric of existence could probably pull some other amazing physics trickery.  How about this one: A Kaiju is as solid as that rubber-ducky donut that helps your four-year-old sneak over to the deep end of the pool for that one second you’re distracted by the way that bikini fits on that woman you sometimes see at the gym—

Uh, focus on science, big guy… alright.  Where I was going with that is that…imagine how Gypsy Danger rocks a kaiju with a fist that weighs as much as a quartet of garbage trucks and the thing isn’t even stunned.  What if the critter’s made mostly of force fields?  Perhaps at its center is a massive field generator that drives several implements – a knife-edge head beak thingy, a set of claws, a fist, which could just hang there in the air but the folks that sent it are going for terror, and a floating giant set of talons would instill some fear, but not basketball arena sized monster fear.

Having trouble picturing that?  Let’s let this guy help you visualize.


From John Scalzi to…uh, everyone who wishes they were John Scalzi, the concept of militarized nanobots sitting in the bloodstream, ready for trauma to hit the flesh so they can immediately carry out their stitching-up functions has already been forwarded.  So a Kaiju takes a bunker-buster to the wazoo.  It blows a five-foot diameter hole clean through it, and briefly it’s an old Looney Toons rerun where you can see through the thing.  But before it has a chance to collapse, its nanobots—which, considering the size of the host critter, wouldn’t have to be so nano—get to work and fill in the hole with fresh, pulsating flesh.  Yummy!

Even if there aren’t nanos, this one’s been an idea I’ve thought about for a long time: a creature that, evolving on a planet full of vicious tooth-and-claw combat, has a circulatory system that makes ours seem like a few really big hoses.  What if an animal has a blood delivery system that’s almost entirely capillary, with barely perceptible blood pressure?  Or, better yet, no blood pressure and an oxygen conveyance based more on osmosis or ionic attraction or some other undiscovered mechanism?  A creature like that would be more like a nerf ball than a balloon if you put a hole in it.


I might revisit this topic later.  Still, the kaiju are improbable.  I’m just saying: not necessarily impossible.

Physics Takes a Whoopin’

Now, most of us with reasonable intelligence that are over the age of twelve understand we’ll never have gigantic militarized ambulatory robots.

That doesn’t mean that Pacific Rim isn’t a super-cool movie.  That the eye candy is Reese’s Cup quality.  But, come on: we know the physics of it just doesn’t add up.

How do I classify a movie as good or bad? When I leave the theater after a good movie, my mind is turning out side-story after side-story.  Pacific Rim got my neurons firing.  Of course, must of that activity was dedicated to how I would have taken a Kaiju down.  I wouldn’t have been blowing my governmental cash on developing a brand new form of weaponry.  I’ll explain what I would have done below.  But for now let me focus on why, when seeing scientists dumb enough to trot up to my manager’s desk filled with boyish glee over their freshly-drawn Jaeger plans, I’d have spun them around and kicked them out the door with fresh boot-prints on their bums. 

I’m not going to rehash the obvious mass to power stuff; Wired did a really good job of that.  No, I’d rather focus on the other subtle facts:

Conventional Weapons Would Still Work Pretty Damn Well on Gigantic Monsters

One of the biggest mistakes a person makes when imagining taking on a Kaiju is in scaling their own bodies up to their size.  How would it feel to me, the reasoning goes, if a three-inch-long A10 model flew up to me firing thousands of scale-size bullets?

The main armament of an A10 Warthog is pretty freakin’ impressive.  The GAU-8/A Avenger Minigun fires 3900 rounds a minute.  3900 30-mm rounds.  Of Tungsten or Depleted Uranium.  That’s about an inch and a quarter for you metricphobes.  Hold one in your hand, if you get the chance.  Scaled down from a 300-ft tall Kaiju to a 6-ft tall man, and you’d think: Meh.  This means I’m getting peppered by slivers about the diameter of the lead in my mechanical pencil.  No biggie.

But, of course, mass scales up exponentially.  A single 30-mm round going at something on the order of 3000 feet per second would do horrific things to that much meat.  Look at what a lil’ bitty .357 does.  Now imagine that little mechanical pencil lead does that to even a quarter-inch diameter chunk of your flesh.  And at the range that they typically fire those things at tanks, they can keep those shots in a 40-ft circle.  Oh: and you know what depleted uranium does when it fractures?  It splinters into tiny razor-sharp shards, some of which fragment so small that the heat of their immense kinetic energy ignites them.  Ever see a strip of magnesium lit on fire?  Think of that times a hundred little shards.

“Yeah”, I can hear the pro-Kaiju among you say, “but tank armor is inches thick.  Kaiju have carapaces that are feet thick.”

Fine.  Never mind that it’d be made of chitin and not specially engineered honeycombed hardened steel.  Ever hear of bunker busters?


So yeah: that’s about six feet of reinforced concrete.  We probably wouldn’t even need to break these out: Any shaped charge, like a shoulder-mounted RPG, would make mincemeat of monster armor.

Why So Big?

Well, obviously, the much wiser leaders of the future have figured out that the only way to take a multi-thousand-ton monster out is with a humongous fistfight.  Uh…yeah.  The Kaiju violate one of the basic rules of combat: don’t bring a knife(head) to a gunfight.  But we don’t want to take advantage of that or anything, do we?  Wouldn’t be very sporting of us.

We’ve known for a while, from one of my favorite late childhood movies, that it’d be way too easy to take down a giant robot that gets around by walking.  And of course let’s not forget the financial side of things:  Investing in gargantuan combat units is kinda putting all your eggs in one basket.  Especially when something like Luke singlehandedly dropping a whole AT-AT without a ship can happen.  Bet that set the Empire back a good couple hundred million bucks.  Or credits.  Or whatever.

What was up with that battle, anyway?  The Empire deserved to be taken down by a handful of rebels when they’re doing stupid crap like setting down a few miles from the Rebel base and walking up to it in lumbering ground units.  They were prepared to blow up the entire moon the rebels were based on at the end of Episode IV…you’d think they’d just incinerate the rebel base on Hoth from space.  Hell, that probe made it down undetected at the beginning of the movie.  If they’d have just set it up to, once shot at, release containment around its antimatter core, rebel problem solved.  If they really felt the need to take prisoners, maybe they should have sent in a bunch of guys in Boba Fett suits under cover of darkness.  Or better yet, scale up the stun-ray they use in the very first scene of the very first movie when the stormtroopers capture Princess Leia.  Just sayin’.

Tangent.  Sorry.  Um, so yeah: why build a giant trippable robot to get into slugfests with big monsters?  Or, if you’re fully committed to this strategy, why not build them a thousand feet tall so you can pluck a Kaiju out of the water and rip it in half?

Only One Comes Out of the Hole at a Time (Until Really Late in the Game)

You know why the Allies beat the Nazis in Europe?  Well, it wasn’t because the Sherman was a better tank than the Tiger or Panther.  Or even the Mark IV.  The US made a crap-ton more Shermans, though.  So they had the kind of numerical superiority to take on a Tiger six-to-one.  Which, I believe, is what US commanders instructed their guys to do.  Sure, an M-1 Abrams might not be able to take a Kaiju out alone…although, considering that bad-boy packs depleted uranium rounds that travel about 5200 feet per second – about double that of a deer rifle’s round.  But those things are not deployed alone.  Spread out up and down the coast, and they could engage and take down a Kaiju before the air defenses had a chance to fly over.

Or, maybe we wouldn’t have even needed tanks.  Just redeployed Coastal Defense Batteries all up and down the Pacific States. 

The guns I’ve seen at various old forts around San Francisco, LA, and Seattle would probably, despite their century-plus age, be enough to take one down with a few well-placed shots.

Or we could have mined the coasts, come to think of it.

 My Preferred Way to Deal With These Hideous Beings From Another Dimension

I just made note of three or four weapons systems that could handle the job without building risky, Idris-irradiating walking robots.  But I’d just send a half-dozen A-10s to blow some holes in it, or maybe a couple of AC130s.

Unless, of course, someone with a light saber and grappling hook wants to run underneath one and gut it from below.

It’s Been Done

See what I did there?

My last post uses a device that’s been around awhile: the old “Let’s end something quickly that hasn’t ended yet but we’re tired of waiting out” bit.  It’s a cousin of the “this ending’s way cooler” bit.  In other words, it’s been done: maybe not in those exact words, with those exact characters, but I can’t be the first one to blast out a Song of Ice and Fire ending in about one millionth of the words it’ll actually take.  I’m just too lazy to search out other examples to hotlink for extra proof of my point.

Thing is, if you found it amusing, it’s not because it’s the first time you’ve heard the joke.

A couple of days I got a laugh from a Breaking Brad one-liner column the Omaha World-Herald runs.  I’ll scan it because every so often I need a laugh, and occasionally he hits me with a quick one when I least expect it.  The one that got me this time went a little something like this:  “Tom Cruise was recently voted the Least Trusted Man in America.  His run for Congress starts tomorrow.”


Not exactly Ron White’s bit about being eaten and excreted by a grizzly bear.  Except, that joke caught me cruising around the web not looking for something funny.  It hit me at just the right time with just the right thing.  And, most importantly, it worked because my brain forgot it had heard a joke like that before.

Your brain is built to consume fresh information.  It’s built to retain important stuff—hey, the last time you drank four Red Bulls and polished off an Old Chicago meat lover’s calzone you spent half the night on the toilet—and to discard unimportant stuff.  Like, say, “I really found that Denis Leary bit he does about talking through a voice box funny.” 

Think about it: if you’ve just been through a killer set at the comedy club and your cheeks still hurt an hour after you get home, go ahead: repeat two minutes of the comedian’s set.  Come on—they were up there for 45 minutes!  And you laughed so much your guts hurt. 

But you don’t need to remember that funny joke to survive.  You don’t even need to remember it to eat, or get water, or any other mundane thing you could link to prolonging your life another day.  So your brain discards it.

Some coaches get fired because their team just ‘isn’t getting the message’ anymore.  So the brain must hold on to all that motivational stuff, right?  Uh, no.  You ever listen to those lame “here’s the halftime speech I’d give if I was still coaching” spots that ESPN would have Lou Holtz do?  Me neither—the mute button on my remote is big and easy to find.  Really, most coaches don’t have a Santa-sized bag of fresh, shiny new things they can tell their teams to motivate them.  But the speeches work nonetheless.  They work through the unique combination of situation, personal contact, and force behind the words right now.

Why am I going on about all this?  Because, as a writer, it’s easy to get glum and say “crap, I was this close to writing my piece about a zombie falling in love with a still-alive woman, but now that movie came out and I can’t do it.”  Or something similar.  Where it hits me more often is when I feel like I’m writing something I’ve already written before. 

Uh, just did a quick text search of my prior posts.  I’m good.

It feels that way because I’m remembering the mood I was in when I wrote a similar scene before, or because every story has its character arc that had better not deviate from The Formula unless your name is a household word and you can get away with it.  Not because I’ve actually, physically written the words before.  Or made a main character that’s a carbon copy of the last main character I wrote.

Uh, just quickly scanned the character profiles of my last two protagonists…I’m good.

So don’t just give up on a piece because you think it’s been done.  Write it anyway.  Give it to someone you trust.  See if they think so—chances are, they won’t.  Not even if you help them by saying “But don’t you think my main character Beavis is a little too much like Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction?”  Most likely, they might feel bad and not want to admit to you that they didn’t pick up more than a passing resemblance. 

So quit worrying, and keep plugging away.

Biting Off More Than One Can Chew

How many people, thanks to HBO, are wondering if George R.R. Martin can finish the Song of Ice and Fire?  I was wondering this before I found out about the series, and once I found out how involved Martin was with the filming, I thought for sure he can’t get it finished in time.  If, as I’ve read, it’s supposed to run to seven books, and if A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons were truly two halves of the same book, and there were something like seven years between the two…

George is only 64.  I just looked it up on Wikipedia.  Still, though Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov made it to, like, a thousand, he may not have a quarter-century of productivity remaining.  Will he be able to finish it on time?

It’s up to him, of course.  He could post a pamphlet online tomorrow that ties it all up.

I think it’d go a little something like this:


“So?”  Asked Victarion.

“No, think not,” said Dany, and Drogon flies through the nearest window and bites him in half.

“You know what?” she asked, stroking the mighty dragon’s chin as she pulled a wayward entrail from his teeth, “Screw this sitting around and building a power base.  How’s about I just ride you over to King’s Landing, you incinerate whoever’s sitting on the Iron throne, and we just end this thing already?  Everybody knows House Targaryn should rightfully rule.  So let’s kill whatever Lannister inbred or Baratheon pretender’s sitting in the damn thing and be done with it.”


She went through the list again: The Hound, dead.  The Mountain That Rides, dead.  The Tickler, just found out, dead.  Joffrey, dead.  Aw, the hell with it.  I can’t remember the rest anymore.  Am I old enough to walk in a tavern and just get blotto drunk?  Yeah, who am I kidding.  In this ‘verse, they’ll serve friggin’ toddlers.

She rifled through the coin-purse of the last man she’d stabbed—he deserved it, whoever he was and whatever he did—and found a handful of crowns.  Yeah, this oughta get me good and plastered.


“Are you sure?” he asked the old man.

“Yep, all dead of the plague.  Tragic, really.  Lord Tarly was such a good provider and defender.”

“But it got everyone else?  The whole family?”

“Oh, to be certain.  All buried and rotted away for six months.  Where have you been, Sam—er, I should be calling you Lord Tarly now, shouldn’t I?”

“Yes,” said Samwell, perhaps smiling for the first time since leaving the Wall, “I believe that is in order.”


"The stump doesn’t bother you?”

“No,” purred Sarah, the more talkative twins.  “In fact, it rather intrigues us.”

Surveying his troops, and giving perhaps one final look to them, he said: “I’ve been thinking about this for a long time.  This whole ‘noble family’ crap isn’t for me.  Neither is all this Kingsguard business.  I think I will  be your pimp. The only remaining question is: do you have a blond in your sisterhood?  Someone that might, I don’t know, resemble me in the slightest?”


So Dany won the Iron Throne thanks to the power of her dragons.  And then the Others came and wiped out the whole continent, and Winter lasted seventy years, after which it got really warm and the Others melted.  The end.


It’s Still April

Yesterday was wonderful.  Mid 60’s, a slight breeze, and sunny.  I spent some time and hiked on one of the trails they don’t want you to use (it crosses live railroad track) and sat on a stump watching geese swoop in and land in a bog. 

The weather folks said it’d be a beautiful weekend, so I started the day in shorts.  I was to be greatly disappointed.  Now it’s in the 50s, windy, overcast, and it just started to rain.

It’s a good thing I’ll be in New Orleans in just a little over a week.  This crap’s getting tedious.

Everybody’s Doing Their Boston Tribute…

I spent a good chunk of 1992 and 1993 in Boston.  Since then, I’ve been back a dozen times or so and have never been bored.  I had something of a love-hate relationship with the city at the time, since I was sent on a challenging project and my family couldn’t come with me.  But my time there wore a soft spot into my head (maybe I need to get looked at) for New England and its people.  When I heard about the bombing, my first thought was along the lines of one of those high-strung businessmen finally snapped.  My second one was: Whoo-they picked the wrong city to dick with. 

DMs I’m from rural Nebraska.  It’s about as different from the tight-packed, oddly-laid-out, in your face city that Boston is.  It took some getting used to, from driving (never use your turn signal—it’s giving your battle plans away to the enemy), to navigation (after 3 or 4 months there, my epiphany was it’s better to visualize downtown as round and not square), to the people.

And it’s those same people that have caused the nationwide reaction that’s happened over the last two weeks.  They’re unique.  Forward.  And unabashedly proud of where they’re from.  If you don’t want to come see Boston for yourself, t’ hell widya—they don’t need you to like it, and if you never visit it’s no issue to them.  But go visit, and a million proud hosts are more than happy to tell you where to find the $10 lobster (I’d assume that since the early 90’s ten-buck lobster isn’t quite as easy to find—or desirable), that it’s not so hard to find what you’re looking for (beah right at the flashin’ red, go ‘nothah three blocks and it’s right theah), and—you know what, maybe you shouldn’t drive, hop in wid’ me.

So here’s to you, Boston.  I wasn’t worried for you since I know you’re home to some of the toughest, scrappiest sonsabitches America can be proud to call her own.  And while New York may get your goat from time to time, remember that you’re the ones who kicked the Redcoats out of our fledgling country—and that Manhattan served as their headquarters for most of the Revolution.IMG00223

Five Things I’ve Always Loved About Boston

Food?  I Gotcha Food!

Everybody ordered the Nicky Special at Pete’s Dockside, but I always looked forward to breakfast there.  A classic ‘Ma and Pa’ joint in the first floor of the building that, though most of it was a warehouse, served as our office, Pete’s was framed into the loading dock that still saw heavy use. 

With the boys behind the grill and Pa ringing up the register (“That’ll be six hundred seventy five dollars,” he’d say, but that was alright, since an Abe Lincoln was five hundred) I learned through observation that English Muffins are way better when smeared with butter and tossed on a flattop grill, and burgers only taste like burgers if they’re cooked en masse.  If it wasn’t for Pete’s, I’d have starved to death.

The Park

If you wanted to get away from the chaos of the city, without sitting in traffic for a couple of hours, you could go down to South Boston (I felt like apologizing for only being half Irish whenever I’d go there) and hang out at Marine Park and Castle Island. Cool old Fort there—and you know I love my old-school fortifications—as well as a nice close-up view of the underbellies of some really big aircraft.  Yeah, it’s in the flight path of Logan, but I like seeing jets up close and personal in operation.


Speaking of old structures, how could I forget:

All the Historic Stuff

My first Freedom Trail experience wasn’t marred by my first East Coast beggar experience.  Or my second.  Or third.  After the first dozen people begging you for a buck, you hardly even notice them.  And they’re not belligerent if you ignore them, like the bums in San Francisco get.  Or maybe I just happened to be given the beginner’s hobos.  Whether it was the 400-year-old cemetery, or the Old North Church, or dozens of other places I’d read about in the history books, someone who likes to immerse themselves in the past like I do usually runs out of leg power before they’ll run out of stuff to see. 

tara That Hotel over the Mass Pike

My bills would always say “Sheraton Tara Newton, Astride the Mass Turnpike”.  My company certainly wasn’t going to pay to put me up in the Parker House.  Or the waterfront, for that matter.  Instead we’d have to get on the Mass Pike where it started by South Station (This was before the Ted Williams Tunnel, of course) and drive the 20 minutes and two toll booths out to Newton.  Or Watertown, which was just to the north.  And every night I’d go to sleep knowing cars were zipping below me at seventy miles an hour.

Another nice feature of the hotel was its pool, which was on one of the middle floors.  You could swim over to the side and watch the traffic under you.

And, come to think of it, I had my first deep fried cheese sticks there.  Thanks a lot, guys—that probably had a lot to do with me pushing 240 by my late twenties.

Mystery Navigation

So I was driving downtown with my work pal John.  He wanted to go see the Bell In Hand Tavern, what with Cheers still being on and all—even if it was with Kirstie Alley, who never seemed to be as good of a fit as Shelley Whatserbucket…or maybe that was because it was never the same after Coach died.  We were on a one-way street, somewhere southeast of the Common (but by this time I’d adjusted to a radial way of thinking about the town layout, so I didn’t think in terms of compass directions) when all of a sudden a fire truck is in our grille—almost literally—honking as only a fire truck can.  I calmly screeched the tires and banged over the curb and onto the sidewalk to accommodate it, and luckily there must have been a really good fire going on because they didn’t stop to chew us out.

I muttered about my bad choice of ten-foot-wide street, and considered flipping off the cars that were following the fire truck, apparently taking advantage of an emergency vehicle blocker to break the law and shorten their commute.

I managed to get off the sidewalk without hitting a sign and at the next intersection John pointed out that we’d just been driving down a one-way street: the wrong way. 

I didn’t screw up.  We were on a one-way street going the right way, and suddenly without warning it had flipped directions.  Maybe there was a Do Not Enter Sign, maybe not.  All I know is, at the next cross-street I turned right.  Onto a street that I knew we were just on…three blocks behind us.

You ever read Crouch End by Stephen King?  I know it’s set in London, but I also know he likes to spend a lot of time in Boston.  I think he came up with the idea there, where the fire truck nearly plowed us over.


Artificial Intelligence can put me out of a job.  If I live long enough, of course—this won’t happen next week.  But it doesn't matter if I'm talking about technical writing or fiction.  Or my other computer-related skills.

Are the days of writers numbered?  We'd like to think not.

But consider for a moment the perfect combination of processors and code put to the task of creating stories for people.  It's not completely psycho, if you consider how far technology's come in the past few decades. 

Imagine the Virtual Writer, constructed around the Formula, pegging the protagonist’s character arc from Fat, Dumb, and Happy through life-changing event and epiphany, clear past the zenith of the antagonist’s power and the discovery of the inner power to defeat him.  With just enough randomness built in to ensure these plot milestones don’t come at mathematically precise quarter-points.

“A machine can’t make me love its writing,” you’ll say.  “My tastes are far too sophisticated.”

And an infinity of monkeys banging the keys of an infinity of typewriters for an infinity of days will eventually generate the works of Shakespeare.

Maybe that’s the key: have a program that generates an infinity of stories until a great one emerges.  But humans would have to do the reading and judge what is and isn’t phenomenal writing, correct?  At first, I suppose.  But story-analysis programs already exist.  They’ll get more sophisticated. 

Think hard: what job is out there that machines can’t replace?  CG movies won’t always need human programmers, or even the voice actors.  The grandsons and granddaughters of Siri and Google Translate’s algorithms will take over.

In the end, I foresee only one thing humans will be able to do for a living:  Influence other humans in person.  That’s right: the reason I’m convinced we’ll never be able to get rid of politicians and lawyers—arguably the top two on most people’s lists for elimination if they ran the world—is that they’re two of the few professions machines won’t obviate. 

Where does that leave us?  Perhaps we’ll finally achieve that utopia where nobody has to work and everybody has what they need.  Call me pessimistic, but I’d consider that the least likely outcome.

Here’s a thought:  people run out of work.  They run out of stuff to do—while indulging in hobbies will be nice for many, the fact that machines will have done what they liked—only better—means a lack of audience for work, and those who can’t create solely for their own amusement will lose interest.  The machines won’t of course, cranking out profound masterpiece after profound masterpiece.

Where does that leave us?  Maybe everybody goes back to what we used to do before all this technology got started:  Hunt and gather.  Living like cavemen in a world where the machines, who never needed us but don’t feel any particular malice or affection toward their creators, continue advancing modern technology without us.


The Pleasure of Pub Crawling

It's been too long since I've been looking into new markets.  Yes, the 'pub crawling' I'm referring to is 'publication crawling'.  I'd gotten into a rut with the last few stories I'd submitted.  It seemed like I was playing a game of Three-Card Monte, shifting this and that piece to this and that familiar e-zine.
So I've been spending a couple of weeks checking out publications I haven't seen before.  With a goal of submitting one story per week, this gives me six days to read the stories, get a feel for its vibe, and see if anything in my backlog is a match.
Earlier on, I'd finish a piece, get it edited, and think 'Dang, I gotta get this turned in somewhere'.  Wrong way of going about it.  Get familiar with publications first.
Oh, and don't forget to enjoy what you're reading during all this research.


April 2014


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