Earlier I was firmly committed to my kaiju novel for NaNoWriMo this year. But now I’m wavering. I have three ideas, all of them equally attractive. So I’m throwing the question out to you, faithful readers:

What should Richard write for NaNoWriMo 2017?

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Of course, I won’t be posting my novel online this year for Reasons, but you’ll be able to request that chapters be mailed to you as I write them. I’ll work on a mechanism for that.

Mirrored from Richard S. Crawford.

A number of years ago I wrote a short story, “Coyote Goes to College”. It was about a generic version of the Coyote trickster who populates the lore of some Native American tribes. I think it’s a good story and pretty funny, but should I publish it? I don’t know. Coyote isn’t a character that I invented, and comes from a culture that I don’t identify with. Input would be appreciated.

Another worry I have is about my novel-in-progress, Padma. The main character differs from me in many ways, but mostly she comes from a racial/cultural background — specifically, she is biracial (half white and half Indian) from India, though she was born in the US and came back at the age of 11, and has little knowledge or experience with her native culture; little enough so that when supernatural entities from Indian mythology show up, she doesn’t recognize them.

I would appreciate as many thoughts and comments as possible. If you could, please comment on this blog entry directly. I’m still on my social media hiatus, and may not see what you have to say if you say it on Twitter or Facebook.


Edited: It was pointed out to me that I misused the Twitter hashtag that I had included earlier. It’s been removed.

Mirrored from Richard S. Crawford.

I’ve been watching the original Twilight Zone series on Netflix, and loving it. I’m currently halfway through season 2, and last night I saw the episode entitled “Night of the Meek”. In this episode, Henry Corwin, a department store Santa, gets drunk and is fired from his job. He informs the store manager that the reason he gets drunk all the time, and especially at Christmas, is that he can’t bear to see all the suffering and sadness in the world, especially in the faces of children, and especially at Christmastime,and know that there’s nothing he can do about it. Look at this picture of him. Doesn’t he look sad?

But the night he’s fired, Henry stumbles across a magical burlap sack that seems, at first, to be full of nothing but garbage. But he soon finds that it’s full of gifts, and not just any gifts: the heart’s desire of anyone he encounters. He gives gifts to the downtrodden at a Salvation Army soup kitchen, to the manager of the department store he was just fired from, and to the neighborhood kids.

Finally the bag is empty, and he lets it drop to the ground and goes on his way… only to encounter a sleigh, some reindeer, and an elf who says to him, “We’ve been waiting for you!” Henry’s own wish — that he could be the real life Santa Claus to give gifts for everyone — has come true.

I personally think that “Night of the Meek” is one of the better episodes that Serling himself (who was born on Christmas Day) wrote, and it actually made me a little bit sniffly. When I read a book in 2003 called The American Fantasy Tradition, I was more than a little surprised to see that Rod Serling was not mentioned at all.

Reams and reams have been written about The Twilight Zone and its impact on American pop culture (especially in speculative fiction), and I won’t bother going into that here. For now, I’ll just say that the show definitely impacted my own creative sensibilities. Over the past couple of weeks, as I’ve been watching this show, I find myself feeling more inspired to work on my own fiction, and giving it more subtle twists and bits than I normally would be include toward. No one has ever accused me of being a very subtle writer, so perhaps binge-watching The Twilight Zone will help change that.

If you want to buy me something for Christmas or my birthday or just for the heck of it, might I suggest Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Twilight Zone: A Fifth-Dimension Guide to Life by Mark Dawidziak? I heard the author interviewed on a podcast I regularly listen to and this sounds like a fun book.

A couple of administrative notes:

  1. As you know, I no longer cross-post to Livejournal. Now, I cross-post to Dreamwidth, where my username is underpope2.
  2. I’ve applied a new theme to my blog. What do you think? Is it pretty? Ugly? Pretty ugly? I think it needs some tweaks.
  3. Finally, I’ve moved some of the free stories off my writing page and onto their own page at My Monstrous Universe. Enjoy!


Mirrored from Richard S. Crawford.

“Tumbleweeds” is zipping in the mail, on its way to Weird Tales. Godspeed, goofy little story.

Mirrored from Richard S. Crawford's World.

I’m currently working on several different projects.  Some are brand new, some are just revisions of older projects.  And here they are, in no particular order:

  1. Fred, Again.  This is the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo this past year.  I’m still revising it.  I’ve been talking to a woman I know who’s a retired police officer and picking her brain for information such as how crim scene investigations are conducted.  I’m trying not to get myself stuck in Revision Hell, but progress is still slow.
  2. “Indications”.  A story I wrote a few years ago which I thought was finished, though  recent comments from editors I’ve submitted it to suggest otherwise.  So, I’m putting some more polish on this one.
  3. “Burying Uncle Albert”.  I wrote this story about three years ago, and I’m still finalizing it.  I like it so far, but there’s a serious tone shift in the middle of the story that I need to fix.  My question is how I want to handle it; do I want to make the first half more serious, or the second half more funny?
  4. “Tumbleweeds”.  A short story I wrote a couple of weeks ago.  This one just needs a few final touches before I feel comfortable sending it out.

My biggest time sink right now, though, is the rewrte of a short story I wrote a year or so ago called “Hollow”.  This one is particularly challenging because the main character is a young Hispanic woman, and I don’t resemble a Chicana by any stretch of the imagination, not even when I shave.  So I’ve been reading blogs written by such women, checking out some forums, and reading books.  What I really need to do is find a Chicana who can act as a sort of collaborator on this story; who can say, “Uh, no, you racist nitwit, she’d never say something like that.”  I’ve been stressing a lot about that.

What I haven’t been stressing about, though, is the fact that her husband is Irish American; and at last night’s writers’ group meeting, my ignorance of other cultures showed up most prominently there.  I’d been operating under the assumption that Irish American culture is pretty much like most European-American culture, which is pretty much like the culture I came from.  Imagine my shock when my fellow writer M. pointed out that the slang word I had used — “plonker” — is not a word that this guy would have used at all (she has authority on this, being married to an Irish man and having spent some time in Ireland herself).  Now, I admit I was lazy; I just looked up a website of Irish slang, and didn’t bother checking on how current any of that slang was.

I guess that should be a lesson to me and any other writer who chooses to create characters of different cultures and societies.  You can grab words and broad elements of the culture from popular impressions or through cursory research, but it’s the subtleties that will come back to bite you.  A European writer writing about a modern American culture might mention that their character likes to grill with charcoal, for example, and completely miss out on the entire conflict within that BBQ’ing subculture over the value of charcoal vs. gas for cooking (I’m a charcoal man, myself).  Such subtleties may not figure into the story at all, but if the character gets involved in some sort of grilling contest, then our European writer had been know these kinds of subtleties.

Characters have a life of their own.  At first I thought I could avoid these issues by simply making Francesca a white woman and her husband a regular American guy, but neither of them would budge on this issue.  I figure I’m stuck.

Stories frequently take on lives of their own as well.   I wrote “Hollow” almost a year ago, figuring on it being part of one “universe” of stories.  I knew I had to rewrite it, though, but it wasn’t until I realized it was more properly a “Mollyverse” story that I began to know what to do with it.  And last week, I discovered that the story was starting to take on a new title; I’d recently started reading Veinte Poemas de Amor, Pablo Neruda’s collection of love poems.  The first poem in that volume is “Cuerpo de Mujer”, which means “Body of a Woman”.  And because of the nature of the story and the identity of the main character, this title feels a lot more natural to me.

The story will get written.  I’m excited about it.

In other news, I recevied a rejection notice today from the magazine I’d sent “Joe’s Salvation” to.  They were happy with the work, I think, and almost apologetic that they couldn’t take the story, but they did ask for more contributions.  That, at least, makes me feel less pained about the rejection.

Mirrored from Richard S. Crawford's World.

Over the past month or so, I’ve been sick with a persistent URI (though my doctor and I are working on a different theory now — more on that some other time), and I’ve been taking advantage of the situation to rewatch all seven seasons of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and Angel.  Of course I’m working while doing this; the DVD’s play on my laptop computer next to my desktop computer, unless my desktop is disabled for some reason (see below).
Right now, I’m just over halfway through season six of Buffy. It is certainly different and darker than earlier seasons. I can see why many fans didn’t care for this season very much, but I like it just as much as, say, first or third seasons. The demons are more representative of the dark side of reality, I think, and the metaphors are more explicit. I also like the deepened characterizations and the darkened themes. Life is hard at times, and everyone knows this. We all go through periods like this when we’re adolescents, times when we feel like our friends are deserting us, when we aren’t sure what’s the right thing to do, when we have to take crap jobs just to keep our heads above water, and so on.

Currently, I’m watching the episode called “Normal Again”, in which Buffy is infected by a demon’s venom which makes her believe she’s in a mental hospital, and the whole Sunnydale experience has been an hallucination. One of the most telling scenes, I think, which encapsulates the entire season in a few brilliant seconds, is when Buffy has the chance to drink the antidote, but after a chewing out by Spike, she just dumps the antidote into a nearby trash can. During those dark times of our lives, we all probably entertain the happy idea that everything we’re going through is just a dream or a mind trip; I know that there have certainly have been times when I’ve wished that everything that’s happened to me since 7th grade was just a dream. This one scene represents a moment when Buffy chooses the fantasy over the painful reality, even if the fantasy itself is painful. The reality of her situation, of the poverty, of the wage slave job, of the friendships imploding, of her relationship with Spike, all of that is just too painful; she chooses to believe instead that everything she’s experienced has just been a dream in a psych ward. One of the most poignant scenes in this episode is a flashback to the mental hospital when Joyce, Buffy’s dead mother, tells her that “the world looks like a hard place”, giving her a pep talk to bring her back to “reality”. They are the words of a loving mother. And then Buffy chooses the Sunnydale life again over the mental ward. She affirms reality and her role in it, affirming herself. I think this really marks the beginning of Buffy’s recovery from the trauma of being brought back to life at the beginning of the season; and this recovery of her confidence and her self affirmation are essential to setting up the final season of the series.

Of course, there’s also that little scene at the end of the episode back in the mental hospital with the catatonic Buffy and the doctor saying, “I’m afraid we’ve lost her.” It’s a nifty little mindfuck, and I’m always up for one of those. But it also reasserts the episode’s theme, and, I think, one of the central themes of the entire season (and possibly the series): coming to terms with yourself, even if the alternative seems more pleasant. As we’ve seen throughout the entire series, Buffy’s always wanted to be just a normal girl, and not have the duties and responsibilities of being the Slayer; yet, when given the opportunity, she chooses Slayer-hood over a potentially different existence which seemed, at least for just a moment, more pleasant.

So, yeah, this season isn’t as purely entertaining in a “gosh wow yippee ha ha ha” sort of way as the earlier seasons were. But for me, the deeper characterizations and explorations of darker themes makes it more enjoyable for me.

This is a controversial position, I know. But then I also really enjoyed the season finale of BSG, and I thought the series finale for Angel was brilliant.

In other news: I’ve been busy with work, and with personal IT projects. I got it into my head to upgrade my desktop workstation to the latest beta release of Kubuntu, otherwise known as “Dapper Drake”. I upgraded to “Flight 5”, which is still a beta release, and thus inherently unstable. This required two reinstalls, since the first time I made a critical error which resulted in the removal of nearly two dozen key libraries, making KDE — and X, really — unusable. I learned my lesson there. But after two days of tinkering and messing around I’ve got my system back to a stable place, though I’m still not happy with how some GTK applications, like Firefox, are presented in KDE. And Konqueror is a touch unstable still. And I haven’t been successful in setting up file associations to launch the proper applications when I click on a link to a file on my desktop. Kind of annoying. Oh, and setting up udev so that newly connected USB devices work properly took a few hours of tinkering and research, and I almost gave up and reverted when I just couldn’t get MP3’s to play. Turns out the new core system along with the latest beta release of Amarok required eight new libraries to decode MP3’s, instead of the two that were required before.

I’ve also been working on a web-based submissions tracker for my writing. That’s been fun.

And, of course, I’ve been sick, and I’ve also been really busy with work. Hence my non-communicativeness over the past couple of weeks.

All of this, of course, is basically a way of saying that I’ve been avoiding revising Fred, Again.

Mirrored from Richard S. Crawford's World.

Because I’m a narcissist, I decided to Google my own name this afternoon, and I came across a review of Issue #1 of Shimmer, which included my short story, “An Interrupted Nap”. The review, published on the Tangent Online website, is here.

The section on “An Interrupted Nap” reads, in part:

Crawford writes with a certain ease, showing a world where the strange is considered normal, and things like the Rapture are events to ready for.

which kind of echoes comments I’ve heard made on my stories before.

That sort of gives me a happy.

Mirrored from Richard S. Crawford's World.

I read this article with interest just now.  It seems that Google, Inc. is hiring on Dr. Larry Brilliant, a fellow who made a name for himself by helping WHO eradicate smallpox and by establishing the Seva Foundation to help blind people in developing nations regain their sight.  Their reason for doing this?  They want to form a philanthropic arm of Google, called Google.org, which will be charged with spending $1.1 billion dollars on philanthropic and charitable causes throughout the world.  Sergay and Brin, the founders of Google, say they want to “make s social impact that will eventually ‘eclipse Google itself’ by tackling the world’s problems.”  Brilliant is a physician and epidemiologist who is also known as a tech visionary.

I’ve always been a fan of Google, not just for the quality of their search engine but also because of the way they do business.  I’m a bit wary of their choice to censor search results in China, but I can see how it makes good business sense for them.   I hope that they succeed in the goal that they’ve stated above.

So, for that reason, I’ve concluded that Google is not run by schmucks.

Mirrored from Richard S. Crawford's World.

Over the weekend, Checkers spent most of her time lurking in one spot or another in the library; for a couple of full days, her favorite spot was behind the books on the bottom shelf of one of the bookcases. I took to calling her the Lurker in the Library, which appealed to the Lovecraft fan in me. However, she started doing much better yesterday, to the point where she was relaxed enough to come out for Jennifer when she came into the room, and to sit and actually play with us for a bit when we dangled string in front of her and gave her skritches on her head. She also purrs loudly and is interacting with us more. She prefers Jennifer’s company to mine, but I think she’ll loosen up more over the next few days.

Most of the other cats still don’t care. Tangerine’s more interested in Checkers’s food. Azzie likes to hang out in the kitty carrier that we brought Checkers home in. Rosemary coudn’t care less about the presence of another tortoiseshell in the house. We don’t know how Zucchini feels, and probably never will. Sebastian, however, finally got around to expressing his outrage with hissing and yowling, and Checkers hissed back at him. We’re still keeping her isolated, so we won’t have to police that situation for awhile.

This past weekend was DunDraCon. I meant to go on Saturday and Sunday, but Saturday I ended up sleeping until 2:00 in the afternoon, at which point I just kind of figured there wasn’t any point, so I spent the rest of the day at home. Sunday, after Sunday School (third session of the Da Vinci Code class), I drove down so I could spend a few hours there. I hung out with K. until he needed to get set up for his game, then went to the open game room and played a few games with C. and some other random person he had met. After that, went to K.’s Galactic Champions game. It was already full up with players, so I didn’t get to play, but I did get to assume the role of the over-the-top supervillain for a bit, and that was quite fun. K. is an outstanding GM; if gaming were a profession like law or medicine, he would be among the most respected practitioners. Alas, it is not.Oh, I also made a few purchases; the 6th Edition of Call of Cthulhu (and I’m still planning on running a game someday); the new color edition of Give Me the Brain (I’m kind of disappointed that it’s a full-color glossy card game now, instead of the cheesy card-stock black-and-white Cheap Ass format that it has been in the past); and Cheap Ass Games’s Kill Doctor Lucky. I also got a T-shirt which reads, “Innsmouth Emergency Medical Services”, which is funny to me at least (see the image below).

So, all in all, a pretty decent time at the con. I wish I’d gotten to spend some more time there, since I have a pile of games that I enjoy but that I never get to play (the other two games in the McFries trilogy, for example, as well as ChronoNauts, Burn Rate, Cthulhu 500, and others). Perhaps next year.

Mirrored from Richard S. Crawford's World.

On the other hand, not everyone in the world is a schmuck.

Dean Kamen is not a schmuck. If the man who gave us the insulin pump and the Segway (commercially a flop but technologically brilliant) wants to turn his brilliant mind to the problem of delivering power and clean water to the underdeveloped populations of the world — well, then, I just gotta take off my hat to him.

And Mark Shuttleworth is also not a schmuck either, primarily because of his work with Ubuntu and Canonical. Another millionaire who wants to bring cheap, available technology to the underdeveloped nations of the world (this time by spreading the Linux operating system everywhere — free is a hell of a lot cheaper than anything Microsoft would be willing to spread to the poor of the world).

Oh, and then there’s Nicholas Negroponte of the One Laptop Per Child program. Not a millionaire, but still a guy who wants to bring cheap, accessible technology to parts of the world which don’t have access now. I like the way he once essentially said “F— you” to both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs because both of them wanted prohibitively expensive licensing costs for the MS Windows and Apple operating systems to be part of the program. And hats off to Red Hat Linux for participating in this program for dirt cheap, if not for free.

These are the kinds of projects I’ve always wanted to get involved in (as well as something like Satellife). It may be a little late for me to get involved, but I’m glad they’re out there.

The reason I hate the news media is that they tend to overlook stories like these, and instead focus on the fray and fracas initiated by the maniacs and robber barons who generally run the country. What these guys are doing is a hell of a lot more important, in my opinion, than who Dick Cheney shot or the latest hare-brained scheme from George W. Bush.

Hm. Maybe I ought to start a regular “Not-A-Schmuck Report”. There are plenty of guys out there doing things like this. Sadly, we hardly ever get to hear about them.

On a related note, I’ve found that the WorldChanging website is worth bookmarking (or adding to your BlogLines feed, if you have one of those).

Mirrored from Richard S. Crawford's World.


Feb. 15th, 2006 12:08 pm

Way back when, I used to work for the Labor Relations unit of a large public University, dealing with unions and management. It’s always fun to tell people that I kept a leash on the unions and got to see the dark underbelly of the University at work, but in truth I was just basically a secretary who kept the grievance process rolling along (well, I did get to see the University’s dark underbelly). I’m not the most detail-oriented person in the world, and this was a job that required a lot of attention to detail. I spent three years at that job, getting more and more frustrated. I liked my bosses and my co-workers, but I wasn’t a good fit for the job and I was stymied in my attempts to get my web development career moving.

At one point toward the end of my tenure there, the unit head noticed that I was — well, dissatisfied, shall we say. He suggested that for my sanity, and for the sanity of everyone else in the department, I might want to take a week’s vacation or face some disciplinary action. I’m pretty grateful that he offered the choice, because he didn’t have to, and it did give me some very badly needed cooling off time. And during that week, I interviewed for and got a job as a paid web developer with another department at the University. I got back to Labor Relations after the week was up, and promptly told the unit head that I was taking a job offer elsewhere. He congratulated me, but I also know that he was disappointed that I was leaving, even though we all knew it was the best thing. As I said, I liked the people I worked for and with, but not the job itself.

Anyway, long story short: since then I’ve worked doing paid web development for Communications Resources, went on to the private sector for awhile before being laid off, went back to the University as a temporary employee doing clerical work, went back to the private sector traveling the state teaching welfare workers and recipients how to use the new benefits distribution system, and then came back to the University doing full time web development in Linux, PHP, and a bunch of other open source tools.

Er. Okay, on to the main point.

The building where I work now, in downtown Sacramento, is a four-story building. Our office is on the second floor. The ground floor has a few small businesses, but the building is mostly empty classrooms that the University uses for various teaching programs or meetings. And this week, there are labor negotiations going on just a couple of classrooms away from our office.  And representing the University are my old bosses from Labor Relations.  It was kind of interesting to see them wandering around the building, and I went up to them and had a pretty good conversation.  We chatted a little about old times, and about where we’re all at now.  I told the unit head what I’m doing now, and he approved, saying he was glad I was doing what I enjoy.  We didn’t get to chat long because they had to get to the negotiations and I had to get to my desk, but those few minutes were enjoyable.

It’s been almost six years since I worked in Labor Relations doing grievance administration, and I honestly don’t miss it at all.  I know that I’m very lucky to be where I am now; I enjoy my job, I’m good at it, and I have fun at it (PHP and open source development are hobbies of mine; secondary to the writing, of course).  The guys in that department were good folk, and I’m glad I got to work with them.

There’s no way in hell, though, that I would ever even think about going back.

Mirrored from Richard S. Crawford's World.

Brin on Optimism
Science fiction author and noted astrophysicist (and general pundit/curmudgeon) David Brin has a fascinating entry up at his blog right now entitled, “The Ritual of the Streetcorner“. In it, he quotes a little phrase which I’ve seen elsewhere and which I’ve found is disturbingly accurate for myself: “A cynic is an optimist who has snapped out of it and realized how awful people are”. Brin is essentially an optimist when it comes to the forward progress of humanity; you only have to read his novels to figure that out.

I found this paragraph to be particularly compelling, though:

…[W]hich is more amazing? That the Enlightenment is under threat from a collusive cabal of conniving aristocrats, imperialists and extremist nutjobs? Or the fact that this routine and utterly predictable alliance, which ruled every other urban culture for 4,000 years has been staved off repeatedly, till now, by a republic — and a civilization — that has kept combining redesign and renewal and revolution with an almost infinite capacity for resilience in the face of repetitious human nature? (emphasis in the original)

It’s reassuring, in a way; he seems to be reinforcing that old saw, “In times like these, it helps to remember that there have always been times like these.” So in spite of the fact that our nation seems to be in the grip of authoritarian, backwards-looking autocrats intent on consolidating power into an entity which was never meant to have it (see Jack Whelan’s blog post, “Drift to Authoritarianism“, for some thoughts on this), there may be some cause for hope. Even though people seem, as a group, overwhelmingly stupid, you can go to any complex streetcorner and watch as people negotiate the traffic laws and rules and just seem to make things work. Brin says,

Yes, they [our neighbors] look stupid. I am sure yours do, too. Perhaps, as individuals, they are. But when they are taken together, combined, made free to interact under rules that encourage decent cooperation and competition, something happens. We all get smarter than we ever deserved to be. (emphasis in the original)

Brin’s basic point seems to be that things aren’t as bad as all that. Maybe we will wake up one morning and find that the people in our nation have given up all the liberties and freedoms our predecessors fought and died for simply to forward a manufactured and non-existent “war on terror”, but human beings, on the whole, do have the potential to create progressive societies. Brin calls himself a “flaming optimist”, because cynicism isn’t helpful. Maybe it’s a good attitude to have.

Supraluminal Follow-Up

According to the This Week In Science podcast of January 16th, some of the basic ideas behind the so-called Hyperdrive that I talked about a couple of weeks ago have actually been around since 1950, when the original physicist — whose name, sadly, escapes me, but who was German — in trying to reconcile quantum physics with Einstein’s theory of general relativity, proposed a two-dimensional “subspace” as part of his solution. In 1970-something, another German physicist took these ideas and expanded them to build a better solution to the quantum/Einstein conundrum, postulating an 8-dimensional space as a better model (incidentally, I discovered that this work formed the scientific basis for Buckaroo Banzai’s Oscillation Overthruster — hence, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension instead of the Fifth or Sixth Dimension). Starting in the late 1990’s, this theoretical work proved remarkably effective at predicting certain results in particle and quantum physics (I won’t even pretend to understand the science behind it). The trouble is, as I understand it, almost all of the theoretical work has been done in German because the original scientist refused to learn English.

So, if this work — which involves, as I mentioned, eight dimensions of space as well as hypothetical particles called “gravitophotons” — holds up, then one of the implications is the possibility of an actual FTL hyperdrive. Now, according to the scientists who have been working on that aspect, what would be required would be a huge ring surrounding a superconductor of some sort, which would be capable of producing 25 Teslas of energy (this is apparently a huge amount of energy), which would then be capable of attracting or producing the gravitophotons, which would make transit between the dimensions possible, and, thus, the hyperdrive — which is dependent, somehow, on the ability of the gravitophotons to repel gravity. It turns out there is already a working machine in Sweden that can produce the energy necessary, so it is technologically feasible. Since any ships built with this drive would have to be built in space, though, it may be economically prohibitive. For now at least.

Physicist Lawrence M. Krauss, though, writes in his new book that this sort of work involving extra dimensions isn’t necessarily at all useful in physics. I don’t know if this has any bearing on the issue or not. Nor do I know if this new theory of gravity, which dispenses with the notion of “Dark Matter” and introduces theoretical particles called “gravitons”, has any import.
Krauss, by the way, in an interview on the Skepticality podcast, made the astonishing suggestion that the universe may, ultimately, not be understandable; we may, in other words, never be able to form a complete predictive theory which explains the entire universe. This may be disconcerting to scientists of all stripes, but it’s pretty interesting fodder for writers. I’ve already got a story idea based on this. I just hope it doesn’t provide fuel for the anti-science pseudo-Christians who are trying to force Intelligent Design into our schools.

On the Religion Front

Theologian Bart Campolo once summarized Christianity thusly: “Love God. Love people. Nothing else matters.” (source)

I love this. What a great summation of the Two Great Commandments that Jesus gave. Sure, it’s cute and pithy (which is always dangerous), but it pretty much captures, for me, how I understand Christianity. Those two commandments are pretty much all that matters; everything else is (occasionally dangerous) fluff.  Of course it would never fly in the sickening parody, based on hatred and self-worship rather than faith and worship of God, that passes for Christianity in much of our culture today.  Or is that just my cynicism leaking again?
Rib Update

Ribs still hurt, mostly in my left side. Every now and then I worry that it might be indicative of something horrific in my digestive system — a tumor in my large intestine, perhaps, or liver/pancreas/spleen/muscle/etc. cancer; however, the lack of any other symptoms at all sort of reassures me on this point. My health insurance provider won’t pay for the bone scan, so I need to go back to the doctor and discuss other options. I’m just wary of doing that, since I’ve been to the doctor so many times already.

That’s all I got today. See ya later.

Mirrored from Richard S. Crawford's World.

Edited 19 July 2006: It seems that this particular page on my site gets four or five hits a day from people looking for information about costal chondritis (or variants thereof). I’m quite glad to be getting the attention, of course, but it’s kind of funny because I put so much effort into the rest of my site. Well, at least some good is coming out of this.

I understand the frustration of looking for information about this condition. I found nothing at WebMD, which is my personal favorite medical site, nor at WikiPedia, which is my favorite reference site (a search there for “costal chondritis” brings up “Tietze’s Syndrome”, which I’m not sure is the same thing). I guess that the best I can say is, talk to your doctor. Ice, heat, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories seem to work for me (but please don’t think this is medical advice), though my doctor now recommends against stretching the affected area.

And six months after I wrote this original entry, I still suffer from costal chondritis. I think it’s primarily because I haven’t been free of asthmatic symptoms long enough during that period of time to really give the muscles and cartilege a chance to recover. On the plus side, since the pain’s been there, at a constant level, for so long, I can now be positive that it isn’t anything more serious.

Today I decided to go back to the doctor for this pain in my side which has been bugging me since August. In early December, the doctor who looked at it — not my regular doctor, who’s currently on maternity leave, but a good one by all accounts anyway — said it was probably something called costal chondritis. Back then I had a chest X-ray done, and the results were clear (well, as clear as a life-long asthmatic’s can be, when there’s airway remodeling and permanent scarring on the lung tissue). But despite the icing and the stretching and the Ibuprofin, the pain has not gone away. In fact, over the past few days, it’s gotten significantly worse.

I saw the same doctor today, and he looked at the results of the X-ray, listened to my symptoms, and did a couple of quick prods on my rib cage — “Does it hurt when I press down on your rib cage with 8,000 psi of pressure?” — and so on. And said Yep, very likely costal chondritis. But just to be sure, I get to go in for a bone scan this week, just to make sure there’s nothing there.

Because I am what I am, I naturally brought up the notion of cancer.

The doctor scoffed and told me that the odds of this being cancer are practically nil.

Anyway. So he explained costal chondritis more thoroughly this time, and I paid more attention. The “costal” part of the term refers to the ribs; you know, the bones that protect your heart and lungs and such. The ribs have cartilage between them to make sure they don’t rub together and damage each other. Between the bone and the rib is a joint; and it’s this joint which is out of whack. So, the cartilage is actually slipping because of the inflammation. Because this is happening, the smooth muscles surrounding the ribs — the intercostal muscles, a term I remember from the physiology classes I took in college — end up working harder to keep everything in place. But because this is not the sort of work the intercostal muscles are supposed to be doing, they wear out quickly and start to spasm. Pain ensues.

So, costal chondritis not only involves the inflammation along the costal/chondral joints, it also involves spasms of the intercostal muscles. The affected area could be just the bottom of your rib cage, or could extend all the way down the intercostal muscles and their associated muscles; from the collarbone, in other words, to just about the small of your back. That’s the affected area for me, though mostly it hurts at the bottom of my rib cage on my left flank.

The doctor believes this may have all started when I pulled a muscle in my back last August, and been exacerbated by a series of upper respiratory infections. This last cold, with all the coughing and the sneezing I had, probably just brought about the huge flareup I’m having now. There isn’t much I can do about it, though; take big doses of Iburprofin for a couple of weeks and see how it goes (in addition to the icing and the stretching), and if that doesn’t work, take a more aggressive approach. The doctor doesn’t like people to take anti-inflammatories if they can help it, but agrees that it’s time for that approach for me.

What it all boils down to, he explained, is normal wear and tear on the body, and it’s all probably exacerbated by the lifetime of asthma that I’ve had. Fortunately, I still have my pain management techniques that the neurologist taught me almost two years ago when I was dealing with my headaches, so I’ll break out that CD and see if I can get going on that again.

In other words: ouch. Frikkin’ ouch.

But other stuff is looking up. I’ve read through about four chapters of Fred Again and taken a lot of notes (including the huge, glaring, painful chronology issue right in chapter 2). And because I got a telescope for my birthday I’ve been listening to a lot of astronomy related podcasts, which are giving me ideas for the novel. 70% of the matter in the universe is dark matter, and no one knows what dark matter is. Except, of course, you and I know that it’s really just the ill will of Nyarlathotep and Azathoth that keep the universe together, right?

Mirrored from Richard S. Crawford's World.

I just think that the word “supraluminal” — which means “faster than light” — is cool. Isn’t it? It’s actually a really pretty word. Something you’d name your daughter, right?

The speed of light is 186,000 miles per second, more or less. Nothing in our universe can travel faster than that, not if they want to remain, you know, real. It’s not just a matter of not knowing how to do it (we once didn’t know how to travel faster than sound, and thought it was impossible); it’s a matter of the entire infrastructure of modern physics breaking down utterly if it were possible for something to travel faster than the speed of light. When you hit that speed, time stops, your mass increases to infinity, and you effectively become a point in space, as I understand it. Photons, having no mass, can travel at the speed of light without becoming black holes, but nothing else can.

In a way, it’s depressing for those of us who like science fiction and the possibilities of intergalactic stories. The distance to the nearest star, Proxima Centauri, is so great that it takes light four years to reach us from there; we say it’s four light years away. Any engine that we human beings come up with for space ships is not likely to even reach a respectable percentage of the speed of light, so a journey of one of our space ships to Proxima Centauri is likely to take hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

But this past week, two German scientists came up with a paper theorizing a way to send ships to distances in space in much less time. The Moon could only be a couple of hours away, Mars a three-day ride, and Alpha Centauri no more than eighty days. This means faster than light travel. Which is impossible. According to Phil Plait over at Bad Astronomy, the paper relies on the existence of several new particles that we haven’t yet observed, on parallel space (something else we’ve never observed), and incredibly complicated mathematics which I doubt I’ll ever even come close to understanding.

But it really sounds like bunk to me. Cool as interstellar supraluminal travel would be, I think that these two German scientists are either working with bad data or are trying to fool everyone. I don’t know the science involved at all, but it just sounds too good to be true. And some reports suggest that a working prototype of an engine based on these principles could be around in just five years, which is also too wonderful to believe.

On the other hand, maybe they are on to something. Once upon a time, Cold Fusion was considered impossible; now, two decades after a pair of scientists falsely announced that they had come across it, others are beginning to wonder if it might be possible after all. So maybe this German supraluminal drive just might be possible.

But I doubt it.

Mirrored from Richard S. Crawford's World.

My short story, “Who Remembers Molly”, has just been published in the January 2006 issue of The Harrow (http://www.theharrow.com).  Please take a look!

Mirrored from Richard S. Crawford's World.

  • New Scientist magazine on 13 Things that Do Not Make Sense.  This is a fascinating article compiling a list of thirteen apparent anomalies in our understanding of physics, chemistry, and cosmology.  The author does a good job, I think, of reporting the anomalies without much editorializing, and certainly with no fanciful forays into non-scientific speculation.  The most important thing to take away from this article, I think, is the fact that even though science has come a very long way in the past century, there’s still a lot that we just don’t understand.
  • Pure Energy Systems News on Milestones and Trends in Renewable Energy — 2005 and 2006.  Again, fairly interesting stuff to consider.  We’ve got a ways to go before any of the renewable energy systems proposed form a truly viable alternative to the systems we have in place now (if only because fossil fuel energy production systems are so deeply entrenched in our economy), but there are certainly some very promising ideas out there.

One thing I found really interesting was the fact that cold fusion is mentioned in each article.  Despite the dubious results from Fleischmann and Pons sixteen years ago and the the near unanimous declaration that cold fusion was just “bad science” and probably impossible according to the laws of physics, there appears to be some serious academic interest in it again: enough so that MIT allowed a cold fusion colloquium to take place in its buildings.  I don’t know enough about the physics involved to declare myself whether cold fusion is or is not possible, but the idea and its implications are certainly exciting.

On another note, I have decided that this year I’m going to reduce my political commentary to an absolute minimum.  I’m not usually one for new year’s resolutions, but this one’s been coming for awile anyway.  What finally clinched it for me were Monty Python and the Marx Brothers.

Last year, my wife gave to me a DVD collection of the entire Monty Python’s Flying Circus television series.  I was watching some of the discs recently, and saw a sketch dating from 1971 about a group of little old ladies in London who had taken upon themselves the task of enforcing morality in Britain.  This they did by running around the streets and beating up with their purses anyone who was, in their view, immoral.  The “culture wars” which, some insist, are taking place in our society today, are really nothing new.  They’ve been going on since forever, and they’re not unique to American society.  I don’t see it changing anytime soon.  It’s not worth commenting on, therefore, and not worth getting myself upset about.  Sure, I think it’s tragic that conservative groups have managed to gather enough signatures to make a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in Massachusetts.  And I find any group going on about “traditional family values” frankly ludicrous, worthy of mockery by Monty Python.  And I find it appalling that Pat Robertson and his “700 Club” are broadcast on the Family Channel (if anyone demonstrates the paucity of Christian charity in what passes for Christianity in popular culture these days, it is this man).  But these guys have been around forever.  They won’t go away.  The trick, then, is to not listen to them, and to not let them infect your own reasoning abilities.  I can’t afford to let them upset me.  That’s giving in.

The Marx Brothers are responsible for my increased cynicism regarding politics.  For Christmas this year, my parents gave me a collection of Marx Brothers movies, and last week I watched that timeless classic, Duck Soup.  It may be different, stylistically, from the comedy that we’re used to in our modern culture: instead of the ultra-paced bam-bam-bam comedy that we’re used to these days, Duck Soup was largely just Groucho Marx standing around making wisecracks at unwitting victims.  Brilliant wisecracks, filled with double entendre and other layers of meaning, of course, but the delivery is different.  You can’t help loving Groucho.

But anyway.  Duck Soup is essentially political satire, striking at the political leaders and forces that act arbitrarily, without reason or considered thought.  The message of that film is as timeless today as it was in 1933, if not more so.  The temptation to draw a comparison between George W. Bush and Rufus T. Firefly is almost overwhelming; however, that would mean I’d be comparing Groucho Marx to Bush — who has neither the wit, the intelligence, nor the panache that Marx had.

Ultimately, what it all boils down to is, as the great sage (whoever it was) once said, “At times like these it helps to remember that there have always been times like these”.  The same arbitrary and reactionary forces that were mocked by the Marx Brothers in 1933 and by Monty Python in 1971 are still with us today in 2006.  I wondered the other night whether there have been any honest and beneficial political innovations in the past two hundred years at all?

Looking at all this in context, though, I feel like there is actually good cause to be optimistic about our society’s future.  We’ve certainly become more tolerant of the cultural and religious diversity in our society over the past century, and despite the (somewhat successful) reactionary efforts of the so-called right, I don’t see this trend reversing itself.

But I digress.  the main thing I was trying to get across is that I’m planning on cutting back on my political rants, because I’m going to try to cut back on how upset I get about what happens in politics and our culture.  The reactionary and arbitrary forces that drive much of politics have been there forever and will be there forever.  So I’m planning to focus my news reading on the signs and forces that are moving our society forward, instead of holding us back.

It might work.  I dunno.  I guess the real test will be in November 2006, won’t it?

Mirrored from Richard S. Crawford's World.

Yesterday afternoon I spoke with my doctor about the results of the chest X-ray I had done yesterday. Everything’s fine in there, which is awfully reassuring since I’m always afraid that something’s just lurking in there around about my lungs or my heart, some Lovecraftian tumor whispering on the threshold of my cardiovascular system, waiting for the lymphocytes to align just right. Something like that.

“So,” I asked, “what’s causing this pain in my side?”

“Probably what the other doctor told you,” he said. “Costal Chondritis is the most likely cause.”

The other doctor had also said I might have a viral infection in my spleen, but that was also unlikely since I don’t have any other symptoms; no fever, nothing like that. So costal chondritis it is.

Now, I did a little bit of research into this condition yesterday (my doctors and my family have all expressly forbidden me from visiting sites like WebMD to look up symptoms, but I figure it’s okay to look up a diagnosis). Turns out it’s most common in infants and young children. It’s sometimes found in adolescents. Very rarely in adults. There’s some hints that chronic asthma or frequent respiratory infections might be a precipitating factor if there’s some sort of injury, but nothing certain. But given that at the time this started I was suffering from a respiratory infection and I had carried two very heavy chairs (80 lbs each) in boxes up the narrow staircase in my house (why? out of sheer cussedness, I think), this all seems very likely. Also the fact that the majority of my time is spent before a computer screen in various bad postures seems to be a factor.

Given that many of the other conditions I have — gout, diverticulitis, hypertension, and high cholesterol — are generally found in people much older than I am, it’s sort of refreshing to be diagnosed with a children’s condition.

Anyway. Ice. Stretching (ideally in a hot shower). Strengthening. The doctor says to avoid the Ibuprofin because it helps but it’s not all that good for you. Oh, and straighten up in the chair.

Mirrored from Richard S. Crawford's World.

As you can probably imagine, National Novel Writing Month took up most of my free time during November. I finished this year’s project Fred, Again, just a few minutes before midnight on November 30th, and the novel itself clocked in at about 73,000 words. I’m awfully proud of this one; I enjoyed writing it, and those who’ve read it on-line all tell that it’s pretty good, even if the strands of loose plot threads looks like a next of snakes and the characters act inconsistently and sometimes downright bizarre. In spite of those problems, though, I honestly think that Fred, Again has very strong potential. I like all the characters, I like the story, I like the plot, and so on.

So my experience this year with NaNoWriMo has been different than in past years. In past years, I’ve always ended the month with a sense of relief: relief that I no longer had to deal with the thing, that I could finally put it down and forget about it. This year, though, it was with both relief and, surprisingly, deep sadness that I typed “THE END” on the very last page. The story’s done, the characters have all had their say, and things are all wrapped up (well, as wrapped up as a NaNoWriMo project can be, I suppose). But over the past couple of days, I’ve frequently found myself wanting to open up my Fred, Again file and start writing some more. Then I remember: oh, yeah. It’s done. Damn. And I’ve already promised myself to set it aside for at least a month to sort of let it gel before I start revising in January.

But this reinforces to me that my decision to refocus my creative energies away from dark horror toward comedic stuff was the right one. In 2001, my NaNoWriMo project was Unfallen, a novelization of a role-playing game that I had run a year or so earlier. I had fun writing it, but when November 30th hit, I validated my 50,000 words and put the thing aside, never to see the light of day again.

My 2003 project was The Road to Gilead, another one that I had fun writing but once I hit 50,039 words I was unable to write any more. I’ve taken it out often to start working on it again, but I was never able to churn out more than a couple thousand additional words. Again, that one has decent characters as a good plot, but I could never focus on it. That one’s currently languishing, and probably won’t be taken out again until I’m able to take it less seriously.

Last year I wrote The Outer Darkness. It was based on a setting that some friends of mine and I developed for a role-playing game that we were creating. It’s a strong setting with a lot of potential, but I surprised myself by not feeling at all invested in the novel. I wrote 46,000 words of drivel, and then used the remaining 4,000 words to summarize the rest of the plot so that I could get it out of the way. I was going to write a number of novels that take place in that universe, but I can’t seem to come up with any plots that really excite me.

Writing Fred, Again was a totally different experience. See my comments above re: excitement, sorrow, and so on.

So. I’ll probably be setting aside my Terassic Universe ideas for now, because I’m still taking all of them way too seriously. The Mollyverse, though, can easily be re-envisioned. Although some of the stories there are pretty dark, I think that the overall tone of the work is pretty goofy. I have ideas for new rewrites of “Burying Uncle Albert” and “The Winds of Patwin County”, plus ideas for a couple of new stories. I still want to finish that project, because I’ve worked with some of those characters for over twenty years, and the whole thing is pretty fun.

Other news in Richard’s world.


Actually, there isn’t much. Work’s still going well. I’m in the midst of developing a plan for migrating our on-line campus to the next version of Moodle, and that’s going pretty well. I’ve learned from previous heartaches, and I’ve developed an entirely new way of documenting our source code modifications, based on the official format for documenting modifications to the PHP-BB project. I enjoy my co-workers, and it’s just, overall, a good place.

With November over, my website has a new theme featuring Emperor Norton. This is going to be my “default” theme, for those times of the year when there’s no special holiday or event theme (like Halloween, Christmas, or NaNoWriMo) in effect. The Christmas theme will activate on the 17th, I think; honestly, I can’t recall exactly.

And that’s it for now. I have no political observations to make beyond my amusement by the slogan I’ve seen which reads, “God has chosen the Republican Party; why don’t you?” If any human activity shows the depths of depravity and inhumanity and sheer un-Christian behavior that people can demonstrate to each other, it surely is politics, and I can’t imagine God — who, through Jesus, once said, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” — immersing Himself in it.

Hm, that was more of a religious observation, wasn’t it?

At the moment, now, I’m listening to a filk song about Godzilla. This is giving me ideas for a new novel. There’s something that’s just incredibly cool about giant radioactive monsters rising up out of the sea and rampaging through major cities, isn’t there? I bet I could write a romantic comedy featuring such critters.

Off I go now.

Mirrored from Richard S. Crawford's World.

I’ve been updating my LiveJournal account regularly with what’s going on with my writing, but I haven’t been updating over here, and I know that there are people who read this blog but not my LiveJournal. So to help clarify things for my LiveJournal readers, my blog readers, and me, here is what’s going on lately with my writing.

  1. First of all, my NaNoWriMo novel, Fred, Again, is going along very well. Out of 50,000 words, I’ve written about 38,000. Only 12,000 to read the official NaNoWriMo target, and possibly 10,000 or so after that to reach the end of that story. I’m considering what I’m writing right now to be the rough draft for an actual novel, and it’s the first time I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo where I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the novel all the way through, without getting fed up with the story and the plot and so on. More on that in a bit
  2. And speaking of NaNoWriMo, there was an article in yesterday’s Vacaville Reporter about local participants in NaNoWriMo, featuring humble ol’ me. There’s even a picture of me. I’ve written to the reporter and asked if I could use the photograph on my person website, and was told to “go for it”, since it would be considered fair use and the photographer in question has no qualms with it. Check out the article here.
  3. A couple of weeks ago I sold my short story, “Who Remembers Molly”, to The Harrow. This is a pretty significant milestone for me, because it’s the first “serious” story I’ve sold, and the first of my “Mollyverse” stories. On the other hand, the timing is a bit ironic, since I’m on the cusp of changing my writing focus entirely. Again, more on this in a bit.
  4. Yesterday, I also received an e-mail from the editor of an upcoming anthology focusing on retellings of urban legends, asking if I would consider offering them “Who Remembers Molly”. Naturally, I said “Yes!” after first clarifying all the contract issues with the editor and with The Harrow. You know, I’d never thought I’d have to face that kind of quandary. It was frustrating in its way, but also really, really cool. And this makes my fourth acceptance this year, which makes five overall, which, to me, means my writing career is really starting to take off.
  5. Oh, I also got a rejection from Flesh & Blood for my story “Indications”. No hard feelings on this one, of course; the style wasn’t a match for the magazine. And in light of the four milestones above, this one rejection just pales in importance to me.

This is my fourth year doing NaNoWriMo; I did it the first time in 2001, skipped 2002, and then I’ve been doing it ever since. Each year, I’ve reached 50,000 words. I’m told that there’s a “second week hump” which is part of the process; during the second week of NaNoWriMo, apparently most participants lose their drive, their energy, their love of the project, and find that writing is much more of a chore than ever. I honestly can’t say I’ve ever experienced this. Sure I have my lulls, but I’ve never had a problem just charging on through. I hadn’t even heard of the “second week hump” until 2004, when everyone I knew was talking about how awful it was, and I found I couldn’t relate.

That isn’t to say I was enjoying everything every step of the way. I remember really enjoying writing Unfallen, my 2001 project; however, The Road to Gilead was rarely much fun, and last year’s The Outer Darkness was mostly just misery. I take out Unfallen and The Road to Gilead every few months or so, renew my resolve to sit down and finish them and make them publishable, write a few hundred words, them thrust them back into a drawer for another few months. The Outer Darkness, I think, will languish permanently in a forgotten corner of my hard drive, never to know the touch of a red pen. I liked the characters and the setting and the plot, but not enough to ever want to revisit them again.

This year’s project, Fred, Again, though, is different. I started at midnight on November first, with no idea of what I was going to write, who the characters were going to be, or what the plot was going to be. I had a title, though; I’d put out a call to all my friends on LiveJournal and in the real world asking for title suggestions, and said that the person whose suggestion I liked the most would get to be killed in the manner of their choosing. I got so many great suggestions, though, that choosing just one was impossible. I chose Fred, Again as the title, and killed off that friend in the first chapter and made her an important plot point. For each subsequent chapter, I’ve been using one of the title suggestions, and killing off the person who suggested the title in that chapter in a manner they choose. Actually, it’s been great fun, and apparently my friends have enjoyed their virtual deaths, even the one who got tossed into a wood chipper.

I have weird friends. Go figure. I love them.

Anyway, I love writing Fred, Again, and I would even if I didn’t get to kill of people I know while writing it. I can’t wait to finish it, and then to start revising it. Rationally, I know that the thing to do is to finish it and then set it aside until NaNoEdMo, but there’s a part of me that’s just quivering with the need to finish and revise. And this leads me to a bit of a quandary.

See, Fred, Again, while containing elements of horror, is primarily a work of comedic fiction, and apparently a pretty funny one. And several people have told me that my humor and comedy fiction are actually much better than my serious horror. However, the serious horror is what I’ve considered my “real” writing. On the other hand, I really am enjoying writing Fred, Again, and the process of writing it has sparked ideas for other novels in the same vein and even for comic fantasy stories, and I’m finding that I’m much more eager to write those — kind of chomping at the bit, really — than, say, complete the second draft of “Hollow”, a horror story which I think has potential but which has felt more like an albatross in many ways than a creative gem.

God help me, I wonder if I’m destined to write comic fantasy and horror? Are novels like Fred, Again and stories like “An Interrupted Nap” going to be my forte rather than hard core works like The Road to Gilead or “Hollow”?

I still have fun with my “Mollyverse” stories, though, like “Burying Uncle Albert” and “The Winds of Patwin County”, though I think they could be… funnier.


There, I said it.

I’ve been taking this writing thing far more seriously over the past year (well, actually, sixteen months) than I have over the rest of my life, and it’s been paying off in terms of acceptances and editorial interest. I suppose a shift in writing focus was inevitable.

So, I suppose, break out the funny hats and the clown feet. After Fred, Again, Cthulhu has a date with the Capulets and the Montagues.

Mirrored from Richard S. Crawford's World.

…although Texas has shown us that it’s still possible to slide backwards while other places are starting to move in a more rational direction. I know I have at least two friends who live in that state, and all I can say is, “Why?!!?” I mean, I know they both have life situations which sort of limit their options, but doesn’t being an intelligent person in that state sort of hurt, kind of like being a deep sea angler fish suddenly brought up to live in a tide pool?

At any rate, though, the real test won’t be until 2006 when the midterm Congressional elections hit. I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ll be able to get some balance and sanity back in our national government by then.

Democrats Win Gov. Races in N.J., Va. – Yahoo! News

Mirrored from Richard S. Crawford's World.

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