Saturday, November 21, 2015

Introducing The Lexfeed (RSS)

Please behold The Lexfeed! It houses a stream of uncurated daily updated links to news articles, fiction, poems and whatever links that look like they have a passing interest to me that I want to read at some point in the future. The only real principle: these links reside in one place. I offer The Lexfeed for your use, pleasure and learning.

The Internet holds a lot of interesting and entertaining content. It has the problem of disorganization and housing at multiple sources. Links on Facebook, Twitter, blogs and wherever else we might frequent.

My gathering of links as browser bookmarks had gotten out of hand. Bookmarks syncing between all my devices helped.

It didn't do enough, though. I couldn't catch up with reading them all while I neglected the articles that my RSS feeder gathered. Offhand, it doesn't sound bad. Reading stuff is reading stuff. I find different types of articles from people I follow on social media (social justice, writing, science fiction & fantasy, politics, etc) than what I have my RSS feed grab (economics, finance, investing, pop culture, local news, world news, etc).

I would have loved to find way of adding my social media feeds to my RSS feed, but I can't find anyway to do it. Twitter allowed it at some point in the past but not anymore. Social media needs to make money, and it can't do so if people don't use their website or apps.

The Lexfeed provides an imperfect solution. I use the following process: bookmark articles that catch my interest, once per day I post as many of the links to The Lexfeed using the AddThis app on Google Chrome.

This process has a drawback: I can post around 50 links a day this way. Once I hit that point, Blogger starts hitting me with human tests. Understandable. I agree with the spirit. We don't want annoying spiders crawling the Internet or pointless news aggregators looking for hits. As an amateur researcher, I hate automated, redundant news aggregators clogging up search engines.

Sure, I'm looking for hits, but I do what I can to keep the Feed off search engines. I DO aggregate links, but I'm doing it for selfish, not directly profit-oriented purposes. I want to integrate links into my RSS feed that wouldn't otherwise appear there. I offer it to those "in the know" as a side effect while trying to avoid collateral cluttering of the Internet. Hopefully it provides benefit.

If you find The Lexfeed helpful, great! Please don't link to individual entries. Link to the actual articles, stories, whatever it is directly. If someone else wants to access such an unfocused feed and/or put it onto their RSS feed, give them the link to whole blog, not any individual entries.

What's funny: I haven't reached any of these links on my RSS feed yet. So much posting on social media! Someday this process should yield some ROI. I look forward to it.

Link of Interest:

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Can a Passive-Aggressive "You're Welcome" Serve a Larger Purpose for Social Justice?

I encountered a passive aggressive "You're Welcome" today that contradicted how I thought it worked.

Riding my bike home tonight, I crossed straight through a 3-way street/bike trail/park entrance ramp intersection. A woman walking some amount of dogs walked out toward the road from the entrance ramp.

Both us humans stayed on our right, allowing us to pass each other with little issue. Her dog(s), however, were all the way to her left, on my right, the leash(es) blocking my path. Gaining control of the animal(s), she had gotten them back to her side.

I passed them, no trouble at all, with no more thought than returning to monkey brain ruminations my brain engages in when minimally occupied. The incident would have had little mark on my conscious if nothing else occurred.

But the woman yelled "You're welcome." I can't say for sure, but my memory injects an offended tone of voice. I apperceive that this woman expected me to say thank you for her moving the dogs out of my way.

I didn't and still don't feel any obligation to say "thank you" in this situation. It's an issue of me having the "right of way." She didn't have full control of her dogs before I arrived, then she gained control of them, which I view as her obligation.

Frankly, I don't care if she met that obligation before and after my passing. People should maintain full control with cars, since things can happen fast and without warning. On sidewalks, walkways and trails, I don't think it's as big of a deal. These areas have that much more of an informal ambiance to them.

I still think some level of base etiquette has its place here. People don't necessarily have to keep to that base when there's no one else around or there's a common understanding and acceptance of etiquette breaking. Such breaking down of etiquette can communicate an increased closeness between friends and acquaintences.

Between strangers crossing each other on sidewalks, I don't think such break from expectation should occur lightly. Someone breaking away from said etiquette, especially if doing so risks injury to themselves or to a less sentient creature, should not be seen as an act that deserves extra gratitude.

Performing a simple act of decency and treating another person with basic respect does not deserve special attention or congratulations. Getting out of the way of normal traffic to allow normal flow should not deserve reward.

Peventing injury to a suddenly powerless person or unpremeditated uncontrolled animal deserves congratulation. An absent minded person, a person not really caring about their surroundings or someone being careless for their pets until the last minute, not so much.


Near the end of my bike route to work, I walk my bike on the sidewalk around a corner. The sidewalk has a lot of features that can make for a tight squeeze: entrances to buildings on the left while on the right: a mailbox, garbage and recycling cans, some light posts and even a barrel or two with decorative plants.

To make things even more interesting, there's a bus stop. Not just any bus stop, either. Drivers switch out there. Suffice to say: that ten to fifteen feet of sidewalk can get crowded. It doesn't always provide the roomiest space for passing with a bike alongside.

Two or three times a few months ago, a Woman of Color yelled "You're welcome" at me after I passed. She was obviously a bus driver waiting for the next bus to do a switchout. She and typically someone else would stand back near the wall of the building while I passed by between them and the inanimate objects on the other side of the road.

I could only perceive her "You're welcome" as passive aggressive. We didn't make eye contact, body contact, no other contact other than maybe disturbing the air between us. We didn't know each other.

To me, courtesy dictated that we each had the job of staying out of each other's way. If one of us bumped into the other, one or both of us would apologize and laugh uncomfortably. Maybe one of us would get angry and some type of social transaction would occur, either escalation or de-escalation.

I can see myself de-escalating then slinking away. I created the abnormal situation by taking up more space with my bike. Even if she did the bumping and got angry, I'd probably de-escalate. My main motivation may actually have more to do with avoiding tardiness at work, or maybe I just don't care for pointless confrontation that accomplishes nothing.

(When there's an ideal, breaking of etiquette or a blatant selfish miscommunication, that could short circuit my de-escalation impulses. Breaking etiquette for no good reason just causes a disruption of smooth flow for no good reason.)

The woman's status as a Woman of Color changes the whole dynamic and instills higher ideals into the encounter. I'm a white guy. If our spatial positions were switched in the past, I probably could have harassed her with impunity if she walked by me without any sign of acknowledgment.

Breaking the normal flow of etiquette, this woman engaged in some performance theater, she disrupted the normal everyday to provide some social justice. She provided a reminder of my white male privilege.

I'd like to think that I don't deserve such passive aggression. I'd like to think that I'm a decent person who does the right thing. I'd like to think that the performance theater did more to expose white male privilege to bystanders around us or even to people who hear this story.

Maybe this woman acted passive aggressively out of anger. Maybe she just wanted to get a rise out of a boring environment. Maybe she didn't see herself embodying a larger expression of social justice. Maybe she wanted to escalate an encounter into conflict.

Who knows where she came from. Any non-virtuous motivations could unconsciously put a more meaningful message into the milieu. Even virtuous actions can fortify unjust privilege.

I have a few non-white non-male friends who have no issue confronting me with my privilege or, at the least, bringing up the topic. Numerous people have told me I'm a decent guy, but I often find myself like a deer wide-eyed in the face of headlights when my privilege becomes uncovered and raised to the conscious level.

Rounding that corner, being the target of performance theater, brought to my attention that unconscious privilege and the history of injustice such privilege hides. Maybe I am a decent guy who treats people right. I should still have the consciousness of that history and its implications.

Who was it that said something to the effect that we study history so we don't repeat it. I like to try acting kind as much as I can. I like to remain conscious of those efforts. People sometimes express an uncomfortable amount of gratefulness at me trying to be decent. Others say that I try harder than I need to, that I do too much out of conscientiousness.

I fear that by not trying so hard to act decent, my decency will fade from lack of practice. I fear without consciousness of decency, my decency will fade for lack of practice. I see decency as a habit, a muscle even.

Without discipline, acknowledgment and working it, pushing it, decency will atrophy and fade. Being a dick and looking for short-term selfish reward can have an appeal for the conscious mind.

It has the appeal of laying back on the couch watching TV all the time. The body atrophies, weakens and so does the mind. Unhappiness and tiredness seep in. Inertia slows things down. The body and mind will let itself dissolve and fall apart until death occurs. The body and mind has little reason to stick around, no challenge, so it eventually removes itself from wasting resources.

This Women of Color did me and society a service. It exposed an unhealthy habit and sparked a remembrance of the damage caused by social injustice. We need these reminders sometimes, so we remember the capacity for injustice humanity has and know what to exercise against for a better, stronger more intersubjective society.

I don't deserve cookies or any reward for these thoughts. I don't deserve a pat on the back. I don't want any of that. I just want to be a decent person. I want a decent society, one that will throw off this bullshit treatment of each other, even as we remember the bullshit so we know to avoid it. I'm idealistic, but I like to think a society of people treating each other more decent, more openly, more honestly, more justly, more valuing, more enjoying all walks of life will lead to an experience that is rewarding all in itself.

This is also probably nothing new. My privilege has likely blinded to instances such as this in the past. To me, this is a sharing to interact with the world and to understand it more, not to say that I've provided any great insight. Others probably have a better perspective on these matters than me. I hope to see and hear more, so my perspective can expand. I encourage other readers to seek out more perspectives on such matters, if you don't already have any, or to share your perspective to add to the mix.

The woman with the dog this evening was white, so I have a hard time thinking of any good purpose for her passive aggressive "You're welcome." Am I wrong? Did I engage in some injustice by just wanting to breeze by, wanting to get home, avoid a storm, and not have any lasting memory during my commute home? Am I blind to another aspect of my privilege?

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Fixing the World Starts with Fixing Ourselves: Learning to Appreciate Our Humanities as Step to Peace

I wrote the following while having an e-mail conversation with a friend about the US bombing of the Doctors Without Border hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. At this point, the conversation had gotten into whether the US should intervene or not in other countries. I got into the nuance that intervention is a broad term that can also refer to providing aid to civilians. My expansion into how arguing anti-intervention can back you into a corner if you're pro-aid for "non-aligned" citizens yielded the following:

One issue with providing aid to people of a country with a dictator but doing nothing about the dictator, you're somewhat enabling the dictator. But if there's sanctions, then we're really not doing anything because then either other countries can come in to help (see Russia and Syria) or the dictator of the country can become isolationist & use the US as the icon of evil (see North Korea).

It's difficult.

But I think like any kind of social change, it starts with ourselves. The other night on the Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore (around 17:12), Eddie Huang said that one of the steps to a lot of unrest in the Middle East, we should just provide freedom of mobility. He even made a joke about giving them Clear Water, FL.

That's an OK start, but do you know what? This country of ours is pretty prejudiced, racist, against Muslims, etc., anything that doesn't fit the norm of "white culture." Heck, our ageism against younger people is also causing radicalization of our own citizens born and bred here.

Look at all the school/work shootings in our country, people defecting to ISIS and shit like that. We have to work on ourselves and be more accepting to ALL people unless there is fact-based evidence against an individual of a crime they have performed.

One of the panelists on that Nightly Show panel made a great joke that the US shouldn't export their policing because we can't even police well in our country. See black or brown skin, SHOOT! Or, at least harass.

But even if people are subtle with their racism, it makes other people feel less human & more angry. Same thing probably happens with those school/work mass shootings. Other people treat them like shit, they feel less human & more angry, they want to be acknowledged. How do they do that when no one will respect them normally?

Look at the latest public back and forth feud between Miley Cyrus and Nicki Minaj. Miley is basically telling Nicki that she shouldn't be listened to because she's so brash and disrespectful. Well, Nicki's being brash and disrespectful because um, white people will shut her up otherwise. It's either be loud or be invisible. The politics of respectability is BS because it's used to silence.

But we're definitely stuck in a difficult place. Where's that line of where it's OK to act out because your being silenced & being violent for self-(respect) defense? Is having your humanity picked away by micro aggressions just a slow murdering of someone?

I think the solution will start with people who have privilege and power examining themselves, their beliefs, their meta-psychology, their meta-ethics, history, human nature and shit, see how we make our enemies in our propping up our narcissism and our own lack of self worth & self esteem. Then we need to support each other by helping each other examine ourselves and see our own problems.

And that's probably one sticking point of my college project. This has been the primordial base of my hypothesis/issue. But our world is just a horrible example of getting this kind of positive intersubjectivity working well. And it's not because it's against nature, but because it's hard to maintain. Humans have fragile souls, but we need to learn how to treat them with care as a form of prevention.

The follow up question is definitely how to return someone to humanity after they've fallen off the cliff, even the asshole racists, sexists, homophobes and other people who project their fears and angers onto others?

Anybody have any suggestions or perspective for promoting this type of approach to add?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Amplifying Green Party POTUS Candidate, Jill Stein's Intersectional Statements on Twitter

I don't pay attention to Twitter all throughout the day a lot and only through my starred favorites, so this is probably only a small proportion of what she said yesterday and before. Nonetheless, the statements say enough to make me OK with not even with adding to the entry, especially since I don't want my maleness to outshine Dr. Stein.

I would think any amount of fame that she has gotten through her political career outshines my privilege from maleness. It doesn't matter. The Tweets quoted below are the important part. Read them. Take them and Dr. Stein seriously as a viable candidate for the United States President in the 2016 Election.

Even though she's late to the party, I think she issues better statements on these issues than Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton put together. As for the Republicans, they have to fight hard to get attention from me, and Mr. Trump definitely repels me.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Good Consumers Guide to Using Health Insurance Networks

I found the guide below the other day at work after running into another consumer who didn't seem to understand the importance of staying network. It's a long one but worth reading if you want to learn the importance of staying in network.

At least it's a lot longer than my succinct spiel on the topic: "Stay in network, or you're really screwed, from Sunday to Saturday. You'll regret it. Just don't do it."

On the positive side, it does provide a tip or two if you can't get the medical service you need in network.

Consumer's Guide to Health Insurance Networks by the American Health Insurance Plans Foundation

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Review of Nerd Alert, the Comedy Skit Show by Pure & Weary

Nerd Alert
Comedy duo Pure & Weary (Katherine Biskupic & Leah Frires)
Directed by Jo Scott
Running Friday, July 17, 2015 and Friday, July 24, 2015, both at 7 PM
On the stage at The Annoyance Theatre & Bar, the Small Theatre
851 W Belmont Avenue
Chicago, Illinois
$6.00 Cover
50 Minute Performance

Finally reaching the point where I have free time today for projects, with at least three of them at the top of my priority list, I choose probably the least urgent one of them all: writing a blog entry! Amplifying this local, short nerdy comedy act makes for a worthy cause, though, and I'm hoping to keep the entry short, too.

SPOILER ALERT: I've tried to minimize spoilers, especially in regard to punch lines. I hope my efforts proved successful.

Nerd Alert made for a great affordable spontaneous thing to do when I got home from work and Michi offered to take me out on a date to see it. I'm sure the quality remains high when you plan to see the show, too. For $6, Pure & Weary provides a great deal well worth the money.

It would be worthwhile for $10, even. Apparently last night made for consuming entertainment and food that the providers could have charged more than they did. If you get the chance, check out Four Belly: Asian Street Food. Tasty food for a good price, and the place was empty last night. Please go and help keep it in business. I would hate to see another yummy place go out of business for no good reason.

Anyway, back to Nerd Alert: The name captures the premise of the show. They put on a show about nerdy stuff, and it got comedically melodramatic in a good way. Pure & Weary capture the nerd experience then put it on stage for all to see. Every once in awhile they cross over some delicate lines of social nicety to make you feel uncomfortable and thought but laughing at the same time, like jesters do.

I most fondly remember the skit about the perfume marketing party (you know, like a tupperware party). I can't remember the brand being used. The themes of products revolved around Greek mythology and the possible side effects that come along with them. Putting just a modicum of thought into Greek myths will bring up A LOT of uncomfortable themes. Despite that, hilarity ensued while causing thoughts about how things may not have changed in the millenia since the writing of those myths.

Biskupic and Frires had a ton of fun parodying the behavior at said parties, which proved infectious, symptoms including laughter. Said reaction also leads to some thoughtful discomfort, and I'm not entirely sure which direction that thought should go.

Another skit provided a more heartwarming scene than a comedic one. Two shy, nerdy girls at a party individually sneaking into a dark corner to get away. They don't know each other, but they bond over social discomfort and discover their mutual love for nerdy things. The jokes they make, I don't totally get, in realms of nerdiness that I don't dwell. The heartwarming bonding, however, dwarfs the semi-obscure comedy and makes for a scene that many nerds fantasize about or remember with warm nostalgia.

I don't remember tons of details from their NPR/WBEZ skit. Compared to the pacing of NPR, though, it comes as a rapid fire montage of silly versions of All Things Considered; Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me; This American Life and many more. Even though I can't remember details, I know it had strong nerd themes and did a lovely job of touching on our love for the station with its awkward, crunchy authenticity that bounces between elderly and young at the same time.

How does that network go from cornballiness informing the listener to introducing them to "young," relevant, hip music that I falls somewhere between college radio music and mainstream rock stations? NPR/WBEZ, I love you and your complexity.

Pure & Weary provides an oh so disturbing and guffawful interpretation of select lines from Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime & Punishment. They could probably make a whole show inspired by this skit.

One skit had a principal giving out punishment to a girl who wrote Holocaust victim fan fiction. The sincerity of the girl reading her fan fiction sprinkled with bathos made me think twice about how bad of idea such a thing would be. Maybe it just needs a rebranding with a new genre name to make it something more palatable.

And many many more skits that will have you laughing, thinking and having that awkward discomfort that comes with seeing the lines we draw in social sand crossed. In this case, though, Pure & Weary do it in a constructive way. I think the warm feelings nerds and geeks get help make up for it.

After the fun I had last night, I need to start paying more attention to announcements of fun things in Chicago rather than depend on Michi enticing me to go out. Sometimes it sucks being one of those people who have a lot of talent at filtering out ads and announcements.


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Theatrical Review and Critical Analysis: Queen Amarantha

Queen Amarantha
A Play by Charles Busch
Produced by the Otherworld Theatre Company
Directed by Tiffany Keane
Running until June 28, 2015
On the stage at City Lit Theatre (2nd Floor)
1020 W Bryn Mawr Avenue
Chicago, Illinois
$20.00 Tickets - Purchase Here

The Otherworld Theatre Company puts on the best gender transgressive '80s/'90s fantasy b-style dialectical reluctant hero's origin story entrenched in a mythical revenge tragedy theatre production I've ever seen. Suffice to say, I have seen none other. Queen Amarantha made for a fun night at the theatre, no matter my level of experience in the genre.

Charles Busch's screenplay follows a fairly standard plot arc. Otherworld provides the following synopsis:

Headstrong and transgressive, Amarantha is far from a meek and mild medieval monarch. Yet, when her enemies destroy her reputation, she abdicates and runs away from her duties. The throne then falls to her hopelessly weak ward, Roderigo, and soon the kingdom is imperiled, forcing Amarantha to choose between her freedom and saving the country.
The two-act play runs 2 1/2 hours, a fair length paled by mainly modern epic science fiction and fantasy motion pictures. At least Amarantha provides an intermission for a bathroom break.

The first act expends much of its time setting the stage for the frenetic pace of the second act. Act one maintains your attention but takes its time introducing a lot of details in the form of dialogue exposition.
Unfortunately, it engages the head more than it resonates with the heart. It makes sense as a stand in for the struggles of an alienated youth without their own voice dealing the pressures of the world.

Even with all that time, though, Amerantha doesn't allow itself to breath to let the feeling of the people and setting settle. Fact after fact comes, the feelings also coming as fact rather than drama.

All the exposition has its purpose. The play already stretches to 2 1/2 hours. Expanding on the main characters or adding more dramatic scenes would add a whole lot of time. It could stretch easily to 4 hours by dramatizing more of the characters or even a whole season of a television show. We already have enough trouble managing our time.

The first act, nonetheless, still feels like the narrative forcing the characters to move forward. Blame can't fall too hard on anyone. Audiences generally want familiar narratives, this one being the coronation of a peculiar leader, their fall then rise again to restore the natural order of things.

Unlike the first act, the action of part two avalanches inevitably to its conclusion where the two main women, Amarantha and Thalia, face off with swords in the climax. The second act doesn't feel forced, the audience gets pulled along for the ride. Instead of getting lost in all the exposition of facts, the audience gets lost in the moment, just trying to keep up with the action.

Act two also counteracts the first act by having time to breath. One of the most memorable moments comes during an argument between Amarantha and her partner as she heads toward her chosen destiny. He wants to pull her back to freedom away from the path of justice.

In her maturity, though, she has come to appreciate a variation on feminity, which she had detested previously. This variation has a tougher edge, but it doesn't go as far as her partner who wants her more radical expression.

This gives the audience a touching experience as Amarantha comes closer to her real self acting out radically because it's opposite of what everyone else expects. The softening of Mona Begale's portrayal of Amarantha feels palpable here, reaching out to the audience, even as everyone in the room has to grit their teeth, knowing that Amarantha has to harden herself for the battle ahead.

All the while in the court, Thalia, takes it over, both in political power and dramatic presence. She becomes more erratic, paranoid and wretched, drunk with power and fearful that everyone else wants to take it from her.

Mary-Kate Arnold channels Thalia's perverted force, commanding the stage and towering over the weak-willed Roderigo who used to act as the dilletante and the politicians who use to try bullying the unsure Amarantha. Elliot Sowards, David Servillo and Dylan Schaefer all subdue their characters into their just humiliation, as they have all brought it upon themselves.

The end dance of sword play between so many characters highlights the fight directing of Kai Young and the intimidation of Justin Veistiaete's Champion, who stood in the background for most of the play. Now, though, he faced three enemies, nearly besting them all, showing that his swordmanship equaled his intimidation.

Among all this action, the real transgressor, the jester, the radical, the noble feeling savage becomes embodied in Adrian, portrayed by Brendan Stallings. He starts as an assassin who falls in love with Amarantha then tries to tempt her with peaceful isolation from civilization. An interesting quirk: he prefers Amarantha when she cross dresses with a beard and has a masculine edge.

In all but a couple parts, Adrians transgresses traditional norms with ease that most everyone else fights against or struggles to break away from. Even in our contemporary age, when accepting such subversions, we wonder if we should embrace it with tons of attention or to brush over it, treat it like a norm but to do so in such a way that it gets disempowered.

Adrian feels refreshing because for most of the play, the other characters accept him as a person with an identity. These subverting characteristics of his just come off as an expression of him, not as features assigned to him by others.

Even Adrian can disappoint, though, and fall into the complacency of his identity. His feelings for for Amarantha cause him to exert his will over her environment, controlling what information reaches her and what doesn't. In his fight against the majority culture defining him, he comes to exert unjust power over Amarantha, who has allowed herself to become vulnerable to him.

In the same scene that Amarantha softens into finding herself, Brendan Stallings expresses Adrian's disappointment with himself by simple silence. Masterful ease when things matter little becomes sad awkwardness along with all the other characters' wondering about their own identities or covering up their own emotional voids by exerting control over those around them.

His joining the assault on the castle felt surprising. I thought he would disappear into the woods, trying to keep a hold of his freedom. He proved a standup guy, though, showing that even transgressors have to support a mature natural order to allow for true freedom.

The lack of denouement and getting no answers feels disappointing at first. When the dramatic conflict ends, the victor takes their spoils, and the play ends. The audience never becomes privy to the actual final synthesis or any final answers.

Sometimes creative works should do just that. They should open frontiers, not close them. As with Amarantha, we need to exprience things on our own, through success and failure then think on our own to find our own mature answers and identity. Maybe it means exalting in the undefined wild or return to civilization on our terms, using what works for us and discarding what doesn't.

I think my initial uneasy reaction to the seemingly formulaic Queen Amarantha came from my own desire to be led into an "innovative" formula that I had never seen before. Finding on the surface a seemingly unoriginal plot arc that sacrificed answers for still somewhat controversial issues, I had felt the narrative strangling the interesting parts to please everyone for the cost of not making anyone happy.

For a play written 18 years ago, though, it can still give an open mind something to think about. We may have same-sex marriage gaining support more everyday, but when that becomes fully accepted without question, how do we define ourselves after the fight?

Wasn't there something out there about Barack Obama getting into office meant we entered a post-racial world? But now, eight years later, some of the biggest news out there is Ferguson, Baltimore, white cops of privilege having unconscious against black people contributing with their ease to shoot and put black people into dangerous strangleholds.

We, as human beings, have a lot of maturing and growing to do, both as individuals, as societies and as a world. We need to ask a lot of questions to ourselves and the world around us to find out who we all are. Sometimes we may have to for the identities, justice and surivival of ourselves and others at the expense of those who try to overdefine everything else around them.

Like the ambiguity at the end of Queen Amarantha, we have to get used to uncertainty. All the questioning and seeking will have its slow times and other moments of progression that we have a hard time keeping pace alongside but gets our dopamine and blood pumping. We can't give up on the battle of the human spirit, though. We have to keep pushing for a more just world.

Tiffany Keane, artistic director and founder of Otherworld Theatre made a good choice with Queen Amarantha for getting this energy out there. A theatre company focused on putting science fiction and fantasy onto the stage makes for a fitting vehicle to do so (even though I can't help but express some disappointment in some in the wider SFF community for pushing more for a closed off, overly defined world).

The cast and crew seem to agree with Keane on this decision. Passion emanated from them both during and after the productions. Congratulations on a job well done!

I now very much regret missing out on their production of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. After all, that book very much inspired the creative path that I now find myself. Ah well. Such is life. We all miss out on things we would have liked to witness.

Don't worry, though. I'll be keeping my eyes open for future Otherworld Theatre products.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Increasing Workflow Productivity and The Misnomered 80/20 Rule/Pareto Principle: More Process, Less Projects

I have a philosophy about establishing processes in workflows rather than looking at every task as its own individual project. Addressing each task as an individual project might help highlight unique situations that can become problematic in the future. Maybe addressing the issue before it becomes a problem can cut down on stress later.

Nonetheless, those unique situations come up rarely compared to the norm. The misnomer of the Pareto principle ("80/20 rule") applies here. 80% of our attention goes to 20% of the load. Nuance can make the principle more complicated, but while working on that 20% difficult load, the other 80% of the load gets ignored. Either tasks pile up or people get pushed aside, making routine tasks that should take a relatively short time to address become part of the problematic load.

Making as many things into processes vs treating every single thing as a project can increase overall productivity. It may make those unique situations a little more difficult and taxing at the time. A process heavy workflow, however, reduces escalating routine tasks into problematic projects.

That being said: Always keep eyes open for when problematic situations become routine enough to warrant a routine process to address. Making identification of the problematic as part process help integrate it into the routine. If you don't, someone else will, either the competition or the client/prospect. Whoever makes the problem into a process will win. You will lose. Don't let your competition take away clients because of bad workflow habits.

Please note this approach can have problematic issues on the social, cultural and sociological level. In light of social justice, this approach causes problems. Integrating a proper routine for recognizing problematic injustice (in yourself and others), identifying it as injustice and addressing it as a project that requires proper attention can prove a valuable skill to yourself and the world. Productivity does not give an excuse to treat people like shit and as not human in your eyes. Don't be surprised if you feel like they treat you horribly. They're just giving back what they're giving.

Tips to Increase the Performance of Your Windows Computer

[I expect this entry to get long. I don't want to post a series, so I'm posting it piecemeal. If you find it at this stage, cool, thanks for coming by. Hopefully you find some useful tips. Keep coming back to find more. Given time, I'll finish listing all my tips and post a link to Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn. Follow me on one or all those social media sites if you'd rather wait until I'm done to get all these tips at once.]

Our computers have a lifespan longer than four and half years. Yet, on average, home computers get replaced that frequently.

With proper maintenance, however, our Windows PCs can last quite awhile. This blog entry will provide tips on maintaining your computer for speed and performance. I stay away from manual adjustments to the Windows Registry and other sophisticated hackery. That type of stuff can make the computer unusable, so I don't want go near that type of advice.

These types come from a Windows 7-centric viewpoint. I will base all instructions on Windows. I think Vista and 8 will have some type equivalent structure. Some features may have been added or removed between Vista, 7 and 8, though, so I wouldn't worry too much if you can't find what I'm talking about. If you can't find it after 10 or 15 minutes, I suggest moving onto the next tip.

I'll stay away from Apple computers, too. I've seen Macs last almost a decade without any tweaking. I don't know enough about Apple products, either, to provide this type of advice.

Some of these tweaks, I discovered myself. Others, I found on the Internet. Considering a couple posts I've posted on Facebook elicited a few responses from frustrated Windows PC users, I think The Lextopia makes for a great place to provide these tips. I also don't think I've seen all the tips I'll provide all in the same place, either.


This tip has more the point of getting information. Some of the first few tips I provide might not worth your while if you have a lot of video memory. I don't really know how much is little and how much is a lot. I've fiddled around with computers with anywhere between 16 MB to, I think, about 128 MB.
That whole range of video memory proved too feeble for many of the graphical features that come with a Windows PC that you bring home from the store at factory settings. I don't why Microsoft or the computer manufacturers send these systems out with the implicit impression that they have the optimum configuration. They don't.

Anything with a higher video memory than 128 MB might work fine, for all I know. I just know that up to that point, eliminating a lot of graphic features encourages better performance in a Window's PC.

Find out your graphics memory by:

  1. Go to your desktop
  2. Right click any blank section where there isn't any file
  3. On the pull down menu, choose "Screen Resolution"
  4. Click on the "Advanced settings" link that's in the middle right side of the new window
  5. In the middle of the new window, it lists "Dedicated Video Memory" and a value. That is your video memory
I don't know at what level video memory makes for a good amount. My next few tips have the goal removing and downgrading graphical features to free up resources. You're free to use what you want and discard the rest. High video memory might make the tips pointless.

Some people prefer the nice graphics over a high performance computer. They, and you, have that right. These are all tips, after all, not commands.


I'll admit, the Windows Aeros graphics features make for a pretty interface. It's enjoyable to watch. It also provides some useful tricks to help with human memory, like when you put the pointer over an active icon on the taskbar, it will show the active screens for different documents, web pages and what have you. It's cool and useful if you prefer visuals. It slows your computer down a lot, though.

Turn off Aeros by doing the following:

  1. Go to your desktop
  2. Right click any blank section where there isn't any file
  3. Click on "Personalize"
  4. Choose a non-Aeros theme. Switching between theme will take some time, but it will be worth it.

    The Aeros themes are under "Aeros Themes." For my home computer, though, my "Installed Theme" from the manufacturer is an Aeros theme, but it's not under the "Aeros Themes" category. Each selection has two or more simulated screens. if there are more than two, it's definitely Aeros. If it's two screens but the front one is transparent, it's still Aeros.

    If the front screen is opaque and has a couple lines, it's non-Aeros. You can be sure that the options under "Basic and High Contrast Themes" are not Aeros.
After changing to a non-Aeros theme, I like to find a memorable picture from a relaxing vacation to put on my desktop. Do that by:

  1. Save picture to your desktop
  2. Right click on icon of picture that's on your desktop
  3. Choose "Set as desktop background"
  4. If it works for you, great! Leave it alone. I like mine to stretch, so it fits the whole screen
  5. Go to your desktop
  6. Right click any blank section where there isn't any file
  7. Click on "Personalize"
  8. At the bottom of the screen, click on the link "Desktop Background"
  9. At the bottom of the new window, there is a pull down menu for "Picture position:". I look to choose "Stretch"

Per my previous spiels, this blog entry focuses on increasing performance, not graphics. That said, adjusting this setting at home and work has only improved performance and my computing experience. Adjust your graphics card for performance, not quality, by doing the following:

  1. Go to your desktop
  2. Right click any blank section where there isn't any file
  3. Choose "Graphic Properties"
  4. Wait. The next window can take a few seconds to pop up
  5. Click on the bubble next to "Advanced Mode"
  6. Click the "OK" button
  7. Click on the "3D" tab on the left side of the new window
  8. At the top of window is a slider with "Performance" on the left and "Quality" on the right. The selection bubble should start in the middle. Move that slider all the way to the left over "Performance."
  9. Click on "OK" to accept the setting and leave the window. You can also click on "Apply" if you don't want to leave this control panel just yet.

We're still gearing down those graphics! Hardware accelaration has the intent of offloading the heavy lifting of graphics onto the graphics card. Problem comes down to with little video memory, the graphics card really can't handle too many things at once.

At this point, your computer's CPU ends up doing a lot of work organizing and mediating what work and jobs go to the graphics card at any time, put not so urgent graphics information into regular memory and switches between the all these jobs. . .all the while handling non-graphics calculations and actions.

By turning off hardware acceleration, your computer's CPU doesn't offload the work to the graphics card. That doesn't sound like a good idea at first. Why have the CPU do all that work when you have a graphics card that should do it?

In the long run, turning off hardware acceleration takes a step out of the process. Your computer then can use the resources it had been using to shuffle data onto the graphics for actually processing the graphic data. Having your CPU process this data ends up more efficient than a graphics card doing it.

This status may not prove true with a powerful graphics card. Experiment a little if you have a powerful graphics. I plan to when I get my next laptop that will have a more powerful graphics card.

Turning off hardware acceleration in Internet Explorer 11 (obviously this advice will become obsolete in a year or so when Microsoft stops producing and supporting IE):

  1. Load Internet Explorer
  2. Choose "Internet Options" under one of two drop down menus:
    1. Under "Tools"
    2. From the gear symbol on the top right side of the screen
  3. Choose the "Advanced" tab at the top of the screen
  4. Check off the first option at the top of screen under "Accelarated graphics" that reads "Use software rendering instead of GPU rendering"
  5. Click on "Ok" then restart Internet Explorer to see the improvement; click on "Apply" if you want to fiddle with more settings
  6. Exit and re-load Internet Explorer for the settings to take effect
Turning off hardware acceleration in Mozilla Firefox:

  1. Load Mozilla Firefox
  2. Similar to IE, "Options" can be chosen from one of two drop down menus:
    1. Under "Tools"
    2. From the three horizontal line symbol on the top right side of the screen
  3. Click on the "Advanced" option on the top right of the new window with a gear over the text
  4. Click on the "General" tab
  5. Uncheck the box in the "Browsing" section next to the text that reads "Use hardware acceleration when available"
  6. Exit then re-load Mozilla Firefox for the settings to take effect
Turning off hardware acceleration in Google Chrome:

  1. Load Google Chrome
  2. Cick on the three horizontal line symbol on the top ride of the screen
  3. On the pull down window, choose "Settings"
  4. Scroll all the way down on the screen
  5. Click the "Show advanced settings..." link
  6. Scroll down to the "System" section
  7. Make sure to uncheck the box next to "Use hardware acceleration when available"
  8. While you're at it, you find some benefit to keep the box unchecked next to "Continue running background apps when Google Chrome is closed," too

Turning off hardware acceleration in Microsoft Office has the same goals as turning it off in Internet browsers. Specific directions can help a lot of people.

These directions will apply for Microsoft 2010. With a couple adjustments, though, you should be able to figure out how to make these adjustments for later versions. I don't know if earlier versions have the options available.

Without further ado, here are some directions:

  1. Load either Microsoft Word or Microsoft Excel. Change the hardware acceleration option in one will change it for the other. For the purposes of these directions, I'll provide directions for Word
  2. Click on the "File" menu on the top left of the screen
  3. Click on "Options," second from the bottom on the left side of the screen
  4. Click on "Advanced," just about in the middle of the options on the left side of the screen
  5. Scroll down the right side of the screen until you reach the "Display" section
  6. Put a check mark in the box next to "Disable hardware graphics acceleration"
  7. Click on OK
  8. I suggest exiting out of the program then loading it again, if you need to use it again or just to see if load faster
  9. In Excel, the "Disable hardware graphics accelaration" option looks to be in the middle of the Advanced: Display section
I have yet to find a hardware acceleration option in Microsoft Outlook. If you find one, don't hesitate to point it out to me.

Disabling hardware acceleration in Microsoft Office won't necessarily speed up general performance of your computer. If you use Microsoft Office a lot, though, it can help a lot.


As with Microsoft Outlook, turning off hardware acceleration only really makes a difference if you use Spotify on a regular basis, like I do.

Telling the program to not load after boot will help a lot, though. Note that a later tip will provide directions on not loading Spotify at startup, also. Both these steps should be done.

I'm providing specific directions in different places, however, because they're options in totally different programs. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, Windows has multiple places to turn the same thing and off.

The directions for within Spotify:

  1. Load Spotify
  2. Click on "Edit" at the top to open the drop down menu
  3. Select "Preferences" at the bottom of the menu
  4. Slide to the bottom of the new screen
  5. Click on "Show Advanced Settings"
  6. Scroll to the bottom of the new options that pop up
  7. Move the little slider to the right of "Enable hardware acceleration" to the left
  8. A couple sections up, move the slider to the right of "Open Spotify automatically after you log into the computer" to the left
  9. Under display options, turning off "Show friend feed" can free up resources, too
  10. Exit Spotify then load it again for new settings to take effect

Extensions add functionality to browsers and the computer. I like having Facebook Chat and Google Hangouts available without having the respective Websites open.

The downside: Those extensions use up valuable resources, downgrading computer performance. A bunch of random extensions get installed onto the browsers, also, especially onto Internet Explorer.

Disabling/Removing Add-ons in Internet Explorer:

  1. Load Internet Explorer
  2. Under the "Tools" or gear-symbol drop down, choose "Manage add-ons"
  3. Choose one of the options under "Add-on Types"
    • I just noticed for the "Toolbars and Extensions" option, there's a drop down menu at the bottom of the section labeled "Show:" with a few sub-options. Count these options as additional "Add-on Types" in the directions below
  4. Each chosen Add-on type will display add-ons on the right side of the screen, categorized by manufacturer, I believe
    1. Click on the first add-on that you don't think you need
    2. Under "Currently loaded add-ons" under "Toolbars and Extensions," I have the following add-ons that I don't use:
      • Office Document Cache Handler
      • Windows Live ID Sign-in Helper
      • Add to Evernote 5
      • OneNote Linked Notes
      • Send to OneNote
      • Norton Identity Protection
      • Noron Toolbar
    3. Click on the "Disable" button on the bottom right of the screen above the "Close" button
    4. Repeat to disable all add-ons that you don't use
    5. If you have the option to remove an add-on, feel free to do so
    6. Don't feel obligated to disable all the add-ons or all the add-ons that I've disabled. I suggest only disabling add-ons that you know what they do & you know you don't need it. You may also want to do some Internet searches to identify add-ons you're not familiar with but sound useless
  5. After disabling and removing unused and unwanted add-ons in each "Add-on Types" section, move onto the next section
  6. Exit the add-on section
  7. Exit out of Internet Explorer then load the program again to see how much better the browser works
Disabling/Removing Add-ons in Mozilla Firefox:

  1. Load Mozilla Firefox
  2. Under the "Tools" or three horizontal line drop down, choose "Add-ons"
  3. Choose one of the options on the left side of the screen
    • Feel free to ignore the "Get Add-ons" option
  4. Each chosen option on the left will display add-ons on the right side of the screen
    1. Click on the first add-on that you don't think you need
    2. Click on the "Disable" or "Remove" to the right of the chosen Add-on
    3. Repeat to disable or remove all add-ons that you don't use
    4. If you have the option to remove an add-on, feel free to do so
    5. Don't feel obligated to disable all the add-ons. I suggest only disabling add-ons that you know what they do & you know you don't need it. You may also want to do some Internet searches to identify add-ons you're not familiar with but sound useless
  5. After disabling and removing unused and unwanted add-ons in each "Add-on Types" section, move onto the next section and repeat the disable and remove process
  6. Exit the add-on section
  7. Exit out of Mozilla Firefox then load the program again to see how much better the browser works
Disabling/Removing Extensions in Google Chrome:

  1. Load Google Chrome
  2. Under the three horizontal bar drop down menu, choose "Settings"
  3. Click on "Extensions" on the left side of the screen
    1. Chrome keeps things simple. They list the extensions all on one screen
  4. If an Extension is enabled, it will have color and a check in the box on the right next to the word "Enable"
  5. If it's disabled, the box won't be checked the and the Extension will be grayed out
  6. Check Extensions you want enable, uncheck the ones you want disabled
  7. If you want to remove an Extension, just click on the trash can and say OK to removing
I like Chrome because it makes turning Extensions on and off easy. As I said above, I like to use Facebook Messenger and Google Hangouts when I'm not on the webpages. In the Extensions page, I turn them on and off.

If you find yourself unfamiliar with an Add-On and Extension, I suggest researching it online before disabling or removing it. It might be useful when you least expect it.

This point provides a good time to start doing this kind of research, too. Names of programs, apps, extensions and Add-ons can start becoming esoteric at this point. Learning some research skills now will prove invaluable for the rest of these tips and for as long as you're using a computer. Get good at it!


Turn off these extensions has the same rationale for turning them off in Internet browsers. Let's just get right to it.

Microsoft Outlook 2010:

  1. Load Microsoft Outlook
  2. Click on the gold "File" menu bar option at the top left
  3. On new drop down/screen, click on "Options" on left menu, second from the bottom
  4. New window/menu, click on "Add-Ins" on left menu, again second from the bottom
  5. Microsoft Office categorizes these Add-Ins into different categories. I only have one current category of Add-Ins, so I'll only give directions after this point once. Feel free to apply them other categories, if you have them, feel free to apply these instructions to them, as you believe appropriate (if you use it, keep it; if you don't, turn it off)
  6. At the bottom in the "Manage" drop-down menu, choose the appropriate. For this example, I will use "COM Add-ins"
  7. Click on the "Go..." radio button to the right
    • Oh, hello, Add-Ins that had turned themselves on again! This marks a good place to state that you need to reman vigilant by going through these tips regularly that updates and other installs don't change your settings when you're not looking.
  8. Go through the list, uncheck Add-Ins that you don't use
    • I'm hardcore for performance, so I've unchecked all but a few Add-Ins. The following are some observations that I have about some:
      • Microsoft Exchange Add-In If you use a Microsoft Exchange, keep this Add-In on. I don't know what happens if you turn it off. It sounds more trouble than it's worth to turn it off. If you get your e-mail through POP3 or IMAP, though, don't hesitate to uncheck it
      • Microsoft Outlook Social Connector: Cool and all to see someone's social media profile while looking at their e-mail but slows things down too much
      • Evernote & OneNote: I'm sure they provide some cool functionality, but I haven't discovered it.
      • Windows Search Email Indexer: I don't know if a Solid State Drive makes e-mail indexing useless, like it's supposed to for indexing the file system. Not really a matter since I've turned off the Email Indexer on my Outlooks that use both Solid State and Hard Drives.

        My rationale: I use the search function infrequently in comparison to my overall Outlook use. More often than not, I'm more concerned about going through my e-mail boxes linearly to clean them out than finding particular e-mails or e-mails that fit a particular search string. Indexing uses so much resources all the time that it destroys my productivity on a regular overall basis compared to the ad hoc frustration and time used for particular times. I'm willing to suffer occasional increased frustration and impatience rather than suffer it all the time for infrequent convenience.
      • Microsoft VBA for Oulook Addin: I keep this one around because I dont know what it does and doesn't do. I know Virtual Basic can be important, so I leave it alone.
    • Be careful not to click on the "Remove" radio button unless you really don't want the Add-In. I just did on one Add-In I use all the time. I had to get the latest version online then reinstall it.
  9. Once satisfied with the Add-Ins you have on and off, click on the "OK" radio button
  10. Exit and load Outlook to make sure all the changes take hold
I will add more to this tip section later. I got distracted with another blog entry inspired by this one. Oops!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Be More Productive and Fulfilled by Reducing Social Media Use


I got a lot done one night last week or the week before. Minimizing my time on social media, mostly Facebook and Twitter, likely had a lot to do with it. I cut down after noticing a correlating relationship forming between my exploitation of social features on my phone and frustration about not getting as much creative/productive things done as I would like.

When people talk about changing their relationship with social media, they often talk about taking a break or vacation from it or just dropping it completely. Let's be frank here: they're talking about Facebook. People have strong reactions to Facebook. I don't know why.

I don't intend to go cold turkey. I want to remain involved, just in a more limited capacity. Social media, on its own, doesn't cause me to have a direct emotional reaction. I like to think this decision comes as a rational response to feelings triggered by many responsibilities and dreams not getting attention.

A few months ago I had gotten a bunch of writing done. I wrote semi-regularly here. I had done a bunch of brainstorming for my project, then I rewrote a couple sections. I had a hard time progressing forward but had a bunch of ideas/goals for some earlier scenes. Other things got done, too, including chores around the house and financial shenanigans.

Even more frustrating: the social media stuff hadn't helped me progress in the short term, professionally or personally. Maybe I've planted some seeds and gotten some attention. Without substantial material to present someday, though, this attention doesn't mean a thing.

I found myself appreciating tropy criticisms about society just cycling weekdays, stories involving time loops of characters experiencing the same day over and over again and, heck, even the Nine Inch Nails song, "Every Day is Exactly the Same".

I felt that weekends sucked, too. Both weekdays and weekends, I never felt like I had the time to finish what I had set out to do. Cutting down social media probably doesn't free up all the time I need, but it helps.

Social media and chores may put me into addiction territory a little. Griping about people wanting to hang out doesn't sound healthy. People want to be around me, but I don't want to be around them. They get in the way of me getting things done. Alone, I can hopefully do things I REALLY want to do. But I never get the cyclical daily things done.

I like the idea of people. I don't always appreciate people.

I force myself to hang out with people. Rationally, I know it's the healthy thing to do. Makes for a great reason, right? We should all hang out for health reasons, not for fun and enjoyment.

I had reached the point of living in the moment. It didn't give me serenity and peace of mind, though. It stressed me out. It anesthesized me. It turned off my brain rather than help me reach mindfulness and awareness. It had silenced my monkey brain, not through calming it, but by exhausting and deadening it.

All the same, these attempts had a goal to free up time for actual productive activities. I don't enjoy cleaning for the sake of cleaning, packing lunch for the sake of packing lunch or packing clothes for the sake of packing clothes.

Maybe working with the numbers of finance takes me into the moment of letting go. It gets repetitive, though, and still acts more as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. This state becomes especially true when I have a system together that has more to do with numbers than the reality those numbers represent.

Instead of continuing on the daily rotation and rather than go cold turkey, I've cut back on social media. I try to keep my social media to morning and evening dental rituals and during lunch time.

Most of my activity involves catching up on groups and people that I've set up to receive push notifications on my phone: Close friends on Facebook, starred people on Twitter and some groups on Facebook.

One of the more interesting things: Intense tunnel-vision interactions don't happen as much. The many hours between online social time keeps me from falling in hard. I find myself able to filter my thoughts rather than obsessing over the next clever retort to some acquaintence or stranger.

As intensity dies down, though, I find myself having more genuine interactions with more immediate circles. I can catch myself from spouting off intense emotion.

I learned indirectly through a friend's kid that Google Chrome has a silly game embedded in it. When the dinosaur pops up because a Web page doesn't work, you can push space bar to start a game of hurdle the cactuses as a T-Rex.

When I showed it to Michi, I might have gotten her a little addicted to it. Oops!

Interesting opportunities also pop out more to me, too. Rushing through feeds, thoughts and comments, I'd feel too emotionally fatigued to take advantage of them. Someone invited bloggers to check out a play they're putting on for review. I plan to make the time to see it then write about it here. I haven't gone to a play in a long time!

If you're curious, it's Queen Amarantha being put on by Otherworld Theater.

Carving time away from social media challenges me, though. I try to use my Smartphone Wi-Fi at home for just podcasts and music. When I can, though, I try keeping the Wi-Fi off while working on the computer. I'll play music on the stereo or computer. Spotify has more power on the computer, anyway.

But the social media calls to me through the Smartphone. When I have a spare second, transitioning between tasks or even doing a boring chore that fits into the neverending cycle, I want to turn on the data to look at Facebook or Twitter. I want to get down and dirty with people, joking about stupid stuff, post articles, share articles, having witty arguments, argue politics then get into an all out writing brawl every once in awhile. I want to feel that surge of dopamine and endorphins as I tear and lash into social media.

I've done it, too. The weekend, without the structure of schedule, proves especially hard. Social media constantly calls, By habit, the phone comes out of my pocket. As I'm about to touch the Wi-Fi button, I stop myself. I have better things to do. And sometimes, I still turn it on and engage.

When I stay away, though, I get quite a bit done. I can swim in my thoughts. I can make progress. I can spend quality time with Michi. I can feel myself experience moments, not in a rush of endorphin flow. Rather, it has more of a relaxing bubbling up of thoughts and feelings.

I engage with parts of me I've forgotten. I buried them. I've had to make more apparent progress or not even progress, but productive procrastination.

I will try sticking with it. My quality of life has improved. I've had some innovations here and there. I've felt more serenity and enjoyment than I've felt in awhile. I've even touched upon those moments from the past where I've grappled with emotional road blocks and growth challenges, defeating for the spoils of blossoming into life.

I plan to keep minimizing my social media activities to a minimum during the day. I still want to engage with it. I plan to still get something out of it. I just plan not to over indulge, not to lose myself in it. I guess it can fall into that old saying, something about the person who talks a lot doesn't say much. The person who speaks little, however, can say a lot.

Don't write me off as a curmudgeonly Luddite. You'll see me around, probably even moreso here on the blog. For all I know, you might even see me more standing out rather than all buried in the masses of social media. I hope to contribute to more big things getting out, too.

Yeah, you'll see me around.

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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Uncanny Magazine Having a Subscription Drive


The release of Science Fiction & Fantasy (SFF) Uncanny Magazine Issue 4(a) excites me a bit, but what gets me going even more: Uncanny Magazine has started a subscription drive that ends May 19, 2015 (you better run and take part! Don't hesitate, just go).

Someone might ask "Why should I subscribe? After all, I can get the content for free by just going to the Website."

This someone has a point. You can read the SFF stories, poems and essays for free. You don't get all of them at their initial release, though. Notice how I put the "(a)" after the "4" when I stated the issue number above? For Web readers consuming for free, they get half the issue one month then have to wait another month for the rest.

I guess that works fine for people on a budget or casual readers. What about for people who like to stay on the cutting edge? Who want to have all the material at hand to enter into those water cooler discussions (how cool would it be if more workplaces had water cooler discussions centered around literary SFF)? And how about those of you who want to avoid spoilers?

A softer argument probably has better footing, though: By subscribing, you're supporting, nurturing and growing talent with unique perspectives and styles. Undeniably, Uncanny has their tent-pole pieces. Nothing wrong with that, in all honesty. Having worked in small insurance businesses over the last thirteen years, I've learned that tent-poles have their place in keeping businesses afloat.

When handled well, tent-poles can help pull up little known and undiscovered talent. Uncanny utilizes this tactic well. They've published Neil Gaiman's poem, "Kissing song", republished Anne Leckie's "The Nalendar" and Jim Hines's essay, "The Politics of Comfort".

They also published Sam Miller's "The Heat of Us: Notes Toward an Oral History", which was submitted unsolicited and went through the "slush pile" process.

My favorite story, Hao Jingfang's "Folding Beijing" (translated by Ken Liu) would probably have had a hard time finding a place in other English-language publications. It would have had no problem (it's beautiful and lovely!), if it were submitted in English, that is.

Uncanny goes out of its way to look for amazing non-native-English stories. Look at the new story, "Restore the Heart into Love" by John Chu). It provides a piercing perspective on the relationship with language a young Chinese man has who is also a second generation immigrant to an English-speaking land. Non-English-native-speaker stories definitely provide perspective and innovation that English-as-first-language stories don't.

Unfortunately the the call for submissions has closed since they can't purchase new works. They want to purchase more, but that's all they could budget from their initial Kickstarter financing.

I didn't do the reckoning until now, but after this issue (first half published on the website this month, next half next month), there's only enough material for two more issues! Things get real when you do the math.

Uncanny Magazine has a lot more to offer consumers SFF: supporting content creators. Uncanny has as one of their goals to publish experimental, challenging content. Issue 3 had a lot that challenged me. My belief system didn't feel challenged or anything, but my sense of story structure and grounding in convention felt grasping and without a foothold. I had a hard time getting into it, but I sensed quality that as an aspiring writer, I would like to emulate some day.

New talent, non-English-as-first-language-speaking talent, experimental talent, challenging talent and good talent always need help for exposure. Uncanny Magazine has shown itself as good vehicle to do it. The Publishers/Editors-in-Chief staff, Lynne M Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas, and Managing Editor, Michi Trota, all show commitment to curating this type of material.

They also show their commitment to nurturing and exposing this talent to the world by paying professional-grade (if not higher) for content:

  • Original fiction: $.08 per word (including audio rights)
  • Poetry: $30 per piece
  • Nonfiction (unsolicited submissions not accepted): $50 per piece
  • Fiction Reprints: $.01 per word
  • Art: $60 for reprints

Over the last couple years as Michi and I manuevered our way into the professional and fannish SFF world (mostly through her hard work), we have learned a hard lesson. Rarely will fiction writing pay well enough to quit your day job.

I know. It has burst my bubble and dream, too. Seriously: Practically all our writer friends and acquaintences, even the well known and prolific ones, either have day jobs or live the not-as-secure-but-independent-entrepreneurial-freelancing-and, often, multitalent-utilizing lifestyle.

I don't know how they do it. I have trouble doing my daily chores for survival alongside my day job. I'll have to ask them for tips.

Every little that can send more dollars and exposure to good writers helps. In our current state of things, it seems that we want everything for free. I'm not even talking about illegal downloading of pirated material via Torrents or illegal streaming at YouTube or anything.

I'm part of the crowd that takes free legal products for granted. I've got a ton of online stories bookmarked in my Web browser (without the time to read them). I use the free music-streaming services provided by Pandora and Spotify. I download free apps/programs for my computer and smartphone. I accept the ads and loss of privacy by using Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.

If it's there, it's free and I want/need it, I'll use it. I'll admit: I'm in on it. I'm part of the Internet Freerider Problem.

There comes a time when, in our current economy, any producer of a product needs to get paid, whether directly or by some other means. If app producers, music streaming services, Facebook, Twitter and so on and so forth decided to all charge a fee or lose access, I wouldn't hold it against them. I may not make the purchase, but I wouldn't hold it against them.

I want to encourage more good, cutting edge writing for me to enjoy. If you're a fan of good SFF writing, too, I bet you want to, also. Uncanny Magazine probably provides one of the best vehicles to invest this kind of encouragement. It curates quality, experimental, challenging and poignant work and pays well. In addition to providing great product for the consumer, it contributes to producers creating MORE quantity of great product for the consumer.

Not to say that other SFF magazines don't do so, in their own way, though, Uncanny, focuses a lot on getting quality voices in its "pages" that other magazines might not give as much of a chance because of too much experimention or challenge.

Don't worry, though, they do provide balance with some fun pieces and others that might not be as extremely challenging. A couple of my favorites in this category:

And if that isn't enough for you, like any good fundraising drive (I know this because I listen to NPR and watch PBS). . .Uncanny Magazine also has other incentives for subscribing by May 19. Quoting from the subscription drive entry, the first incentive:

When we reach a total of 50 new/renewing subscribers we’ll unlock an ebook of Issue One for *every* new/renewing subscriber. Plus, we’ll randomly draw 2 winners for Uncanny swag packs: postcards, a sticker, and a Space Unicorn Ranger Corps patch!

Find out more of the incentives by going to the Uncanny Magazine announcement then go to the Weightless Books subscription page for Uncanny Magazine. If we're lucky, they might have drawings for more stuff than already listed.

And one more reason to subscribe: Navigation. While reading, your device can bookmark or keep your last read spot active. You can walk away then come back to where you left off. You don't have to do all types of navigating and cursing to find your place again. Darned Webpages making reading the long form difficult!

You want additional good writing in the SFF Library, right? Be a part of making it happen by subscribing to Uncanny Magazine.

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Saturday, May 02, 2015

All Supporting SFF Fans Can Nominate and Vote for The Hugo Awards


A week or so ago, I tweeted the following:

I would love to see all Science Fiction/Fantasy (SFF) fans know its relatively easy to participate. Read on for an introduction.

Disclosures: This blog entry has no direct bearing on the current Hugo Awards controversy. I'm not qualified nor have done enough research to provide an educated opinion or record on the matter.

What facts I've used in this entry come from what I've found online from official-looking Websites of Worldcon, the Hugo Awards and Worldcon: Sasquan. I did not fact check beyond this points of access intentionally since these sites are official and, for purposes of this entry, demonstrate the importance for ease of entry.

UPDATE: Uncanny Magazine has a published a summary history of the Hugos with Mike Glyer's "It's the Big One". If you want some history, go there.

I currently do not nor have I ever had any membership or affiliation with Worldcon or the Hugo Awards. Frankly, I can't dedicate the time that I would want to feel that I would meet the level of "citizenship" for full value from participating.

I'm setting the bar pretty low for dedication to this "citizenship": Regularly reading science fiction/fantasy and nominating/voting on who gets to receive a Hugo.

Over the last three or so years, I haven't read much. I recall reading the first two books of Graham Storr's Timesplash series probably back in December.

Before that I read John Scalzi's Redshirts and the Terry Pratchett/Neil Gaiman team up novel, Good Omens, a couple years ago while on a Carribean vacation. I haven't been the best SFF consumer since getting what could be called an adult career.

The neat thing, though, as I understand it: By no special virtue other than ponying up a financial consideration (presently $40 to become a supporting member), anyone can become a supporting member of Worldcon for a period of time. The most apparent benefits of a supporting membership include, but not all inconclusively: Helping deciding who gets awarded the Hugos.

I didn't fully understand the ease with which someone could nominate and vote. Even Michi and other friends talking about this ease over the years didn't penetrate my thick idea/brain barrier. It took reading up on the latest kerfuffle to grok it.

The Hugo Awards have an ubiquitous presence in area of SFF, too. Publishers, studios, receivers won't hesitate to put this status on their products. SFF essays in periodicals will name drop the Hugo when discussing cultural relevance and nominees/winners. I'm sure literary non-fans have heard of the Hugo. The Hugo has a presence in the cultural consciousness.

Such presence doesn't translate into communicating how to participate. Instead it creates a certain mystical, esoteric air that only the Select know how to participate. Not a unique situation, since many awards and organizations fall into such a state. The non-participants just watch, taking it for faith that if they should have anything to do with something, they would know about it.

This phenomenon has become pretty common in all human societies and groups. What makes the phenomenon so tragic most of the time: it usually happens subconsciously on the part of humans without meaning to. It often comes out of the best intentions.

The phenomenon had become such a sticking point in the '70s Feminist Movement, Jo Freeman wrote "The Tyranny of Structurelessness".

Go ahead, click on the link and read the essay/speech. It's not too long and has use for understanding human nature. Even if you don't sympathize with feminism, it still provides useful insight into human and social nature.

Frankly, it saddens me to see this phenomenon with Worldcon/The Hugo Awards. I feel frustrated that I feel compelled to amplify the low base of entry into the ranks of "official" SFF fandom, which includes professional authors and other media presences of all levels, and participate in deciding who gets a Hugo. Professional status and relationship to the media shouldn't become basis of fandom.

I want it to become common knowledge. I could almost feel happy if it reached a level of peer pressure to become a supporting member. I'm all for independence of thought, liberty and freedom. Nonetheless, I would love to see the knowledge of how to join Worldcon become so common that people ask non-member SFF fans "Why aren't you member? You're a fan, right?"

For reasons already listed, I don't plan on becoming a member in any capacity. I can still help spread the word that participating can be pretty darned easy. All it takes is $40 and a bunch of time. Let those with the capacity of citizenship do it.

So, SFF fans with the time and energy to dedicate, become at least a supporting member of Worldcon, so you can can participate in nominating and awarding The Hugo Awards. As of the time this entry has been written, you can do so at

After the current Worldcon, you'll likely have to search around the Internet for the next Worldcon then find their registration page.

OK, maybe it's not the easiest thing in the world. It takes some investigatory research skills to find the right knowledge and Webpage. That definitely plays a part in how the Tyranny of Structurelessness works against the ease of entry.

We live in the Age of the Internet, people. Investigatory research skills are everyday now (stop depending on just Wikipedia!).

Hopefully my amplifying this information can help fans join up. I encourage others to do the same: amplify the ease of contributing to nominating and awarding the Hugo. Start today and keep doing it.

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