Dancing to Dirges

Depressing and happy things Tim says, sometimes while drunk

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


I logged in to CNN today and perused the headlines. Gas prices, politics, father-rapes...

I chose instead to view this:

Sometimes we make the rights choices.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

So don't think about it, then.

Have you guys ever been to Phoenix? My family used to vacation there every summer. Every year between junior high and high school, right up until I went to college, we spent about a week in Phoenix. This is because the "season" for Phoenix is, you know, winter. So it was cheap to go in the Summer. Natch.

It wasn't all bad. The heat's not too bad, and like I said, it was fairly cheap so we got to stay at some pretty posh digs. Where I grew up had pretty shitty television coverage, so I only got to watch cool shows while on vacation. When in Seattle, I watched Star Raiders, and in Phoenix it was Voltron. I guess that's kind of sad, but it's what I remember.

The thing that I could never get over about Phoenix was how tenuous the whole place was. It was just so...artificial. You live in a desert! You don't need a lawn, for god's sake. Look around...it's all dust and rocks and glaring sun. Stop pretending this is hospitable terrain and start hoarding water like a sensible adult.

I sometimes think about stuff like the collapse of civilization. Well, infrastructure, specifically. If the trucks stop bringing food to the Dominick's, how many of us would survive. And I've become more and more aware that, honestly, I wouldn't do too well. I haven't gutted a fish since junior high. I've never tried to skin and dress a rabbit. These are things you'd need to know. You aren't going to get a growing season to prepare for the apocalypse, man. You're going to need to produce next week's meal. Now. The point is, I pretty much depend on civilization.

I got started thinking about this because a friend of mine was in town last week. He lives near Raleigh, and he was talking about the drought. It's kind of bad, I understand. I have trouble processing that, because there was a lot of rain in my childhood. We even had floods. In the mountains. You understand, don't you, that that takes a lot of rain.

So think about Phoenix. Think about what happens if you disrupt the water supply, even for a week. Seriously. It's such an artificial space, with its streets and its suburban homes, but there's no water. It freaks me out, just thinking about it.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

His soul is a Murder

I just finished the second book in the Malazan Book of the Fallen, by Steven Erickson. I want to reiterate that I love this series. I thought I was done with epic fantasy. I was wrong. Curious if it'll hold up under all the narrative threads in the long run, but for now it's going strong. Since I never read anything in sequence, it'll be a few books before I come back and read the third book. Anyway. Recommend.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Such a train

So, yes, earthquake. Very exciting. Woke me up, just long enough to wonder why the closet doors, light fixture and dresser knobs were banging around. At first I thought "Train?" and then "No, I don't hear a train. Earthquake? We get those." And then it was over so I went back to sleep. Cuz I wuz tahrd. And when the radio came on and the guy said earthquake, I turned to my wife and said "Well, we're going to have to learn to keep it down, I guess." Not really, but that would have been the perfect line. Man. That would have been AWESOME.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

It's about robots.

Have I really not blogged since Monday? Jesus. Where does time go? Away, dude. It goes away.

While the schedule is not fixed, I'll be doing my first panels and public reading at a local convention this summer. It's a good place to start, and the panels are even things I might be able to talk about intelligently. Not, you understand, that not understanding the panels would have stopped me from talking. I just might not invite the ire of my audience this way.

While I'll still probably make my chapter this week, I'm probably "behind" my ideal schedule now. Not because I'm producing more slowly, but because my outline has expanded. The last chapter wasn't on the outline at all. And there's one more chapter swelling out of my head, something that will probably fit in just before the final chapter. We'll see. But I'm not going to push myself and render something subpar. I'm still doing okay, timewise.

I have this other thing I'm working on, too, and it's occupying some space in my head. Research carved an hour out of my time last night. I'm going to take a pass at some scenes tonight, just to get a feel for the voice before I decide how I want the outline to go. This one's going to have multiple characters, in multiple locations. It should be curious. I'm sure I'll talk about it later, once it's sold. Because it will sell. I am inevitable.

On the way to work I was thinking about traffic flow. There are a number of prime turnoff spots on my route, and they really gum up the works. And I was thinking about that, about which lane I should be in preemptively to avoid the slowdown, I realized that I'd been driving this same road everyday, twice a day, for ten years. Almost eleven. I didn't like the sound of that.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Things happen all at once. But that's not what catches your attention.

Such a weird weekend. So many things going on. Where to start? Friday? Probably Friday.

I'm kind of a moralist. Not in that creepy "I condemn you because you have sinned against gawd" sort of way, but in a more general humanist way. Honesty. Don't fuck people over. Don't hurt the people you care about. (You'll notice I don't have any problem hurting people who have earned hurting. Murky ground.) But honesty is the big one for me.

At work, if a mistake occurs my highest priority is to figure out what went wrong, inform the client of the mistake and what steps are being taken to correct it, and then find out what amends we as a company (or I as an individual) need to make for everything to be alright. I want my clients to trust me. This works mostly because I do a good job, and so I rarely have to go to my clients with trouble.

That hasn't been happening as much. Management has changed the conversation from "What can we do to make this right with our client" to "What do we do to keep from getting in trouble with our clients." Initially, that's not a bad thing. The best way to not get in trouble with people is to tell them the truth, and don't screw up. Unfortunately, we screw up a lot. So now we're talking about how we keep people from finding out we screwed up, which specific lie we're going to spin to keep them happy, so forth. So on. I've been generally unhappy with this change in tack, but I figured I could hang on until something else came along.

Enter Friday. We do this thing for some clients where we do mailing for 32 cents a piece. It includes data, printing, stock, presorting and postage. We make our money by sending it presort standard (bulk rate, but that word is aggressively not used in the direct mail industry) but the margin is still pretty thin. It's all about quantity. On Friday something got screwed up. One of these jobs got processed at presort first class rates, so that the postage alone was going to be more than we charged for the job. The pieces were on the truck. What do you do? Two choices:

1) You pull the job, reprocess the paperwork for the correct rate, manually re-tray according to the new sort and put it back on the truck. Probably thirty minutes of manual labor. or!

2) You shelve half the job, only mail out enough so that you're still making your expected profit and just tell the client the whole thing mailed. There is nothing more dishonest that a direct mail house could do. Nothing.

You wanna guess which thing happened? Right. I had real trouble not quitting immediately. I'm too responsible, and I'm the insurance and steady paycheck for the family. But I won't be here much longer. It doesn't matter what they change. The fact that they considered that option was reprehensible. The fact that they carried through on it is unforgivable.

And then! My god, can you believe that there's more to this story? Then, at 4:30 one of my bosses sent email to *some* of us in the office that we needed to have a meeting at 5. Then they fired two people. I have mixed feelings about this. Those people needed to be fired. But you can't pretend to fire one person because they're a complete fuck up and not fire your best friend even though he's a complete fuck up. Go ahead, try to pretend that you're making the company better. Fundamental flaws are, well, fundamental. And they announced that we had hired a CSR from one of our clients. Also? She's going to be bringing us a lot of her clients from her last job.

Me: "She's bringing clients? Is that legal?"
Boss: "Stammer, stammer, she doesn't have a non-compete, but she signed a confidentiality agreement..."
otherboss: "Stammer, we've had three lawyers look at it...stammer...we're sure it'll work out."

So. Anything you have to have three different lawyers look over? Seriously? Maybe it's legal, but it's probably not cool. You dig?

After that, of course, my whole weekend was up up up. An old childhood friend of mine happened to randomly be in town, so we had dinner. It was a great time. It was exactly what I needed, in every way. It reminded me why I missed having friends close by. So yeah. That was spectacular.

Saturday was great, also. There was a big Warhammer/40k tournament downtown, and the North American Sales Manager for Black Library, Vince Rospond, was going to be there. BL is the mothership of my imprint, Solaris, and the fact that the two are related is what got me interested in Solaris in the first place. I'm an old time 40k player, and have always had an eye on media-related writing. What's that thing we call it? Ah, yes, steady work. And it's in a universe that I know and love. So I spent most of the day hanging out with that crew, got to meet Graham McNeill, had a truly transcendental steak dinner, then rolled home quite happily. Considering my entire plan going in was 1) convince BL that I was a decent person, and passingly competent and then 2) beg them to let me submit a proposal for a book, the fact that one of the first things Vince asked me was "So, would you like to make a pitch sometime?" I'd say things worked out pretty well with me. Seriously, it was an amazing time, the BL and GW people are some of the nicest on earth, and I hope hope hope they like the stuff I'm working up. I spent a while talking about what specifically they'd be interested in, so I'm feeling pretty good.

Sunday was just hanging around the house, spending time with my wife and painting a little. So this is the first week I haven't quite made a chapter. I'm okay with that. Everything's going to be okay.

Today, new person started. She's sitting across the hall, calling all her old clients and trying to get the to work with us. I don't know what the bosses are expecting, but almost all of them have asked who their new contact is at the her old company. So yeah. Awesome.

And anytime you have to end your sales pitch with "Yeah, and we're trying to keep this on the down low, so maybe don't tell anyone at (old company name) that I contacted you? Great?" you're probably doing something wrong. Just saying. And what are the odds that *none* of them will mention it to their new rep at (old company name)? Honestly?

I'm sure this is going to end well. Hopefully, once it's no longer my problem.

And if you read all this, you care too much about the minutia of my life. Seriously, get a hobby. Write a book. I'm not that interesting.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A Brave New Word

I think I've pegged down what feels so strange about this book, and why I'm not having trouble with it. It's kind of complicated, so let me unpack it for you.

When I'm writing, I frequently stop and think "What's the best way to say this?" It slows me down. In fact, one of the reasons that I long-hand everything is because it's such a hassle to back edit text. I can't write something down, cross it out, write something else, cross it out...on and on and on. I mean, I could, but all that wasted ink would really bother me. Once I've written something, if it's not perfect, I can just sigh and think "Okay, well. That's for revision" and press on. You see? I finish things that way. Once you've given up the idea that this draft will be *the* draft, it's deceptively easy to be productive. The fucking around stage of this book lasted a year and a half, during which time I wrote around 120k words, none of which I'm using. And that doesn't even include all the words I deleted as I went along. Once I settled down, got a plan, pen and a notebook and just started grinding? Chapter a week, without fail. That's a novel in 5 months, easy.

But the thing that really feels strange about this book is *acceptance*. I'm not writing to impress anyone. I 'm not writing to make an impression, or catch the attention of an editor or agent or audience. I wrote some chapters I liked, and someone bought the book. So now I'm writing the rest of the chapters that I like, and I already know someone will like it. The other books and stories I've written have all gone through workshops, beta readers, writing groups and critiques galore. This one, I'm just writing. Because I know I like it. And I know someone else will too.

That's a hell of a load off your shoulders, mate. Liking what you're doing. Hell of a thing.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Angry enough, thanks

I've been riding a little rage-trip all day, sparked by office politics and fed by a steady drip of Nine Inch Nails and ohgr. Other stuff, too. Sometimes it's good to burn out the chaff and just let that anger roll through your head. Long as it doesn't stick around too long. I don't think I'd give it up.

I had an unusual discussion with my DM after Saturday's game. He and I are political opposites. Well, not completely, but our basic stances are radically different. What I've found, though, is if you sit down and talk with someone like that, and strip away all the partisan specific language, you learn that you're really pretty similar. Took us about an hour to get to that level, of course, but it was worth it. I have too many friends who refer to the other side as "monsters" or similar. How do you expect to get anywhere in a discourse if your opening line is "You're a backwoods monster." You don't, of course. You're just talking to express your opinion. You're not interested in compromise, or progress, or enlightenment. You're interesting in proving how right you are. You're interested in your monologue, not the dialogue.

Me? I'm interested in the conversation, and what we can do about tomorrow.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Sometimes life catches up to you

And just like that, I'm going to be attending a 40k tournament and convention in Chicago next weekend. I'm...chuffed, I believe is the word. Aside from the gaming and painting seminars, I'll get to meet some people in the Black Library organization. Huh. Zah.

How to do my job

Each job is kept in a box. We use the lids from old envelope boxes for this, so they're about 9x12 and an inch deep. So you go down the hall to the job cabinet, and you get the next job in the queue. Go back to your office. The box will have the following items:

-Job Ticket (internally created by the CSR)
-Data Processing Requisition (from the client)
-Mail House Requisition (client)
-file list (emailed from client to CSR)
-ask arrays
-segmentation sheet

1)Take the Job Ticket and the Mail House Req and make sure they match up. Check mail dates, job name, file quantity and name, mail class and type (stamp, meter, indicia), entry point, permit number and entry point (what post office it's going to), and finally the sample description. We keep a list of mail samples and descriptions on a chart, and compare them to the customer instructions for the post office papers. For example, this job has a #10 carrier envelope, #9 BRE, and a single 8.5 x 11 letter, folded to fit the #10. That's Sample P on my chart, so you know that six of them weigh 3.3 ounces, and are .25 inches thick. This determines how many will go in a tray, and will give the post office an individual piece weight. They audit our paperwork by weight.

2)All files are kept in a central directory. Go get the files for this job and copy them to the appropriate folder on your system. Convert the files. We do all our work in Borland dBase IV, which is an ancient and entirely unused system. This is why you're having trouble finding a job, btw. Your skillset is obsolete. In addition to converting the data file, you convert the segmentation sheet, filtering out all the fields except the client keycode. This is used for a relational check program later on. We will refer to it as the input check file, when the time comes.

3)Confirm that the data file counts match the segmentation sheet. Segment the job according to the data requisition. Confirm that the segment counts match. Find any fields that are too long to fit into the window of the #10, and correct them manually.

4)Assign ask arrays, according to the ask arrays sheet. This is done by relating client codes and previous ask amounts to a set of parameters determined by the client. In addition, you may need to create variable text fields. Run the input check file against the database, to create an output check file. This file has one of every possible ask array and client code. Check against customer ask arrays to confirm everything was done correctly.

**That was the hard part of the job. If this was an easy job, this took you 15 minutes. If it was a very difficult job (usually because of complicated ask arrays and variable text) this has taken you six hours. No joke.**

5)Set up the Postalsoft routines to run the job. This usually just means that you change the workorder, then adjust the fields that are being pushed through the system. ACE and Match/Consolidate involve only minor changes. Presort you need to enter the dimensions of the sample. LabelStudio is generic.

6)Print out reports and tray tags. Do final formatting and convert output files into Access. Check final counts against post office papers. Check that final output + deleted records + foreign files = input count.

7) Send the whole damn thing to the client. Take the job box with paperwork, tray tags and final work order to the CSR.

8) Go to the cabinet. Get another job.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

And you get a rocket, and you get a rocket, and you get a rocket

So for all my bitching, I've decided to take the Hugos seriously this year. I haven't been to a Worldcon since Toronto, but they're going to become a pretty stable part of my life for a while here, and the Hugo is central to that experience. Besides, no way to fix it unless you vote. It's democracy! Well. It's democracy where you have to pay to vote, and someone else has kind of narrowed your choices before you got involved. Anyway.

I'm going to have to read all the novels, at least. The novel Hugo, to me, is the big prize. The rest are fine, but novel is the big show. And four of the five authors have gotten their publishers to agree to give an electronic version of the work away to worldcon voters. Gonna make it easier.

There are categories that I'm not going to vote in, mostly because I don't think the community has any reason to be handing out awards in those categories. Just my particular entrenched position. Feel free to vote for best long form dramatic presentation. Pretend you're at the oscars, see what I care.

The one vote that I know I'm going to have trouble selecting is the Campbell award. It's for best new sf/f writer, and you only get two years of eligibility. There are two authors in their second year, both of whom are way overqualified. I'm going to have trouble picking between them. There will be gnashing of teeth, and stuff.

Anyway. I'll be updating my thought process on this as time goes on. Have to hunt down the various stories nominated. Hooray.