Archive for September, 2009

NaNoWriMo 2009

Posted: September 30, 2009 in Books, sci-fi, writing
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So I decided to do NaNoWriMo 2009. What is it, you may ask? National Novel Writing Month. All November long, I’ll be churning out content. Then I’ll have a rough first draft at the end of it. I have three potential novels I could write during that time. We’ll see how it turns out!

Cobb county Georgia just got a wake up call. This prosperous area North West of Atlanta has a problem. Sex-offenders just released from prison are setting up a communal camp in the woods. Nothing new right? Just some homeless guys living under a tarp. This is a feature in any city. Except these unfortunate men were directed there by their probation officers.

How can this be? What rules govern a situation where the government is telling sex-offenders to live in the woods like animals? Georgia’s tough laws regulating where they can live and work require offenders to be 1,000 feet away from schools, churches, parks, or other places that children can gather. This requirement also means that churches cannot house the men, or even offer them religious help in this troubling time in their lives. Many homeless shelters do not meet the distance requirement to house the sex-offenders. Those few that do have a ridiculously small capacity (2) or charge $60 a week for rent.

Even men who have family, a house, a support network waiting for them when they get out; are required to go camp in the woods.  So what can be done?

Obviously the state needs to re-evaluate its release policy first of all. Maybe a distance requirement can be reduced or amended for those offenders just coming out of prison and needing temporary housing. Allowing them access to the services they need, will help them tremendously in becoming productive members of society again. I know this first hand.

In my work at the Syracuse Rescue Mission, a  non-profit shelter that provides help to homeless individuals, ranging  from clothes, job searching, recreation, recovery, and much more; I saw who was able to move on the fastest. The men who were referred to us by probation consistently established the contacts they needed to move on faster than the men who were just on the streets. Think about it. These men who were in prison have had time to think about what they need to do when they get out. Who they need to contact, which programs they need to sign up for. The men on the street are given the same information by their case manager, but they are also dealing with the daily hardships of life on the streets. Guys on probation come to the shelter, work with their case manager, do what they need to do, and are in and out in three weeks.

Georgia needs to work more closely with other private sector non-profits to set up a successful program for newly released sex-offenders. This would also provide the men with counseling, care, and the dignity they need to get back on their feet. Not forcing them to live like animals in the woods. Whatever they do, they need to do something to fix this inhumane treatment of this already mistreated section of society.

Please understand, as a father to a little boy, I do not condone what they have done that sent them to prison. But now that they are out, we need to treat them with basic human dignity, and give them a chance to redeem themselves.

For those of you that found this post hoping to get instructions on how to make your very own bomb, you’re out of luck. Even if I knew how to make homemade bombs, which I do not, I would not write out how to do it.

But the mainstream media has no problem giving away details that I rather wish they didn’t. In reporting on Najibullah Zazi, the media gives far too many details in their stories. For example, they mention certain chemicals like hydrogen peroxide, and helpfully tell readers that this can found in quantity at your local beauty salon. They do the same thing with fertilizer bombs, or other things. In a report on lock bumping ( a technique burglars use to unlock deadbolts) they have an expert locksmith explain just how it’s done…so consumers can be aware. Well, great. But now the teenager who always wantd to know how to open locks has the knowledge to easily do just that. Security expert Bruce Schneier has this to say:

Physical locks aren’t very good. They keep the honest out, but any burglar worth his salt can pick the common door lock pretty quickly.

It used to be that most people didn’t know this. Sure, we all watched television criminals and private detectives pick locks with an ease only found on television and thought it realistic, but somehow we still held onto the belief that our own locks kept us safe from intruders.

The Internet changed that.

You can read the rest of his essay here.

Now, giving exact details on how to bake a cake is one thing, but saying you need so many pounds of nitrogen fertilizer in proportion to such and such a chemical is NOT COOL. Stop giving these details away.

I know the counter argument is that if a criminal is sufficiently determined, he will find out the details one way or another. But having the media do it, be it newspapers, magazines, TV, or the internet, is just stupid. We should be making it harder for these people to commit crimes, not easier. So my message to the media is this: Report the news, yes. Report about a deadly new terror plot and homemade bomb maker, but DO NOT tell the general population HOW they did it.

What do you think?

Beautiful Awesome Universe

Posted: September 24, 2009 in Art, design, sci-fi, science, space opera
Tags: , ,

I just wanted to share my most recent favorite picture with you. This is the Orion Nebula as taken by the Hubble Telescope.

President Obama has just helped bring a new resolution to bear on the use of nuclear weapons. This morning, members of the U.N. Security Council unanimously signed the new resolution that focuses on stopping the spread of atomic bombs. It also urges countries to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that has been on the books since the 70’s. But what does this mean?

The most important issues that this resolution aims to solve are not clearly spelled out. India and Pakistan have nuclear arsenals but have not signed any treaty regarding their use. Isreal remains aloof. North Korea and Iran are not mentioned either, although clearly, these two countries in particular are the biggest cause for concern around the globe. North Korea tested the global community’s nerves when it exploded two nuclear warheads, one in 2006, and one in May of this year. Iran and North Korea need to be sent a clear message. So let’s sign a resolution that asks all countries to please play nicely with each other, but let’s not stoop so low as to actually call the misbehaving ones out by name.

If I may use a phrase from another hot-button issue: “If guns are outlawed, then only outlaws will have guns.” Now, regardless of my stance on firearms and the 2nd Amendment, I think this resolution points to just such a scenario. If all the “responsible” nuclear countries like the U.S., France, etc lay down their arms, then only those countries that don’t abide by the treaties will still have their nuclear arsenals. So why don’t they just play nice and lay theirs down as well?

Look at the situation from their perspective. Iran sees all these other bigger powerful countries with weapons of massive destructive power. Maybe they feel threatened. Maybe they feel like they should be allowed to have just as much power as everyone else. Why doesn’t the rest of the world just let them be equal?

Why? I’ll tell you why. Because they spout off about wiping another country off the face of the Earth is why. A country that the U.S. happens to be good friends with. Plus they don’t sign the treaties everyone else signs. If they want to be part of the “Nuclear Elite”, they have to agree to play by the rules set up by the countries that are already Elite. That’s how it works. So unless this new resolution is changed to include the countries it is trying to affect, it remains nothing more than another idle, ambiguous threat. One that I am sure Iran and North Korea will wave aside, just as easily as all the previous attempts to get them to play nice.

Is there a solution to this issue? What are your thoughts?

I have a weird mental checkbox that I feel must be filled for me to be a successful writer. I must own a tweed jacket with leather elbow pads. I know what you’re thinking, “Yup, that’s pretty weird.” and “Didn’t he already write a whole novel without this magical elbow padded jacket?”

Well I have good news to report. I am now a successful writer. The other day, I filled in said mental checkbox by purchasing the perfect tweed jacket at the Thrifty Shopper. It was $6.99, but it had a purple tag, so it was 40% off. Not that this makes a difference, but my Mom saw that it was an Evan-Picone and speculated that it was quite pricey. So I got a $150 sports jacket for $4.19. Sweet.

Tweed Jacket

But back to the main point. Why would I feel the need to own a tweed jacket with leather elbow pads in the first place; and, have it be connected with a successful writing career? The short answer is: I don’t know. The long answer is: Maybe at some point I associated some famous/ favorite author of mine with this style and it made an impression on me. The only one that jumps to mind is J.R.R. Tolkien, but I can’t be sure he owned one of these style monstrosities. I just have this vision in my head of a venerable novelist sitting in front of an audience to give a reading. Maybe he is sitting in a leather chair, maybe a pipe sits on a separate marble end-table with cherry flavored smoke idly twirling through the air. He finishes the reading and people are clapping wildly. The leather elbow pads squeak against the rich red leather of the armchair as he gets up to acknowledge their praise. I suppose this is my yardstick for writing success. If that’s true, I’ll be waiting a long time. Thoughts?

In a time when most fast food chains are offering healthier options on their menus, Burger King sends a different message. “Stay Fat America.”

I was out doing errands today. My wife has our only car so I was on my bike. It was lunchtime and I was mightily hungry from riding five miles to the bank, post office, etc. So I thought I would grab a quick Whopper Jr. from the drive through. Or as they so charmingly call it, the drive-thru. The car ahead of me pulled ahead so I pulled up and waited. A squawky intercom voice told me to hang on. Then they told me to move to the second window. “But I  haven’t ordered yet.” I replied. “Move up to the second window.” They repeated. Once there, a helpful cashier leaned out and yelled that they can’t serve people on bikes. I would have to come inside to order. “Why?” I asked, my money flapping in the wind, just waiting to be given away. “BK policy” she yelled. At this point, fearing I might do something stupid, I just said “Fine” and rode off in a huff.

When I spoke with the manager of this particular “restaurant” later that day over the phone, he said that the only reason they can’t serve bikes is because of insurance. I asked about serving drivers whose cars aren’t insured. He said that was between them and the state. When I asked him about people who just walk through the drive through, his response was, “coupons.” Clearly the type of manager I would want to have serving me food. I’m glad I ended up not eating there.

Corporate Headquarters assured me that bikes can’t be used in the drive through because of safety concerns but said nothing of insurance. I asked if there had been any previous accidents where a car had hit a cyclist and she denied any such occurrences. If I was on a motorcycle though, it would have been fine. So a machine that goes 200 mph and kills 5,154 people every year is much safer than a bicycle that can get up to 30 mph in the city and kills 698 people a year. Hmm. Especially the high-speed lane of the Burger King Drive-Thru. Gosh, I think I got up to 4 mph going around that corner. I’m such a daredevil.

Apparently Burger King is fine promoting riding bikes in video games though, but not real life. God forbid people should want to get in shape. Stay off that bike America. Stay in your car instead.

So I’m asking you to boycott Burger King and take your money elsewhere. Will you join me? What do you think?

I’ve come to the realization that I don’t do campgrounds. I much prefer camping out in the wilderness with no one for miles around and only a stream for running water, than being shoved next to loud strangers to sleep on a patch of mud with a smelly communal bathhouse to really make you feel like you’re “roughing it.”

Here is my personal list of pros and cons for staying overnight at a campground:

Pro: Easy. Just back the car right up and unload everything right into your tent.

Con: Easy. Anyone with access to a sleeping bag can sleep there. Loud radios are easy to pack when your car comes equipped with one.

Pro: Extras. Bathroom, showers, clean water, playgrounds… they have it all.

Con: Extras. You can even get sites with electric hook up so you can run your microwave, TV, and refrigerator…when you’re camping. Getting in touch with nature? Nah. Change the channel.

Pro: mmm, I’m out of Pros.

Con: LOUD people. I get out into the woods to escape from our modern society, not be crammed closer to it. If I slept out in my backyard in the city, I would have had a quieter night.

Con: Too much light. I tried to enjoy the stars, but the light from the bathroom was too bright.

Con: Cost. Why pay $20 to set up my tent ten feet away from my car? I can do that for free in my backyard. I know many areas that I can car camp at that are totally free. Just find the right trailhead and set up camp.

That’s all for now. What do you think? Are you a campground camper, or a backwoods camper?

And now I will relate the dramatic story of when my brother stabbed me in the back. Yes, he actually did.

There we were on a pleasant weekend afternoon, me, my best friend, and my godbrother (the son of my godparents.) We had spent the hours after lunch turning my room into the perfect 10-12 year old play spot. There was the big pile of LEGOs all over the carpet. The discarded drawing pads from when we had our Most Awesome Jet drawing contest, and a chess game in progress on the bed. Go-bots (the less commercially viable version of Transformers) also made a showing. We were all deep in concentration when we heard a little voice out in the hallway leading to the door of my room.

“I’m gonna kill Danny.” my two year old brother said in a mischievous whisper. The three of us looked at each other, not knowing quite what to expect. On the one hand, Pete was only two years old. How much damage can a toddler do anyway? On the other hand, this was Pete we were talking about. El Destructo. The Terminator. The Master of Myhem. Mr. Booders. (don’t ask me where that last one fits in) Pete was a local legend in the neighborhood for having The most Terrible twos, EVAR. All eyes turned towards the door…

In an explosion of movement, my two-year-old brother kicked the door in and took a flying leap across the room straight at me. As soon as he landed, his hand swung around, and with a wicked scream, stabbed me right in the back with a flathead screwdriver. I writhed in pain, my arm reaching around to pluck the dreaded implement from my abused back. Luckily, it had only broken the skin, not penetrated too far. Pete was still all over me, punching and hitting. A cocoon of horror, writ in pudgy, little hands. I reacted naturally and kicked out, sending him flying back across the room to smash into the LEGO bin, a used Christmas popcorn sampler tin. You know, the ones that are two feet tall and have regular, cheddar, and caramel corn.

So Pete runs out of the room crying while my friends are looking at me in shock; like, “Did your brother actually just STAB you? Yeah…he did.”

The next thing I know, Mom is yelling for me to GET DOWNSTAIRS THIS MINUTE, MISTER! I exchange another look with my friends and hobble downstairs. After I explain what happened, I got the expected dose of sympathy when one nearly experienced fratricide. And that, as they say, is that. Do you have any fun stories of violence among siblings? Now keep in mind that the key word here is FUN. I don’t want to celebrate truly terrible domestic situations. But, everyone has a good story of when their brother attacked them with a tire iron, or nearly blew their ankle off with a quarter stick of dynamite. Stuff like that. So what’s yours?

There are certain phrases that really irk me. Sometimes they really irk my wife, so If I am not also irked to the same degree…she becomes irked with me too. So, there are some phrases that irk me. One of the worst offenders is: Whole nother. As in: “We made it down the mountain in one piece, but what happened at the campsite is a whole nother story!” This is wrong. Period. Full stop.

“But it’s colloquial!” You’ll say. No. It’s colstupidal is what it is. Why not just say:  “We made it down the mountain in one piece, but what happened at the campsite is a another whole story!” Or just say, “another story” and forget the whole.

I can’t say why this gets to me so much, but it does. I’ll have more grammer/ phrase rants soon. What are some of yours?

This is just a quick life update. I am now a stay at home dad for two days a week. The others are spent doing projects around the house that we haven’t had time to do in the last few years. Like: ripping down the wall between the kitchen and dining room, replacing broken window panes, stripping paint, fixing the leaky basement, etc.

I have received 3 rejections from agents about their interest in my novel so far. I’m waiting on 2 more. I may start sending it out to publishers too, but I’d rather have an agent first.

I’m starting on my last semester of classes for my A.S. in Business from OCC. I like my guitar class the best so far. I know how to play, and have for years, but it’s fun remembering all the old Metallica songs I used to know and jamming with the other advanced students.

The toddler is adapting well to his first major life transition: Mom at work, he’s in daycare or with me, I’m gone at night at class. That’s it for now

My wife is hot. I can even prove it. Yesterday was the first day of school for many people. She teaches 7th grade English. At the beginning of one of her classes, two boys walked in and stopped on the threshold.

“Is this English?” they asked.

“Yes.” my wife replied.

“SWEET!” they both exclaimed, grinning at each other.

I asked her more about the type of student that would be so excited that they had found their English class.

“Did they look ‘bookish’, or excited to learn about adverbs?”

“No, they were jocks. This isn’t their first time taking 7th grade English either. They both failed last year.”

There it is! Clear evidence that she is hot! What class could engender such enthusiastic feelings in sports playing repeat 7th graders? One that is taught by my wife…who is hot.

Class dismissed.