Thursday, December 29, 2011

Byebye GoDaddy

In light of GoDaddy's support of SOPA (of which I am apparently the last person on the planet to hear) and in light of their continued failure to get it even when they dropped their support for SOPA, I am transferring the domain name control of to a more reputable domain host. There shouldn't be any problems that you, the reader, notice, but if there are, this website and I will be back as soon as they are resolved. -JRS

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

On Middle Age (Part 1)

Middle age moment today. See #9. I'm 44 years old. Statistically speaking, I have a lot of middle age to go, but I've already learned a few things I wish I'd known last year, the year before, and so on. So here, in no particular order:

1. Do what you love. By now you know that life's too short to work a job you hate to buy shit you don't need. (To paraphrase Fight Club). Find work that you enjoy that will also pay the bills. Don't let them promote you to a job you don't like from a job you liked. Don't take career advice from work-at-home authors. Yanno, like me.

2. Love someone. This is probably harder than you think, but worth it like life itself. Also, it makes the sex better. Those hot young things you secretly envy have no idea what they're missing when they haven't slept with someone with twenty years of practice with them.

3. Make more friends, especially younger friends. Statistically speaking, not all of your old crew is going to make it to old age. Hopefully your crew will be different, but the fact remains that while you can't replace them, and it's a mistake to try, keeping the ranks of your friends up helps. Real friends. People you spend time with in person. Internet friends, however dear, are pale imitations.

4. Go to joyous formal occasions in real life - weddings, baby showers, that kind of thing. It helps offset the increased number of funerals.

5. Drink the good stuff. Try the blends. When we were younger we were purists - only grapes from a certain vintage, only singlemalt Scotch and all that. But you know what? Wine and whiskey blenders have centuries of craft experience making blends that taste good. Try 'em.

6. Evolve. When you're in your 40s, it's time to admit that your upcoming adventures will probably not center around your junk. Physically? sure. But your mind moves on and changes. Those pretty naked people you look at on the net? They're young enough to be your children. You've probably noticed this already, and it probably makes you a tiny bit uncomfortable. This takes some getting used to. Fortunately, you have a lot of other senses you've probably been neglecting while chasing girls/guys/farm animals/etc.

7. Evolve. Challenge a habit. Confront a fear. Do something not because it is easy or comfortable or familiar, but because it is hard. (Thank you JFK.) Change happens. It's going to continue to happen. But you can control some change. Cause some of it. Become stronger for it.

8. Make peace with your parents. No matter how screwed up your upbringing was (mine was fairly idyllic, all things considered) you've now had 20 years since your parents ran your life. Whoever you are now is as much your doing as theirs. Forgive. If you can, enjoy the time you have left with them.

9. Get your eyes checked. Presbyopia comes on fast, folks, and there's nothing more disheartening than feeling like you're going blind. Your eye doctor can do a test where they give you a reading distance with very small print, and throw a reading prescription on. If your reaction is "oh wow, that's so much better" it's time. Don't, however, let them give you a reading prescription too soon. (Why yes, I'm reading the screen from behind my first pair of progressive trifocals. OMFGWTFLOLCATS I can see better. It makes a huge difference.) By the way, optical technology has marched on. You don't have to wear windshields with lines in them.

10. See your doctor. Get one you trust. Scary things happen to your body, and most of them don't mean a damn thing other than "Hey, you're over 40 now." Skin tabs are not skin cancer. That soft fatty lump that showed up on your ribcage? Lipoma. A change in texture of your body fat. Doesn't mean anything. But yanno, we're not doctors, so you need a doctor you can talk to. Someone you'll believe when they say "No, that's completely normal for your age," or "Actually that is something to be concerned about, let's do some more tests." Either way, at least you can sleep instead of lying awake in medical-industry-induced panic. (Remember, the doctors on tv are selling something.)

It goes without saying that weird new moles, chest pains, erectile dysfunction, and things like that are definitely see your doctor moments. No, not doctor internet, a real doctor. ED, for example, has been described as a great dipstick for the condition of your circulatory system in general. Yanno, like your coronary arteries? Yeah. See your doctor.

11. If you are female and/or are in love with a middle aged female, you need to know about perimenopause. The mood swings, stress, lack of libido, sudden gusts of strong libido, dry skin, body shape changes and forty five other things that freak her and/or you the hell out? News flash. They may be normal, as a woman's reproductive career heads toward the finish line, even if she's still technically fertile. See also #10.

We're not taught anything about this next stage of life. That's why we don't know what the hell we're doing. Medical science doesn't know much about middle age. They study college students as the "norm" primarily, so how would they know? Also, when we're children and up through our twenties, physically we're much more alike than after 20 years of genetic expression, environmental related changes, and eating our own cooking.

There's mounting evidence, according to this article, that middle age is not the noticeable beginning of degeneration, but a developmental stage. Like puberty. It may well be that you're supposed to get grey hair, presbyopia, a paunch and back hair, and menopause for females so that, evolutionarily speaking, you can stop having more children and focus on raising the ones you already had who survived.

Be thankful for middle age. For most mammals, when your breeding life comes to a close, you die, leaving your last batch of young to die with you. Humans are different. We, along with elephants and some species of whales have a middle age. We have a time after childbearing, and before degeneration, from our forties into our sixties or so, maybe as much as seventy if you're lucky. I mean really, what else is there to do? The alternative - dying young - is worse.


In Memoriam

In Memorium Alice E. "Badger" Washburn, 1967-2011. I'd wish you to rest in peace, but you'd be bored. Have a blast where you are now. -JRS

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Relay Computing FTW?

So we finally got around to getting a new humidifier to replace one that had died. Three times. (Hint: If you get the chance to put in a Honeywell humidifier? Don't. They suck.) The new one is an Aprilaire 700. Very nice, digital controls, outside temperature sensor, and the works.

We put it in ourselves.

Now, this doesn't seem like a big deal on the face of it. We had to cut the duct work a bit, and putting up the outdoor temp sensor was a joy, but by and large these are straightforward processes.

Wiring the thing into the furnace? That's where it got interesting. Our furnace is probably a decade and a half old. Unlike modern furnaces, where you open them and find yourself face to face with a printed circuit board (which, in fairness, I'd have been a lot more leery of working with), our contains relays and interrupt switches, and that's pretty much it. Working through the schematic has been interesting. Heaven forbid the HVAC industry should use electronics industry schematic symbols or anything. Once I figured out that those two vertical lines are contactor (relay) contacts and not a capacitor, the thing made more sense.

Once I sorted out which circuit did what, it dawned on me that I was looking on a string of and gates, effectively. If the white wire is at 24v, turn on the ventilator motor. If the flue pressure is correct (ventilator motor is running, flue is not blocked), turn on the ignitor and the gas. If the flame sensor indicates there's flame, turn the ignitor off. If the rollout sensor is off (that is, flame and/or gas are NOT coming out the back of the burners into the body of the furnace - yikes) keep the gas on. If the manifold temperature is above temperature x and the manifold temperature is below temperature y, turn on the blower. OR if the green wire is on, turn on the blower by itself, and bypass all the furnace start sequence logic. OR if the yellow wire is on, throw the relay to turn on the AC compressor. (note that these two ORs are not exclusive, and in fact the thermostat turns on both lines for AC.) It's all pretty straightforward. Theoretically.

Practically, I got the motor relay line plugged in the wrong place (on the yellow wire's terminal instead of the green) and it has been giving me bizarre results since yesterday for anything except heat. Now that that's straightened out, I just have to find out from Aprilaire how exactly I keep the humidifier from coming on when the call for heat comes down, humidifying the return plenum, switching itself off, then switching itself back on when the humidity in the plenum drops down, then switching off three or four times while the furnace goes through its startup sequence for heating. I don't even know if it's bad that it does this.

But it did amuse me once I realized that the furnace /does/ have a computer of sorts in it, and one of the more ancient types imaginable, at that. Flagging this post steampunk, since telegraphic relays most certainly did exist in the era, and you could do some interesting computing with them if you were so inclined.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Some thoughts about Steampunk

As I dig more and more into Brass and Steel: Inferno (or whatever it finally winds up being called,) I'm forced to try to really understand the Steampunk esthetic in a way I can articulate it. While by no means does the esthetic define the movement, it does give an insight into what steampunk is and how steampunkers (steampunks?) think.

75 years ago, the hot trend was to streamline everything. Hide all the fussy mechanical bits under a smooth, sleek exterior. Sure, it made those machines (e.g. steam locomotives) a monstrous pain in the rear to service, but they certainly looked cool, at least to the esthetic of the day.

Radio underwent this transformation as well, from the Atwater Kent breadboards of the 20s, where they went out of their way not only to leave the guts of the radio out where you could see them, but also made those guts /pretty/. An Atwater Kent breadboard is a radio for the steampunk esthetic. these were finished radios, as you'd take home and use. By 1926, however, the tubes all went inside a wooden box or a metal can,like this and by 1929, they needed to, since your radio was now plugged into the wall and had voltage and current enough to kill you.

Fast forward to the computer revolution. If you were around at the beginning of the personal computer revolution, as friend Jeff was, your first computer might have been a Cosmac Elf, IMSAI or Altair, or perhaps an Apple I. These machines came as kits. You knew how they worked, because you put them together yourself, and you put them in a case for one specific reason: to keep dust, RF interference, and the cat out of them. Nowadays, they look like this or this.

Steampunk inverts this trend. More than that. Steampunk says this trend is a lie, and that it's used to cheat you by hiding an inferior machine inside, or worse, that the machine is up to something and you don't know what that is.. Steampunk embraces mechanical complexity that isn't afraid to show off its construction. Steampunk is about the construction. It's about the complexity. It's about being honest and showing you how things work, even if they don't do anything especially useful. To whit, this art 'bot, archived at Make Magazine. Watch the video. It's worth it. Steampunk, at its best, is about that kind of mechanical grace, where your eye can take the object apart at the same time as watching the whole thing move.

At least, that's my take on it.

It could just be about cool hats. :)


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

MileHiCon 2011

As always, I will be at MileHiCon this year, and this year, I'll be joined by fellow author,co-author, and friend Jeff Duntemann, which should be fun.

My appearances in panels and such are as follows:

Friday, Mesa Verde B, 10:00pm: Can't Stop the Prose: Late Night Readings/Discussion. My guess is that this will be exactly what it sounds like - readings and discussion about them. Jeff's scheduled to be in this one, so expect readings from our double novel, /Drumlin Circus/ and /On Gossamer Wings/.

Saturday, Mesa Verde A, 4:00pm: Fan fiction. Does fan fiction still carry the stigma it used to for both fans and publishers, or has that changed? This ought to be interesting. My nano group in Colorado Springs had quite a few fan fiction writers, so it's a topic I've heard about, but not really dug into. Rest assured, I'll be digging between now and then.

Sunday, Wind River A, 10:00am: To FTL or not to FTL? A discussion of
relativity, fantasy vs. known science and other factors involved in that
venerable SF standby, faster than light travel. I've given this topic quite a lot of thought, especially lately since neutrinos may have been caught violating the speed limit. It's one of those tropes that's been around forever, and it's time we go after it with the dissecting tray, pins, and scalpel.

Sunday, Mesa Verde B, 1:00pm: Programming the Future. Where are computers headed and what will it mean for our future? A look at AI and other, more imminent, possibilities. Okay, I'm on a panel about computers and the future. No worries, right? Let me rephrase. I'm on a panel about computers and the future with Vernor Vinge. One of cyberpunk's founding fathers. Still, it's a subject I've given a lot of thought to in the process of writing my first two novels, and if memory serves, the only work I've done since I went pro that /doesn't/ have a machine intelligence in it someplace is /On Gossamer Wings/. And even that one's debatable. Should be fun.

See y'all there.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

RIP Steve Jobs

In 2001, I bought my first Mac, a blue and white G3, to run OS X 10.1. At the time, I thought it wasted an awful lot of cycles on eye candy, but was a pretty nice machine, and anyway it was Unix underneath. It took a long time for me to come around, grudgingly, and admit that how my computer's desktop /looks/, how it behaves when I click on things, does actually matter, and in all those things with OS X, IOS, AppleTV, iPod, Airport; in the look and feel of the hardware as my systems became more and more apple-centric, the esthetic sense of Steve Jobs and his team could and can be felt. At times, it's been maddening, because some simple thing that I should be able to do ran afoul of what Steve's esthetic said I needed to do. Other times it's as though he read my mind beforehand, and the solution to a given problem was literally at my fingertips when the need occurred.

So on this sad occasion of his death, let me send my condolences to everyone who actually knew him in person, but also to all of us who knew him only through his work. May the wind be at your back, Steve Jobs. You made technology exciting, even after the excitement had mostly died down and the suits had taken over.


Monday, August 29, 2011

Google+ and security

As someone rather graphically demonstrated on this blog, using your secret mobile email posting address to forward messages from Google+ to your blogger blog leaves the aforementioned secret posting address exposed to the world. I've deleted the post and turned that posting mechanism off.

What's really mind boggling is that the post in question was one I put on Google+ almost a week ago, and it only went through recently. Why it takes days to send email from one part of the Google empire to another I have no idea, but in any case, the point is taken. Until Google provides a proper, secure way to auto-crosspost from Google+ to here, or a proper RSS mechanism on Google+, things will remain as they were.

I /am/ on Google+. Look for Jim Strickland there. But there isn't much to see publicly.


Friday, August 12, 2011

The Right Dynamic, Followup

In workshopping Brass and Steel, it became obvious that my clever dynamic of having Dante be an outsider for 8 years in Perdition didn't work well. So I've changed the dynamic (again) to have Dante /be/ the outsider who just arrived in town. It wants to make him a little too cosy with the powers that Be in Washington, but I can apply the inside-outsider treatment to that part of the story (it's inevitable, really). So now he is the Deputy Federal Marshal, fresh off the airship in this very strange town in the mountains of Nevada.

New opening paragraphs (subject to revision or cutting, as always):

The sheriff of Perdition and his boys are waiting for me as the Jupiter comes in for her landing. In the time it takes the big airship to settle into her berth, they saunter over to the gangway as it reaches up toward the enormous belly of the ship, and they try hard to look inconspicuous. The locals — longshoremen, ground crewmen, cigarette girls and so forth give them a wide birth.

The hatch opens like the doors to a blast furnace, and the high-altitude chill of the cabin boils away like steam in heated air that reeks of burning coal and brimstone. My skin tries to sweat. I’m going to have to drink a lot more water here. I can tell. Put on my hat. Step out onto the gangway. It creaks under me, but it holds as I walk down it.

The sheriff and his boys don’t wait until my boots hit solid ground before they buttonhole me.


Monday, August 8, 2011

On Taos Toolbox

On Taos Toolbox

I've been home for two weeks. The various house disasters that occurred while I was gone have been largely controlled, the various online fires that needed fighting have been doused, I'm back (unfortunately) to my usual sleeping schedule, and in general, life has returned to something like normal. If you ever want to feel like the center of a universe (not necessarily the universe, but the universe you live in, at least) take two weeks away from it.

I'm not going to write an in-depth day by day account of the whole workshop. Christie already did it. I'm going to summarize quite a bit instead. (I know, I know. Summary vs Dramatization, telling vs showing. :) Ok, fine. I'll try and set the scene first.

It's 10:00am. I'm sitting in a char hulled--apparently--by rabid beavers from raw logs before being upholstered. The room is the largest at the ski resort, the main suite. A log wall is across from me, set with windows and a wooden walkway on the other side. A TV and coffee table are off to my left, the latter stacked with printed copies of manuscripts for critiquing. Overhead are a collection of track mounted spotlights assigned at fairly random angles in what is probably the only light fixture in the entire resort not made from horns or other dead animal parts.

I'm cheek by jowl at this folding table with Stephen Blount on my left, and Carole Ann Moleti on my right. Across this end of the table are Jeff Duntemann and Ed Rosick. The rest of the class is seated at the same table, with Walter Jon Williams and Nancy Kress at the head and left hand of the head respectively. Walter's just arrived, being a late sleeper, and is wearing an eye-bleeding hawaiian shirt. Since we're all here, he does not see fit to sound the Air-Horn of summoning, thus sparing all of our hearing. Especially his own.

Nancy Kress gets up and lecture begins. She's talking about description. Description, she says (according to my notes), is best when it is specific. Generalities aren't your friends. (I'm paraphrasing here). If you're driving a car, it makes a vast difference to the tone of the story if it's a 2011 Lexus coupe or a 1974 Nova with holes rusted in the floor. It makes a big difference whether you're listening to Bach or Bachman Turner Overdrive, and whether the sound is coming from an iphone connected to the car's Alpine sound system, or from an old Sparkomatic FM radio with only two push-buttons set. You can characterize a scene and the people in it just from the stuff around them. Description, on a related note, is tonal. Gibson's opening line in Neuromancer: "The sky was the color of a tv set tuned to a dead channel." sets the tone of the entire novel, both in the grey sky and the technology that wraps around it.

There I sit, scribbling notes in longhand, printing in hopes (unlike with my college notes) of being able to read them later. Even on the fly, I know these notes are important. I know that they hold the keys to breaking the great dissatisfaction I've felt about my writing over the last two or three years. The lecture goes on. Description is interactive and dramatic. Instead of just telling a description, give nouns, eyeball kicks, emotion from people, connection to others, and intimacy. Make it vivid. I stretch my hand a moment to keep my wrist from cramping. I write for a living, but normally it's with a keyboard. Many of my classmates take notes on the profusion of mostly-macintosh laptops, with legato clicks as the membrane keys dip under their fingers. Taste of coffee. Keep up.

After Nancy's lecture is a ten minute break, and we line up for the bathroom, and to head to the kitchen for more coffee, soda, and the odd bagel. After that, critiques begin. And because we were asked not to make the critiques public, that's where I'm going to stop. Walter's second lecture on plot came afterwards.

* * *

What Taos Toolbox is most like, as I described it to friend Jeff, who wrote his own lengthy blog posts here on his Taos experience, is a 500 level mixed workshop and lecture course on the craft of the Science Fiction and Fantasy novel, taught by two experts in the field, Walter Jon Williams, and in our case Nancy Kress. Walter has, according to Wikipedia, two Nebulas and a Sideways, and Nancy has four Nebulas, two Hugos, a Campbell and a Sturgeon. You don't often find this kind of expertise in universities. You don't often find masters of science fiction short stories like guest lecturer Jack Skillingstead in universities. These are working pros in the field right now, and they are some of the best. Their lectures alone, their critiques alone, would make the workshop worth every cent and every second invested. Personal conference with the faculty? Yup. In the Jacuzzi? Optional.

Consider, from my notes from Nancy's first lecture: a scene is a unit. It contains orientation in terms of location, cast, and time. It has a purpose in the story - to advance plot, or deepen characterization. It has dramatization. Things happen in the scene. It has tension, and it ends on rising tension, emotion, and/or action. Dramatization, in turn, consists of Dialog, action, description, character's thoughts, but not much exposition.

Consider, from my notes on Walter's first lecture, about plot: Narrative is what happens in the story. Plot is how the story is presented to the reader. "The king died and then the queen died." is narrative. "The king died, and then the queen died of grief." is plot. He went into a whole taxonomy of plot types which I won't type here, and then said that plots can be compared to a multistage rocket. 3 to four stages that accelerate the story, often in different directions than they originally appeared, and then there's an explosive final payoff, reveal, etc.

None of these are hard and fast rules, but they are useful to know.

When I processed these lectures, and remember, they're from the first day, it occurred to me that I did these things, without knowing why, in the two novels and the novella I've written that worked, and that most of the stuff I've written that doesn't work fails because it was missing either dramatic scenes, or because the plot was missing fundamental anatomy. I knew they didn't work. Now I know why. It makes it a lot easier to fix something when you know why it doesn't work. That, friends and neighbors, is worthwhile learning.

But wait, there was more.

Workshop classes are a participation based method of instruction, so the better the classmates, the better the class. My classmates in the 2011 were all professional writers. Every one of them has sold fiction in professional markets. By heaven, every one of them wrote well when they got there, and the critiques they gave were professional and insightful. Walter bills the course as a master's class, and the 2011 gang certainly reflected that. They were also, without exception, a wonderful bunch of people. Interesting, funny, delightfully strange around the edges, and all serious and professional about writing.

And then there was the work itself. Over two weeks, we read and critiqued on the order of 198,000 words. This, in addition to writing our second week submissions, which probably averaged about 4000-6000 words each (I'm guessing here), and the odd assignment, along with movie nights, of which only Casablanca night was required. (Walter breaks the plot of Casablanca down on the fly during the movie. He also has a wealth of background information from the movie. Neither are to be missed, and it's a hell of a good movie besides.) We were busy. Most days, after critiquing and lectures were done around 2:00 in the afternoon, (starting at 10:00am sharp) people disappeared to their suites, or to balconies, or wherever to work. And the critiques and the writing showed it. There were some pieces where it was hard to find anything to talk about with them, particularly for the second week of critiquing, where we all had the chance to apply the lectures and the previous week's critiques to the next piece. More than a couple critiques I wrote began with "Wow." And you know, I could see that the new chapters of Brass and Steel: Inferno that I wrote/revised for week 2 were markedly better and tighter than the first week's.

But wait, there was more. Sean wrote on this subject, Jeff wrote on this subject and being that I'm kind of in a hurry and I'm lazy, I'll just link to that and say yes, a thousand times yes. From my suite-mate Jeff Duntemann to the instructors, to the incredible gang of writers, thank you all. I'm proud to have known you, proud to have spent two weeks with you, proud to have had the honor of critiquing your work and having you critique mine. I look forward to seeing what you and I become.

For more information on Taos Toolbox (especially for those interested in attending the 2012 edition, click here.

Reading at Who Else! Books on Aug. 13 @3:00pm!

Reading! Jeff Duntemann and I will be joining mystery writer Mark Stevens for readings at Who Else! Books. Jeff and I will be reading from our respective short novels in Drumlin Circus/On Gossamer Wings, and Mark will be reading from his novel Buried By the Roan. For Jeff and me, this will be the first reading we've done since the premier at AnomalyCon (it's been a busy summer for both of us) and it will be great to get back in the saddle. Who Else! books has a number of copies of Drumlin Circus/On Gossamer Wings on hand, for those who wish to buy a hardcopy.

If you've never been to Who Else! books, it's a wonderful place, part of the Broadway Book Mall, and Ron and Nina Else have been staunch supporters of my previous work, and they are deeply and passionately involved in science fiction in the Denver area. Also really, really nice folks. Who Else! Books is in the Broadway Book Mall, at 200 S. Broadway, Denver, Colorado, 80209.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Right Dynamic

It's a standard trope of the Old West that change comes from outsiders. The stranger comes to town, and by the time he's done, the town has been upended, its culture changed or destroyed, and he rides off into the sunset, being too volatile to keep around. And the truth is, this really happened quite a bit. Reading the stories of the Earp brothers, it's clear they wore out their welcomes in towns they cleaned up fairly regularly.

It hasn't always been the case that Old West stories start with an outsider. In earlier Westerns, like High Noon, the strangers were the bad guys and the hero was the townie sheriff who faced them down, but I grew up on Eastwood Westerns, particularly High Plains Drifter, and by the time they came along, that dynamic had been inverted. The outsider was the good guy - though frequently he's at best a mixed blessing. The dynamic of insider vs outsider is a powerful one.

Why this matters: Brass and Steel: Inferno is a story about Dante Blackmore, who is investigating some decidedly strange goings on in the town he's lived in for eight years. The problem I kept running into was asking how, if he's been there for eight years, has he been unaware of those goings on right along? He can't be (or I don't have a story to tell), and yet I have no desire to have the story depend on his incompetence or stupidity. Worse, the more I thought about it, the story I've been stealing the technique from; Dead and Buried - the novelization by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro; gets out of this exact problem only because the main character's memory may or may not be reliable. (Read the book. It's very good. The movie is only so-so.) I'd reached the point where I was facing upending the plot (again) by making Dante either an outsider coming in, or a war hero coming back after years of work away from his home town. Both interesting dynamics, but not quite what I wanted.

This afternoon, though, a third way emerged in the fleshing out of chapter 1 that hadn't been there before, and it gave me the feel I want. Blackmore's been in town for eight years, yes, but he's not /part/ of the town. People don't talk to him. It makes him as much an outsider as if he'd just gotten there. He knows quite a bit of the history, but he's not immersed in the town culture. Best of both worlds. All of a sudden chapter 1 starts to ring properly, and the town culture starts to work. Plus, the dynamics of gyrations of the town's culture as we all proceed through the plotline together start to make a /lot/ more sense.

For those playing the home game, chapter 1 is not the first chapter I've written. I have /lots/ of other chapters, quite a few of which will probably be in the final novel, but chapter 1 sets the town and lays down the culture, and it's got to set the right feel for me to play the rest of the novel off of.

Back to work.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Lights are on/Someone is home

When I reload my cyberpunk world - and I am planning to return to cyberpunk - you can expect the technology to look a little different. There are things I didn't imagine in 2004 (or 1991, depending on which parts of the Looking Glass world you're looking at), such as cloud computing, and the revolutions in the Middle East. There were things I did imagine too, for other purposes, and one of those things is this: a technique for making light activated neurons in mice.

Not inherently useful in cyberpunk you say? Consider this. Given a supply of stem cells, dropping those same genes into the stem cells and triggering those stem cells to become neurons gives you a supply of light activated neurons which you can implant in someone's brain. Add some encoding/decoding logic, a power supply, and an optical port, along with a good understanding of how the brain really works, and you've got direct neural interfaces. It's tempting to say "it gets rid of all the nanomachine handwaving of neurofibers" buuuut... I did say those neurofibers were practically living neurons themselves. In any case, I saw it, it amused me, and so here it is. :)


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Downloads Page is Back

As part of my update in support of Drumlin Circus/On Gossamer Wings, I was quietly sunsetting the free downloads section of my site. Then I looked at the Google Analytics, and let's just say removing the second most popular page in the site seemed like a bad idea. So the Downloads page is back. :)


Sunday, May 8, 2011

Drumlin Circus/On Gossamer Wings On Sale Now

TLDR version: Drumlin Circus/On Gossamer Wings double novel is available for purchase! More info on my website at!
I'm pleased to announce that Drumlin Circus/On Gossamer Wings (also known as Copperwood Double #1) is on sale now.

I've discussed Jeff Duntemann's Drumlin world before, but for those just tuning in, a quick recap.

Toward the middle of the 22nd century AD, the new Starship Origen departed Earth on her maiden voyage, bound for the colony on Numenor with a cargo of livestock, various frozen DNA samples of livestock, plants, and people, and a large number of scientists and university professors bound for SUNY Numenor. She never made it. Instead, when her Hilbert drive malfunctioned destructively, she emerged from her FTL jump all the way across the galaxy, in unexplored space, with no way of returning.

The castaways were fortunate enough to discover a planet strongly resembling Pleistocine Earth, and there they were forced to start a colony nobody had planned on, with only the tools and materials they'd brought with them. It wasn't easy. In the hard scrabble that ensued, a lot of the knowledge they'd brought with them was lost, and their civilization began to regress.

And there was something else. Scattered over the surface of the planet were tens of thousands of alien artifacts called thingmakers, each with a pair of pillars that make a drumlike sound when tapped, and a two and a half meter diameter bowl filled with silver dust. When 256 taps total are made, something will appear out of the dust in the bowl. Sometimes they're useful things, like axes and pilsner glasses and rulers. Often times they're unrecognizable metallic shapes.

Two and a half centuries later, the world those castaways named Valinor is slowly clawing its way back up the technological ladder. Steam locomotives have begun moving passengers and freight over iron rails, to and from the rural communities where the food is grown. The first hydrogen filled airships are being developed in secret. The uneasy truce between those who would re-develop human technology and those who would rely on drumlins has held. Humanity is prospering. An industrial revolution has begun.

As the title of the book suggests, there are two short novels printed in this book. The hardcopy is a double novel, like the old Ace Doubles of years gone by. Read one story, flip the book over, and read the other.

The first story is Drumlin Circus, by Jeff Duntemann. Drumlin Circus tells the story of Simon Kassel, a director of the Bitspace Institute, sent to suppress a drumlin used by the circus to train its animals. When his mission is wrecked by other Institute operatives who kidnap the animal trainer and her assistant, wounding Kassel in the process, Kassel joins the circus and becomes a very scary clown, bent on revenge against the Institute. He returns to Institute HQ to rescue Julia and Rosa only to discover that the function controller does a lot more than train animals. Played by an expert, human beings and even other drumlins will obey its tunes. And young Rosa is one very annoyed master.

The second story is On Gossamer Wings. I wrote it. Far out in the dusty farmlands of the Great Bowl, a strange, mute girl named Natalie Bishop discovered the rhythm for the Big Ball of Iron. This has not gone unnoticed by the Institute. Now, Institute director Hiram König has been sent to suppress it. What he finds is that in the meantime, Natalie has become a young woman, and the big ball of iron is only the beginning of what she's drumming up. Despite the fact that everyone considers her a mentally defective child who will never grow up, Natalie is determined to prove her worth, her intelligence, and her adulthood by drumming up the parts for a flying machine she's designed. It's up to König to spirit her and her unique gifts with the thingmakers out of the town of Joiners before the whole situation blows up and crushes her and her dreams of flying underfoot.

Drumlin Circus/On Gossamer Wings is for sale in ebook and dead-tree formats from Amazon and Barnes&Noble. We'll hopefully be making it available from more ebook sites and brick and mortar bookstores soon.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Belated Anomalycon Wrapup

I was surprisingly stressed out on the approach to AnomalyCon 2011. I've been into Steampunk since it first had a name (around the time Gibson and Sterling's Difference Engine hit the scene.) It's a genre I've enjoyed for quite a while, and the very first novel I completed for NaNoWriMo is in that genre. (It will probably never see the light of day.) Still, I had no real handle on what the crowd would be like, and Jeff and I, by vacuuming up any panel space that came free when the inevitable cancellations cropped up, had both a reading and a topic panel to give.

As it turned out, it was a lot of fun. The Tivoli Student Union building is a defunct 19th century brewery, still replete with much of the equipment - a large steam engine, keg management equipment, and so on - so it was a perfect setting for the con. It is also enormous, so when the con ran to three times the number of people the staffers reasonably expected to see, it still didn't feel crowded or harried, and we weren't getting the hairy eyeball from some hotel staff. The LLC running the con did a remarkable job for the first time around. Kudos to them.

Our presentation on Saturday was on Steampunk in post-future worlds. What this translates to is that Jeff's Drumlin world, while strictly by date, is set in the distant future. However, because the people of the colony have undergone a technological regression (they were never expecting to colonize a world from scratch, so the information they brought with them was on consumer grade electronics - which only lasted 10 years or so.) What our talk centered around was what forces made the original Victorian era occur, and if, given the same or similar values in the culture, it would recur in this future world. We concluded that not only would it, but between cultural DNA (they had lots of pictures and some pattern books) and manufacturing technology, it would likely /look/ very much like the Victorian era.

On Sunday, we did readings from our double novel: Drumlin Circus/On Gossamer Wings. It was reasonably well received, though we were across (and literally right below the balcony of) a somewhat more popular panel. Fortunately Jeff and I are both experienced readers who can fill a decent sized room with sheer lung power.

The downside of the Tivoli building is that the light is absolutely terrible in it. Getting good pictures inside the con was very much hit or miss, even with my mighty F1.2 Pentax-A lens, which is the fastest camera/lens package I own. So I don't really have any compelling pictures to share.

A fun con, and I'll most likely be going again next year, with intent to read and/or panelize.


Friday, March 25, 2011

Site Update

Switched on the new stuff to support the premiere of Drumlin Circus/On Gossamer Wings on Sunday at AnomalyCon.

Please note that (obviously) the final art for the Drumlin Circus side of the double isn't in place - that's an artist's sketch that I labeled with the Dymo label fonts. :)

Oh, I also fixed the book reviews section - replaced it, really, with a javascript one from Goodreads. They somehow changed the feed and broke the magpie scripting that fed my bookshelf to my desktop. Hopefully they'll refrain from doing the same to their own API.

See you at the con.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Anomaly Con

Anomaly Con is this weekend! Yay! The premiere is on!

For those playing the home game, For the last couple months, I've been working with Jeff Duntemann on a double novel. We're premiering it at Anomaly Con here in Denver on Sunday, March 27th, at 1:00pm in Panel Room 1.

Well, this week, the organizers of the con emailed me to ask if we could do a panel on Saturday as well, to fill in for someone who got sick at the last minute and had to cancel.

We said "Sure." :) So now we also have a panel on Saturday at noon in Panel room 1 called "The Evolution of Steampunk in Post Modern Worlds". As we've worked on the double novel, and indeed as Jeff worked on the previous stories in the Drumlin world, it became obvious that we were writing steampunk, whether we set out to or not. So Jeff suggested we take a step back for this panel and look at what forces produced the original Victorian era, and how many of them were replicated in the Drumlin world, and how those elements came together again to form the second Victorian era on that far-away, distant future planet. And once we started talking about it, we realized that's a good topic for a panel.

This is also a good time to give a quick shout-out to Wild West Mercantile for not only getting my order to me extremely quickly, but for going above and beyond by /measuring/ the vest in the store while I was on the phone with them, so we could make sure it would fit.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Some Perspective

Some perspective on Japan's nuclear plant problems, courtesy of XKCD's Randall Monroe

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Finally, a decent epub reader for Mac

Epub is an open standard for ebooks. It's very popular, used in iBooks and by the Barnes and Noble Nook, and it's fast emerging as the lingua franca of ebook systems - even some versions of Sony's e-reader are said to read them. Why, then, are there so few epub reader options for Mac users? I've talked about this before, in this very blog, and I'll not rehash that whole discussion here. The point I'm making here is that I think I've finally found a decent epub reader for mac. It's called Lucifox and it's a plugin for Firefox. All the details you'd want are here. There appears to be a standalone version as well (dependent on the Mozilla XUI runner) which I've not played with yet.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

My new favorite font

Gputeks has two major things going for it. First, it's an attractive font at almost any scale, and just what I was looking for for the title page of On Gossamer Wings. Second, it's OFL licensed. That's Open Font License. As in Open Source. Free as in Freedom, and all that. You can get both here: What gputeks means, I have no earthly clue. Nor do I particularly care. :)



For those in the Denver metro area, I will be appearing at Anomaly Con on the 26th and 27th of this month, in support of Cooperwood Press's Copperwood Double #1. This book contains two stories set in Jeff Duntemann's Drumlin world, which I've talked about before. On Side one is Jeff's novella Drumlin Circus and side two of the double-book is my novella On Gossamer Wings.

If you've never seen one of the old Ace doubles, double novels work like this:
On side one of the book, you have cover art, and a short-ish novel. Flip the book so the spine printing is now upside down, and instead of the back cover, you have different cover art, and a different novel. The two novels meet in the middle, one upside down from the other so you know where one ends and the other begins. Page numbers go from the side you started on toward the center. In the center was a catalog of other titles from the same publisher. Double novels often contained abridged versions of the novels within, so they'd both fit in the relatively small number of pages allowed. (Neither Drumlin Circus nor On Gossamer Wings has been abridged in any fashion, as they were written with this format in mind.)

Novellas run, according to Wikipedia, somewhere in the huge span between 10,000 words and 70,000 words. Novellas are fun to write. They're middle-length stories where you can experiment with writing style, with story lines, with characters, without the screamingly tight word constraints of short fiction, and yet without committing the time and intricate story telling of a novel. They're fun to read too, since you can read them at one sitting and still have time to do other things the same day.

Unfortunately, novella length fiction is typically impossible to sell. Publishers usually want either short fiction of less than 7000 words for print in magazines, or they want 90,000 to 110,000 word novels - or longer if you're Stephen King. Double Novels give you /two/ novella length pieces in one cover. If you've never read a novella before, you're in for a treat.

As for working with Jeff on this one, it's been a pleasure. Jeff's an old hand at Science Fiction, and a damn good one. He's been on the final ballot for a Hugo (twice) and he's been selling short science fiction since 1974. His first novel, The Cunning Blood came out in 2006. He's also a good friend. You've seen his name in my blog before.

We're still hammering out the final details of the book, and the deadline is tight, but we should have copies in hand to sell at the con. Look for the guys in the top hats. Our panel reading is Sunday, the 27th, at 1:00pm. I'll put up another posting here when I know where in the con the reading will be.


Friday, February 4, 2011

Off Topic: The Politics of Suck

I got a letter from the Democratic National Committee a couple days ago. In it, I was advised that the time to prepare for the 2012 election is now, and that above all we must work to keep Republicans out of the White House. It went on for some length about the matter, in fact, how any Republican President would pull a "George Bush" and "run this country right into the ditch."

Now, as folks might have guessed from my post entitled "That was the decade that was," I was not and am not George W. Bush's biggest fan. If one is paying attention, one might guess that this has something to do with why the DNC is asking me for money, in fact. But as I read this letter, one thing got on my nerves.

It said nothing about what the President and Democrats in Congress are doing. The entire letter was about Republicans, in the most harsh tones, though remarkably without many facts to look at. The letter basically distilled down to this: Republicans suck. Give us money so we can keep them out of power.

So um. I take it the whole Civility in Politics thing didn't reach Governor whatsisnuts who wrote the letter?

See, here's the problem. Starting with the Reagan era, politics has become less and less about ideas and more and more about how the other guys suck. The results of this have been devastating. The parties have grown more and more polarized, lest anyone in party A admit that they suck by admitting that party B might have a good idea there. When party A is in power, they feel they have a "mandate from the people" to do things that suck. And verily, they do. And finally, and most importantly, they drive the civility out of the business of democracy where it is most needed - in the people who vote.

The tragic shooting in Tucson is the final result of this last problem. You can argue, as I was prepared to, that Sarah Palin knew exactly what she was doing when she set up the target reticles on her website to intimidate the candidates she was targeting. She certainly should have. The Operation Rescue web campaign against Dr. George Tiller of Wichita certainly netted similar success for that organization. Certainly, Palin should have known that her website put people's lives in danger. But the bottom line is that both those websites were inappropriate for mainstream politics, bordering on terrorism, and should have been roundly denounced by the sensible people of America. They were not so denounced. The level of normal violence was raised. Bloodshed and lives lost were the result.

Until our civilization refuses to sanction the violent undertone in our politics, blood will continue to be spilled. I, for one, will no longer sanction it. So no, Governor DNC. Not one fucking dime for you and your party. Not until you admit that the other party can be simply wrong instead of evil. I have had enough of the politics of suck, sir. And until you learn some manners, I don't want to see you or yours in the White House either.


Friday, January 28, 2011

Off Topic: A Thank-You Note to Apple Computer

Dear Apple Computer:

I am a computer geek, and I have been for 30 years. My mother, by contrast, is not. She called me yesterday to tell me that her late 2005 G5 iMac/iSight was showing blue horizontal bands instead of booting. I have to say I cringed when she said it. It's never good to have severe video distortion on a computer, but particularly on an all-in-one machine like an iMac.

Worse, she was trying to power the machine up to write a paper for a class she's taking. The paper is due monday. This is the lady who gave me such grief for leaving things to the last minute. I suppose she could have waited until Sunday afternoon. I suggested, without much hope, that she call the Apple store nearest her for a genius bar appointment and take the iMac in to see what could be done.

I suggested she take her time machine disk to the store with her, just in case.

She went to the Apple store in Albuquerque, NM, and there her old iMac was indeed pronounced dead of a logic board failure. Pretty much what I expected from her description, and from the age of the machine. The G5 macs just didn't last as well as previous generations, and her imac outlasted all the other powerMacs in the family.

This was, however, the Apple store. The folks there are not inclined to throw up their hands and say "Sorry." No. The genius bar employee handed her off to a salesman. I suggested that she think about laptops, mac minis, and iMacs if she had to get a new machine. With the salesman's help, she did. Together they reached the conclusion that for her needs, a new iMac was the best deal in terms of performance per dollar and that it best suited her computing habits.

The machine she selected was the 21.5 inch iMac 3.0ghz core i3 with 4gb of RAM. In terms of raw clock speed, it's the fastest mac in the family. I'm trying hard to keep the lyrics from "Little Old Lady from Pasadena" out of my head. My mother would /not/ appreciate the comparison.

Looking at the specs, it's a hell of a computer. It probably doesn't really have enough video RAM for a hardcore gamer, but then my mother really isn't into EverQuest, World of Warcraft, or Eve Online anyway. Don't laugh too hard. I know some people's moms who are.

What she did not do was have the folks at the store restore her system from time machine. There was an extra charge for this, and more classes she didn't really want to attend anyway. She took the new machine home, set it up on her desk, marveled at the wireless keyboard and mouse, and then called me again.

She was at the part of the automatic setup process where Setup Assistant asked her if she'd like to recover data from another mac or a time machine backup. Yes, I assured her, that's what we wanted to do. Did she want to select everything? Again, yes, I assured her that's what she wanted to do.

18 minutes later, she went through the registration pages, and after that, her desktop was back, and everything was where she expected it to be. I suggested we probably should make sure time machine was set up on the new computer, so she opened time machine, threw the switch, and it asked if she wanted to use the existing time machine drive for the new computer. We heartily agreed.

And that was it. When we hung up the phone, the computer was busily creating its new time machine backup, she was busily reading email and checking her bank account. Oh, and thinking about starting her paper, since it is due Monday and all.

Now, I have nerd friends who have other brands of computers, and when they have a total hardware failure, or a total reload situation, they're down for a day, at least, and there's some tinkering involved to set the new machine up with all their accounts and all that. For my mother, buying the computer took longer than getting it up and running with all her data and applications. The longest part of that process was copying the data off of the time machine drive. It took maybe a dozen mouse clicks to make it all happen, and frankly if I'd been out of the house, she probably could have done it herself.

Thank you, Apple Computer, for putting the thought and the care into your hardware and software to make the recovery from such a catastrophic failure such a non-event, and for making her shopping experience at the Apple Store such a positive one.

There's only one thing missing. Someplace to email this to. So I'm posting this as an open letter to my blog.

-James R. Strickland

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Google Ebooks Ripoff - Refunded

Two days after I made my post about what a ripoff Google Ebooks was, I was contacted by Anna, on the Google Books team, who apologized and offered me a refund, which I accepted.

While my complaints about the quality of the ebooks they're offering stand, I have to say it's almost unsettling how proactive their customer service is. Kudos to Anna and the team for settling the matter.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Google Ebooks: A complete and utter rip-off

I've been following the ebook thing for a long time, but seldom have I seen such a disgusting rip-off as google e-books. Doing research for the novel I'm currently working on, it became necessary to have a copy of the Sears, Roebuck catalog from the late 1890s. Great, I figured. Here's a job for an ebook. I looked on Google's ebook site and they had one. I read through the information on it, and nowhere did it say the book was not available in PDF or epub format, so I purchased it.

First problem: the price. Google ebooks are either free or expensive, in this case I paid $9.95 (plus tax) for a book I could have bought on paper for $12 from Amazon.

Second, I'm stuck reading the book on the cloud. This sounds nicer than it is. It really means that on my desktop I'm limited to using their browser-reader, and on any other device it has to have an active, battery sucking internet connection. Oh, and by the way, there is no way at all to read it on Kindle. Let me repeat that, because it's one of the main reasons I'm calling this a rip-off: there is NO downloading this book. You read it from Google's servers or not at all. Basically, you're paying to access a web site.

Third, this book is a plain scan of the reproduction of the catalog. This is as primitive as ebooks get. It is in no way searchable. It has no internal organization other than was present when the catalog was published 114 years ago. While this simplicity (the only addition is a foreword from the republisher) would be charming in a paper edition, in an ebook edition it severely limits the book's usefulness.

Fourth, of course, is the web-page reader itself. Consisting of a web page listing the books you were fool enough to buy on this service, and a link that takes you to the ebook in question. Once there, you get a bar at the top of your browser to take you back to your "I wasted my money on THIS?" page, and a button at either edge of your browser to scroll, one page at a time, through the ebook, along with an uncalibrated slider at the bottom of the page so you can scroll to about the middle of the book, or somewhere near one end or the other. That's as accurate as it gets. Using the forward and back buttons is no special joy. Each time you hit one of the buttons, the web site has to send you another page (remembering this is a scan, so it's a big image file of some kind, so even on my 16mb/s link it takes a certain amount of time). If you hit it more than a couple times close together (I need to get to page 500) it will stop responding altogether. As if these defects weren't sufficient, there is one that is above all, unforgivable. If you shrink the window it buckles the text and hides the forward and back buttons altogether. Read that again. If you scale your browser window the PRINT BECOMES UNREADABLE and THE FORWARD AND BACK BUTTONS ARE HIDDEN. THE READER BECOMES UNUSABLE IF YOU TRY TO SCALE IT.

If you're entertaining the idea of buying a google book for any reason, I encourage you to think twice, maybe three times. Google has not done any work at all to make a quality product here.


Monday, January 3, 2011

That was the Decade that Was

The aughties - 2001 to 2010 - span my entire writing career. Wow. So much stuff has happened in those ten years. Consider: in 2001, I still worked in high tech. The country had a budget surplus, after years of competent management by the Clinton administration, and the worst scandal everyone knew about was the President's dalliance with a lady on his staff.

Compare that to now, when, when after 8 years of the Stupid, America has a trillion dollar deficit, its own secret police, secret prisons, the TSA, and a genuine concentration camp in Cuba (as opposed to a death camp, with which the term has become conflated)

So given the slow poisoning of American culture that I was seeing, the decay of the value of common decency, and in the face, four days in, of seeing that idiot re-elected in 2004, I wrote Looking Glass, my second NaNoWriMo novel, and if sales are any indication, the most likely reason you're reading this. I finished it in the summer of 2005.

Met friend Jeff (Jeff Duntemann) over regenerative radios in January of 2005. If for no other reason, I'll never regret getting into vacuum tube technology. Jeff is salt of the Earth.

NaNo 2005 gave me a second novel in the Looking Glass world, though it's not the one you're thinking. It had a lot of good ideas, but I was so desperate not to make another Catherine Farro novel that the characterizations in Last American Virgin are pretty weak. Not many people have seen that novel, and it's unlikely many will, at least in any recognizable form. However, in January of 2006, I had the idea for what is the second novel in the Looking Glass world, now known as Irreconcilable Differences. Long, boring drives through Kansas and Wyoming, combined with the buddy movie concept I tinkered with in Virgin to give me the idea. The first draft of the manuscript was finished at the end of September, 2006.

Looking Glass sold at the end of 2006, and I became a published author.
NaNo 2006 was when I wrote the first draft of the book that's kept me in knots since, Einstein's Blues. So many cool ideas in that book, including a new universe of planets that I still have ideas for, but so many fundamental problems with the plot. I still hope to finish this one, as I think it's worth it. It's also the last novel I was able to bounce ideas off of friend Mike with.

May 25, 2007, Looking Glass is released with another book in Flying Pen Press's release party at the Tattered Cover

July, 2007, we finally left Colorado Springs for a Denver suburb. Just in time, by the look of things, as while it took us six months to sell our house there, the economy there has pretty much dried up and blown away. The Denver paper covered how the Springs can't afford to run all their streetlights anymore, and how they were selling some of their police helicopters on Ebay. Yeesh. This process started in July and ended in early 2008.

October, 2007. My father passed away after a series of strokes.

January, 2008 found me feverishly completing work on the manuscript for Irreconcilable Differences, which I ultimately finished the first week of February. The book was released during WorldCon Denver (Denvention 3), on August 7, 2008, and the release party was at the Tattered Cover again. I did NaNo in 2008 as well, but the novel that resulted, Truth be Told, is another one that may never see the light of day. It was, notably, my first attempt to have a male narrator. Also, in 2008, Americans finally elected a President we could be proud of. After 8 years of George W. Bush, frankly Mickey Mouse would have been an improvement. President Obama is far from perfect, but he seems to grasp that decency is still an American value. Whether Congress agrees is another question.

2009 seemed like a not-very-productive year, and from an output standpoint that's true. But the truth is I spent much of 2009 converting most of Flying Pen Press's catalog into ebooks for sale on Kindle. 2009 also saw the death of friend Mike, who was killed by a drunk driver in a traffic accident. Between the two, I just didn't create much new material. This malaise lasted me well into 2010.

2010 after the end of June saw a comparative explosion of new work - a novella and a short story. The short story, Brass and Steel is in print now in Science Fiction Trails magazine, and the novella, On Gossamer Wings will be part of a double-novel with friend Jeff, due out sometime this summer. NaNo 2010 saw me extending Brass and Steel into the first novel of what may turn out to be a series of books. (Eek.) I'm working on that one these days.

2010 also saw the return of Republicans to power in the House, and it remains to be seen if this is a return to the Stupid of the early Aughties, or whether they're more sane these days.

And now it's 2011. A new decade. While my first instinct is to club the old one over the head with a shovel, bury it, and spit on the grave; looking back it wasn't all bad. I'm 43 now, I have a new career that I'm slowly kicking forward, still married to the most wonderful woman in the world, and I live in a place now where there's some hope. And of course, there's the new work, so hopefully my long-patient readers (that's you folks) will have new output from me soon.

Wishing you and yours a Happy New Year and Happy New Decade.

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