Saturday, December 24, 2005

Almost up to speed

With a couple of my deadlines met, I am clawing my way back to normalcy. Making sure to get in a writing session, no matter the length, every day before turning to the day jobs.

This week the day jobs have been eclipsed by the return of the iBook. I finished up my end of semester schoolwork on my backup computer and turned in the grades on Monday. I also delivered my InDesign course to the Center for Distance Ed. On Wednesday my iBook came back, repaired, but unresponsive. The stupid thing wouldn't boot up. I used the OS disk to start it up and run a self-repair app. But the repair failed and the only thing left to do was reinstall the operating system (Tiger). But it wouldn't take an archive reinstall, so I had to do a clean install. That is, to erase the whole freakin' hard drive and everything on it. Wipe the slate clean.

That's pretty drastic, but I had been prepared for just that eventuality. Even after the logic board goes kaplooey, the hard drive can be tapped with what Apple calls Target Disk Mode. So, with my external DVD burner and my backup computer, I had been able to record everything of worth off the computer before I even sent it in.

And a lot of junk accumulates on a computer in the course of three years. It collects like lint, filling up whole gigabytes. For instance, I still maintained System 9.2 and all the files to support it, as well as Classic apps I haven't launched in years. I can safely say that I don't need System 9 anymore. I've actually got some free memory now.

Recovery takes time, however, and a couple of unpaid days of loading files and applications and moving furniture. By now I am almost back up to speed.

At the top of this entry is a photo of my private empire that I took at high noon on Wednesday--Solstice. The temperature was plus 5 degrees Fahrenheit. You can see the Sun at its zenith through the trees. Total possible daylight for the shortest day--about 3 hours and 42 minutes.

At the bottom of this entry is a photo I took last month of a ruined cabin on the side of the road to Williams, Indiana. The white stripes on the inside of the exposed walls are lath and plaster. Notice the dovetailed building corners. Not a lick of insulation. I wonder if the clapboard once covered the whole cabin and has been cannibalized for some other project. A window thus far spared. Very solid construction and weathering well.

Monday, December 19, 2005

My work cubby

Here is where I've been buried for the last week getting caught up on deadlines. This is my backup workstation. It's a G4 Power Mac with only 533 megahertz of clock speed, one quarter what the current model delivers. And as you can see, it's tucked into a low-ceilinged corner of my "rec room" upstairs. But for all the discomfort and slow speed, this computer has been a lifesaver during my iBook's frequent illnesses.

I've finally had to admit that my iBook has a terminal disease, a chronic form of congenital logic board failure. My little laptop just turned 3 years old last month, and it's been in the shop four times now for motherboard replacement. That makes a fatal board attack every nine months, on average. Apple has recognized this malady to be a design flaw and has repaired it each time at no charge. They even send a two-way overnight shipping carton for it. Which is good since they don't seem able to fix it. If I had bought extended coverage, I imagine I could have gotten them to replace the computer on its third failure, but by now all they can do is swap out yet another logic board and hope that this time it works.

Still, they want to keep me a happy Apple customer, so they sent me a little gift to smooth over any inconvenience--an iPod Shuffle. Which is very cool, since I've been wanting to explore podcasts. See what kind of books on pod are out there. See what it would take to get mine produced.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Book Signing Cancellation

Waldenbooks in Fairbanks has cancelled my book signing, scheduled for tomorrow, because of lack of books. Their regular distributor has my books on backorder. We'll try to reschedule for sometime in January. Stay tuned.

Home again

I don't want people to think I've dropped off the face of the Earth, but I have returned to Fairbanks where I am up to my eyeballs in late deadlines for my day jobs, all of them. I hope to get caught up and be able to post an update by Christmas. stay tuned.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

schedule change

For those of you planning to attend my reading this Saturday at Elliot Bay Books, the time has apparently been changed to 8:00 PM. See ya there.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

that's entertainment 2

My old college buddy Bob Kay Jr. was driving me around Seattle yesterday in his jet black Buick LeSabre Limited Edition when I spied this swimmer poised on the corner of a downtown building. I had only a red light's duration to pull out my camera and snap this photo from below.

I have no idea what buildings these are or where downtown they're located, but putting yesterday's neon swimmer together with this one makes me wonder--are there more neon swimmers in Seattle? Is this a Seattle thing? If anyone out there has an answer or knows the location of yet more neon swimmers, please let me know.


Meanwhile, back at the book tour, I am told by my daughter that Entertainment Weekly doesn't do SF reviews very often and that the grade they gave my book--an A minus--is actually excellent because they rarely give out As. Moreover, they often brand the books in their own featured reviews with a B or worse.

Especially now, says my daughter, at Christmastime with people reading these reviews while on the lookout for gift ideas.

Then, a fellow named Jeff comments on yesterday's blog entry saying that he first became aware of my book through the EW review and went right out and bought it. And right on cue, my sales ranking on, which had sunk to the low 20K range this week, suddlenly shot up to 3250 this morning. Can this sales bump be attributed to the review? Anyway, I'm being impressed by my book's good fortune when I get an email from my Clarion West classmate Cindy Ward. She sends a link to a piece written by a reviewer for the entertainment magazine CFQ and its Yearbook edition. Go to

It's an article exposing the arbitrary process of picking a Ten Best list. The reviewer, Paula Guran, says,

"An entire section on "first novels" is scuttled except for Counting Heads by David Marusek and Jeff VanderMeer's Veniss Underground. The Marusek is another personal favorite that absolutely blew me away. It's flawed, yes, but the high level of imagination is incredible. But I go for the VanderMeer instead. I leave the worthy Veniss Underground on the list because I feel that although it is "new literate" (for lack of a better term) SF/F, it is accessible and enjoyable by a wide audience. It is also a bit of a cheat because it was originally published a couple of years ago by independent press, but I'm also supposed to be concentrating on major publishers, so if small press doesn't really count...then publication by a major does. Or something likes that."

Huh? Say again? You picked Jeff's over mine why?

Anyway, reading this makes the EW placement even more amazing, because the EW reviewer must have had to go through an equally capricious and indefensible winnowing process in reducing his list down to, not ten, but to four finalists. And since in this case we came up a winner, we're entirely good with it.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

that's entertainment

Here's something I found on a walk Sunday on Leary Way. Just waiting to be photoshopped.

My big news is a positive review in the current issue of Entertainment Weekly (Dec. 9, 2005). Very cool.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Third Place Commons

My reading at Third Place Books last night came off well, but that's not the news. The news is what the name of that bookstore means. I had wondered if it was a self-deprecating crack as in, "We're not even in second place, but shop here anyway." An odd name for a bookstore. But after the reading, I asked Megan, my bookstore host, for an explanation, and she refered to the owner's allegiance to the idea that a community needs a commons to freely meet and build social bonds. I remembered at once the theory and realized that the bookstore was only part of the plan, that the real Third Place was the area I had passed coming in, what I took to be a food court. Here's a gloss from the site

"Social condensers" -- the place where citizens of a community or neighbourhood meet to develop friendships, discuss issues, and interact with others -- have always been an important way in which the community developed and retained cohesion and a sense of identity.

Ray Oldenburg (1989), in "The Great Good Place", calls these locations "third places." The first being the home and the second being work. These third places are crucial to a community for a number of reasons, according to Oldenburg. They are distinctive informal gathering places, they make people feel at home, they nourish relationships and a diversity of human contact, they help create a sense of place and community, they invoke a sense of civic pride, they provide numerous opportunities for serendipity, they promote companionship, they allow people to relax and unwind after a long day at work, they are socially binding, they encourage sociability instead of isolation, and they make life more colourful. Their disappearance in our culture is unhealthy for our cities because, as Oldenburg points out, they are the bedrock of community life and all the benefits that come from such interaction.

I can't eat before a reading, and so we had planned to dine afterwards, and we entered the commons, a large space which on a Friday evening was crowded with about 200 people of all ages seated around tables. Some were eating, some playing board games (which were freely available) or cards or just visiting with each other. There was a 10-foot square checkerboard carpet with dog-sized chess pieces in play. A little nook where dozens of teen-agers were engrossed in some kind of multi-player card game. Lots of happy noise. What had first made me think this was a food court, the ring of food counters surrounding it, was on closer inspection, unique in that there were no franchises, at least none that I recognized. A real Mexican restaurant, not Taco Bell. Oriental, pizza, etc. The feeling was that these restaurants didn't own the space, as in a mall food court. You didn't need to purchase your right to sit on a chair. Rather, you could bring your own meal, if you wanted, and hang out as long as you like.

My party (Cindy Ward and Joe Murphy, Nancy and John Lee, Curtis) and I took our meals at a wine bar just as a free musical concert was starting on the stage. A grand, wonderful way to spend a Friday evening. How I long to have something like this in Fairbanks.

Ten years ago or so Fairbanks residents were given an opportunity to build such a Third Place commons. Four or five community center plans were floated, and a commons plan was among them and was the one I voted for. But the vote went for the "multi-purpose" stadium, the Carlson Center, where hockey games, musical concerts, and home product shows are held. Pretty much all business and not a place anyone goes to in-between events. The closest thing we have to a Third Place, IMO, is Fred Meyers where you can meet friends in the grocery aisles.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Thursday, December 01, 2005

3rd Place Books

Tomorrow evening at 6:30 is my reading at 3rd Place Books in Lakewood. Am looking forward to it since everyone says they do a good job of hosting readings.

In the morning, Kalina and I will take a tour of Amgen, the biotech company, as guests of a researcher there who attended my Park Place reading on Tuesday.

Last night I attended the Socrates Cafe in Queen Ann, the same group I attended year and a half ago when I spent the summer in Seattle. A huge turnout, 17 people. Our topic of discussion: With the US arguably the most materialistic country in the world, how come there's so much religion here?

Having just spent a couple of weeks in the Bible belt of southern Indiana, I had a few insights to share.

On Saturday there's the monthly Vanguard party, a get-together of Seattle SF folks. That's what I like about Seattle. So much for me to do.

Reading at Park Place Books

My reading in Kirkland came off very well. Small but dedicated audience that started asking questions the moment I sat down. A small indie bookstore with a very homey and comfortable reading area. I've got photos I'll post eventually.

public terminals

Laptop is dead, and I have been forced to rely on public terminals to continue working on the course design I'm doing and to answer my email and conduct my banking, travel requirements, etc. Every public terminal has its own features and limitations, and they all tend to be cluncky and restrictive of priviledges, timed sessions, and functions. I lack all my little helper apps. I lack my calendar and address book, the archives of past email, my HTML editor, my favorite widgets and music. Not to mention my photo and layout software. This machine I'm on right now at the UW law library has no word processor of any sort. If you want to compose a few paragraphs, you have to do so in the body of an email and send it to yourself.

In other words, I am suffering separation anxiety. My laptop ferries too much of my day-to-day life for my own good. Already I have surrendered to machines, and being offline is a trauma.

Falling offline once in a while is good, though, I'm sure, for it teaches you to back up zealously and reminds you how to cope in the natural world. Akin to being sent into the woods with only a knife and single match.

When I was 19, during the summer after my first year at the University of California at Santa Barbara in the early 70's, I had big plans to hitchhike to see my friend Rusty in Denton, Texas. Two days before my departure, I was bodysurfing in the Pacific, wearing my glasses like a fool, and a wave knocked them off. Of course I never found them.

Putting my trip off was out of the question, and in those days a replacement pair of glasses took weeks, not hours, to receive. So I ordered a new pair to be shipped to Rusty's address in Texas, and I blithely set off from SoCal hitchhiking to Texas rather half blind.

On busy freeway onramps, hanging my thumb out, everything around me a sunbleached haze of fuzzy shapes. Having to reinterpret the world through new eyes. Is that a car stopped? Did it stop for me? At first it was very difficult. The frustration and anger of helplessness lasted a week. Eventually, I came to accept my nearsighted blindness with ease. Learned coping mechanisms. Adjusted.

Anyway, I've got photos I'd like to get up here but I can't right now. So to hell with everything!

Book seems to be doing well. Getting a new crop of reviews, mostly good. One sourpuss so far. Go to my web page for links.