30 October 2013

My Dark Obsession: Comedy Panel Shows

This close to Halloween, I fig­ure the only way to get your atten­tion with a head­line is to make it spooky. This is really a blog post about com­edy panel shows and how much I want to have their babies.

am obsessed with them, but not darkly, and I have been ever since we vis­ited London and, bat­tling jet­lag, dis­cov­ered a QI marathon on the “telly.” QI is a British panel show in which come­di­ans (mostly) attempt to answer quiz ques­tions posed by British trea­sure Stephen Fry. Mostly, peo­ple make jokes and try to avoid the obvi­ous wrong answers which result in neg­a­tive points. Fry is joined in every episode by his side­kick, Alan Davies. Two episodes into this show, we were hooked. I remem­ber dis­cov­er­ing QI as warmly as I do vis­it­ing the Tower of London. So I’ve been hooked on com­edy panel shows since that first taste.

I’ve always adored stand-​​up com­edy, and I love trivia and games. My dad loved Carlin (and, oddly, Gallagher), so we watched a lot of stand-​​up spe­cials as a kid. And I’m a nerd, so of COURSE I love trivia. Comedy panel shows like QI, Nevermind the Buzzcocks, or 8 out of 10 Cats are tailor-​​made to be my ver­sion of tele­vi­sion crack. Only they’re much harder to get than crack.

These shows are not pop­u­lar in the United States and as far as I know almost never air here as imports and rarely as locally made vari­ants. The clos­est thing we’ve ever had was Whose Line Is It Anyway? which was a British import I believe, and really not a panel show–improv is its own beast. Because of this, to get my fix, I’ve been forced to illic­itly down­load the UK shows. I mean, allegedly down­load them.

Now, I can get some of my fixes with­out vio­lat­ing byzan­tine inter­na­tional copy­right laws. Thanks to Comedy Central, I’ve been able to wit­ness an American take on the com­edy panel show that actu­ally works quite well–it’s called @Midnight, and it’s hosted by Chris Hardwick. I’ve never been a Hardwick/​Nerdist fan, but he’s rapidly grow­ing on me, six episodes in.

The show has had some great come­di­ans on already, such as Kumail Nanjiani, Patton Oswalt, Nikki Glaser, to name a few. It’s your stan­dard “the points really don’t mat­ter, this for­mat is entirely an excuse to get come­di­ans to make up jokes on the spot” type of show. As you might expect, due per­haps in part to its time slot of mid­night, the jokes are raunchier than any British com­edy panel show, or per­haps the lan­guage is just coarser. There are plenty of innu­endo sex­ual humor jokes on a show like QI. But American come­di­ans don’t really do innu­endo as far as I can tell. They’re more straight­for­ward with their raunch. Luckily, I can appre­ci­ate both sides of the sex­ual humor divide.

If you’re not watch­ing @Midnight and you like stand-​​up comics, I rec­om­mend you give it a try. It helps if you’re a Twitter/​internet meme addict, because the entire for­mat of the show is pretty Internet-​​centric, with a lot of rounds based on hash­tag humor and the like. I think it’s fun­nier than the Daily Show, and the Kumail episode (the first one) was the hard­est I have laughed at American comics since Kumail’s spe­cial, Beta Male.

29 October 2013

The Winding of the Seasons

I awoke in the night to the sounds of thun­der, of rain on the dry and brit­tle leaves of the trees that ring our home. I some­times think that Spring and Fall are mis-​​named, at least when it comes to the speed of their approach. Spring is slow and grad­ual. Fall strikes like a viper. One day, it was almost 90. The next, freez­ing tem­per­a­tures in the morn­ing and the trees were show­er­ing us with their dis­carded leaves.

Perhaps the tran­si­tions are not so bru­tal as they seem. It’s not an absolute truth that spring is grad­ual and fall is abrupt. Perhaps it’s just my per­cep­tions, which are shaped by my moods and activ­i­ties at the var­i­ous times of years.

I’m never ready for fall. As much as I dis­like the Kansas sum­mer heat, fall means the with­er­ing plants, the hiber­na­tion of life. I’m always eager for spring, as the long win­ter releases its icy grip on the soil and new growth springs up. For me, see­ing fresh green growth after a brown, dreary win­ter, is more pow­er­ful than any anti­de­pres­sant or mind-​​altering drug.

It’s no won­der to me that our ances­tors had reli­gions cen­tered so heav­ily on the turn­ing of the sea­sons, the sun and the moon. Just as early man was aston­ished each time the sun rose to end the night, I am pro­foundly affected by the break of win­ter by spring’s first ten­ta­tive shoots and leaves. I under­stand the sci­ence of the sea­sons, but that makes them no less pro­found, no less deeply spir­i­tual to wit­ness, when I can take a moment to appre­ci­ate the small but sig­nif­i­cant signs of the pas­sage of time.

28 October 2013

Who Killed the Blog?

This is a response to Gord Sellar’s entry, “Ominous, Or, How Blogs Die.”  In the spirit of the dis­cus­sion, I felt that I should write my response here rather than on Facebook or in the com­ments sec­tion. It might even put the stu­pid track­back func­tion to work for once with some­thing other than obnox­ious spam.

There’s no ques­tion in my mind that Facebook and Twitter killed the blog. Anecdotally, it was the adop­tion of these ser­vices in my own life that led to the fal­low nature of mein own blo­gens, and the slow decline in par­tic­u­lar of LiveJournal was has­tened by the adop­tion of Twitter by every­one I fol­lowed there. I sus­pect at this point, LiveJournal is com­posed of Nick Mamatas and 500,000 Russians–which coin­ci­den­tally is either the title of the story of how Nick goes out in a blaze of glory, or a really good Pussy Riot cover band name. Ooh, or the answer to a Jeopardy ques­tion: “These peo­ple still believe in com­mu­nism.” (Kidding, com­mu­nists. Kidding).

For the LiveJournal crowd, which made up a sur­pris­ing chunk of my blog read­ing, blogs were never about the form itself; they were about the proto-​​social net­work of LJ. They were used in locked form to com­mu­ni­cate with a small social clique as often as they were in unlocked form. Being on someone’s friends-​​locked posts was a kind of club mem­ber­ship. Kind of a pri­vate social net­work in a way.

It makes sense that Facebook and Twitter killed the blog because blogs were a poor sub­sti­tute for a real social net­work, and once those entered the pic­ture in a refined state, the blog was doomed as a wide­spread method of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Yes, even for writer types. Especially for them, who as pro­fes­sion­als, jeal­ously guard their writ­ing time. Much like my uncle the steak­house cook–the last thing he wanted to do on the week­end was cook steaks for the family.

So I feel like the cul­prit has been caught red-​​handed, wear­ing a creepy Mark Zuckerberg mask and wield­ing a knife carved from fail­whale bone. What I can’t decide is whether I am both­ered by the death of blogs. Would I con­vict the murderer?

To a cer­tain degree, it’s much eas­ier to absorb what peo­ple have to say on Twitter and Facebook. Forced to write more suc­cinct entries, peo­ple con­dense their thoughts and it osten­si­bly saves the time of the reader. And if there is a car­di­nal sin in writ­ing, it’s gotta be wast­ing the time of the reader, right? And Forgive Me Gord, For I Have Sinned. I may very well be sin­ning right now.

By the way, you should write a confessional/​advice col­umn blog and it should be titled Forgive Me Gord, For I Have Sinned. Get on that Gord. Literally dozens of peo­ple might read the tweeted/​facebooked sub­ject lines and URL-​​shortened links before shrug­ging and click­ing “favorite” or “like.”

But it’s also much eas­ier to get lost in the crowd. Those sites make it too easy to fol­low each and every per­son on a whim, and so you end up hav­ing to cre­ate nets inside the net to fil­ter out the cream, and even then, you can dip in, dip out, miss­ing impor­tant things. And with Facebook, you have to do bat­tle with what Facebook thinks you want to see, and it’s become increas­ingly hard to see it all. The Algorithm makes so many silent, invis­i­ble deci­sions for you; all in an effort to fig­ure out new, inven­tive ways to mon­e­tize your eye­balls, no doubt. Thanks to the Algorithm, I have missed peo­ple giv­ing birth and get­ting mar­ried! Talk about awk­ward con­ver­sa­tions at din­ner. “And whose kid is that in the car­rier? …what, yours?”

And dis­course, man. Was there ever really any dis­course? One of the worst things about blog­ging for me was that I would pour thoughts into a post and then I might get one com­ment, maybe two if I were lucky. At least with Facebook and Twitter peo­ple who are too busy to say any­thing can click “like” or “favorite.” Those but­tons are a vast improve­ment over crick­ets chirp­ing. But they’re a huge decline in qual­ity com­men­tary, in debate, con­ver­sa­tion too. Official inter­net cur­rency pegs the con­ver­sion rate at 100 likes to a com­ments, 100 favorites to a re-​​tweet.

Times are a’changing, as some folk singer once said. As a writer (of sorts), I feel reg­u­lar guilt at my inabil­ity to keep up my blog­ging. But really, couldn’t every­thing I’ve said here been con­densed into a 140 char­ac­ter tweet?

Social media killed the blog. It kind of sucks, but social media is a bet­ter tool for how many peo­ple nar­rowly blogged at friends anyway.

Well, there are fewer point­less jokes. I’ll give the form that. Death by fir­ing squad for the blog then!

22 October 2013

The Mall Experience

Like most peo­ple, I spend about 99% of my life wrapped up in my own lit­tle world of prob­lems, unaware of what life is like for oth­ers out­side my imme­di­ate bub­ble in any­thing beyond an aca­d­e­mic sense. I live my life, I strug­gle with my prob­lems, and I let oth­ers go about their busi­ness, if not with lit­tle bits of kind­ness, then at least with­out any inter­fer­ence. But 1% of the time, I expe­ri­ence a lit­tle satori, a glimpse of what life is like for oth­ers, and it gives me a squirt of com­pas­sion. Like yesterday.

Yesterday, Sarah and I drove to Olathe to meet up with my brother and his wife for din­ner and to retrieve the lap­top I’d left at his house by mis­take on Sunday. This drive entailed dri­ving against the flow of traf­fic as peo­ple got off work and fled the city.

The first real­iza­tion was how many peo­ple must spend a good por­tion of their day dri­ving in this hell­ish traf­fic to get home. I’ve worked from home or lived in such small towns for so long that I’ve never really had any­thing that con­sti­tutes a com­mute. Seeing peo­ple who had one made me feel a lit­tle bit of sym­pa­thy for them, and more likely to let some­one squeeze in front of me, to for­give the lit­tle mis­takes. If I spent an hour a day in traf­fic like that, I would go mad. That they were han­dling it, day in and day out, was a clear sign that they were all bet­ter peo­ple than me.

We met up at my brother’s place of work; a lit­tle arcade in an upscale mall. I haven’t been inside a large Midwestern mall in many years, and I had for­got­ten how much Malls and Las Vegas remind me of each other. Both are these weird arti­fi­cial indoor expe­ri­ences with no nat­ural light, bad car­pet, and a weirdly com­mer­cial vibe to every­thing. What impressed me most about the mall was how few things there were that one would actu­ally NEED to sur­vive. Almost every­thing the mall sold, shop after shop, was need­less con­sumer goods–stuff that might be fun, but stuff you’d only buy if you had a lot more excess income than I’ve had in a long time. I tried to remem­ber if there was ever a time when we would just go to the mall to buy ran­dom crap, but I couldn’t think of one. Maybe, but not in recent memory.

I started to develop this men­tal model of what the inter­nal life of some­one who has a com­mute for a job in the city and shops fre­quently in the mall must be like. They must be used to a higher level of com­fort than me, sure. But are they happy? Do they find any solace in their RC heli­copters and skin care sup­plies pur­chased from pim­ply teens at kiosks? When we go to the mall, what are we really look­ing for? It sure as hell isn’t human con­tact. As we walked around, peo­ple almost uni­ver­sally make it a point to ignore the other shop­pers. They’re just ghosts in your world, minor incon­ve­niences between you and that next Hot Topic but­ton or whatever.

As I pon­dered these things, try­ing to nav­i­gate the mall to find my brother, I felt for a moment as if I were liv­ing a past life simul­ta­ne­ously with my own. I was George, 34, father of two, who worked in a mid­dle man­age­ment job in Kansas City and liked to blow off steam after a long day in the office by pur­chas­ing new shirts at the upscale bou­tiques at the mall. He has a secret pas­sion for the girl who works at the pret­zel store.

The feel­ing passed as quickly as it came. Then we ate at a a chain restau­rant Cheddar’s and I had spagsana — lasagna made with spaghetti noo­dles. It was okay.

Then we drove home. We watched some TV. And I went to bed.

14 October 2013


The Escape Artists Podcasts Need Your Help

News hit yes­ter­day that the Escape Artists fam­ily of pod­casts are three months away from hav­ing to close up shop unless they receive your donations.

Escape Pod, Podcastle, and Pseudopod are some of the best places to hear pod­cast fic­tion on the web. There was a short period of time where I was the edi­tor for Escape Pod, and it gave me a strong appre­ci­a­tion for the hard work that goes into pro­duc­ing these pod­casts. They’ve also fea­tured many of my sto­ries on both Podcastle and Escape Pod (though not while I was staff).

If you’re a lis­tener, or even if you’re just a fan of pod­cast fic­tion, please con­sider vis­it­ing their site and set­ting up a reg­u­lar dona­tion via PayPal. The Escape Pod side­bar has a wid­get to do just that in the sidebar.

With the word going out that they need fund­ing, they will likely be okay. They have enor­mous num­ber of lis­ten­ers (over 30,000 down­loads per episode on Escape Pod I think). I hope that mov­ing for­ward, they’ll do more reg­u­lar, less-​​urgent calls for funds to keep the pod­casts alive for many years to come.

27 September 2013

I am still alive

I’m here, despite all attempts by the uni­verse to make it not so. I’m hard at work on a graphic novel called NIGHTFELL and I’m still build­ing web­sites every day. I apol­o­gize for the lack of blog. I think the uni­verse is also con­spir­ing to keep me from blog­ging. But don’t delete me from your feeds just yet, dear read­ers. There is more to come soon.

04 September 2013

WorldCon Remembrances 2013

I’m too tired (and pressed for time) for any­thing but a bul­leted list of the bestest mem­o­ries this year.

  • At din­ner with Hugh, John, and Des, as Hugh described a very fun week­end he was about to take: “Did you just have a stroke and start list­ing the names of famous people?”
  • Meeting Beth, who has great taste in the 90s car­toons (Gummi Bears, Pirates of Dark Water), and appre­ci­ates the screwed up manga Gantz.
  • Walking along the river­walk, men­tion­ing my fear of drop­ping my phone in water, see­ing every­one simul­ta­ne­ously putting phones away.
  • How many tourist bod­ies do you sup­pose they dredge out of this thing every win­ter?” “At least a couple.”
  • Ben’s story of drink­ing the river­walk water.
  • Getting to hold Jaime’s forth­com­ing book.
  • Coming up with the per­sua­sive the­ory that Neil and Sean are a total Fight Club sit­u­a­tion; never seen apart all week long, were they! But which is the imag­i­na­tion of which?
  • Finally meet­ing Norm, hear­ing Norm’s solid minute of jokes on whale-​​fucking (you had to be there).
  • Visiting the wax museum, and laugh­ing until I was dizzy as each and every one of our small group attempted to crack a fun­nier joke about the most ridicu­lous place.
  • Being accused of star­ing at the wax man­nequins’ crotches when I was really just inspect­ing the detail work on the hands; I swear.
  •  Tweeting the Hugos with Shaima and Stephanie until my bat­ter­ies ran out.
  • We Love You Jay.”
  • Unexpectedly see­ing John and Christie at the air­port on the early flight home.

I’m sure I’m for­get­ting even more awe­some. It was a year’s worth of liv­ing packed into four days. Oh it was so great.

But the best moment of all was:

  • Spending an hour depressed and wan­der­ing the con­ven­tion halls with­out see­ing any­one I knew, only to finally meet Sean, and then Chris K. Then shortly later the 50 minute trip across the hotel lobby with Chris as we pro­ceeded to run into every sin­gle writer on the planet on our way to the SFWA suite. I had tears of joy in my eyes. Nothing at all beats the plea­sure of old friends show­ing gen­uine plea­sure to see you again.

So many new friends to look for­ward to next time. This was the best WorldCon of all. I already miss you all.


27 August 2013

LoneStarCon 3!

I will be at LoneStarCon 3 in San Antonio from Thursday, August 29 through Sunday, September 1st. I don’t have a con­ven­tion agenda; I’ll be try­ing to meet with a few clients, going to a cou­ple of par­ties to which I’ve been invited, and gen­er­ally try­ing to meet a few friends. Clients are wel­come to track me down for a meal my treat; I’m not book­ing any­thing ahead of time. Consider your reward for play­ing the game Where’s Jeremy a free meal at one of San Antonio’s many lovely restaurants.

I’m look­ing for­ward to the clos­est thing I’ve had to a vaca­tion in quite some time! I hope to see you there.

04 August 2013

Mostly True Tales of Winona IX

I love my house, but there are some weird things about it crop­ping up as we get settled.

For instance, there’s a small shrine to a horse in the attic. It con­sists of an old and fad­ing pho­to­graph of a horse and a weird horse rid­ing crop/​whip thing hangs on the wall above it. There’s a woman in the photo, but her face is too blurry to make out with an aim towards iden­ti­fy­ing her. The shrine is set up in the far­thest, deep­est cor­ner away from the entrance. I don’t like to go up there. Looking at the pho­to­graph makes me really uneasy, but I don’t know why. And I think there’s dried blood on that whip thing. I’m not sure what dried blood looks like exactly, but I think it looks like that. Dark brown stains of a dubi­ous nature.

The stairs to go up into the attic are in our mas­ter bed­room closet (it’s a pretty weird setup). My side of the bed is right next to the door. Sometimes when I wake up in the mid­dle of the night, I catch a whiff of some­thing that I haven’t been able to iden­tify, but I finally real­ized this morn­ing– it’s the smell of a wet horse blanket.

31 July 2013

Near Future Coffee Shop Conversations You Will Have #1 : What Do You Do?

So what do you do?” you ask reluc­tantly as the line creeps forward.

I just launched a news aggre­ga­tion site in the style of Pokemon text,” he says with the broad grin of youth that has yet to wake up with a back ache for no good rea­son. “We’re in one of the incu­ba­tors over in West Plaza North.”

Pokemon? That video game for kids with the lit­tle anime monsters?”

Well,” he says, shift­ing his weight uneasily, “Pokemon was for kids when we were kids. But a lot of peo­ple our age still play. It’s a very pop­u­lar franchise.”

How does that even work?” You very much really regret for­get­ting to charge your phone overnight.

Here.” He pulls a tablet out of his can­vas mes­sen­ger bag, flips up the black leather cover, and swipes to unlock. He hands you the tablet.

‘PALESTINE uses PEACE TALKS… it’s INEFFECTIVE!’” you read aloud. You scroll down the page. “Seems pretty limiting.”

Not at all. We’ve got the ‘X learns MOVE NAME’ for­mat to work with also. Pretty much any news can be phrased in a way our gen­er­a­tion just ‘gets,’ and it’s all about cater­ing to our needs now that the Boomers are in decline,” he says. “You should come by our office some time. We have every Pokemon game ever made, includ­ing some really rare imports.” You hand the tablet back to him and he puts it away.

Sure, some time,” you say in a tone that unmis­tak­ably means “no way in hell.” The line moves for­ward as another free­lancer places their order for a Starbucks-​​brand kopi luwak cold­press grande at $12.99. “How’s that work­ing out for you?”

Eh.” He shrugs. “It’s okay. We have three mil­lion daily read­ers, but I think we can hit ten once we start pub­lish­ing in English too.”

# # #