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Murderbot and Mini #8

I finished All Systems Red by Martha Wells tonight, which was an easy, breezy read, the first of the Murderbot series of novellas. I’m reading whatever I feel like this year to get back into the hobby instead of just focusing on what I think would “improve” or challenge me, but I think I may want to find a few things that push me harder after the last few books have warmed me up. I liked this and will read the others, but I didn’t love it the way many seem to love them. I hope I’m not becoming too jaded in my old age. I want to be wowed still. I hope I can be.

I also managed to paint this little murderous halfling/hobbit for our Frostgrave model pool. I’ve never succeeded in painting half-way decent human eyes before, but I think this guy’s eyes turned out decent! It’s funny how I don’t like these minis when photographed as much as I like them in reality. I had to shoot a couple of angles to really capture him. As always, the base is a work-in-progress. After all, it’s a goal to paint 365 minis in a year, not a goal to do 365 nice bases!


Pumped up and ready to fight God

There have been two large turns-of-events in the past few weeks that may dramatically effect my clients, and thus, my own personal ability to make a living. In both cases, they involve actions and the consequences of those actions by large corporations.

First, Amazon has decided to end its Kindle Subscriptions program. In the world of SF/F magazines online, Kindle subscriptions has been a dominant source of income that has allowed this space to flourish. Magazines such as Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Uncanny, and more will face very serious challenges ahead because of this. Even older trad magazines like Asimov’s and F&SF will be impacted, certainly. I expect many magazines will be forced to close if they cannot find adequate sources of income to replace the Amazon money. While I no longer actively write short fiction, this is a major blow to the field, and one that makes no sense. This is all about Amazon being a penny-pinching Grinch, and it does nothing but make little people suffer. A handful of magazines got invited into the Ponzi scheme that is Amazon Unlimited, but not all. And what can we do? Will Amazon listen to upset consumers? Nah. Why should they care what 10,000 odd magazine subscribers think about anything? They’re Amazon.

The second event is that the new open gaming license under which 3rd party publishers are able to publish material compatible with official Dungeons & Dragons books has been leaked. There’s a lot not really clear right now, but one common interpretation of this is that not only do they intend to place strict constraints (financial reporting, royalties) on OGL products for the upcoming new edition — they intend to claw back provisions given in the past for previous editions. The popular refrain has been, in response to rumors of an Open Gaming LIcense update, to say “well, we will just keep using the old one and old editions.” This leaked edition seems to say “naw. We no longer allow that.” In fact, they explicitly say that the new OGL is intended to stifle “competition” which is what they see the third party publisher as now.

The result of these changes will be like an atom bomb being set off in the third party publishing space, which has been rich and vibrant over the course of 5th edition. My client Kobold Press will most certainly be impacted by this (Note: I’m a contractor for all these companies listed here and my opinions here are my own and do not represent the views of those companies). I imagine my client Monte Cook Games will also be impacted, although perhaps not as much as Kobold. New royalty requirements alone could put people out of work or out of business. I’m not privy to any specific details about how it will impact my clients; I’m just reading the writing on the wall here.

My initial reaction is one of helplessness and fear, but that’s quickly been replaced with anger and a desire to burn down shit. As a life-long (seriously, 39 years of experience) player of D&D, this will be the final nail in the coffin for me as a consumer if this goes forward. Not only will I stop purchasing Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro products, I will stop playing the ones I own. I’m more than happy to switch to OSR products or any number of other creative systems that exist.

Also, it just really awakens my socialist tendencies. I’m so fucking tired of how publicly traded corporations only have to serve one thing under our system of capitalism – shareholder value. They can destroy the environment, the arts, whatever they like, all in search of quarterly profits to make stock ticker go up. The corporation as a concept primarily exists to protect individuals from liability anyway, so they were rotten to start. At this point, I say fuck all corporations. Ban stock trading. This form of capitalism is ruining us and many things we hold dear, just so some rich assholes can get richer.

I may not be able to successfully boycott Amazon, but I can boycott a toy company. And if this moves forward, I sure as hell will be. I suspect that Wizards/Hasbro has significantly overplayed their hand here. They will soon know the wrath of nerds — nerds with a million competing options available to them. Under the current system, everyone can and has been able to succeed. But under these proposed changes, the whole thing comes crashing down all due to greed and a typical corporate desire for control.

In my opinion, the idea of D&D is far too important for one company to control its future. The idea and heart of it will live on no matter what the current corporate owners do. But it’s going to cause some pain and suffering in the process, and that’s just dumb and avoidable. The open gaming movement may have to design an alternative that is open to all. And so we see that with Wizards, at least, all they will do is cut off one head of a hydra, piss it of, and see several more grow in its place. It was small and they literally had a monopoly on selling hydra chow. Now who knows what will happen?


man in black tank top and black shorts wearing black boxing gloves


Cheating the System

Don’t tell anybody, but I’m actually writing this in the past. I’ve been busy enough during my work day lately that I’m taking a few minutes while waiting for a download to complete to jot down my Wednesday post on Tuesday night. I don’t know that it really goes against the spirit of my goal to blog every day in 2023. I mean, i’m drafting this now, but who knows, maybe I will add to it more tomorrow. Any blogging should help habit form, right?

Anyway, here are miniatures 1 and 4 for the year. The dragonborn paladin on the left is my player character in my buddy Elwood’s D&D campaign, and the dwarf on the right is just something I thought would be fun to paint, taking a break from the goblins. Love that orange hair. Ginger dwarves are cool.

Miniatures of a dragon and a dwarf

On the reading front, I finished Book I of the Bobiverse series today. I’d been seeing this self-published SF novel mentioned all over the internet for a few years, so I thought I should have a look and see what the fuss was about. If Andy Weir and Earnest Clines had a baby, that baby would write something like We Are Legion (We Are Bob). A software engineer’s brain is cryogenically frozen, then scanned and used as an artificial intelligence to pilot von Neumann probes in the future. The protagonist is a big nerd and one of those omni-compentent engineers that have a solution to everything. The first chapter is pretty laughably bad, but like many of these novels, when it got down to the central conceit, it was very readable and easy to see why it is popular. No real ending to speak of, though, so maybe I’ll have to read the second one. I would only recommend this to people who have a tolerance for engineers that love the smell of their own farts like myself. I mean, I have a high tolerance, not that I like the smell of my own farts. Well, I’ll let you be the judge of that.

The book itself isn’t as important to me as much as the fact that I read it and finished it in two days. It’s been at least six months since I finished a book, possibly more. Something went weird in my brain after I had COVID and I just found it incredibly difficult to focus on books. I think it’s what freed me up to have so much time to paint, honestly. To get myself to build back up a reading habit, I’m giving up trying to force myself to read “great literature” and letting myself read utter trash all year. Nobody cares but me, and reading is such a pleasant pastime in the cold winter months. Given the brain struggles, I don’t need to make it harder for myself by assigning myself intellectual broccoli.

That’s all for this one. See you in the future!


white and blue wallpaper


Shirley Jackson – Memory and Delusion

I cannot recall having read any Shirley Jackson stories (something I am resolving to rectify now) but this essay found on the New Yorker gives a glimpse into her mind in a way that makes her entirely sympathetic and relatable.

It explores how our experiences provide fuel for writing, and how memory works for writers–how it is a kind of multi-faceted resource we draw upon.

The whole thing is easily readable, and I’m struggling now to not quote it in its entirety, but here’s one part that resonates for me:

That is one half of writing, of course. The lower depths, as it were. The other half is what I might delicately call information. Henry James got the idea for The Spoils of Poynton from a single remark heard at dinner, but he also had to find out somehow what lovely possessions looked and felt and smelled like, the tapestries splendidly toned by time, the thrilling touch of the old velvet brocade.

–Shirley Jackson, “Memory and Delusion”

You can read the essay on the New Yorker website. It’s the first in a three-part series. Found via a retweet of Glen Mazarra by Livia Llewellyn


Work From Home Tips From a Battle-scarred Veteran

I’ve been working from home full time for eleven years now. I’ve worked from “home” in Colorado, Kansas, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, and France. I don’t expect I’ll be traveling any time soon, but I’ve got the scars and hard lessons learned about how to work from home effectively.

Set Boundaries

If you can, establish a specific space for your work-from-home activities. If you’re a work-a-holic, a big problem can be that the boundaries between your life and your time working for The Man start to blur. What’s it hurt to check your email at 9:30 PM at night? Ask me when you start waking up at 2 AM and checking them like clockwork. It’s a slippery slope, and you need boundaries. We need rest and recovery time from being in a work mindset. Human beings need leisure as much as we need income to survive, so try not to sacrifice one for the other.

One of the most important skills you’re going to learn when you work from home is how to maintain a sense of work-life balance. Start right away. Set a space and set regular hours. Give yourself a schedule and stick to it outside of emergencies. Your sense of well-being will thank me.

Take Regular Breaks

The Pomodoro technique is the death of flow for me, but I try to remember that I regularly need to get off my butt and move around. Stretch, pace, and at least twice a day, I take a 20 minute walk around the neighborhood. It’s very easy, when working at a computer, to let your entire body atrophy. Remind yourself with regular timers to move. You don’t want to have joint problems or RSI or any of that. You’ll have more energy.

Don’t Take Accidental Naps

It’s okay and even encouraged to nap, but you can lose a huge chunk of your day to an accidental nap. If you sit down on your couch for just a moment, that can easily turn into two hours. Don’t kid yourself; plan your naps if you want them. Try not to let them go on too long, or the guilty feeling will override any positive benefits you get from them.

Desk Snacking

With the pantry only maybe a dozen feet away from your workstation, the temptation to snack will be there. If you can’t avoid snacking while your work, don’t be like me; don’t take the entire bag to your desk; fill a bowl. Chances are, you won’t taste anything you eat, and you’ll definitely not be feeling good if you finish off an entire box of Girl Scout cookies at your desk. Don’t ask me how I know this.

Get Dressed, Maybe

This one will be controversial. One of the great things about working from home, assuming you don’t have a video conference meeting, is that you can dress as comfortably as you want. You can work in your pajamas, or in the nude (I recommend against snacking in the nude, though. Crotch-crumbs are no fun). However, I find it’s helpful to building a work mindset to put on something resembling a work outfit. I do not work in my pajamas because I just don’t find myself concentrating very well, because I’ve missed a habit. Habits have a way of nagging us if we don’t carry them on.

A lot of what you’re going to be doing in the early days is building good habits to keep yourself productive.

Don’t be a Slave to Productivity

One thing that was hard for me to realize was, I couldn’t actually work and bill for an eight hour day. The truth is, nobody in an office does eight hours of work a day under perfect circumstances, and you’re sure as hell not going to at home either. Realize that there are human constraints on your productivity. You can trade health for productivity (both mental and physical), but that’s a bad bargain, my friends. You will always end up regretting it.

Don’t be afraid to take breaks to chat with people. Make a social media post. Read a news article. Don’t let your entire day become that, again, we’re talking about building balance here.

Be Patient

You will find a natural rhythm over time, but you’re going to have to be patient, and you’re going to make mistakes, no matter how many articles like this one you read. That’s okay. You’re only human, and each day is a new chance to get better at it. Have some fun with it.



Conversations with the Dead

Sometimes I see people who look like my father did, before he got sick. In the early days, it would make me cry and overwhelm me, to the point where I usually had to get away from the person. Certain relatives who bore a passing resemblance to him were impossible for me to carry on a conversation with because the pain of his passing was still too fresh.

My father has been dead now about fifteen years. Hard to believe that I’m nearly the age he was when he died. I don’t think of my dad every single day anymore, but I think about my Dad a lot more than I did six years ago. As a father, I find myself constantly comparing myself to the father figures I’ve had in my life. I’m lucky enough to have more than one dad in my life, but the others, I can still talk to and ask for advice (something for which I am very grateful). My biological dad is gone. There are a lot of questions I wish I could have asked him. A twenty seven year old has no idea what’s in front of him and what kind of advice he’s going to need, so I don’t really hold it against my dad or myself for not asking them when I had the chance.

Now days, when I see someone who looks like my father, I don’t get sad, but I do find myself daydreaming a bit. I find myself imagining: what if it was all just a big mistake, the cancer, all that? What if he recovered, but I didn’t know? I imagine us bumping into each other at the coffee shop, laughing and talking. In the few years before he died, we fought a lot about stupid stuff, and I think now I understand why. I like to think if we were to meet again, we could get along better.

But most of all, I want to tell him about the joy I get from being a Dad myself, about how many things he gave me that I in turn get to pass on to my kid. I want to tell him that I get him now in a way I never did before. I think he would have appreciated being understood better.

The funny thing is, while we don’t get to actually speak with the dead, if we knew them really well, we do get to speak with the version of them we carry around in our head. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve had to realize that not everything that happens to us has to be literal and real. Sometimes the imagined things are just as important, and just as meaningful. You’d think a guy who spends so much time playing imagination with his friends would intuitively grasp that, but I’ll take the reminders when I can get it.



Cruel, Misbegotten February

I don’t naturally spend any time thinking about favorites and least favorite things. Sometimes an idle thought will stick, however, and recently I realized that February is my absolute least favorite month of the year. Now that I know this, I can probably takes steps to mitigate the problems I have with February, but first I need to understand better why I don’t enjoy it.

February is the point at which winter begins to outstay its welcome. Where I live, it truly begins to get cold at the end of January and tends to stay deeply, bitterly cold through all of February. It tends to be overcast for days on end start in the same time. I should dislike January as well, I suppose, but February bears the brunt of my displeasure because it is in February that I begin to be dragged down by the low-hanging clouds and lack of sun.

In previous years, I’ve found myself depressed in February. I’ve done stupid things in February, like break off friendships and isolate myself more deeply. February is the month where I often find myself not thinking as clearly as I would like. Luckily, my new pal Prozac has been doing a good job keeping me functional.

As a freelancer, February is a nebulous time. It’s a time when you have money in your accounts, but you’re uncertain how much of it belongs to your government. I may be well off, or I may be broke, and the only way I will know is to pay a highly qualified tax professional to sort through my income and expenses and make a pronouncement. Most years, we end up owing some, even with Trump’s wrong-headed tax law changes that we benefit from due to a passing similarity as a tax entity to a mega-corporation.

There are good things about February too, of course. Black History month continues to bring me things I never knew about my fellow citizens of color, because I am a dreadfully lazy ally and was poorly informed about black history month by my Kansas-based education. And many of my client service plans renew in February, meaning from a business standpoint, it feels like renewal and spring.

But I think what bothers me most is that most everything is dormant in February. Sports dominate the world, the grass is brown, the wind bitterly cold, and in general, it feels like mostly the world is on hold. February feels like a holding zone in which we must reside before things begin to happen again, and I’ve never been big on patience. Its biggest saving grace is that it is usually short. Don’t get me started about the unbearableness of leap years.

Anyway — here’s to February passing quickly and without notice. May we move on to the showers and new blossoms of March.



Recent Interesting Reads

Happy Monday, dear readers. I’ve got a lot of topics I’m contemplating for upcoming posts, but I’m thinking that Mondays might start easy with an accumulation of links that I have from the previous week – things that caught my attention or interest, and might be of interest to you too. So here we go:

How To Make Mtn Dew Cheesecake (YouTube)

The reactions from most people I know this was universal dismay. I may have referred to it as tasting like “giving up on life.” In reality, this, like most garbage food, intrigues me and I would try it at least once.

Bells ring out Bowie’s ‘Life on Mars’ at 17th-century Amsterdam church

My favorite Bowie song sounds strangely sad and beautiful when played on church bells.

Billie Jean But Every Instrument Is A Spring Door Stopper (YouTube)

People are so inventive and creative!

“Shit-Life Syndrome,” Trump Voters, and Clueless Dems

“So in 2020, this leaves realistic Dems with one strategy. While the Dems cannot provide a candidate who can viscerally connect with shit-life syndrome sufferers, the Dems can show these victims that they have been used and betrayed by Trump.”

Not sure if I agree with the conclusion above, but I agree with the cluelessness of my own political side in recognizing the problems facing these people. It’s an interesting read, worth thinking about.

That Uplifting Tweet You Just Shared? A Russian Troll Sent It

The IRA generated more social media content in the year following the 2016 election than the year before it. They also moved their office into a bigger building with room to expand. Their work was never just about elections. Rather, the IRA encourages us to vilify our neighbor and amplify our differences because, if we grow incapable of compromising, there can be no meaningful democracy. Russia has dug in for a long campaign. So far, we’re helping them win.

Frightening stuff to consider.

My Semester With the Snowflakes

After that class a couple of the students approached me and explained that their dads were cabbies when they first came to the United States, and that their fathers had told them that the things they sometimes heard from people in their cabs were amazing.

Think about that for a second. These students are first generation Americans. Their fathers immigrated to this country and started out by being taxi drivers. Now, their children are attending Yale University. I’m a patriotic man and those are the stories that help me understand how, in spite of the seemingly endless stream of negativity surrounding it, the American Dream is still alive and kicking. It makes my heart sing every time I see those kids.

I can always get behind this kind of ideological bridge-building.



An Update Regarding my War With the Squirrels

The squirrels of my little neighborhood are no joke. I hate them and I consider them my mortal enemies. In my defense, they initiated hostilities.

Shortly after moving in, a squirrel threw a walnut at me not once, but three times. Once or twice, I could forgive as an acidence. But three times? Malice. Each time they missed, because I am better than them at literally everything except climbing trees, and I always remain vigilant in my own yard.

The next summer, one climbed up directly outside my office window and sat on the porch railing. No big deal, right? Wrong. It ate a live cicada from the tail up to the head, insect screeching until the final bite, and all the while, the squirrel never broke eye contact with me. I am not exaggerating. Once it finished the cicada, it hopped down and ran away. Message received, you furry little bastards!

We try to grow fruits and veggies, but they strip our garden of anything that appears edible, especially the tomatoes and strawberries. Sometimes, they even try chewing on my 3D printed stuff that I have curing out there. In the fall, the sound of their teeth scraping against walnuts and pecans from neighboring trees is a symphony I can only escape by playing loud music at all hours. Their gnawing is a taunting that agonizes my very soul.

Recently, we put up a bird feeder to draw more songbirds to the yard. It’s one of the fancy kinds that slide shut if a squirrel climbs on it. I’m not about to feed these freeloading pests for free, or so I thought. First, they chewed a HOLE in the bottom corner and dumped it out that way. Sarah patched that, so the next thing they did was chew through the rope hanging it from a tree. They dropped it to the ground and cleaned up, literally and figuratively. They did this twice to two different ropes before we finally used a chain and thus far, they haven’t found a way to defeat that, but I won’t be surprised when I hear a squirrel sparking up a blowtorch outside my window.

They are voracious tree rats, good for nothing, barely hunted at all by local predators. It was one of the happiest days of my life when I witnessed a local hawk eating a nice fat squirrel in a neighbor’s yard. You see, squirrels are good at avoiding avian predators –it’s tough to fly and hunt between the tree branches they infest. We have a pair of owls that regularly roost in our yard, but they never seem to eat the squirrels. No matter how many times I beseech them for an alliance.

I spend a not insignificant part of my day in the summer banging on windows to scare them away from plants and vegetables. I’ve thrown my fair share of walnuts back at them, too, I must admit, never hitting once. The squirrels know to keep their distance from me. None of them had murdered anything or thrown anything at me for a year or two.

I thought we’d come to an understanding. I was wrong.

Imagine my surprise when twice in the past few days, I have stepped out in my yard to be straight up charged by squirrels. Twice, I’ve now had a squirrel dash up to me, skid to a stop about a foot away and wait a moment, staring, before finally retreating. I have been so stunned each time that I’ve been frozen, speechless.

At first I thought maybe they were expecting me to feed them, and I wondered if a neighbor has been doing that. But now, after recounting the above stories here on this blog, I’m not so sure. I am starting to wonder if they’re testing boundaries and defenses; if they’re trying to bluff me with charges, like some bull elephant did in Kenya 20 years ago. I’m going to have to start carrying a broom with me every time I go out into the yard now, just in case.

If I am found dead in my yard with no obvious wounds, do not suspect suicide. Do not accuse humans of murder. Know with certainty that the squirrels have finally become victorious. Until then, the war continues. And you can be sure, if they manage to take me out, I’m taking as many of them as I can with me.



Is This the New Normal?

My friend Stacey asked on Facebook, with little context, “Is this the new normal?” By which I assume she means, gestures vaguely at everything.

Dear Stacey–the good news is, no. This is not the new normal.

The bad news is, there is no such thing as normal anymore, at least not for a while. Normalcy is predicated on some generally accepted norms and the truth is, our entire lives have been a series of norm-destroying moments (for good and bad). Accelerated social change has been the hallmark of our generation. This acceleration, or at least my perception of it, feels like it has been building since the 1960s, but we’re really reaping the effects now, thanks to accelerated information exchange brought about by the internet.

This is good and bad, I think. For a geeky kid like me, norms regarding what it’s okay to like were oppressive and resulted in a lot of bullying. But norms also contribute to a sense of societal cohesion.

Do you feel like things are holding together very well lately? I sure as hell do not. In fact, everything feels likes like it is constantly tumbling to pieces now. And this feeling didn’t really start with our current president, although his actions are another accelerant in the mix.

The new normal is– no wait, sorry, it changed again. The new normal is–oh shit, really? He said what? I guess that’s just what our country– oh, he walked it back already? Fuck it, I give up.

Science fiction writers talk about something called the singularity, where technological change happens faster and faster, and it’s impossible to predict what comes next. I feel like the internet has brought about a kind of societal singularity, where norms are breaking down faster than we can build new ones, contributing overall to a sense of unease and declining feelings of cohesion.

Again — this is not all bad. It’s not all good. Nuance is the key word on my blog. Blogs are better to discuss this sort of thing than social media. Norms are both a sense of security and also oppressive.

Right now I think we could all use a sense of things calming down, or slowing down, though.

There’s some thinking that this isn’t the new non-normal, which is to say, this period of accelerated change may not last forever. Our society is undergoing a change not unlike the one from agrarian to industrial, and these periods to tend to be accompanied by major upheaval. Not even to mention the upheaval that we’re starting to experience from global warming!

So maybe not having a new normal is a temporary thing. If we wait long enough, turbulence will settle down and we’ll have a new, new normal. Assuming we all live long enough to see that day come, anyway.

Another possibility for Stacey and I is that we could simply be getting older; change is happening faster; it’s that our abilities to keep up are declining. We know this will happen at some point, but I’d like to think the early 40s are a bit too soon for society to leave me in its dust.

I keep circling back to this global information network that allows the spread of ideas (good or bad) at unprecedented speeds. We blundered into this society without a plan. Maybe our kids, who have lived in it their entire lives, will find a better way forward. They do seem quite a bit more empathic. The survival traits that seem to dominate in a world with such interconnectedness and collapsing societal norms are either heightened empathy or zero empathy. Let’s hope the former trait wins out in the ever-shifting societal norms, or we’ll be ground up into dog food in our retirement, eh?

So the new normal is that there is a new normal every ninety seconds, and we better adjust to that and ride it out, or, alternatively, die. Much like Midwestern weather, if you don’t like the new normal, wait a little bit and it’ll change. And if you want an old normal back? Tough shit. Happy Monday!