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Clarion West Write-a-thon: week 1

I've got a post up on my blog about Clarion West Write-a-thon: week 1, where I talk about goals and altruism and story. Please to go read and follow linkages and sponsor me for the Write-a-thon!

Potlatch reminder

As some of you know, I'm the chair for Potlatch 21, held in Seattle this year. We are coming down to the wire and need everyone to spread the word, so write about it in your blogs and LJ's if you are going. Write about it if you aren't going, but want to. Hell, just write about it.

Our website is here: http://potlatch-sf.org/21/

We have a blog here: http://blog.potlatch-sf.org/

Recent progress reports...

Reminders and T-Shirt prices: http://blog.potlatch-sf.org/posts/winter-2012-progress-report-the-countdown-begins/

Book of Honor for Potlatch 21: http://blog.potlatch-sf.org/posts/end-of-2011-book-of-honorprogramming-progress-report/

Ranting about OWS

Moved to a new location

I am moving blogging operations from LiveJournal to my eponymous blog 'Dispatches from the Edge' at jackwilliambell.com.

I just posted a rant about open computing, Apple, and Steve Jobs: Endings and Beginnings. Feel free to comment here if you prefer.

WIP: Graveyard Orbit

While attending Foolscap I've been spending some time in the bar working on my novel, including the following scene:

Through the large window beside our table we could watch the Earth slowly wheel by three times a minute. It’s the view the ‘Top of the World’ restaurant is known for, but it makes me nauseous if I watch it too long. Alice seemed to love it.

“I’ll bet that fuzzy patch there is Paris!” She pointed to somewhere above us in a nighttime Europe. Most of the Atlantic was covered by darkened clouds and the morning was working its slow way across Asia behind me. We would cross into the sun ourselves soon; beating the dawn in our race around the planet.

“Are you always this enthusiastic about everything?” I took a sip of my coffee; Alice was drinking wine and picking at a salad.

She turned to me, eyes dancing. “Of course! It’s the only way to live your life; enjoying every second. Sucking the last drop of fun out of everything around you.”

I almost said something about life usually sucking the fun out of you instead, but thought better of it, “I guess that’s why you play a game for a living and I find mislaid luggage.”

Alice frowned, biting her lips and tilting her head, but eyes kept laughing. “I don’t ‘play’ a game. I ‘live’ a role in a way designed to entertain an audience. I give them a vicarious thrill they don’t have time or ability to seek for themselves. Besides, it seems to me that you live quite an adventurous life yourself, only for real.”

“You saw what happened downstairs then?”

Her eyes were steady, their dance stilled for the moment. “Oh, yes. What that man was talking about, it’s what you mentioned earlier isn’t it? Did you love her?”

I shrugged. “I thought I did. Then I thought she didn’t love me and I hated her. Then I found out things were more complicated than that and it was too late.” Complicated. Almost too simple a word for something I still hadn’t untangled for myself.

Alice leaned forward, intent. “What really happened?”

I felt that familiar flash of anger, but tamped it down. “I’ll bet you’ve executed a full agent search on me since we talked earlier, so you already know as much as I am willing to talk about right now.”

She sat back, crossing her arms, and then uncrossed them and put them on the table, palms up. “I’m sorry for prying. And you are right, of course, I looked you up.”

“Just as I did you.” I smiled, but decided not to entirely defuse the situation. “You really are quite the player at Augmented Reality Games. For example, you didn’t just do well at Elizabetha. You went from serving wench to a Duke’s wife in under a year.”

Her nose wrinkled. “We weren’t really married and he wasn’t really a Duke. As you say, it’s a game.”

“So, what was he then?”

“He was an accountant. And an asshole. Elizabetha is really a girl’s game and the few men who play it usually do so precisely because there are so few men, if you know what I mean.

“I guess you did research me.” She added.

Actually I had barely had time to scan the summary and headlines the search agent had mailed me, but I nodded sagely and dropped the only bomb in my arsenal.

“I think maybe you used your Duke more than he used you, you out-played him.” I put on my spex and selected an article. “As you wrote in your blog: ‘Alterness doesn’t actually produce Augmented Reality Games so much as they they produce genred lifestyle entertainment products with positive reinforcement feedback loops and semi-passive audience participation mechanisms. Excelling at this kind of game requires first understanding that you are playing to an audience, not to a rules system. It’s about narrative far more than it’s about collecting the right talismans.’”

I took off my spex and smiled disarmingly. It was fun watching Alice’s face right then. It looked like I had finally broken past the actor to the creamy real girl center.

“How did you know I wrote that? I thought bounce-blogs are completely anonymous!”

I couldn’t help boasting. “They are. But there are other ways to connect things up. I’m a computer security expert and I have hand-raised search agents I don’t share with anyone.”

“Oh.” Alice visibly collected herself and re-assumed her confident facade. “I guess you win at the prying competition then.”

“I usually do. It’s my job.” Just then the waiter arrived with my steak and Alice’s duck.

“Not just finding lost luggage then?” There was a brittle edge to her voice. “But how are you at the bigger game?”

“Which is?”

“Understanding why people do the things they do, and anticipating them or nudging them into the direction you want them to go.”

“I take it that is your special talent?”

“Perhaps. Though it’s not manipulating people I’m talking about here. There’s another blog entry I wrote that you should read, where I talk about something called co-opetition: helping others to reach their goals in order to achieve your own.

“You know, I’m not very hungry after all.” She stood up and smiled. “Thank you for a wonderful dinner anyway.”

She walked away, swaying slightly. As I watched her go I called Ricky on my phone.

“Hey Dallas! What you doing?”

“Watching a very smart lady tell me I screwed up without using a single word.”

“Que? What you say?”

“Never mind. You got a few minutes to talk? I need to double check something with you.”

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WIP: Graveyard Orbit

The following is a scene I wrote today as part of a complete rewrite of chapter two:

I left Bailey’s office when he started yelling at Raj. I don’t think he even noticed me going out the door. From Bailey’s office it is two floors up to the office cube I share with Larry Wells. Larry wasn’t there, no surprise, so I called him on the phone and told him that we needed to talk.

“I’m in the middle of auditing the cashier’s cage. Can’t it wait?”

I grimaced. “No Larry. It can’t.”

Something in my voice must have caught his attention. “I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

“Meet me at the Sunset.” The Sunset Bistro is an automated coffee shop in the ‘Farm 1’ module just west of the office module. I checked and it was empty right then according to the security cameras: I needed some coffee bad, but I also needed to talk to Larry somewhere with more privacy than an open-plan office with shoulder-high cubicle walls.

He got there just as I was setting two cups of coffee down on a table in the back. I asked him to sit down. It wasn’t a fun conversation from there.

Like I said, Larry has a blind spot where Shelly was concerned. Their single mother had been a dancer in Las Vegas, a bit of a party girl, so Larry had raised his little sister mostly by himself. He ended up the responsible one, Shelly ended up like their mother, even if Larry thought differently. She even looked like her. I’ve seen pictures: a statuesque black woman in one of those peacock feather outfits, lovely brown eyes staring right into the camera and capturing your attention away from those beautiful, long legs. Shelly had inherited her mother’s eyes and legs and everything else too, except her hair was long and straight and she bleached it to within an inch of its life. Had bleached it…

Larry probably took after his father, whoever that was. He was lighter skinned than either his sister or mother and built like the halfback he had once been. His face was broad and open, with a nose that rivaled Bailey’s for size, and it was usually smiling in a way that made people like it. People didn’t like Larry’s face so much when he stopped smiling, it was one of the ways he kept the croupiers in line as his only other expression was one that belonged on the football field. People didn’t like that face at all. They usually worked hard to keep from seeing it.

Right then I could see that face, exposing Larry’s usually suppressed rage and this time competing with contortions of grief. Larry was standing feet apart, his enormous arms akimbo and his fists knotted into two bludgeons of meat and bone. His chair was laid over behind him and both cups of coffee were in my lap, untasted, after Larry had leaped up when I told him about Shelly. I stood up as well, watching warily. Larry was a friend, but I’d never seen him so upset. I realized I had no idea what he was going to do.

What he did was fall to his knees sobbing.

“I thought it was done. Over. I thought he would never come back.”

“Who?” I was confused. “What was over?”

“Nothing.” Larry forced himself to his feet. “I’ve got to go.”

“Go where? Larry, if you know anything about what happened to Shelly you need to tell me.”

“I don’t need to tell you nothing. It’s all my fault anyway. I killed her.”

I had no idea what he was talking about and I’m not sure he did right then. I couldn’t believe Larry had killed his beloved little sister and stuffed her body into a garbage capsule. “Larry, look man… I know you’re upset right now, but it’s my job to look into this. Just tell me what’s going on.”

Nothing but the rage came through right then, blazing out of his eyes and sweating out of his skin. “What’s going on is my business and none of yours. I’m gonna find that sonafabitch.”

“Who? Larry, let me handle this.” I put a hand on his shoulder, but he batted it away.

“You can’t handle this. You’re just a glorified hotel dick. Out of my way!” Larry pushed me hard, and I stepped back putting one hand on my Taser holster and unsnapping it.

“Not gonna happen Larry.” But he kept coming, fists up. I backpedaled again and drew the Taser just as a haymaker whistled by my head. The next punch would have connected, but I backed into a table and fell over onto it, crashing to the floor when the table collapsed under me. I lay there with the wind knocked out of me as Larry stalked by, heading for the door. The Taser took him in the meaty part of the shoulder and he jumped forward, striking his head hard on the door jam before collapsing into a shuddering heap.

Poem: Upon the Wings of Icarus

(Yeah, yeah... Scansion needs some work. Nor proper verse either. So sue me.)

Upon the Wings of Icarus
by Jack William Bell

The remains of the day, melting away
And so much remains to be done
Yet here I am and here I stay
Staring straight into the sun

We each our special talents
We each our singular muse
Burning like a candle on the balance
On the other pan life accrues

One side amasses, the other lightens
Until the whole lot tips away
Yet If we damp the fire out of good sense
In darkness we lose our way

Still, pay too much mind to the flame
You stand to lose your sight
Dangerous to forego the shades of our shame
When a muse can burn so bright

For myself, the candles are many
Long dimmed for year upon year
And I find my life grows too heavy
While blindness gives me no fear

So I turn away from staid and boring
I fan the flames hard and well
And I bathe myself in the lumin glory
Of light I can no longer quell

Will I flame out before I drop
Or will I illuminate the world?
Will I realize my folly, turn away, stop
Or will my bright wings unfurl?

Getting my two cents in

On Craigslist today there was a help-wanted ad titled 'Apple Site News Writer':

Looking for self-motivated writers for a large Apple News site.

- Good English spelling and grammar.
- Consistent
- Need one writer in-touch with the latest Apple news to post two articles per day
- Need one writer current on the latest iphone/ipad/ipod/apple tv jailbreak news to post two articles per day
- basic ftp skills (for article images) required
- basic photoshop skills (for article images) required
- articles should be ~ 500 words +/- depending on what's appropriate for the story
- should be quick on the draw with stories. tech news is old if it's 12 hours late
- have to be capable of reading email to make sure stories don't overlap with other writers

Each story pays $10 up to $620/month.

Please include resume, whether you are a mainstream or jailbreak writer, and anything else we should know.

I was, in a word, flabbergasted. They claim to be a 'large Apple News site' and they are expecting to get reasonably good work for $5 an hour? (Based on personal experience, I can tell you that a well-researched web news item in the technology sector takes about two hours on average. It really isn't about word length; I am certain you could do it faster, but it will show.)

I actually wrote the following response and then thought better of sending it. Frankly, the way I figure it, these are probably the kind of guys who would deliberately turn my email addy over to spammers. So, instead, I will share it with you in the hope you will find it amusing:

Hmm... $10 each to research and write two 500 word articles a day. I am guessing you will get what you are paying for: either someone who is desperate (probably for good reason) or someone who can't do the math. (Two cents a word? Really? That was picayune in 1950.)

Either way, please contact me if you wish to pay a reasonable rate to get better journalism and analysis. Until then, I am going to assume you are actually a content farm and my only interest in your responding to me is to find out who you are so I can avoid reading your site.

Jack

It's the little things that matter

I imagine that very nearly every man and woman who reaches an age comparable to mine finds themselves looking back at their life and finding the whole of it wanting. Finding themselves a failure when compared to the ambitions of their younger selves. I believe this to be true, no matter how great (or small) the success we each have actually achieved in life.

Certainly there are the exceptions to this rule; either those who started low and then climbed high beyond their wildest expectations or those so full of ego they have no memory of aught but the winner's circle. But such will be the minority, for even those who bear little conscience will remain cognizant of missed opportunities -- if nothing else. In the meantime, the great majority of us also look back upon our personal, as well as our professional, failures and rue the injuries we caused intentionally or accidentally.

It is the nature of the human animal, I think, to do this. To remain critical of ourselves in this way, just as it is very human to not see our mistakes as we are making them. And, in truth, how many of us could live up to the ambitions of childhood? Of the first Spring of adulthood? Even those who stay firm to the same path we pined to set foot on so long ago cannot help but look back and see the marks left by our knees each time we fell.

And, for the rest of us, that great majority who stumble and bumble our way blindly through life and only find some success through the purest of serendipity (if at all) there is the realization that we have reached the final quarter of our lives as a completely different person than we believed we would be in that first quarter. Mind you, this is probably true for nearly everyone just as it is probably also a pernicious illusion.

In any case I don't want to talk about the big failures in my own life or hear about the great mistakes in yours. That isn't where I am trying to go in this essay. Instead I want to talk about the little failures. The picayune hurts we caused others and ourselves.

I don't know if this experience is as universally true as is the awareness of failing to live up to our potential, but I find that it is the little things on my conscience which give me sleepless nights and dark days. All the times I was angry or inappropriate or selfish weigh heavy upon me, most especially when these occurred with those I love but also every time I wronged someone I only met once. Even those times I wronged those whom I disliked. The fact that I might repeat the same mistakes if put today in the same situation gives no absolution; continuing to be an ass doesn't excuse being an ass.

And yet, if awareness of having been an ass previously doesn't stop me from being an ass today, it does make me more careful. It does mean I am more likely to ask forgiveness right after the fact. It does mean I (sometimes) do not say the things I most want to say; the things I would have once blurted out through ignorance or even malice aforethought. Clearly I have learned something, even if perfection is so far away I cannot even see its lights at night.

And that's the thing of it. Once again I don't know if I can generalize this experience to the world, but I have finally gained a sort of wisdom about success and failure and have chosen to redefine them to the small. Every time I ever returned an extra twenty some shopkeeper gave me in change was a success. Every time I ever held open a door for someone carrying packages was a success. Every time I ever made someone laugh without doing it at the expense of a third person was a success. And in these ways I gain some balance in my life. Put some weight into the other pan.

In these ways I give myself the right to think I might be a good, if imperfect, human being.

And that is important, don't you think? Because anyone who wants to be a good person and realizes they are incurably an ass might also realize the quickest way to improve the world is to remove themselves from it. But we are human. We want to survive. If survival means convincing ourselves we aren't so bad, then we find a way to do it. Nothing wrong with that.

Really.

You see, I have achieved little in my life that is really important. All that I've done and everything I've touched amounts to less than the ripples of a pebble falling into the ocean. Even should my writings outlive me there is little chance they will improve the common lot of humanity. Few will read these words and fewer yet will find the wisdom of the ages in them for, frankly, the wisdom of the ages don't live here. Never did.

But I can say with all my heart that I never wanted to hurt anyone. That I am sorry for the wrongs I have committed and proud of the rights I have done. Whether great or small, each of my acts has been equally weighed by a conscience and I am glad of it. I am glad even of the pain it brings me, of the sleepless nights haunted by past mistakes. I am glad because this awareness means I can look back at a life filled with ups and downs and realize there is some balance to it.

And somewhere in there lives a cousin of the wisdom of the ages and it is this: life is pain. But life is also joy. If your real ambition is to limit the one and increase the other then you cannot fail. Even, especially, if you do it on the small scale. These are the little things that matter your mother told you about.

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