Saturday, February 24, 2007

Update: MTYT as nightmare repellent

About a year ago (jeez... time flies when you get old and buy an Xbox 360 anyways), I blogged about a creativity / drawing game that my son and I play called My Team, Your Team (MTYT).

Short version: One of you draws a thing (creature, robot, superhero, bug, whatever) with a power or powers, and the other person then draws a competing thing that opposes (cancels out, stomps, frustrates, distracts) said critter. You go back and forth until bored or the paper is filled up or Dan clearly wins. We still play the game. Fun times.

Well, last night, we found a new use for MTYT -- as a method of warding off nightmares.

Our family likes to watch Animal Planet's "The Most Extreme" together as a family. It's one of a variety of science-y, nature-y, discovery-y shows that are soooo much better than most of the "edutainment" crap that was on when I was young. On the episode we'd most recently DVR'd, there was apparently clip from some old horror movie featuring a giant aligator bursting out of the sewers into the streets above. I think the context was something about toilets, but am not sure, as Chris and Dan had watched this one without me. Anyway, for some reason this particular clip was really scaring Dan.

He's normally not scared by monsters, per se. But something about this clip had gotten him worked up, and we were approaching bedtime, and he's seven, and was all freaked out. Reason wasn't working. It never does with our fears, does it? We tried to explain that alligators would never get that big. That they could never break through streets, concrete, etc. Not. Working. At. All.

Then, for some reason -- I have no idea why I thought of this -- I asked Dan, "How would you beat a giant alligator in a game of 'My Team, Your Team?'"

He immediately perked up and said, "Well... first, I guess, I'd grab him with a giant crane."

OK. Not bad, but not the kind of creativity we usually get in MTYT. So I pushed a bit harder.

"Can you come up with three other, weird-o ways to beat a giant alligator?" I asked.

"Uh... Well, we could get a giant toilet and flush it back down!"

"Nice one. Any other ideas?" At this point, he was really getting into it. With a bit of help from Mom and me, he also came up with:

  • paint a permanent, pink dress on the alligator and super-glue a tiara on it so that it would be too embarrassed to come out of the sewer

  • tie a bell on its tail so that it would always be hearing the bell and distracted and trying to bit itself on the butt

  • something about a parasol; I forget, but it was funny

The point being obvious -- by the time we were done, the sewergator was no longer an object of fear and potential nightmares, but a vanquished foe in the realms of a comfortable, family game. Dan went from scared and freaked out to laughing and in control.

What we fear often grips us most tightly right before bed. Still happens to me, I must confess. Whether it's work, health, family, faith or the NSA... for some reason, the demons do like the twilight times. But if our imagination is the place where unreasoning, fantastic, creative fears like to take root, maybe we just need more ways (and games?) to paint pink dresses on them and flush them back down the toilet.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

New novel bit is up. "The Side Ways 3.2: Into the Stream"

New chapter of the novel is posted, "3.2: Into the Stream." Here's a chunk.
* * * * *

Kendra shook her head, checked for cars again – the street was empty – and stepped into the road.

The swirling lights and shadows seemed to tickle at the part of her that wanted to get going. Her legs felt light and twitchy. She began to tap a rhythm with her fingers on her hips. A kind of syncopated, martial drum-beat. She looked around and though she was standing still, the houses and trees, parked cars and telephone poles beside the road seemed to blur a bit, as if she was moving past them at great speed.

And she knew, instinctively, why Tess didn’t understand her checking for cars. I’m part of it now, she thought. If a car were to drive along, it wouldn’t touch me. I am, she realized with more than a little wonder, a part of the road. I am the reason of road.

And now, it’s time to go, Kendra thought. So let’s go. Go, go, go. And with the thought, came motion.

She had sensed the general direction of their destination before, and her informal knowledge of the city gave her at least a rough notion of what to expect in terms of streets, turns and the city’s layout. And she may have driven those roads a few times in the back of her mom’s car, or seen them from a bus a few times.

Still, she was not at all prepared to live the journey as a continuous series of snapshot, lightning-fast thought-pictures that delivered her to her target almost instantaneously.

Afterwards, she would estimate that she’d traveled about two miles. At the time, as it happened, she couldn’t have told you if it was one-block or a thousand.

It’s that way, was what she first thought as the Way entered her and she entered it, and the next thing she knew, she was somewhere else, somewhere closer. But there was also knowledge in her mind. As if she had a map of the places in between where she’d been and where she was now. In case I need to back-track, she thought. How handy.

Still, she wasn’t where she wanted to be. She could feel it, and it was at least a few blocks away. And she didn’t know the route. And there were buildings in the way.

What is the best way?

That was her thought. “Best.” Not, “quickest.” And so…

Flash. Flash. Flash.

Holy crap, she thought. I’m triangulating.

Sensing the place she wanted to be from at least three different vantages, two of which had moved her further along from where she’d been standing than the place she wished to be.

That’s odd, she thought. To best get where I’m going in the end, I can now go beyond it first. She had a very strong feeling that this was an important lesson, but the lights and the shadows in the stream were tickling the go-go-go impulse and she knew, now, where she wanted to be, how to best get there and…

Kendra was standing in the road, still in the stream of the Great Way, just outside the parking lot of a small strip-mall that included a Thai restaurant, a dry-cleaners, a couple specialty shops and a convenience store. The last slot in the row was a closed-up, walk-in dentist’s office. Though dark, closed for the night, and hidden behind tight-shut venetian blinds, it was clearly the spot where the vibes that Kendra was feeling were coming from.

She stepped up onto the curb and felt the Way slip off her like a blanket falling from her shoulders.

“Wow,” she said. “That was really, really odd. Cool. But odd.”

* * * * *

Check out the main page for “The Side Ways,” and request the password for all parts after “Chapter 1.1: Stray Girl,” if you’ve got a mind to.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Six Degrees of Metadata

I don't talk about my day gig much in this space. Mostly because my day gig involves marketing, and if I'm going to write about what I do (marketing) and where I do it (OCLC), I should do it there, on the clock, get paid for it, and give the shrift to them what pays me.

This separation of blog and job should not be confused with any antipathy towards work on my part. I really like what I do and think my company does some very excellent stuff. I just don't talk about it here. Much.

But the gang in our research division just launched something uber-cool that I'd like to point out to my buddies what ain't already hip to the library land groove. WorldCat Identities.

This service pulls all kinds of library links from WorldCat into one page, based around the identity of... well... "somebody important." Could be an author, could be a character in a work. And it links out from one to the next, in a way that reminds me of a social networking service like LinkedIn, but for... well... "somebody important."

For example. Start with one of the biggest names in the cloud. William Shakespeare. Truck on down the page to the "Related Names" section and click on Julius Caesar. [Note: don't click on the wee, litle "+" sign... that does something different. Well, sure. Go back and do that, too. But not right now].

Now you're looking at works about and by Julius Caesar. Oh, right. Caesar wrote stuff himself. He wasn't just a character in other people's plays. That's good to keep in mind.

Related people to Mr. Caesar include George Bernard Shaw, who wrote a play called "Caesar and Cleopatra." Right. I'd forgotten about that, too. Another related name is Joan of Arc, about whom George also wrote.

Now if you look closely at the Identity page for Joan, you'll see a little link number next to it: 944.026. That's a link to the Dewey Browser view of WorldCat... another cool tool from our friends in Research. Click there and look at the books you'd see next to books about Joan on the shelf at the library.

Turns out that some of the books next to Joan on the shelf have to do with the history of the English longbow... and that's directly related to the current historical fiction series that I'm reading. And to a lifelong interest I've had in archery, instilled in me by my maternal grandfather, who was a bowyer and fletcher.

WorldCat Identities is, I think, an incredibly interesting way to paw through content collections and areas of interest. Stories are largely about people; much more interesting (in most cases) than stuff or places. At least to me. And so a "data cube" that rotates around the people at the heart of stories -- both them what writes 'em and them what's in 'em -- is a great way to navigate a sea of potentially interesting information.

This one was just way too cool for me to not share with my 9 regular readers. Major, major props to the guys in Research.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Target of my Wrath

This is a rant. And I haven't done one of those in this space in awhile. If you don't want to read a good, old fashioned, flame-on rant, and would just like a quick laugh, try out the Nietzsche Family Circus Mash-Up. Hysterical. For those of you inclined to stay on-board for the ride, here we go...

Happy Valentine's Day from Target.






I'm not even sure "BEEEEEEEEP!" is the right phonetic representation for the noise in question. Poing? Boitch? Doong? Boooop? I don't know. I just don't know.

Hard to tell through the blood build-up behind my eyes. Hard to concentrate when the fight-or-flight reflex has kicked in. Hard to remember when the retail-joy impulse that decades of "shop-is-love" American consumerism has bred into me has fled. A lifetime of social, big-box, mall interactions and happy-happy buying glee has been pushed out of my cerebral cortex by a noise that sounds like the Chuck E. Cheez version of the sound a hospital monitor makes when something wrong... something VERY VERY WRONG is happening to the patient in Room 209.

My God... MY GOD!!! What is happening? Why are they making that noise?


At first I thought is was localized, behind the new displays of Ninetendo Wiis. For a moment, I even thought the noise was coming from a Wii, and was maybe some weird, loud, Japanistic auditory approximation of  "Pain-of-Loss." That would make sense. OK. Game pain. I can live with that. But no... it was coming from a wall or a pillar or something.

We've just had a "snow emergency" here in Central Ohio. Level 3 in some counties. In Boston (where I'm from) or Buffalo (my wife) or Ithaca (where I went to school) the volume of snow we've had would count as "light to moderate." Here it is worthy of writing on stone tablets. And so, for a moment, when the noise came back...


I thought, Maybe the snow has done something to the nice Target store... Maybe there is an emergency here? Maybe somebody has slipped and fell on ice and they need the... the... most able Target-person to go and... do the emergency thing. Whatever.

It was that loud a noise. It triggered the, "Where's the fire?" response.

I'd stopped by Target on my way home from work to get two things: a Lego kit for my son (his Valentine's Day gift) and some milk. A quick stop. And I like shopping at Target. It's well lit. It's clean. It's well laid-out. You can get seasonal stuff, cards, a few food items, clothes, best-selling books, videos, games and...


Sweet mother of pearl!!! The noise went off again! This time I was up in the toy aisle and trying to find the right Lego kit, and it started hammering right next to me. Wow. It was loud. Really loud. I'd been in the big, main aisle before. Cruising along at finding-my-sector speed. Now I was in careful-hunting-mode. Leaning in close. Examining package details. Retail graze. And directly next to the post-thingy with the speaker up in its posty groin.

Now... I'm not a noise hater. I like loud music. I don't mind big cities, traffic noise, airports, children playing, trains, concerts, action movies or Robin Williams. Noise is fine. And I've been accused on plenty of occasions of being a loud bastard myself. What I mean to say is that I do not require quiet, nor am I repulsed by simple loudness.

But as I grabbed my Lego kit and headed through Men's Wear towards (whatever they call) Food, the brazen peal let loose again...


And I felt the beginnings of madness. Seriously. This was dentist drill pitched noise. And at a volume that drove any thoughts other than, "Escape!" out of my head. This is the noise they should generate in buildings when there's a gas leak or a bomb threat to make sure that kids aren't hiding in the broom closet.

I did not linger.

I got my 2% and headed directly for check-out and, while waiting, asked a clerk who was working on a nearby end-cap:

"What on earth is that horrible noise I keep hearing? The 'beep! beep! beep!' thing? Is there some kind of emergency or something?"

Reply: "No. That's just our phone system."

I was stunned. The phone? THE PHONE? THE FRIGGIN' PHONE???!!! Having the phone "ring" with a noise that loud and piercing and terrible is the equivalent of "pointing" at someone with a flare gun in order to single them out in a crowd.

"Uh," I asked... "Why is the phone so insanely loud and annoying?"

Answer, punchline and cause of rant: "Because when it's any less annoying, we don't answer it."

I replied, "You may want to rethink that particular retail philosophy. Driving customers out of your store with the equivalent of audio napalm because you can't train employees to answer a reasonable, human-level tone is arguably insane."

He nodded and said, "We hate it, too."

There you go. It sucks for everybody. So it must be OK.

Last time I checked, I pay about a 7% premium to shop at Target as opposed to some other big-box stores. I've gladly paid it in the past because I like their selection, service, lay-out, lighting, cleanliness and general ambiance. I say this, though. If I go back and get hit by that air-horn phone-from-hell again... I'm taking my business back across the street to Meijers, even though shopping there always makes me feel... well... a little sticky.

Friday, February 2, 2007

The Side Ways 3.1: Judge the Book

Latest portion of the novel-in-progress has been posted. A bit of it to whet your whistle...
*  *  *  *  *

Kaolyn and Wallace continued to peer at various objects in the room, not touching anything, but looking for… something… they knew not what. Tess sat quietly on the back of the chair, grooming her wing feathers, waiting with the patience that seems innate to crows, carrion birds and certain appointed bureaucrats.

After a few minutes, Mrs. McKey returned. “Step out of the room, please,” she requested. “You too, please, Tess,” she added when the bird remained behind. The others crowded the landing behind the woman while she knelt on the floor, just outside the doorway to Kendra’s bedroom, and placed the stub of a pencil on the floor. She passed her hand over the pencil, murmured a few soft words, and stood up.

As they watched, the nondescript, yellow stub of wood and lead began to move, first standing upright, then tracing a line into the bedroom. It left no mark on the thick carpet, but seemed to be drawing a series of long, flowing curves, something akin to the movement of a symphony conductor’s hand.

As the pencil moved further into the room, Mrs. McKey stood and leaned forward to keep it in her view, but she did not yet set foot in the room. The pencil continued to curve and weave across the rug, stopping for a moment here, circling in another spot for a time, finally coming to rest against the backpack that they’d come to examine.

“Whatever it is,” Kaolyn suggested, “is in there.”
*  *  *  *  *Check out the main page for "The Side Ways," and request the password for all parts after "Chapter 1.1: Stray Girl," if you’ve got a mind to.