Back from the trip and new phone.

Back from that business trip that put me offline.  And now that I’m home I just upgraded my phone from my older Samsung Galaxy S4 to a new Samsung Galaxy S8.

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The phone is physically larger than the S4 as is becoming the trend.   After many years of the trend being for smaller and smaller phones, it reversed and is now going the other way.  As some have explained it:

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In my case, it’s that I read books on my phone.  I have reached the point where the library in my Kindle app now dwarfs my never small physical library.  The phone is still small enough, even with the Otterbox Defender case I purchased for it, to fit in a shirt pocket, or into a front pants pocket.  I have a belt clip, of course (comes with the case), but that’s not always convenient to wear.  So I probably don’t want to get much larger.

One of the issues with the previous phone was that it could be hard to read, even at maximum brightness, in full sun.  I don’t know how this one compares in that respect.  It has been persistently gloomy outside since my return.

In addition to its size, the new phone has several advantages over my old one.  The icons for the apps are somewhat smaller so more fit on a screen “page”.  This means that all the apps I most commonly use fit on the home screen without having to bleed over to a second screen.  That’s a noticeable improvement in convenience.  The phone came with 64 GB of memory.  That’s more than the internal storage and Micro-SD card I had in my old phone combined.  I can put in a new card.

Transferring my old data and apps to the new phone was surprisingly convenient.  There’s an app that generates a QR code that let’s the two phones “talk” over WiFi for part of the process and there’s a “null modem” adapter that lets the two talk over a USB cable to complete the process.

The only thing that didn’t go through was my playlists.  I used Doubletwist as my main music player.  The music files went across but the playlists did not so rebuilding them is taking a bit of time.

Overall, I’ve been very happy with the new phone so far.  And the old one is packed away as a “backup” in case this one is lost or damaged.

 

Why write?

An important question.  But a more important one is “why read”. (Note:  this is going to be brief and I don’t know how much posting I’m going to be able to do over the next several days–business trip for my “day job” coming up.)

People have told me to think about what my goal is as a writer and to be driven by that. There’s some good value in that advice, but the flip side is that whatever my goal might be as a writer, if it’s anything other than intellectual masturbation, then it must also consider what the reader’s goal is as a reader.

If a work doesn’t meet the reader’s goal in reading, then it doesn’t matter what goal mine might be (saving only that intellectual masturbation thing) because it won’t be accomplished.

In general, when it comes to fiction, the reader wants to be entertained. They want to be excited, amazed, thrilled. They want to feel worry, romance, wonder. They want to be diverted from their humdrum existence into something different. They want to have characters they can care about in situations that cause them to worry and then have that worry resolved in a satisfying way.

In short, they want _stories_. Create stories. Get them to read. And then any other goals you might have can be slipped in.

Snippet: Oruk Means Hard Work.

From my novelette Oruk Means Hard Work.


Elara, Princess of the Elves, has been captured by orcs.  Now their prisoner, she has been assigned to one of their women and given a thin pad and blanket to sleep her first night in their caves.

An orc woman woke Elara sometime later. “Grintak, olf. Jang oruk ven. Jang oruk ven.”

Elara curled into a tight ball in the thin blanket.

The orc woman delivered a swat to Elara’s backside that stung even through the blanket. “Grintak!”

Elara uncurled and poked her head out of the blanket. The air was chill and she wanted to go back to huddling in the blanket, but the stern expression on the orc woman’s face stopped her.

The orc woman held a bowl and spoon out to Elara. “Kurok shash. Jang oruk ven. Jang oruk ven mak.”

Elara nodded and took the bowl. “Kurok,” she said.

The bowl contained a strange soup or porridge. Small bits had a spongy texture and a slightly sharp taste. Mixed in with the bits were small pieces of strange meat. Elara did not like the taste but the porridge soon filled the hole in her belly.

When she finished, the orc woman directed Elara to where several orc children were scraping any leftover porridge into buckets and scrubbing the bowls and spoons with sand. Elara left the bowl and spoon with them and followed the woman to where several other orcs were working at large tubs.

Orcs brought in baskets of small, brightly colored bits and dumped them into the tubs, then others picked up large wooden mallets pounded on the bits.

The woman led Elara to one of the tubs, freshly filled with the colored bits, mushrooms and other fungus Elara could now see. The woman pointed to one of the mallets and said, “Oruk.”

Fearfully, Elara took the mallet and tried to lift it. It was very heavy. She winced as the effort pressed against her bandaged hand, sending pain shooting up her arm.

The orc woman grabbed Elara’s wrist and pulled it up, turning Elara’s hand to peer down at the palm. “Kek jang thok?” She peeled the bandage from Elara’s hand, then clucked. “Engthul.” She looked down at Elara and bared her teeth in an expression Elara thought was meant to be a smile. “Jang te engthul akkagh.”

Timidly, Elara said, “Jang te engthul akkagh.”

The orc woman laughed and nodded vigorously. “Jang te engthul akkagh.” She stood and beckoned Elara to follow her. “Azg bet.”

The orc woman led Elara to a small tent from which an incredibly ancient orc emerged. The orc looked at Elara’s palm and spread a greasy salve over it that stung but soon eased the pain, then wrapped a cloth around it. He and the orc woman conferred in voices too low for Elara to hear.

The orc woman nodded, then led Elara back to where the others were pounding the mushrooms and handed her a basket. “Jang oruk. Azg bet.”

Elara, carrying the basket, followed the orc woman out into the caves and began to gather the small mushrooms and shelf fungi that grew on the damp wall.

Throughout, the orc woman kept up a continuous chatter.

#

The work was hard, but not harder than Elara could bear. Before the basket was full, while Elara could still lift it without straining her cut hand, the orc woman took her back to where the orcs had been working at large tubs. She had Elara dump the bits of fungus into the tubs where other orcs pounded it with the large mallets. Then the orc woman led her back into the caves to gather more fungus.

After several such trips into the caves and back, the orc woman led Elara to a kitchen and gave her another bowl of the porridge she had eaten that morning and sat down next to Elara with a bowl of her own. After the meal, the orc woman took Elara’s hand and turned it palm up. She peeled back the cloth wrapping slightly, then shook her head. “Kek jang lug?”

Elara shook her head. “I don’t understand.”

The orc woman pursed her lips then pressed her thumb firmly against the cut, making Elara squirm. “Lug.”

Lug, Elara thought, that must mean pain. They were going to give her pain if she didn’t work; was that it? She shook her head.

The orc woman shook her head, then said again, ending on a rising tone, “Kek jang lug?” She moved as if to press her thumb against Elara’s palm again. “Jang lug,” the orc woman said. She released Elara’s hand and held hers up. “Jang shek lug.” The orc woman held her hands, palm up, to either side of Elara’s cut hand and said, “Kek jang lug?”

Understanding at last. The orc woman was asking if her hand hurt. Elara shook her hand and said, “Jang shek lug.”

The orc woman nodded. “Jang morg.”

Elara and the orc woman took the bowls to be cleaned and went back to collecting mushrooms. After more time working, they stopped to eat again. This time, in addition to the porridge, Elara was given small pieces of meat — Elara could not tell from what animal — and a small bowl of sweet pudding. She looked up at the orc woman on seeing this bounty.

“Bak nik te morg oruk,” the woman said. “Kurok.”

Food eaten, the orc woman led Elara to a set of pools near the bottom of the cavern. She shied back as she saw other orcs there, stripping their clothing off and wading into the pools. The orc woman, however, grabbed her hand and pulled, setting her firmly at the side of one of the smaller pools. The orc woman pulled her rough shift over her head revealing the thickset muscular body underneath. A moment later Elara almost screamed as the orc woman stripped her clothes from her, leaving her naked in the midst of orcs. Only the thought that no one would answer her screams kept her silent.

None of the other orcs paid any attention as the orc woman drew Elara into the pool. This time Elara did yelp. The water was cold!  Still, the orc woman pulled her deeper into the water.

Near the center of the pool the water was about knee deep. The orc woman stooped and came up with a handful of sand that she proceeded to rub vigorously over Elara’s body. After a couple of swipes, she let the sand drop and pointed to Elara.

Elara nodded and stooped to reach the bottom of the pool. Before her hand could touch the water, however, the orc woman’s hand intercepted it. She turned Elara’s hand palm up, pointed at the bandage wrapped around it and shook her head. She pointed at the other hand, then down at the pool.

Elara nodded again and proceeded to scrub her body with the abrasive white sand, keeping her injured hand carefully out of the water.

Crude bathing completed, the orc woman then led Elara back to the pad on which she had slept. “Nem nem. Jang oruk vek mak.”

Elara lay on the pad and wrapped herself in the thin blanket. She could not sleep. Instead, in moments, tears had soaked her cheeks. She was a slave of these orcs. That was what her life was to be, to be a slave. Nobody would find her here. She would live as a slave and she would die as a slave.


$2.99 in Kindle Store, free to read on Kindle Unlimited

Life among the orcs is hard.  So difficult and ubiquitous is brutal labor among them that “Veth oruk”/”Work is” is their most common greeting.  When Elara, princess of the elves is captured and enslaved by them that is the life she must learn to live, a life of hard, unremitting labor with no hope of rescue.

Work is.

Who controls society?

A commenter (read “Troll”) on Sarah Hoyt’s blog in the course of his posts made a statement about determining “who controls society”.

After much facepalming, I replied.  I expand a bit on that reply here.

I don’t know why I try, but I essay:

This statement here shows such a profound ignorance that you can’t even ask meaningful questions. It’s a null statement. There is no answer to it as worded. It assumes a strict hierarchy that totalitarian regimes may approach but that never actually achieve.

Consider the barnyard example of a “pecking order” among chickens.  This is a common grade-school example of heirarchy. Anyone who actually knows chickens knows that this is laughable. It’s not a hierarchical order but a collection of interacting relationships.

Likewise with canids. People talk about the “alpha wolf” the “beta” and so on down to the last one. (Fortunately, for people making these assertions, wolf packs generally don’t get large enough that they run out of Greek letters.)

Look, I’m a “dog person”. When I acquire a new dog, the dogs among them will establish their own internal dominance structures. However, despite the fact that I am “alpha” to all the previous dogs (I have to be since the dogs have to exist in mutual safety in human society) I still have to establish my individual dominance over the new dog even if it is subordinate to the other dogs. Individual relationships, not a fixed hierarchy.   For example, “Hachi” is subordinate to me. We get the new dog“Trunks”. (My daughter gave them their names.) Trunks is subordinate to Hachi. (Hachi’s got real attitude–Bolt, the Pit Bull mix twice her weight is subordinate to her.) This does not mean that Trunks will automatically be subordinate to me just because I “rank” over Hachi. I have to establish that separately. And, incidentally, were I to fail to do so (purely a hypothetical in this case) that would not mean that Hachi, dominant over Trunks, would automatically become dominant over me. “Dominance loops” can, and in fact, do, exist.

Thus, the whole idea of “who controls society” does not, and indeed cannot have an answer. It’s like asking “how high is up”, or asking a person not affected with synesthesia what the color blue smells like (not a blue object, but the color itself).

Consider for instance how this works in the case of fashion. In China for a long time foot binding was a fashion. A horrible, horrible fashion. This is often described as being something imposed by men on women to force subervience on them. (After all, traditional Chinese culture was strongly patriarchal–few would dispute that–so of course, the men have to be the ones dictating this.)

When I was in college, I had to take two courses, 6 credit hours, in “World Civilizations”.  One of the courses I took covered China.  One of the texts we used was the book  “Wild Swans”, a biographical account of three generations of Chinese women spanning pretty much the 20th century (and was used as a text in the “China” class in World Civilizations in college) describes the last generation to practice foot binding (while Manchuria, which did not practice foot binding ruled over the rest of China). It wasn’t the men imposing it. It was imposed by other women.

Note, the ruling Manchurian dynasty did not practice foot binding.  Yet Chinese women, of other ethnicities within China nevertheless enforced it on their daughters.  It was not a “patriarchy” imposing this on women, but women imposing it on each other.

Likewise with more mundane fashion choices. Men pretty much don’t care. At most men will be interested in whether or not the fashion shows off the female form because, for evolutionary reasons, men tend to highly approve of the female form. No.  Fashion choices and the impositions thereof are driven almost entirely by pressure between and among women. (Yes, many fashion designers are men–but much of that crap they go down the runway with is never actually worn in public. It’s more “performance art” than actual fashion.)

Most of the pressures placed on women in modern Western society are placed their by other women for the ostensible benefit of those other women. Men don’t control that. They may try to grab hold for the ride, but the control is firmly in women’s hands.

Indeed, one can also argue that many of the pressures on men are put on them by women for the benefit of women and children.

Consider the various mating rituals in the animal kingdom. The brilliant plumage and mating dances of male birds. The “fights” of rutting bucks. A lot of people naively think that this competition is a display of male dominance.  Exactly the opposite is the case.

These things are designed to impress the female because it’s. the. female. that. chooses. While the male activity is more visible the actual power lies with the female.

Likewise with many of the things that people claim are “patriarchal” in American society. They are actually aspects of female power and female choice. And even there, it’s a matter of individual issues with multiple subgroups.

Consider, I’m Goth (well, perhaps “Goth-lite”). Among many folk that would automatically make me lower in their personal heirarchy simply from my choices of style, appreciation of the dark, and liking for music with dissonant tones and dark subject matter. On the other hand, I can show up at a major business, deal with businessmen in their three-piece suites and short, parted on the left hair while I’m dressed in black T’s and jeans, long black hair with a purple streak pulled into a pony tail, and black painted nails and they don’t say “boo”. Because I bring something to them that they can’t do and they know it. (BTW: if you have a Blu-Ray player, you’re welcome.)  People tell me that tailored suit and tie makes a person look powerful.  People paying me to come fix their problems in my T-shirt, jeans, and pony tail?  That, my friend, is power.  And yet, the same people who come to me for help and pay the rather substantial fees my boss charges for it would have no problem disparaging me in a different context because their conventional style is considered higher status than my “looks like a freak”.

There is no one who “controls society”. It’s a lot of individual interconnections and relationships that are always changing, not just over time but with context, a chaotic system at best which cannot be predicted, much less controlled.

Feeding the Active Writer: Savory Slow Cooker Meat Loaf

The end result here was a bit mushy, but very tasty.  This is an extremely easy recipe

  • 3 lb very lean (at least 94%) ground beef
  • 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 8 eggs
  • 2 Tbsp dried parsley flakes
  • 1 Tbsp crushed rosemary
  • 1 Tbsp thyme
  • 1 Tbsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper

In a large mixing bowl, thoroughly combined the ingredients.  I find it easiest to put on some plastic gloves and just dive in with my hands.

Grease the interior of a 4-5 quart slow cooker.  I use cooking spray on the inside of slow cooker liner bags.  Makes cleanup easier.

Cook on low 6-8 hours.

Really.  That’s it.  Serves 8-12.

I might add about a quarter cup or so of coconut flower next time to soak up some of the liquid that cooks out.  That might help to make it not so mushy next time.

The Perpetual Decline of Civilization?

This is a somewhat updated “Blast from the Past.”

Back in the day on an old online service (the Internet existed, but it had not yet really begun to take off) GEnie (General Electric’s online service, thus the odd capitalization), there was a Science Fiction Roundtable. As a member of SFWA (I was once under the belief that membership might help my career. What can I say; we’re all young and stupid once.) I had a “freeflag” to this group.

So, in one discussion I pointed out that one of the things I didn’t care about in Tolkien was this idea that that the world was in perpetual decline. Yes, I’m aware of the mythic underpinnings of such a structure–classic myth with it’s Gold, Silver, and Iron ages, each progressively worse than the one before. Still, it didn’t fit my world view and that was a source of frustration with the world of Middle Earth and since the world is very much a character, in some ways the main character, well…

I got jumped on by a Special Snowflake who insisted that of course the world is in decline. We’re all worse off than our ancestors were.

Wait. What?

I pointed out that all Caesar’s wealth could not have bought him a single Tylenol(r) for his headache to be met with a response that the Romans had access to Opium.

Wait.  What?

The answer to a proxy for modern medicine even at the low end was that they had opium?  And I’ll give them Ethanol and, are willows native to Europe?  I don’t know, but in the absence of knowledge, let them have willow bark as well.

Against that we have the contents of my medicine cabinet.

But the kicker was when someone else told me that she (yes, it was a she) would have to get used to having slaves do all the stuff we do with machines today, but it would really be no worse than living today.

Wait. What?

First off, having machines rather than slaves to do menial chores is not in and of itself a major improvement on past society? Did she really mean that?

But the real question is, what unbridled hubris led her to think she would be the slave owner instead of the slave?

At that point I just gave up.  I didn’t even bother asking of the person really thought that having machines rather than slaves was not an improvement after all.  What would be the point?  The person in question was all holier-than-thou “I’m not interested in trying to convince you.” (Good thing given that you’re so utterly, egregiously, wrong.)

Some people have this strange idea that it’s “better” to live an agrarian lifestyle than to live in a modern technological and industrial civilization.  Almost invariably these people have never tried to live on a subsistence farm while completely cut off from modern industry, no access to modern medicine, no backups in case pest devour the crop or a drought withers it.  No modern weather forecasting to tell you to get that crop in before the hailstorm pounds it into the ground.  No modern storage and preserving techniques.  Nothing that a truly “agrarian” society wouldn’t have.

Hunter-gatherer societies have a lot of leisure time compared to modern society?  That’s nice.  What, exactly, are you going to do with that leisure time?  You know those societies tend to have high birthrates because, 1) their infant and child mortality rates are astronomical and 2) what else are they going to do with all that “leisure time”?  If carving decorations on your spear shaft is your thing, knock yourself out.  But, you know, it’s not for everybody.

People have a tendency to romanticize primitive lifestyles, usually when they’re far, far away from the realities of those lifestyles.  But Hobbes had it right:  “Life in the state of nature is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

The world has generally gotten better over the years, the decades, the centuries, and yes, the millenia.  It may have its ups and downs.  There may be reversals from time to time, but in the long run the trend has been upward.  “The good old days” are a creation of selective memory, no more.

And, thus, while I will occasionally venture into some dark explorations, my futures tend to be upbeat and hopeful.  Problems are problems to overcome, not some inevitable collapse into everlasting hell.  This is the kind of fiction I like to write.  This is the kind of fiction I like to read.

I don’t think I’m alone.

Feeding the Active Writer: Bourbon Garlic Pork Roast

I haven’t done one of these in a while so I think it’s about timer.

Tonight’s experiment: Bourbon Garlic pork roast.

  • 1 4-5 lb Pork loin roast

Brine:

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup Bourbon
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1 cup “Splenda”
  • About half a dozen garlic cloves ground into paste
  • 2 Tbsp black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp ground mustard
  • 1 tsp ground Cayenne pepper

Mix the ingredients of the brine together until the salt and splenda are dissolved.
Put the roast in a plastic bag and pour in the brine mixture. Squeeze out the air so that the roast is completely covered with the brine mixture and seal the bag. Let sit in the refigerator overnight.

  • “Glaze”:
    2 Tbsp Mayonaisse
  • 1 Tbsp yellow mustard.
  • 2 Tbsp onion powder
  • 1 Tbsp garlic powder.

Preheat oven to 350
Remove the pork roast from the bring mixture and let the excess liquid drain away.
Thoroughly mix the glaze.
Use a pastry brush to coat the pork roast on all size with the glaze.

Place the roast in the heated oven. Bake until internal temperature is 160 (all temperatures are in Fahrenheit). I have no idea how long that is since I use a leave-in thermometer that alerts when the target temperature is reached.

On removal from the oven, let rest about 15 minutes before cutting.

Good hot or cold, or sliced thin for sandwiches.