Link Dump Sunday: No piano pressure

Adam Stevens argues for more science in citizen science. Worth a look, although as I’ve written, I see value in the non-research elements of citizen science as well.

Curiosity, for example, is awesome, and citizen science can help pique it. Also, helping kids develop the skills they will need to ultimately enter a scientific career.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology highlights some of its citizen science projects, with particular focus on their use in education.

Citizen science results: The effect of climate change on butterfly flight; finding “lost” plant species.

New (to me) citizen science projects: Uncover Your Creeks (water quality monitoring in Vancouver, British Columbia); Secchi App (a worldwide phytoplankton study).

Miscellaneous birding tidbits.

Steven Brust sends an open letter to his editor. It’s funny.

Also funny: Weird Al Yankovic’s set-up for teaching his daughter the piano. If I ever teach music, I’m going to replicate this.

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Video contest

One of the strange things of unemployment that I’m now enjoying is the time that I have to do stuff. And some of these things are stuff that I normally never would have any inclination for.

Such as this:

This is a video that I made for Tootsie Pops’ “How Many Licks” contest. The contest is pretty straight-forward (make a video that answers the question from the old ads). While my natural tendencies aren’t toward shilling for candy, I’ll admit I had a great time coming up with the video and figuring out how to make it. The threads you can see; I hope that I managed to get what used to be a bicycle wheel completely out of frame throughout. Also, apart from the blast-off section, all of this was shot in my shower.

I’ll probably be doing more of this kind of contest in the near future, both for the pleasure of making things and the potential of winning fabulous prizes (which would be nice for, you know, paying rent and stuff.) Which reminds me: If you’re interested in helping this one win, vote for it. (I think you’ll need a Facebook account, and that you’ll need to allow it to install the voting app.) Thanks!

“Bob”

This has been a long time coming.

I originally wrote this song for a Three Legged Race show last year. But we didn’t have anyone who could provide instrumentation for it, so it didn’t go anywhere.

A year and a half later, and I’ve done the piano myself.

It’s a sad, mournful song from the point of view of an evil genius, who has just made a wonderful (he thinks) present to his evil companion. But she’s, well, distracted. By Bob. Bob, the evil supergenius down the street.

Poor evil genius.

Anyhow, this will hopefully be something that we film and release early next year. Which means that I should, well, plan the video.

Until then, though, enjoy the song:

Bob” at the Internet Archive.

The Naked Flagpole

My first prose fiction in a while — I’ve been spending my time on scripts and music (and preparing for After, Life) lately. And while it’s time to get cracking back on Exile Issues, this isn’t from it. Instead, it’s a completely hypothetical unnamed young adult novel. We’ll see how that goes. But it has Terry Pratchettian footnotes, so that’s something.

The feel of the wind was the first thing I noticed when I woke up. It’s weird, looking back, that that would be the case. The wind wasn’t really all that important in the grand scheme of things. It was just a symptom of the real issue, as my mom would say. She’s a doctor and probably the reason I’m such a nerd, but you’ll meet her later. Back to the important things.

Well, not really. The next thing I noticed was the sound of the wind. It wasn’t loud, really. More concave. Like something that isn’t really there was pushing out the static quiet that should have been. That’s not a great explanation, is it? Try walking sideways with a glass over your ear and you’ll get what I mean.

Of course, that’s just another symptom too. The real issue only hit me in third place: That I was falling.

“Fjord,” I muttered inwardly.*

I technically felt the softness of the grass next, but since the grass was only about an inch above the hardness of the ground, that’s what wound up dominating my senses.

I looked up and saw the flagpole from which I’d been hanging, and felt that the wind had died down (or, more accurately, that I had stopped moving through the air–thanks, Mom). The eerie lack of sound disappeared too, as cheering wooshed in to replace it.

It was only then that I discovered my complete nudity**.

*1 Let me make something clear. I didn’t say “Fjord.” I screamed something, and it was the kind of thing that makes old southern ladies fan themselves. But I’m also entirely willing to sacrifice factualness in the pursuit of fame and wealth. You see, I want this book in every school, library, and day care center in the known universe. But there are parents out there whose hobbies include going through the books in schools, libraries, and day care centers looking for so-called naughty words, and making a big fuss about how they have to protect the children by removing them. I don’t want that to happen, so whenever there’s some cursing, I’ll use a whimsical, understated alternative. It’ll be our secret, eh?

**Okay, we’ll have to give up on the day care centers.

My Sister’s Exes

The name that appeared on Kyle’s phone didn’t belong to someone he wanted to talk to. So he ignored the call, and the ghastly tone that alerted him to a new voice mail. All simple enough.

His phone rang again twenty minutes later. Then, fifteen minutes after that, and ten minutes after that, and five after—

“Hi, Michelle,” he grumbled.

“Hi-hi,” she bubbled back. Michelle always bubbled. It drove Kyle crazy. “Howya doin’?”

“I’m great. What’s up?” No extraneous words, no extraneous emotion.

“Oh, nothing. Just wanted to chat.”

Kyle hadn’t expected that, but when the words came out he knew he should have. It was just the kind of thing that Michelle would do. Most people in her situation would have only redialed so insistently if, say, Lisa had been in a horrible accident, or needed a blood transfusion, or maybe if she wanted to create some convoluted scenario in which they’d get back together. That last one, incidentally, dwelled far beyond the realm of fantasy. Lisa only made decisions after thorough consideration so she had no need to ever change her mind, and she had decided to dump him.

“Oh,” Kyle said.

“So I was at the mall today and I saw—“

“I don’t actually want to talk to you, Michelle,” Kyle interjected through her yammering. “I mean, not because of anything you did. Just that, you know, I’m not with your sister anymore so… There’s kind of a break, okay?”

Michelle giggled, high-pitched and delicate. “No there isn’t. I maintain really good relationships with all of Lisa’s ex-boyfriends.”

“You maybe shouldn’t, kid.”

“Well, I can’t have any boyfriends of my own yet, so I have to live vi-… vih-… what’s the word?”

“Vicariously.”

“Yeah, vicariously.” Michelle continued with the exuberance of someone even younger than she. “See, you knew exactly what I was thinking. It’s like we’re soul-mates, but for in-laws. What’s the word for that?”

“I hope there isn’t one, Michelle. We’re not soul-mates, or in-laws, and we never were.”

“You’re just saying that because you never got married, but everyone thought you should have, so—“

In that moment, Kyle realized that if he had to suffer the indignity of being dumped, he might as well take some benefit from it. He pulled the phone away from his ear.

In the muffled distance to the end of his arm, Lisa’s wails of “Kyle? Kyle?” grew more frantic.

He stretched his other arm, and with a ceremoniously deliberate pace extended his pointer to the hang-up button.

Naturally, Kyle broke down twenty minutes later, frantically calling Lisa to apologize and beg her not to tell Michelle any of what happened and maybe casually hint what an amazing person he was and that she could do a lot worse and all that, but for the first eight minutes or so of radio silence he felt absolutely righteous.

*****

No commentary on this one, except to say that I have no specific plans for this one, but it could wind up lots of places.

Public Bathrooms

Public bathrooms are a surprisingly dangerous thing. You could ask Letitia Baling, except that she sadly is no longer with us, because parts of her drowned in a shiny toilet bowl. She was not, at the time, large enough to successfully use a toilet seat.

The automatic hand dryer must be blamed for this particular unfortunate circumstance. Even the simplest of such devices have quite a large number of moving parts, and this one was a spectacularly deluxe model. While normally these parts would be safely covered by a metal shield, there are many ways for this protection to be breached. Rust, for example. Hungry mice gnawing through the bolts. Clever sabotage, or even terrorism. Or, as in this case, an explosion, caused by water that made its way into the dryer’s electrics, which caused the wires to short out and spark a fire that ignited a pocket of pure oxygen trapped in the blower by a serious manufacturing flaw.

The explosion caused all of these unusually sharp parts to shoot out at a truly stunning speed, sadly just as poor Letitia was walking in for a pee. They chopped through her like a warm Minnesota spoon through a lime Jell-o mold.

How did all of this debris hit her? Letitia was known as a woman of exceptional grace and nimbleness. She had once drawn a hail of more than 12,000 rocks catapulted from a castle outside of Lyon when its master, a thoroughly insane older man, ordered the action when he became convinced that Letitia was a horde of invading Mongols. (Needless to say, the old man’s belief regarding Letitia was incorrect on a large number of levels.) In this attack, Letitia managed to position herself in the one spot in a 60-foot radius not to be struck by a single stone.

So how was she hit now? It wasn’t the smoke, of which copious amounts filled the room. Letitia had spectacular hearing, and had even learned a rudimentary but effective form of echolocation. She could dodge in the darkest night, and have enough energy left over to dodge the night itself.

It wasn’t even precisely the water on the floor, which was enough to slip up most mortals, although that came closer.

The true culprit was Letitia’s weakness for shows. She owned hundreds of pairs of gloriously dubious quality. The hot pink high heels she wore today were so shoddy that they leached oils when they got wet. This was enough to make Letitia lose the flawless body control to which she was so accustomed.

As she felt her body open up to receive any kind of incoming missile, it occurred to Letitia to wonder where all the water came from. Because her sonar was otherwise occupied, she failed to notice the garden hose connected to one of the faucets. This hose was delivering copious quantities of liquid into the tube that directs the air. A brand-new janitor, in her enthusiasm to make everything perfectly clean inside and out, had put it there and turned the water on to its maximum level.

This custodian was also responsible for Letitia making her way to her final resting place. She came into the bathroom to find Letitia lying in pieces on the floor, and considered it a great tragedy that such an obviously great woman should be struck down so close to her goal. So this worthy custodian took the initiative to move what once was Letitia, bit by bit, to the throne where she obviously deserved to meet her reward.

Many of these bits were small enough to slide into the bowl, and when the custodian left the stall, the toilet’s sensors flushed them into the sewers and ultimately the Earth herself. Perhaps owing to the diligence with which the custodian maintained the plumbing, at no point did Letitia create any sort of a clog.

There have, in the days since Letitia’s passing, been some rumors claiming that it was the force of impact that delivered Letitia’s limbs to their final resting place. This is patently untrue; our heroic if unnamed custodian is solely responsible for Letitia’s peaceful repose. Upon my honor as a storyteller, to claim anything else would be absurd.

*****

This lunchtime post is just a bit of absurdity inspired by some overzealous warning sign that I saw on my holiday travels. Have no real plans for it—might be adaptable as a 3LR sketch, but maybe not—but I enjoyed writing it.

Baru’s New Home

The journey lasted just an instant. It felt like it involved a flip. Baru was well-schooled enough to know that was illusory, just a function of switching from four spatial dimensions to three. He knew the fact, but not well enough not to feel it.

Before he could see it, the new world collapsed around him. One, two, three seconds, and just as suddenly he adapted. Again, merely a mental side effect that Baru already knew about, caused by the sudden lack of sensory information. He frankly expected worse. Rumor had it that some interdimensional travelers felt the constriction for hours, and had paralyzing nightmares about the experience in perpetuity.

He peered out the window at the planet bobbing below. It would be Earth, naturally. There were other planets in this dimension, some with intelligent life and some with the same blandly generic greenery, but this was the one most nearly hospitable to Tivolian physiology. While not exactly comfortable, it was the only planet close enough that the political notion of conquering and colonizing it periodically arose. The idea never gained serious traction, not out of any moral or military reason but simply because nobody wanted to live there. At best it would be a prison colony.

Baru idly wondered if he would set foot on Earth’s surface. Maybe he should take advantage of the opportunity, just to say he’d done it, but he wasn’t one of those people who grew up dreaming about setting foot on strange new worlds. In fact, he might avoid it just to enjoy the reactions that other people would have.

“You went all the way to another dimension and didn’t even get off your ship?” they’d shriek in horror. He would arch his eyebrows; and make a small, superior smile; and airily note that “It is impossible to understand the motivations of an artist without being an artist oneself.”

Of course, he might have to, should whatever food and water supplies on there were on board run out. Baru resolved not to let that happen. He was confident he had all the information he needed to find his way home, so it was just a matter of working his way through it. He saw no reason to delay.

*****

Something from Exile Issues, which genuinely is my main project, although so much of what I post here is from other things that are still in the future. It comes from early-on in the book; Nathan (known as Baru on his home planet) has just officially been kicked out. I’m still doing my first edit of the book, which is taking longer than anticipated. Partly it was tough to get enthusiasm for the project—it’s awfully intimidating to have a whole book filled with things that I didn’t do right and have to make them right—and partly because I’ve been splitting my efforts. The latter is dangerous, although I think I’m still on the safe side of the line; I’ve gotten back into the habit of working on Exile Issues, while having other things in the works has nice side effects like feeding this blog and preventing burnout and giving me a head start on projects when I finish this one.

Speaking of burnout: December 29 would technically be the blog’s 6-month anniversary. Really, though, October is when I got serious about it, and even then there were hiccups until Mid-November. Since then, though, nearly daily posts, and everything’s still going good. So I’m going to call this an accomplishment.