Albacon, Upcoming

Himself and I will be at Albacon in Albany NY this weekend — it’s at the western edge of our traveling periphery, and it’s a small, low-key convention that we’ve always enjoyed whenever we’ve been able to make it. All too often, it used to coincide with the Viable Paradise workshop, but now it’s moved back to the spring — which is tougher on our pocketbook but easier on our schedule.

Right now — such are the joys of the freelance life — it’s still up in the air as to whether we’ll be doing the con in shoestring mode or have a bit of leeway for nonessentials. (At least the con hotel’s complimentary full American breakfast takes care of two meals for the weekend, which helps to stretch out the shoestring.)

But if you’re in Albany NY this weekend in a congoing mood, you could always drop by and listen to Himself do his presentation on “100 Years of Dead Magicians” on Saturday night.

First on the Moon!

Over on Jim Macdonald’s blog, a Doyle&Macdonald short story for the amusement of our readers:

Madhouse Manor

    First on the Moon!

by Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald

Beatrice lay back on her bed and looked at the starscape painted on her bedroom ceiling. Two days into the latest educational hiatus and already she and Regina had run out of things to do. The hiatus was supposed to be used for processing and incorporating the facts they’d learned during the previous study unit, but she wasn’t sure how they were supposed to process and incorporate a history unit on the 20th and 21st centuries. Everything had been so messy back then.

The stars over her bed glowed in the dark. In daylight, they looked like pale yellow dots. Beatrice’s mother had put them up when Beatrice was in pre-school and in love with the night sky. Her mother had offered to take them down and replace them with something more grown-up, now that Beatrice was halfway…

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Stacking the Deck

Jim Macdonald, with more recommendations on the art of stage magic:

Madhouse Manor

So there you are, trying to memorize a deck of cards.  Not just any deck, a stacked deck.  Not so easy as it looks, eh?

Help is on the way!  A flashcard program for some of the more common stacks: Stack Trainer

Stacked decks Stacked cards; perfect for dealing off the bottom….

What kinds of things can you do with a stacked deck?   Here’s Brian Brushwood at Scam Schooldemonstrating.  And here’s Si Stebbins, famous for inventing (or at least popularizing)  the stack Brian used, in Stebbins’ pamphlet Card Tricks and the Way They Are Performed.  He goes way beyond the single trick Brian did.

As long as we’re on card tricks, from our friends at the International Brotherhood of Magicians, a free (shareware: pay what you think it’s worth) e-book, Roberto Giobbi’s Introduction to Card Magic.  What’s the neatest thing in this book?  Card Trick Katas.  Yep, practice…

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Serial Comma Yes!

At least, with regards to labor disputes in the state of Maine, where delivery drivers for Oakhurst Dairies have won their case for overtime pay, based on the absence of a serial comma in part of the state’s overtime law.

The crucial clause, detailing activities that are exempt from overtime:

The canning, processing, preserving,
freezing, drying, marketing, storing,
packing for shipment or distribution of:
(1) Agricultural produce;
(2) Meat and fish products; and
(3) Perishable foods.

The dairy company maintained that “distribution” was a separate exempt activity; the drivers maintained that the exempt activity in question was “packaging for shipment or distribution,” and didn’t refer to their job at all.  The court agreed with the drivers.

Style note: Also cited by the drivers (or their lawyers, at any rate) was the fact that all of the preceding exempt activities listed are gerunds – “canning” and so on – while “distribution” is a noun.  Under the principle that parallel ideas require parallel constructions, this implies that “distribution” is not meant to be a noun in parallel with the ones preceding it, but part of the prepositional phrase “for shipment or distribution.”

These things do matter, folks.

Stella!

Winter Storm Stella came through here yesterday and last night, and left a foot or so of snow behind, a lot of which is going to have to be removed from our driveway.  I give thanks for the presence in the household of our younger son, who shovels the driveway so we don’t have to – though what we’ll do when he departs onto the next stage of his Life Journey™, I don’t know.  Buy a snow blower, probably, if we can afford one.

At least we didn’t lose power – or haven’t lost it so far, let’s not get cocky, here – which means that writing and editorial work can go on unhindered.

Obligatory writing reference:  If you’re from one of the parts of the world where hard winters and deep snow aren’t a thing, do your research before writing about it.  And don’t trust film and television for a second, unless maybe you’re watching a Weather Channel documentary or the like; TV and the movies regularly have people running around in deep snow wearing outfits that would get them killed in the real world.  To be, however reluctantly, fair to the visual-media people, your actual effective cold-weather garments are about as far from photogenic as it’s possible to get, and nobody wants to turn their high-priced talent into a bunch of down-filled-parka-clad clones – but we toilers of the written word don’t have that problem, or that excuse.

If you don’t live in cold-weather country, and need to write about it, consider visiting some cold weather, if you can.  (If you’ve got a local friend, pay attention to what they tell you about what not to do.  If you’re a stranger to the area, double-check with the locals you do interact with – the tourist bureau, the waitperson at the diner, the clerk at the 7-11 – and if they say, “I wouldn’t go out there today,” believe them and stay home.)  Failing that, read some Jack London (“To Build a Fire” is a classic for a reason), or some Laura Ingalls Wilder (The Hard Winter), and take a moment to listen to the ballad of Frozen Charlotte.

Why So Much Online Discourse Sucks: My Theory

It’s simply this: In order for local standards of civility (whether those be vanilla-custard bland or three-chili-pepper strong, it matters not) to be maintained, what’s required is vigorous, hands-on, and visible moderation. Simply providing users with a “flag this post if you find the content objectionable” button isn’t enough. All that does, so far as the user can see, is push the problem off onto a faceless, and possibly automated, minion someplace, for said minion to deal with, or not, according to whatever invisible algorithm may or may not be in place. This does nothing to chide the offending user, or provide immediate feedback to the offended user, or steer the discourse into a less offensive channel.

To do all that, you need a person — a name, a face (even if that face is a cartoon avatar), a consistent presence — to be on the spot and monitoring the venue for discourse that’s about to go toxic. A good moderator can defuse or shut down toxic discourse as needed; a great moderator can spot the warning signs far enough in advance to change the conversation before the toxicity gets a chance to arrive.

Done well — and it has to be done well, if it’s going to be done at all — this is a full time job, and not one to be undertaken by volunteers. If you want somebody to stare into the abyss 24/7 — or better yet, two somebodies, so that they can take enough time off to stay sane — you need to pay them for it.

And sooner than pay good moderators a regular wage, most commercial online fora will either close down comments altogether, or go to one of the now-standard automated systems that end up pleasing nobody.

Not because these sites are run for profit. But because they are run for profit by cheapskates.

Vampires and Shapeshifters

Madhouse Manor

Available wherever fine e-books are sold: Vampires & Shapeshifters by Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald.

Contains:

Vampires and Shapeshifters: Short stories by Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald Vampires and Shapeshifters

  • Bad Blood (short story)
  • Nobody Has to Know
  • Up the Airy Mountain
  • Ecdysis
  • Philologos; or, A Murder in Bistrita

“Bad Blood” is the short story that started it all; our first professional sale in the fantasy/SF genre.  Werewolves in high school and a camping trip gone horribly wrong.   “Bad Blood” eventually turned into a series of three YA novels.

“Nobody Has to Know” is a very short vampire story.  Its unique style got it featured in an English textbook in Australia.

“Up the Airy Mountain” is another short story in the Bad Blood continuity.  Werewolves vs. elves.  Features Val Sherwood, teen werewolf, and her best friend, Freddy Hanger AKA “Van Helsing in High School.”

“Ecdysis,” a shapeshifter story, introduces Orville Nesbit, a psychic detective, who I’m planning to have star…

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Business Cards, I Have Them

bizcard

Now all I have to do is figure out the most effective way to deploy them.

Do I press them into the hands of all I meet?

Do I save them for giving out to people who sound like they might actually be interested in editorial services?

Do I stick them up on random bulletin boards?  (If I were selling a used snowblower, I’d tack a notice up at the local IGA grocery store, but that’s different . . . or maybe it isn’t.)

Do I scatter them broadcast over freebie tables and consuites at sf/fantasy conventions I happen to attend?

This self-promotional thing, it is tricksy and difficult, especially if one doesn’t have the natural temperament for it in the first place.

Consider This an Unsolicited Recommendation

I have successfully obtained a refund for a piece of software that was on the netbook I don’t use any more. I had thought that when I purchased a year’s subscription that I would get a notification when it was time to renew, and would then need to do so manually . . . but no, it was an automatic thing, and the transaction went through about a week before Boskone, and nearly threw a monkey wrench into the works for that expedition.

I don’t like automatic updates. If my computer is going to change something or add something, I want to be present for the occasion so I can flip the switch myself.

The subscription charge was substantial enough that I went to the trouble of looking up the refund procedure, which – much to my surprise – turned out to be relatively painless and not to require actually talking to anyone at any point. So kudos to AVG PC Tune-Up, which I still have on all my working machines, for being prompt and efficient about the whole thing.

A Magic Set for a Young Person

Over at his blog, Jim Macdonald discusses how to put together a basic introductory magic kit for a young magician. (Magicians, like poets and mathematicians and ballet dancers, tend to start young.)

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Consider the Little Box of Magic Tricks from Barron’s.  I’ve seen the Ideal 100-Trick Spectacular Magic Show Suitcase well spoken-of.   Consider too Joshua Jay’s The Complete Magician Kit. The Klutz Book of Magic  includes props can be considered a magic set all by itself.

In my opinion, the best magic sets are ones you make yourself.  Hand assembled with love.  You know your own child the best.

The biggest bang for your buck (and the longest lasting benefit) is books. Two books should be on your list:  Now You See It … Now You Don’t! by Bill Tarr and Big Magic for Little Hands by Joshua Jay.

Props:  a set of cups and balls (you know your budget best — these range from inexpensive plastic ones (and some big-name pros use the three-color inexpensive ones in their pro acts; e.g. David Regal) up to OMG three-figure prices.

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