Infirm on a sunny day

I have been healthy exactly two days this year: January 1-2. Since then it’s been an absolute train wreck. I came down with a cold I picked up New Year’s Eve, that left me with a nasty cough. That developed into this weird hypersalivation issue where I get short of breath at the same time, and we still haven’t figured out why (although I have at least been diagnosed with a hiatal hernia). Right after that started, my wife got the flu and I started catching it too, although fortunately a preventative round of Tamiflu kicked it right in the teeth. Since then I’ve been dealing with the salivation/breathing thing, and then around the end of March I sprained my foot.

My foot has been slowly getting better, but every so often it has a bit of a relapse. This Saturday night it was being a little troublesome, and then early Sunday morning my foot was back in agony; as far as I can tell it was being set off by a leg cramp. Only sitting on the couch, which helps the leg cramps, made everything calm down. Since then I’ve been taking it easy again, because it feels like I backslid by about a week.

The biggest reason that sucks is that today, we have our first halfway nice day of spring. Big Dip has been open for three weeks, and it’s been too disgusting out to make an ice cream run. Now it’s beautiful out, or at least beautiful enough, and while the thought of being out in a nice day makes me giddy the prospect of standing in line and potentially doing my foot further harm does not. For this same reason I also didn’t make a lunch run, even though I very much wanted to.

This sucks.

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No it’s not summer, Traci

One of the local car dealerships has a commercial that opens like this: “It’s summertime. The livin’ is easy, and so are the deals!”

Who wrote that ad? They should be hit with a brick.

It’s not summertime. It’s not even close to that. After Memorial Day, fine, I’ll go along with saying it’s summer. But in the middle of April? It’s never even spring in Syracuse in the middle of April.

It snowed today, Traci. Snowed. Again. Some of it actually stuck. We’re well into the latter half of April. The weather hasn’t even thought about turning nice, not even for one day. When someone told you to say that line you should have hopped into one of those brand new cars and run them over.

No seriously, I want to hit the copy writer with a brick. And so does every other person in the viewing area.

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The microspacing problem

I miss cooking. While my foot continues to recover, I have tended to use it less and stay out of the kitchen for long periods because wearing slippers has been bad news and the floor is way too cold. Hopefully that will change, but it snowed today. A lot. In the latter half of April.

Apropos of nothing, I found an old post on cooking steak tips sous vide, and now I want steak tips and mushrooms like they have at the Fair. I kinda want them right this moment.

But the main thing I wanted to talk about was justification. Not for my future plans to nuke Redmond, for which I discovered newer reasons this past week, or anything of that sort. I’m talking about typography, a subject near and dear to my heart that despite its nearness and dearness I know hardly enough about.

It’s like this: I’m very, very close now to pulling the trigger on The Well of Moments. I’m proud of the book it’s become and since my first beta reader feedback it’s all the better. I’m still waiting on more notes, but I don’t know that I want to wait too much longer. However, there’s one minor problem that’s bugged me in all my paperback releases: text justification.

With full justification you can end up with lines that have too few letters to soak up the space, so the space between words grows by quite a lot. Hyphenation would fix that, but I disable hyphenation in my books because automatic hyphenation in word processors is absolutely terrible. OpenOffice (although I now use LibreOffice) does a much better job and lets you fine-tune all sorts of things, but at the end of the day you basically have to hyphenate by hand if you want it done right.

Plus, even then you sometimes have a lot of space left over that you need to use. Professional typesetters handle that with something called microspacing, adding a little extra space between letters on lines where nothing else works. You’ve probably seen it in a paperback. When it’s done badly it’s really noticeable, but done right it could make all the difference. And there are some lines in my book that would benefit from that difference.

So as part of my formatting macros, which handle things like ligatures and fixing the EM dash and a number of other niceties (including, for this series, doing an outer alignment on the chapter titles), I now want to have a macro that will go line by line, finding lines that have way too much added space, and automatically apply hyphenation (if feasible) to just the word on the following line, and then the appropriate amount of microspacing to the entire adjusted line. Ligatures will have to be avoided on lines that do this, but I can live with that.

It’s a bit of a puzzle to work out the right way to go about that with the macro language, which is as easy to work with as a wolverine, and recently I have more demands on my brain that have kept me from pursuing the implementation properly.

But for the love of good typography, and to make those few lines that need this stand out so much less, I really want to give it a go. I put a lot of care into my paperbacks, and after three of them I really want the fourth to be better still. It’s the perfectionist in me.

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“Most Recent” is supposed to mean something, MARK.

While Congress is grilling Zuck the Destroyer of Privacy, I hope someone in authority will spare just a moment to ask him why in the frell the Most Recent sort for the news feed is routinely missing many, many posts that show up just fine in the far inferior Top Stories feed.

Most Recent should be sorting everything by date, and displaying it. Period. I refuse to believe my friends have barely posted anything over the last 24 hours, especially since I saw those posts earlier today. Now, most of it’s gone, skipped right over to the day before.

Dudes, we’re talking about the easiest possible sort. Not only does it frequently show posts out of order, but not showing them at all is beyond the pale. Fix it, stupid!

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The tale of the one-legged programmer

Did you know it’s possible to sprain your foot in your sleep? It happens most often when you have several layers of heavy covers, and sleep with your foot in a bad position for too long.

I’ve done it more than once. It’s rare because I usually don’t stay in one position all night. When this happens I wake up with a foot that’s sore and doesn’t want me putting a lot of weight on it, but it usually improves throughout the course of the day and the next day it’s fine. So when it happened to me last Monday, which is to say nearly two weeks ago, I expected it to go away.

Problem is, this time it didn’t. It was mostly manageable Monday, but that night it was throbbing and in a lot more pain than usual. Tuesday when I woke up it was much worse, and it kept getting worse throughout the day. To make matters worse, I work upstairs, and so that Tuesday I tried a couple of times to go upstairs and get some work done. In between, I used some ice on my foot—which actually felt good—to try to improve things. I used a cane to get around, just to help a little, but it didn’t help enough. And to make matters worse, I had to leave the house for a bit to pick up my car from the shop after it got inspected. My foot was in agony all night, feeling like it was not only swollen but cramping.

The next day, Wednesday, started badly. I had to get up in the night a few times to use the bathroom, the last of which was right after my wife left for work; and when I came back to bed, I couldn’t sleep again. Only after about two hours was I able to get back to sleep, and only then did I wake up with the foot feeling passable. To be safe I stayed downstairs all day and all night.

Since then it’s been making gradual improvements, but only in the last couple of days have I not needed the cane at all, and even so I’m still being careful with it.

There’s a moral to this story, and it’s this: When you sprain your foot in your sleep, keep on top of it the next day and be absolutely sure you do nothing to make it worse. And if it’s hurting more the day after that, drop everything and leave it up to heal.

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On inclusion and tyranny

Recently I was looking at responses to a discussion about books or authors a reader used to like but had soured on since, and one of the responses puzzled me. This particular reader had multiple issues with the Harry Potter series, but the main one was supposed lack of diversity, and that they felt J. K. Rowling was being something of a jerk in response to questions about it. This puzzled me, because I remember the cast as being pretty diverse for its setting, and it seems like, racially at least, it fits Britain pretty well. The reader responded with some statistics about how the cast breaks down racially vs. Britain. It wasn’t all about race either, but about disabilities and LGBT characters.

A couple issues before I get to my main point: The reader was obviously using newer stats instead of comparing the books to their actual setting, 1991-1997; and they also failed to understand that statistically, with as small a sample size as even Harry Potter’s large cast represents, everything came out pretty solid. Generally I think if you’re going to get upset enough about something to look up data to prove your case, you should have a better handle on how the margin of error works.

But the main thing troubling me was that this reader, like quite a few others it seems—and this is more of an issue for TV and movies than for books, but it’s getting worse everywhere—was so hung up on diversity to the point where it seemed like that should matter above the story.

I like diversity. I like all kinds of diversity, including and especially diversity of the mind and spirit. I think it can add real dimension to stories, in whatever medium they’re told. It should never, ever matter more than the story itself.

Judging a book harshly because it doesn’t tick off enough boxes, in your opinion, on a particular representation bingo card, is petty and poisonous. Nobody can ever fill everyone’s bingo card and still tell a coherent story, nor should that ever take precedence over the story. Pushing authors to try to do this will only constrain them unduly and limit what stories they can tell. I can completely understand saying “Gosh, I wish there were more characters like ____ in this medium/genre”, but lambasting an individual work or an author for failing to forward that agenda on your behalf? No. Go screw yourself, Slappy. If you want more inclusion for X or Y or Z then you go ahead and write a good story of your own with them. You go ahead and praise works that stand out for this, and encourage others to read them. But don’t go throwing shade on books and movies and TV shows that don’t, in your opinion, go far enough. It’s up to the author to decide what characters they want, and if they don’t include Z that doesn’t mean the book is bad.

I say it’s poisonous to foist this “responsibility” on authors because no other word will do. Do you want pointless tokenism? Because that’s how you get tokenism. Each person, every individual is so much more than their race, their sexuality, their gender, their anything else. Yet the more we (I don’t mean we) demand authors try to include every possible group, the more we’ll see characters created just for the sake of said inclusion and nothing more—or else harping on that aspect of their identity to the detriment of their worth as a character.

One of the reader’s issues was with a complete lack of characters who had a non-magical disability. In the Harry Potter universe. Is this really surprising? We don’t see much of the muggle world because it’s a world we already know; there’s no point rehashing it. In the magical world, you have to assume they can cure a lot of ailments except those caused by curses. Heck, Harry gets all the bones in his arm removed in book 2 and grown back with a potion. When one of the Weasley twins loses an ear to a curse, the book explicitly says the ear can’t be restored because it was cursed off—implying if not for the lingering magic at the wound site, restoring it would be doable. (Although it makes you wonder why they couldn’t cut further back and try then.)

And then of course there’s the LGBT issue. Yes Dumbledore’s gay, but it isn’t stated outright in the books. It is hinted at in broad strokes in book 7, showing the depth of his friendship with Grindelwald, but that’s all. But would it have been worth making that more demonstrative? Would that have served any purpose in the story? Because if you told the exact same story but tried to make it obvious Dumbledore was gay, you’re right back to tokenism.

Also, this is aimed at younger audiences. That is not to say that there’s any reason adolescents or even kids shouldn’t be aware of the notion of sexual orientations other than straight, but it doesn’t need to be brought up in every story, either, and it’s far better to stick to the story when dealing with a younger audience. And there’s quite enough else going on with the onset of puberty as Harry and his friends have hormones running amuck, crushing on whomever catches their eye. We see mostly through Harry’s perspective and he’s straight; we see some of what his friends go through and most of them are straight too, which statistically they would be. But a lot of the adults are opaque to him, to some degree, and Dumbledore in particular always kept a great deal to himself.

Here’s a head-scratcher for you: Is it possible that the reason there aren’t more, or apparently any, openly gay characters in the series because there’s more going on than meets the eye? Not only does the series begin in the early ’90s, when there was still less acceptance of homosexuality, but we’re also dealing with a completely different society that has in many ways evolved much more slowly than the world around it. Think about that! Maybe in the magical community, there’s still a huge lingering stigma on it. Isn’t that an interesting thing to wonder about? And isn’t it amazing that Rowling created such an expansive world that there are deep things to ponder?

Besides which, Dumbledore began his relationship with Grindelwald in the early 1900s. Being gay (or rather, acting on it) was outright illegal in Britain then even in the muggle world. You can well imagine that he’d keep mum about it for many years, the need for which his great fame would have only exacerbated, and once he reached old age and was apparently past the point of seeking romantic companionship, he might well have thought there was no point even bringing it up anymore. Doesn’t this make Dumbledore’s story so much more poignant? Isn’t this a lot more meaningful than simply tokenizing him? Dumbledore’s sexuality isn’t something Rowling simply made up post-hoc, because it comes out between the lines in book 7; and the fact that it’s all between the lines gives it a depth that wouldn’t have been there had he or another character simply blurted out the truth.

You see, when the author is free to explore diversity in their own way—or even leave it alone in any or all of its forms, as suits the story they want to tell—it’s a million times better than trying to dominate them into creating exactly the right mix of characters and interactions. When so dominated, they may satisfy one person yet disaffect others whose subjective standards are totally different. Because the voices screaming loudest for diversity above story will never be possible to satisfy; they will always find a new criticism to lob.

Petty, and poisonous.

As I said I like diversity; I value it. I value it far too much to let it be turned into something hideous by foaming cultists, pushed onto every creative work as an obligation—impossible to fulfill to everyone’s complete satisfaction even though they demand no less—when it should be no more or less than another well-loved tool in the chest. I look to include it in my works wherever it will make the story more interesting or feel more real. But I will never fill quotas to appease those who treat it as the end-all-be-all.

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Phone scammers are getting sneaky

I just got a call from one of those scammers. I knew it was a scam call because the phone number only showed seven digits—we now have to dial ten, so this is always a sign of spoofing—and the first three for the exchange matched mine. Whenever it’s a call coming from a number with the first three digits as my own, I know it’s spoofed. I get the same spoofing on my cell from time to time. Both are in “unusual” exchanges where the odds of getting a call from someone else in the same one are about nil. (Although I did once get a call from someone who had themselves been on the receiving end of a spoof, with the scammers using my number.)

The big thing, though, is that if it’s a major company calling you, they probably have an 8xx toll free number.

Today’s call claimed to be from Visa/Mastercard—a red flag since they don’t act under the same umbrella—and said there would be changes to my account before the next billing cycle. The hook for me to talk to them was that I supposedly now qualify for 0% interest on certain purchases, and I’d have to talk to them to set that up. But that’s not the sneaky part.

The sneaky bit is where before they set that hook, they said that if I’d already received notification of the changes in the mail, I could press 3 to acknowledge I’d gotten the news and not be called again. Now of course, I know from experience the “don’t call me again” button doesn’t work, but it was exceptionally clever of these guys to suggest there was official communication inbound and that the call was just a courtesy to essentially save me time getting that shiny new rate.

And that’s the thing a lot of people don’t realize about con artists: The good ones will always give you an out, make sure you feel like you can walk away from their offer. There will be pressures to jump on their phony opportunity, like a supposedly limited time, high return on investment, etc., but they want you to talk yourself into going for it. Everyone is going to resist if they feel someone is pushing them, but if they don’t push, our own psychology can trick us into reaching for that carrot.

Well played, scammers. Enjoy it now, because when I become a supervillain I will make it legal to literally hunt you guys.

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