CategoryLeonard Richardson

When I cite Stephenson I’m not even counting The Big U

Okay! Full disclosure: Leonard Richardson and I once spent roughly a hundred hours within three feet of each other. So consider that, then toss it out the metaphorical car window and fasten your metaphorical seat belt, because it’s going to be a WILD METAPHOR.

Leonard has just announced that Candlemark & Gleam will be publishing his first novel, Constellation Games, which contains–as he says–“zero-gravity sex, hive minds, terraforming, paleontology, fine art, warps in space-time, existential horror, and shipping containers… But most of all, it’s got video games.” I got to read the book early, and it’s all true! He didn’t even include the cosplay and limited nuclear exchanges.

I’ve talked to a couple other people who also beta-read it, and preceding each such conversation came a kind of cautious dance, as each of us felt the other out to see if exploding into rapturous glossolalia over a then-unpublished first novel was going to make us look silly. But then we did, and it didn’t. I’m not fucking around when I say that Constellation Games is Leonard’s markmaker: casting about for other writers who came out the gate this strong, I keep coming up with names like Neal Stephenson and Douglas Adams and Kelly Link.

In case you couldn’t be bothered to click either of the links up there, CG is going to be serialized online starting in November, then published in print afterwards. It is an indicator of my nonfuckingaroundness that I am going to create a new category on NFD just for this book, to contain posts discussing the chapters as they go up. I JUST DID IT. ZERO ROUNDFUCKING. I think you should subscribe to the book and follow along with me! You will be rewarded, and besides, you’re going to get really sick of my blog otherwise.

Not All Dreams Can Come True

From across the political spectrum (that is, from my liberal girlfriend and my conservative cousin) I have heard rumblings of disappointment about Obama’s supposed plan to end manned space exploration.

If you go read that article you’ll actually see that it’s not the case at all: they’re scrapping the rickety Space Shuttle program, which has been slated for retirement for years and basically only goes to the International Space Station, because they want to concentrate on the mission to build a Mars base–a mission proposed by Bush. Resupply missions to the ISS are being contracted out to an increasingly healthy private spaceflight industry (which development I’d think would please free marketeers). NASA’s budget is actually increasing by $2 billion next year.

But this also seems like a good time to re-link Leonard’s article from 2008 about the relative awesomeness of manned vs. unmanned space exploration. It did a lot to persuade me that, while manned spaceflight does a lot for a very small group–a few hundred people worldwide, all more genetically perfect than supermodels, mostly white, mostly male–unmanned exploration delivers a great deal more, dollar for dollar, for the rest of us.

Three things make a roundup

I am a hacker’s anus, Bob.

I worked a phone bank last night, for the second time in my life and the first time for a political candidate. (If you know me you already know which candidate. If you don’t, see if you can guess by the side-street parked car count: two Priuses, two Fits and a Yaris.)

Cold-calling is hard for anybody, but for an introvert it’s pretty awful. My stomach ached on the way home, and stories like the one about the man who told me he wasn’t voting because of the apocalypse didn’t really make it better. And I was calling people in Oregon, man! A battleground state this ain’t.

So why did I do it, and why am I going to go back? Because of a stubborn faith in Leonard’s concept of vote multipliers and a corollary syllogism of my own devising: that memory is fluid, that people are self-centered, and that therefore vote multipliers affect both the future and the perceived past.

Voting for a winner confers a perceived, and perhaps even deserved, ownership in the winner’s subsequent successes. This is why incumbents get re-elected, and why politicians who abandon campaign promises can ride them out for a while before their approval ratings begin to drop. We take credit for what we’ve done right, but don’t like believing we chose wrong.

My candidate’s going to win the election, and I think he’s going to lead us toward better things; but the more people vote for him, even in long-decided states, the more lasting support he’ll have, and the more he’ll be able to accomplish over the next eight years. It’s not just that I want to be able to look back at a positive change and say that I was part of it. It’s that I want to nudge other people from apathy into agency, and let them see that it is good.

Leonard was here for a week! It was great! I didn’t blog about it because I was too busy hanging out with Leonard. Leonard didn’t blog about it because he apparently spends two weeks out of three on airplanes, to the point that travelblogging has become passé. The world demands Leonard.

Kara and I tried to show him the good side of the city: we ate at a lot of restaurants, played a lot of games, climbed a waterfall and discovered that happiness comes in gourds. Leonard also fixed my stupid hard drive (twice!) and helped me find a new grip on a game design problem that’s been bothering me for months. I can only assume that when Sumana visits in November, she will improve my gas mileage and teach me how to get free money from the government.

By the way! Kara and I are dating, in case you care but are not on Facebook. It is also great! Dating, I mean; Facebook is mostly okay.

White pepper is awesome. Also, this is sort of about faith

I’ve reached the point, in my autoeducation as a cook, where I no longer really measure spices or indeed many liquids. This is great for saving time and for not having to rinse a measuring cup every time I need a quarter-unit of something. It is less great when something I make turns out well and I want to write down the recipe for the future. “A bunch of white pepper,” I find myself writing. “Like, as much as a good cook would put in but then also some more.”

If I could always trust myself to make the same judgments based on words like that I wouldn’t have any problems, but I have no faith in Locke and therefore I am not even sure I’m the same person who started this post, much less the one who cooked a pretty good spaghetti nonbolognese earlier tonight. Also it is probably going to be unhelpful in my inevitable cooking blog.

The (thoroughly hidden) point I wanted to record here is that I’m kind of a good cook now? I’m still working in a very small range, but I keep trying new things and they keep turning out pretty okay. I think cooking is, like kissing and biking, essentially a matter of confidence. The food will believe you’re in charge if you act like it.

I learned to cook spaghetti in ten-gallon vats, almost exactly ten years ago, when Jeremy Sissle got me a job at Fazoli’s. He was also the one who trained me on pasta-cooking rotation. We got to the end, and he hauled out the hose, sponges and soap. “Turn on the hot water,” he said, “and fill the bucket, add about this much soap, and… I mean, you know how to clean stuff.”

I still recite that sentence to myself in scary and uncertain places. It sounds stupid, but I did know how to clean stuff, and remembering that snapped me out of the standard lost-and-seasick feeling that everybody gets from new jobs. (At least, I assume everybody else gets it too.)

The other half of my cook-with-confidence mantra was posted by Kevan, years ago, in a comment on Leonard’s site: “I’ve only recently stopped… expecting food to be an inedible, inert, black lump of Syntax Error if I get something slightly wrong.” It’s so true, and such a perfect encapsulation of the way programmers approach other disciplines: raised by severe machines and math problems with one answer, we expect frustration as a punishment for the smallest mistakes (and indeed, with computers, that often remains the case). But once you realize that the notion of discrete measurement is a consensual hallucination, you find the world a more interesting place. Screw Locke. I’m glad I’m not the same person I used to be.


Sumana has managed to combine almost all the reasons I read her blog–inspiration, clarity, critical appraisal of systems and examination of self–into one spectacular post. You should read it.

There’s a quote from Count Zero about being taken up from a low place, rotated through “invisible stresses,” and emerging changed. It’s actually kind of negative in context so I’m not going to reproduce it here. But at some point I have to write about how my interaction with propelled and propulsive people has changed me: how my internship at Dixon Design, followed by meeting Leonard and Sumana, followed by living with Kevan and Holly, reshaped me into someone who no longer fits anywhere outside the self-determined life.

I would have to actually achieve that life first, so I’m not writing it yet. But Sumana’s post brings up another connected point: work that matters for its own sake is superior to work that matters by fiat, which is to say that academic work is worthless in the short or long term, which is to say that I think the lecture-test educational system used in the United States (and, in my understanding, most of the rest of the world) is a sham, a wreck and a hindrance. I graduated with awards and honors from a large public high school and an elite private college, and I still say the system failed me. The intersection of what I learned in classes and my work, play and continuing interests is almost nonexistent; meanwhile, I’m still dealing with the fear and shame endemic to those institutions, and the ways they damaged me.

Under all that I continue to grow more absorbed with the idea of having children someday. I’m starting to consider my life choices in terms of where they’ll grow up, how I’ll support them and how they will learn. (How I’ll actually go about having them is almost secondary.) Could I in good conscience send them down the path less traveled, without having checked it for perils myself? Could I ever prepare them enough for the perils of the path I did take? Sumana again: isn’t it possible to sidestep the bad parts, with enough planning? Well, no, Brendan. Don’t deny the imaginary kids their own invisible stresses.

But if I start seriously working on my own propulsion, maybe my example can reshape someone else.

It’s Tuesday

Which means all my lovely readers in the UK are back from taking off St. Crispin’s Day or whatever, and all my lovely other readers are yawning and clicking idly on Digg as the work week slowly grinds into gear, and so it is the perfect time, my friends, to tell you that Ommatidia is for sale.

A couple sharp-eyed readers (from the old school of “actually checking the front page”) have already noticed that it was up over the weekend while I poked at it for bugs, but so far everything seems fine. Some things have changed since I made the original tentative announcement–most notably that the limited edition is now signed and numbered and includes a story written just for you, but is also the same softcover binding as the now-less-cheap viral edition (it is actually insane to bind a book this size in hardcover). And yes, it took me over two years to assemble a 133-page book. Turns out autodidactic self-publishing is sort of hard!

But I’m really proud of the result and I hope you’ll be satisfied. You can check out a preview at Lulu and see one of the fourteen all-new illustrations, and if you order soon you’ll be able to get your copy and read the last Cosette story before it goes up online next month. Finally, if you get your book, take a picture! If you send it to me or put it on Flickr and tag it “ommatidia book,” it’ll get pulled into the little badge I’m putting together now for the Ommatidia front page, and I’ll send you a copy of the “Welch” toon I hastily drew for buyers at my Stumptown booth.

Finally, some of you have probably already noticed that I’m linking to in this post, rather than–either URL scheme works almost exactly the same, because if there’s one poor web practice in which I want to engage, it’s duplicated content and split Pagerank. Seriously, think of Ommatidia as a web site for the book that happens to display a feed from Anacrusis. Both sites now include the other new toy I built this weekend: the “all names” page, which is not perfectly accurate, but is pretty close to an ongoing list of every name I’ve scrounged up for a story title. See why I have to steal from Leonard all the time?

Day 1: Louisville

You have to read “Mallory,” Leonard’s newly published short story: not because it’s good (it’s very good) but because that way you can understand all the “Mallory” references I’ve been making in the over-a-year since I got to beta read it. As someone on a road trip to California that includes visiting some of my role models, I find the story perhaps a little too pat in its publication timing. I smell retcon, Richardson.

Speaking of which, The War on Clarity has been updated, due mostly to people wanting their names put on or taken off the “Lasersharking” entry. If only that could have been posted on some kind of user-editable repository.


OKAY KIDS. On the last day of March I’m leaving my suspiciously generous hosts here in NorCar and driving across the country, with stops in Louisville, Birmingham and eventually Berkeley. After two weeks (I hope) in the latter, I’m moving up to Portland to stay from somewhere between four and nine months. Looks like the trap got me after all.

So! Are you in a southwestern state or the Bay area? Would you like to hang out? Would you like to damage local hotel revenues by letting me spend a night on your couch? These can be arranged. Other things that can be arranged: me renting a room or subletting an apartment from people you know because MAN it is hard to get people on Portland Craigslist to get back to you when you don’t live in the same city. I don’t know why!

I promise to take pictures on the trip but I can’t promise you will see them in the living future. Oh, hey, if you want to ride out with me and fly back, as I once did with Leonard, let’s talk. I should warn you that due unwise purchasing decisions on my part, you will have to ride in the glove compartment.

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