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Mom’s boyfriend is named Jerry

And he’s a museum curator, and his house (two authentic log cabins that he took apart and reconstructed with a new stone building between them) is filled with historical artifacts and ephemera. It is NOT exactly filled with light, because log cabins are not known for their vast expanses of window, but I tried to get a picture of one such artifact anyway.

The A-Bomb And You

It’s a framed flier full of survival tips for when you are struck by an atomic bomb, obviously from the 50s or 60s. These are unbelievably helpful tips; what’s really tragic is that they were kept secret.

Four Survival Secrets

Allow me to transcribe:

  1. Try to get shielded. Get down in a basement if there is one. Caught in the open, take shelter alongside a building or in a ditch or gutter.
  2. Drop flat on ground or floor. Flatten out at base of wall or bottom of bank.
  3. Bury your face in your arms. Hide eyes in crook of elbow. That will protect face from burns, flying objects, temporary blindness.
  4. Don’t rush outside right after a bombing. Wait a few minutes after an air burst, at least an hour if the bomb explodes on the ground, to let the radiation die down.

I can’t figure out which words to emphasize for amazingness. Is it the admonition about “temporary blindness?” The advice to people caught in the open under a nuclear weapon, which is to go flop in a ditch for convenient body-collection? The idea that you must wait at least an hour for radiation to die down?

Anyway, the best part is the name of the establishment that brought this important, life-saving information to you, dear reader.

Grimm Funeral Home

Story Hacks: Tenth in a Series

Did you know that when you describe something in terms of a color, you are also describing it in terms of symbolically? It’s true! Here are the many things that colors can represent in fiction.

  • Black: awesome death stuff, bad people, whores
  • Red: blood, bad people, whores
  • White: nonwhores (don’t overdo this)

That’s all! You can go home now.

Today’s Hack in a Nutshell: WHAT other colors

Hacking xoJane

Important Technology People have been calling RSS a dead technology for a couple years now, but I read more content via feed than ever—292 subscriptions in Google Reader, at the moment. But because my use case doesn’t get as much wheelgrease as it used to, a lot of sites will just throw one sitewide megafeed into their <head> tag and call it done, rather than allowing users to subscribe to substreams. They do this even when their site software supports subfeeds just fine!

Take a blogazine like xoJane. It’s produced by women, and the writing there is smart and honest and very funny. I was introduced to it when my twitter idol Julieanne Smolinski became a contributing editor. But while I knew I wanted to read all her columns, the only autosubscribable feed on her author page is the firehose of ALL xoJane content. That would overrun my Reader, and it would be a pain to sort out Ms. Smolinski’s posts, which are the guaranteed gold I’m after.

Fortunately, for certain values of “fortunately,” xoJane is built on Drupal, which some geek decided should let you subscribe to anything anywhere forever. To get a feed of a given author’s content there, you can construct a URL like this:

http://www.xojane.com/rss?author=Firstname%20Lastname&title=Firstname’s%20Posts

And then paste that into the “subscribe” box in whatever reader you use. For instance, here’s a Julieanne Smolinski feed, and here’s one for Kate Conway, whom I have recently discovered is also great.

Update 2012-08-07: WELP, xoJane broke their individual author feeds. The next-best solution, I suppose, is to follow Kate and Julieanne on their twitters or their tumblrs.

Greenland

This is a Constellation Games post. Spoilers up through like chapter 23, I think. And a little one from later than that.

Friends, Greenland is a place where souls go to dry out
It is a vast and terrifying place of ice fields and tundra

—Andrew Bird, “Dear Old Greenland”

It’s a giant ice sheet punctuated with muddy volcanoes, it plunges into darkness for months at a time, and it has a deliberately deceptive name that imputes verdant happiness to a vast, empty, terrifying desert of cold. It’s a pretty good metaphor for divorce.

I thought the Greenland Treaty got mentioned pretty often in Part Two, but I just went digging around in the archives and I am wrong—it’s introduced only through one line of Leonard’s patented sidelong exposition in chapter 17, and not really elaborated on, except that it allows for exit and entry visas again and that it gets signed right after Ariel’s difficult meeting with Her. Leonard did give the game away a bit in his chapter 17 commentary by connecting Ariel’s flirtation with Tammy to the Constellation’s offering more technology to Earth. The exchange and the treaty represent a slight warming of relations between the UN and the Constellation after the whole “stealing Antarctica” incident, but things are still a bit chilly. Both sides are hurt and pissed, and the one who really suffers is the kid.

Ariel ends up with one room (a spartan thing without any of his clothes or toys) and one group of friends who live near the cool parent, and another back on Mother Earth, who gets full custody. He pouts about it, then throws himself into a project, up until the Constellation sneaks through a port to kidnap him for a frightening but exhilarating night of bugs and friends reunited and sexual pair bonding.

Then the BEA shows up to literally break his home.

For people born in the twenty or so years before I was, the gradual introduction of no-fault divorce throughout the US was a shattering redefinition of how families worked and failed and recombined. For people born in the twenty or so years after me, like Ariel, it became almost a passage rite: if you didn’t expect it to happen to your parents, you knew that it was at least a possibility for your friends’. Ariel’s parents are still together and happy, actually—probably a spoiler!—so to put him through an equivalent amount of emotional damage requires something at a planetary scale.

There’s this big, dark, horrible cold thing trying to destroy him, but Ariel’s just trying to make a video game about growing up. It’s actually an adaptation of a foreign game, commonly referred to as a port.

“You know how you make a port?” said Fowler. “You have to use a black hole as a lathe.”

It’s actually “Twitters Brendan”

When I was a kid I had asthma. Growing up largely fixed that, but I still got attacks when I went running in cold weather; since running is the only exercise I enjoy or have ever been good at, I got into the habit of slacking off as the weather got colder. In late fall, for many years, I’d slip into a comfortable lethargy, stop caring about what I ate or how much I moved, and gain a bunch of weight that I’d then try to work off in the spring.

After I started recognizing this pattern I wanted to change it. Because the only motivation I understand is self-mockery on the Internet, last September I made a new Twitter account, WinterBrendan. I’d post as him when I caught myself in moments of sloth, gluttony and self-loathing. He hasn’t actually written that much, which is a good thing! It kind of worked, and I ate a lot better and worked out more (aided by the fact that I figured out how to run without asthma, which deserves its own post).

But WinterBrendan was only the beginning.

Within two weeks of his appearance, SOMEONE WHO SHALL NOT BE NAMED created SpringBrendan, which is the worst thing that has ever happened. SpringBrendan is a machine gun of incredibly lewd jokes, which, well, fine, except all those jokes have my face on them and people instinctively believe I am writing them. The worst part is that he’s fucking hilarious. The only thing worse than people scolding you for coming up with horrible things is people praising you for coming up with horrible things when you did not, and indeed could not.

There are apparently people who still don’t believe I don’t write SpringBrendan. Look! Here! I AM NOT SPRINGBRENDAN. YOU CAN TELL BECAUSE HE IS FUNNY, AND LIKES HIMSELF.

Unfortunately everyone else likes him too. Around the time this was going on, I realized I was coming up on my ten thousandth tweet. Because my friends (and their friends, and total strangers) seemed to enjoy seeing my face plastered on any old garbage, I took a grumpy few hours and wrote my first Twitter client, RealBrendan. It was pretty simple: a text box that hooked up to my actual account and posted whatever you typed. My 9,999th tweet was a link to it, and my 10,000th was “Go.” Then I went to lunch with a friend.

When I got back I was in Twitter jail.

As soon as people realized it was legit, they had unleashed a hideous torrent of raw, anonymous Internet. I once thought of my followers as a carefully curated selection of clever, thoughtful people with taste; now I know better. RealBrendan only went silent when it hit the ceiling for allowable-tweets-per-hour, which turns out to be 128. I got a lot of texts along the lines of “are you okay???” and “WHAT ARE DOING, TURN OFF,” and one person even figured out how to send DMs as me. Exciting! (If you authorize the Exquisite Tweets app, you can read a complete archive of the horror.)

I revoked the app and was allowed back on Twitter the following morning. I did feel a certain sick fascination with what had happened the day before, so I tinkered with the machinery so that it would maintain a queue and post at a more reasonable rate, then hooked it up to its own new account. Once people figured out there was no more immediate gratification, the torrent dropped to a trickle, but now there’s this kind of anonymous group-fiction thing going and it’s kind of fun.

Because ideas are unkillable, there are other accounts as well, and once again I DO NOT CONTROL ANY OF THEM. Summer called them Brendan-shards, which prompted me to start thinking of them as my Horcruxes, because it would be awfully hard to track them all down and also each one represents a horrific murder. They are GrampaBrendan, JoelBrendan and BrendansMcdald, and I strongly encourage you not to follow any them. Or the other ones. Or the actual BrendanAdkins, really.

Please RT.

A year ago today I threatened to write a 20-page explicitly homoerotic fanfic prequel that would explain all the interesting parts of Inception, a movie whose plot you likely only somewhat recalled even as you left the theater.

I wasn’t fucking joking.

THE WARSAW JOB

I had a deep and personal talk with a dear friend, electrocuted dozens of middle schoolers for science, ate fresh bread and good cheese, played on swings and left treasures in a protogeocache, watched earnest college students (SO YOUNG) sing Doctor Horrible, ran a personal best 10k next to a pretty girl I hadn’t seen in years, cooked a giant lunch, took a walk in the sunshine, and spent hours at Planet Motherfucker eating incredible barbecue and laughing with smart people. I am very lucky. This was a good weekend.

Neuromancer, Page 169

“This ain’t bore and inject, it’s more like we interface with the ice so slow, the ice doesn’t feel it. The face kinda sleazes up to the target and mutates, so it gets to be exactly like the ice fabric. Then we lock on and the main programs cut in, start talking circles ’round the logics in the ice. We go Siamese twin on ’em before they even get restless.” The Flatline laughed.

—Wiliam Gibson describes my dating style

Exit Ariel

This is a very brief Constellation Games post. Spoilers for the chapters that have already gone out to subscribers.

In chapter 16 Save the Humans finds a vector after all, and the consequences of following it cut humanity off from space indefinitely. Ariel’s reaction is to get sad-drunk on the Internet and write about video games. The more he’s learned about Af be Hui’s career as a game designer, the more insight he’s gained into what first contact can do to a civilization, and that’s the focus of his big despairing game review. Don’t ignore the opening paragraph, though, because there’s a sneaky connection hidden in it. From July 28:

Can a video game be a work of art? Eggheads have been asking this question for twenty years, even though the answer is obviously “yes”. We live in a world in which any random shit can be art. Think of anything bad to say about video games and there’s something worse that everyone agrees is art. Torture-wince movies are art. Commercials are art. A fire extinguisher is art, if a designated artist designates it as art.

From The Tempest, Act II, Scene 1:

Ariel: My master through his art foresees the danger
That you, his friend, are in; and sends me forth—
For else his project dies—to keep them living.

JUST SAYIN’. I know this seems trivial, but the deeper we get into the book, the more the archaic use of “art” for “magic” resonates. Get ready for Part II!

Enter Ariel

This is a Constellation Games post. Spoilers for the chapters that have already gone out to subscribers.

Let’s talk about Shakespeare.

Prospero:‘Tis time
I should inform thee farther. Lend thy hand
And pluck my magic garment from me.

There aren’t a lot of books that would give me an excuse to apply that line to a spacesuit. Of course, it isn’t Prospero laying aside his garments in chapter 15: it’s Ariel, the spirit of air, the one who traverses easily among the widely scattered groups of characters. The one who has power but no agency. The magician’s slave.

In the postcolonial-theory take on The Tempest, Prospero is the European colonist, while Caliban and Ariel are indigenous people who take sharply different strategies to deal with his arrival. Ariel, even more so in this book than in the play, is the classic collaborationist: even after hearing that a strong faction within the Constellation wants to shrug and head home to let humanity smother itself, he believes they showed up to do good. Why? In part because they gave him a Brain Embryo, which is, um, a collection of shiny beads. From chapter 2:

“This isn’t an alien invasion. They’re friendly. You think they’re pretending to be nice so they can eat us?”

“Intentions don’t matter,” said the hippie. “Read your history. Any time there’s a first contact, the contactees end up dead.”

As with most historical collaboration, the strategy goes great for Ariel in the short term (video games! trip to the moon! sex with an astronaut!) and poorly in the very-slightly-less-short term. The BEA is using his hard-won knowledge to promote a paranoid agenda. The Save the Humans overlay is having trouble finding a vector. When Curic takes him to her storm-tossed island to start revealing secrets, it’s not a coincidence that he ends up pressed flat to the ground.

Prospero: What torment I did find thee in. Thy groans
Did make the wolves howl, and penetrate the breasts
Of ever-angry bears.

Curic found Ariel on the Internet, and this is about as good a description of blogging as I’ve ever read. Here’s an interesting thing, though: none of the sections in chapter 15 are blog entries. They’re all described as “Real Life, July 2X,” yet they have distinct asides to an audience.

I think this has happened before in the book, but never quite so directly as “Shit. Shit. Shit. Okay.” This, more than the talking rat, is to me the strongest hint that Ariel is in fact a narrator and not just the star of some found-verbiage documentary. He’s organizing and presenting things to you, and he might be doing it selectively, just as he did when he was scrambling to find an Ip Shkoy game that would balance Ultimate DIY Lift-Off. He’s indentured and trying to earn his freedom; he’s a collaborator, and collaboration comes with an agenda. Why should he trust you, dear reader?

“I’m sorry,” I said. “It just feels like we fundamentally don’t understand each other. It really worries me.”

“Are you talking about us and the Constellation?” said Krakowski. “Or you and me?”

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