Saturday, February 09, 2002

I got a Harriet Carter catalog by streetmail yesterday, and looked through it at lunch today.

I’m trying to imagine being the sort of person who would buy much of this stuff, and failing — which is really a bit peculiar, since I think I’ve ordered from them in the past.

And I find myself wondering, now that they’re on the Web, what people overseas would think of this stuff, should they stumble across it. Fabric shavers and bra extenders — are these peculiarly American products, or is this sort of kitsch available everywhere?

Monday, January 21, 2002

There are two kinds of weblogs.

Well, actually, there may be dozens, but I’m familiar with two. First, there’s the sort of online journal I’ve been doing here, posting the odd thought when the whim strikes me. Some people do daily entries, treat it as a diary, whatever, but it’s basically a self-contained journal.

Second, there’s the sort where people report Cool Sites they’ve found on the web, so that their friends can check ’em out. I haven’t done much of this, because frankly, I don’t do all that much websurfing, and when I find cool stuff it’s largely because I saw it in a friend’s weblog. Including it here is too much like plagiarism.

But right now, I’d like to point out a website I have just rediscovered after many years of neglect: The Really Big Button That Doesn’t Do Anything.

This is something that’s been on the web since the very early days; it was first put up in 1993 (at a different URL, I believe), and was something I discovered back in 1994 when I first got web access.

I still think it’s one of the funniest sites I’ve ever seen, and the closest the Web comes to true Zen.

So go, click, experience The Really Big Button That Doesn’t Do Anything.

Saturday, January 19, 2002

Today’s pet peeve: Autograph collectors.I got e-mail today from someone who says he’s my biggest fan, he loves my work, and by the way, “If you don’t mind I would love to have an auotgraphed photo or comic to hang on my wall.” (That’s his spelling, not mine.)

Notice that he hasn’t said anything specific about any of my work, or named any titles.

That’s because he doesn’t actually know who the heck I am.

What’s happened here is that he’s taken a list of names and e-mail addresses from a website listing comic book professionals and spammed us all, hoping to get some cool free stuff in the mail. He hasn’t written to each of us individually, and has no idea who most of us are, and doesn’t care; he just wants autographs for his collection, or to trade.

This happens fairly often.

Oh, it’s not always comic book professionals; sometimes someone’s found a list of writers somewhere. I’m on several of those, too.

It’s fairly easy to spot these letters and distinguish them from real fan mail, because they’re always written in vague generalities, where real fans will name titles or characters — instead of “I love your work!” a real fan will say, “I loved Valder in The Misenchanted Sword!”

Some of them are especially obvious — “I love your artwork!” Hello, guy — I’m a writer, not an artist. Not every comic book professional can draw.

New writers get taken in by these sometimes; I’m on a couple of mailing lists for writers, and every so often someone will ask, “Hey, I got a request from a Joe-Bob Smith who wants an autograph — any of the rest of you get that one?” And it’s not unusual for someone to admit that they’d gotten it and sent an autograph.

What I wonder about is why these people want all these autographs, since they don’t know who we are. The mindset that finds value in collecting autographs from strangers one has lied to eludes me.

And it seems a sort of petty cruelty. Here are these eager young writers who have just accomplished something they see as supremely difficult and satisfying in getting their work published, and they think they’ve done it so well that they actually have fans — and then the realization sinks in that it’s just some damnable collector trying to scrounge freebies, someone who hasn’t even read the writer’s story…

I hate autograph collectors who do this stuff.

Friday, December 28, 2001

I want the fat guy in the cheap suit back.

I used to do our taxes by hand, working from handwritten ledgers and boxes of receipts. Then eventually I started using a spreadsheet — PC-Calc, to be exact — to keep track of stuff. Finally, early in 1997 I broke down and got tax software, specifically Parsons Personal Tax Edge, for the 1996 tax year.

I liked it a lot, to my surprise, and one of its charms, as far as I was concerned, was that it included video of a “tax accountant” who went through the whole “interview,” collecting the information you typed in and inserting it into the forms. The tax accountant was a fat guy in a cheap suit who darn well LOOKED like a tax accountant.

I liked him. I found him reassuring. And his script was well-written, being clear, informal, and informative. I advance-ordered PTE for ’97.

And then Parsons sold out to Intuit, and I got TurboTax instead of PTE. I’ve been using TurboTax ever since, and it’s a pretty good program…

But I miss the fat guy in the cheap suit. The tax experts in the TurboTax video don’t have anything like his low-budget charm.

Friday, November 09, 2001

Okay, so it’s been months since I posted anything here. They’ve been eventful months, as we all know, and I considered posting something about September 11th, like everyone else on the Web, but eventually concluded I just didn’t have anything that needed saying that other people weren’t saying just as well as I could.

Besides, I was busy. I finished a novel.

For a lot of people writing a novel would be a major event, I suppose. For me it’s not really a big deal anymore. I was surprised to realize awhile back that I’ve lost count of how many novels I’ve written; I went down to the basement and counted, so I’d have an accurate number, but now I’ve forgotten it again.

It’s just my job, you know? It’s what I do.

So I can’t tell you whether this latest was my thirty-second or my thirty-fifth or what, but it was due in June and I finally finished it in October.

There were several reasons for not getting it done on time — my editor died suddenly in March, throwing everything into chaos, and there was the distraction of getting my daughter through high school and off to college, and of course there was September 11, and so on. Mostly, though, I was ill.

Which is what I actually wanted to post about tonight.

I’m still ill. It’s entirely possible I’ll be ill for the rest of my life, which is a peculiar realization to live with.

And I don’t know when it started, which is also a peculiar realization. It sort of snuck up on me over a period of many months, maybe a couple of years. It got worse and worse, and the symptoms got weirder and weirder, until I finally got serious medical attention starting in July. Up until June I honestly wasn’t sure whether I was sick, or was just getting older, or had had a string of separate ailments.

Finally getting an explanation (which took awhile) was amazingly liberating — it wasn’t my imagination, it wasn’t normal, it wasn’t terminal, it wasn’t a zillion separate problems. And there’s some satisfaction in having a rare and obscure disease.

Which I do. I have a pituitary disorder called idiopathic hyperprolactinemia. It’s a relief to have a name for it, to be able to look at the symptoms and say, “Oh, that’s why that’s happening!”

And it’s a relief to be getting treated. At present it’s just palliative measures while my endocrinologist decides whether anything more drastic is called for, but even that has me feeling better than I have in over a year. I’m getting more work done, being less irritable, and generally behaving more like a human being.

And one reason I haven’t posted here since August is that that’s about when the shots kicked in, and I started doing useful stuff instead.

So there’s an explanation of why I haven’t posted — and why I may not post much in the future, either. Ah, well.

posted by Lawrence 9:14 PM

August 28, 2001

Last week I drove more than 2,000 miles across the middle of America, taking my daughter and her belongings to college in Iowa. I have a few observations I’d like to make:

The United States is a heck of a big place.

You may have heard that Indiana is boring. Well, I’ve now driven across it east to west on one route and west to east on another, and many years ago I drove across it corner-to-corner (Louisville to Chicago), and I can say without fear of contradiction that yes, it’s really, really boring.

On the other hand, Peoria, Illinois, subject of much mockery over the last several decades, is a lovely little city; if I had to live in any of the places I drove through between Washington and Des Moines, I think I’d choose Peoria.

Someone told me once that Iowa is all flat and boring. It’s not flat. And it’s nowhere near as boring as Indiana. It is full of corn and soybeans — I think there was a stretch of over 100 miles on I-80 between Davenport and Des Moines when we were never out of sight of corn.

And driving the interstate system for three and a half days almost non-stop is a strange, almost hypnotic experience. Try it sometime.

August 9, 2001

Useless Things I Wonder About, #13,287: On Bill Kirchen’s album “Hot Rod Lincoln Live!,” in his extended version of “Hot Rod Lincoln,” when he’s demonstrating that he can play twenty zillion distinctive guitar riffs, why are almost all the other artists he’s imitating referred to by name, but Cream is “a bunch of English guys!”?

July 30, 2001

I have an unusual occupation — I write fantasy for a living.  This means I’m succeeding in a field where lots of people try and fail, a field lots of people dream about working in.  I often talk to people who are impressed, who say they’d never have the nerve or persistence or creativity or whatever to be a full-time writer.

Every so often I run into someone from my past who chose an even stranger field, one that strikes me as something I would never have dared to attempt, and that I never would have expected of the person in question.  There was a friend from high school who became a fine artist — he mostly shows at a gallery in Georgetown.  Another friend from high school now does special effects in Hollywood.  There was a guy named Norman who dropped out of Princeton to become a Formula One racer (and was pretty successful, last I heard).

And I’ve just discovered that a woman who roomed across the hall from me at Princeton is now a professional psychic.  She loves it — she gets paid to talk on the phone.

This is someone with a degree from Princeton — I think in either math or engineering, though I’m not certain.  And she’s a psychic.

These are very strange days indeed.

July 25, 2001

Today is arguably my birthday.

I was born shortly after midnight, Eastern Daylight Time, officially on July 26, 1954 — so by standard time, I was born on the 25th.

It’s been very convenient some years having a choice which day to celebrate. This year it doesn’t much matter, so I guess I’ll go with the 26th — which is also Mick Jagger’s birthday. And Castro’s army kicked out Battista on my fifth birthday.

It’s not a bad day for a birthday, the 26th, and I don’t know of anything noteworthy on the 25th.