01 November 2011

What's in a Name?

This will be my last post on this blog, so I thought I'd make this last post about the reasons why.

It's no great mystery, really. I just don't feel like the name is right? Yeah, I'm being picky about the title, but it's a little more complicated than that, if not very.

Dave Dynamo as a blog title was always sort of a make-do, something I put at the top of the page when I couldn't think of anything better. The origin of the first part should be at least somewhat obvious, and the second part is from a favorite character of mine in the Champions tabletop RPG.

I've used Dynamo as an Internet handle in various forums and games, but apparently it's not original enough to be available in a lot of places. That's led to variation such as Dave Dynamo and Dynamo Dave, and that's where my discontent begins.

Once I mix a completely fictional name with my real name, it feels to me like I've set expectations. Maybe nobody else feels like that, but I start feeling like I should be a more... say... energetic contributor to the digital incarnation of the noosphere. That's pressure I don't need.

Then there's the matter of using a handle at all. It used to be cool to have a short handle that everyone recognized, but I think that's been lost in the current environment of handles like junkpunchpvpkilla or much more poorly spelled examples.

I don't know. Written out, my objections seem kind of dumb, but there's no getting around the fact that I don't like it anymore. Maybe it's also that using even a variation of my name/handle as the blog title feels too narcissistic.

So I started monkeying around with the Blogger interface. Yes, it turns out I can change the title of the blog, but not the URL, so I'd still be stuck with davedynamo.blogspot.com, so I figured the best solution would be to change both the title and the URL, but that can only be done by starting a new blog, starting fresh.

Still... what to call it? A few months ago, I was joking around with some friends about how nerd girls are hot, and I drawled, "Oh baby, talk nerdy to me." That idea stuck around in my head, and I ended up playing with the lyrics to Talk Dirty to Me to fit Talk Nerdy to Me. So obviously, I like the phrase, and it describes the content of the blog so far.

Next came the URL. Let me tell you, every variation of Talk Nerdy to me was taken, talknerdytome, talknerdy, nerdytalk, nerdtome, nerdtalk, all taken. Grumble.

So I figured, why not decouple the title from the URL from the outset, so I can change the title in the future without starting fresh again. That would work, but then what should I should for the URL? That turned out to be pretty easy. I came up with Dynamitochondria about a year ago. Too long for a handle, too long by one character in the case of Twitter, but it should work here.

So go check it out. I'm starting off with a month-long project of posting my Nanowrimo novel as I go, so there should be plenty of terrible text to laugh at.

01 October 2011

Why the Hate for Misspent Youth?

Reposted on new blog at http://dynamitochondria.blogspot.com/2011/10/why-hate-for-misspent-youth.html.

I'm a big fan of Peter F Hamilton's books. I thorough enjoyed his Night's Dawn trilogy (though the three books are so huge that they had to be split into two paperbacks each for the mass market edition), read through the Greg Mandel stories in no time, and grabbed up his stand-alone novel Fallen Dragon. Then he launched his Commonwealth Saga and Void trilogy, and I've enjoyed all of those five books tremendously.

But somewhere in there, I discovered that I had missed one. Misspent Youth is part of the Commonwealth Saga, but not part of either main plotline. It's based in the mid-21st century on Earth, and tells the story of the first person to receive the Rejuvenation treatment central to the culture of the Commonwealth during Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained, and thus functions as a prequel of sorts.

I looked in the bookstores, but it couldn't be had, out of print. That's surprised me a bit. I went looking for it on Amazon, and they were out. What the hell? The book wasn't that old. Then I scrolled down to the reviews. Hooboy.

There was a lot of haterade spilled in the reviews. People who otherwise adored Hamilton's books were up in arms. Others swore they could never read his books again after giving up on Misspent Youth. It just all seemed a little extreme, so I dug deeper.

One of the themes of Misspent Youth is the repercussions of Rejuvenation, returning a person to full bloom of youthful health. Hamilton glosses over the societal implications, which I found a little disappointing after the depth to which he'd protrayed the society of the Commonwealth, as well as that of the Confederation in Night's Dawn. He focused more on the impact to the rejuvenated main character's immediate relationships of the return on youthful hormones to man of seventy-plus years.

That's right, Misspent Youth could be considered chick-lit. Mildly smutty chick-lit at that.

After reading the reviews, the "mildly" portion surprised me somewhat. Misspent Youth was originally published in the UK, and his publisher didn't think it would sell as is in the US. So they toned down the smut for the US release, and the reading public still hated it.

I was having none of that, so I ordered the original unabridged edition from Amazon UK. After the uproar, I half expected something more at home in the pages of Penthouse Variations, wondering whether I should plan to read the book one-handed, if you catch my meaning.

Can you say anti-climax? Misspent Youth is mildly racy sure, but it's got nothing on mainstream romance novels. This book is about the relationships between the characters, not about what gets done in the bedroom.

Like I said, chick-lit. And yet, not entirely chick-lit.

For one thing, it completely ignores the proven formulae for successful romance novels. That makes sense to an extent. Hamilton's not a romance author; he's a speculative fiction author, and he's exploring repercussions so he's confined to a logical chain of events.

The other thing about Misspent Youth that keeps it off the romance shelves is its dual purpose. The novel acts as a prequel to the Commonwealth Saga, portraying the European Union in a state of political upheaval and scattering about elements that fans will recognize as precursors to elements of Commonwealth society. That's not the usual backdrop for a relationship piece, and readers of that genre would likely be put off.

So Misspent Youth is nothing like what I expected, except for one thing. It's an excellent book. Hamilton's engaging style kept me interested through a storyline so focused on relationship conflict rather than violent conflict that it probably woudn't have kept my interest otherwise. I was prepared for some smutty trash, but nothing has prepared me for how "touchie feelie" Misspent Youth would be. Aside from two major scenes and one minor one, there's no real danger faced by the characters, only implied by reference.

If someone had told me that, I might have actually skipped the book. Well, no. It was the last book of his that I hadn't read, so I was doomed from the outset. That's OK. As I said, Hamilton's writing kept me turning the pages.

So I heartily recommend Misspent Youth unless you're an uptight member of a Kansas school board. In terms of reading order, I suggest reading Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained first, but once you have those digested, it's not important whether you read Misspent Youth before, during, or after the Void trilogy.

24 September 2011


Reposted on new blog at http://dynamitochondria.blogspot.com/2011/09/hegemony.html.

Time to grab another three bits of random and see what can be made of them.

The Writer's Book of Matches. A woman with a terrible disease is offered an experimental drug therapy.

I at first thought this one might be tough to work into whatever I picked from the other sources, but the point of the exercise is not to make it particularly easy either.

From Archetype to Zeitgeist. Hegemony

Hegemony is the domination of one culture, or group, over another by nonviolent means. The book has a good 2-page entry that includes some evolution of the idea from Antonio Gramsci and mid-20th century feminism to expand the scope from one political body over another to cultural, class, gender, or ethnic dominance.

A Dictionary of Symbols. The Minstrel

This had me scratching my head a bit. The entry refers to the Minstrel Tarot card, but I didn't recall that card. Then I couldn't find the Tarot reference I thought I had in my library. To the Internet! Turns out, the Minstrel card is considered by some sources to be the original card that became the Magician.

In many interpretations, the Minstrel/Magician represents mastery, whether of a skill or the situation at hand. It can also represent teaching or learning.

It didn't take too much thought before these three fell neatly into place. In an intellectual hegemony, the dominance of a highly educated elite would be sustained in the long term by a system of education that confers the unstated implication that more education equals better. A fine message in itself, if somewhat simple in the blatant abstract, but can it be called hegemony, is it actually dominance, if the system is meant to bringing greater education to all?

It could be argued that maximizing every educational opportunity to every member of a culture is an economic non-starter. In some perfect system, it might be possible to make available all the education every individual cares to consume, but in the world's current model, it costs time and money to attend school. Investing time and money into a given vocation faces diminishing returns, sooner for some professional areas, later for others.

The education system in an intellectual hegemony would almost certainly be multi-tiered. There would be extremely basic schooling available for a labor class, teaching the absolutely necessary skills to get by within the larger culture. At the other end of the spectrum, a highly educated elite would receive every opportunity to expand their knowledge and skills.

But common to every tier of this education system would be the implication that the more education received, the more worthy the individual to make decisions and benefit from the best the culture has to offer. The elite class would be taught this to bolster their commitment to continue their studies and their confidence in their "rightful" place at the top of the hierarchy. The labor class would be taught this to convince them that others are more worthy to make their decisions for them and reap the benefits of those decisions.

This strategy is a multi-generational strategy, gaining strength with passing decades. How does such a hegemony start, especially in cultures that don't necessarily value a classic education, holding more dear the lessons taught by life experience?

One way it might do is via gifts of the fruits of intellectualism. Under the guise of a helping hand, another culture is wooed with surplus food, luxury goods, and medicines. While none can call foul that the hungry are fed and sick are healed, there is always the spectre of ulterior motive.

It's not always conscious. World history is full of examples of the hauteur of the more prosperous sowing the seeds of cultural destruction among a "less advanced" people. Sometimes the result is a thriving partnership, but it should be clear to the astute observer that the result is more often subjugation or conflict.

I'd originally intended to take this into a dark fictional setting for stories or a game, but instead it would appear that I've crafted more of a commentary on the current state of world affairs. Honestly, that wasn't my intent.

When the real world begins to resemble dystopian fiction, it might be time to reconsider the direction we're traveling, time to challenge our shared assumptions, time to make sure that our helping hand isn't really a fist.

10 September 2011

Last Resort Challenge #1

Reposted on new blog at http://dynamitochondria.blogspot.com/2011/09/last-resort-challenge-1.html.

It's time for the first try at the Last Resort Challenge. So let's pull down three books and get cracking.

First component: from ISMs: A Compendium of Concepts, Doctrines, Traits, and Beliefs: Hyperpituitarism, the glandular condition that triggers growth disorders such as giantism and acromegaly. I need to look up that last one. [...] OK, it's like giantism but mainly in the extremities and usually adult onset.

Second component: from the Cassell Dictionary of Superstitions: Flying Ointment, made by a witch and smeared on the body to gain the power of flight.

Third and last component: from the Dictionary of Theories: Group Theory. This one is in the book twice, and I happened to stab my finger on the Politics version rather than the Physics version. In Politics, Group Theory states that individuals and whole societies are not significant political actors. Rather, groups of individuals interact and negotiate their priorities and platforms, and from this process emerges policy.

OK, this could be tough, but I already have the kernel of an idea.

The word witch is a loaded term with a ton of cultural baggage. In stories, witches tend to be separated from society, operating solo or in small groups, figures of fear and superstition. It's reasonable to assume that their impact on societal policy is minimal. But it's not as simple as that. As a feared or possibly hated group, they've been driven out of the main social groups, but not wiped out entirely. Why? Because witches are frequently portrayed as the source of counsel and aid not commonly available, such as the classic love potion or the secret answer to the troll's riddle.

Since I drew Flying Ointment above, you can probably guess that I'll focus on the specialty products of the witch's cauldron over their information services. Witches of folklore and other story turn out a varied array of substances to produce extraordinary effects. Unguents, potions, oils, philters, powders, and ointments from the hand of the witch cause the subject to fall in love, stride seven leagues in a step, breath underwater, or fly through the air.

These unusual abilities stay unusual in most stories, and there's typically a reason for it. Either the witch's price is dear, or powerful societal censure would result if anyone found out. Frequently, both of these cases are in effect.

So the witch's customers have access to the resources to pay the witch's price, meaning that they are likely the more politically power members of society. They are also secretive, though they always assume no one will ever find out. That makes them ripe for a blackmail scheme, but what if the witches had something else in mind?

The typical witch's product is ingested somehow, whether by drinking, breathing, rubbing on the skin, mixing with food, or what have you. So suppose the witch's craft were advanced enough to sneak in some side effects, such as a subtle glandular codition, something that takes a period of years and multiple applications to produce obvious symptoms, such as elongated extremities or some other easily noticed feature. Then it becomes obvious who the most frequent consumers of witchcraft services are.

If the condition can be suppressed with yet another product, the witch has the wealthy patron over a barrel. A high price can be demanded, perhaps changes in policy, or the suppression agent will be withheld. I mentioned above that political group theory holds that policy is the result of negotiation between groups of individuals, and this is a form of negotiation. But what if the witches have something else in mind?

Over time, consumers of a witch's services would find the services indispensible, an advantage over their rivals, a way to overcome otherwise insurmountable obstacles. The witch's services are indispensible, but the witch still lives in isolation. Suppose rather than blackmail, the witches have organized and have decided to pursue societal revolution. Rather than blackmailing their customers into acting as their political proxies, they force their customers to live with their new physical features as a brand, a scarlet letter, and obvious mark of the witch's services for all to see.

It's a risky scheme, and in the short term the witches are likely to weather some level of cultural backlash, but there is the potential payoff of making it clear to the larger culture that their services are highly valued by the societal elite, individuals that many wish to emulate. In time, the negative connotations of witchcraft may fade, and the witches might be accepted into mainstream society, just another group contributing the interaction and negotiation to create and establish policy.

So there's my first post on the Last Resort Challenge. I'd hoped to come up with a better title, but the post turned out to be at least somewhat about the process of combining the components, so the brute force title stays.

04 September 2011

Last Resort Weekly Challenge

Reposted on new blog at http://dynamitochondria.blogspot.com/2011/09/last-resort-weekly-challenge.html.

At nearly a year since my last post, I am forced to admit to myself that I am not good at keeping up with this. Some people find blogging to be habit forming, but I am apparently not one of them. I did well when I challenged myself to post daily, but I didn't have much creative energy left for anything else, so this time I'll try a compromise. I'll give myself until midnight Saturday each week to post something, anything really. If I post earlier in the week, I'm off the hook.

That's the Weekly part. Now the Last Resort part. If I come up with a topic, all well and good, but if I'm stuck, or if the topic I'm working on isn't coming together on time, then I engage in an exercise I've been meaning to start anyway.

I have a shelf of books that I think of as my Brainstorming library. They're a fairly random collection of short-entry dictionary/encyclopedia-style books such as Archetype to Zeitgeist and The Encyclopedia of Dreams. Occasionally, I grab one at random to browse for something interesting to think about.

The exercise I envision is to grab three of these books, either at random or by whim, open each at random, blindly stab a finger onto each open book, and combine the three concepts thus chosen into a post somehow. It doesn't matter what it's about, just something to post. It will probably be something consistent with my existing interests and posts, but no guarantees. The point of this blog is to get and keep me writing, not any kind of consistent topicality.

So stop by for your weekly does of vitamin WTF. Or don't. As I've said before, this blog is not for you, it's for me. If anyone else gets any value out of it besides me, that's just a bonus.

Btw, this post doesn't count for this week, so look for the first challenge post by next Saturday.

11 October 2010

Something Precious

Reposted on new blog at http://dynamitochondria.blogspot.com/2010/10/something-precious.html.

My original intent was to resume the blog with a post in the normal theme of game dev interest, but in the meantime, our family has experienced a disruption that has given me several thoughtful moments.

My wife and I have been married for almost 20 years, and for almost 19 of those years, we've shared our home with Arrow, our cat. As you might imagine, she has become a fixture of our relationship, having outlived career choices and other cats. (We lost a younger cat, Dusty, to breast cancer a few years ago.)

I'm not saying it's been without its tribulations. She occasionally gets it into her head to poop in odd places, especially if we leave her litterbox for too long. She loudly wants breakfast on days I'd rather sleep in. She's knocked over and broken any number of things I wish I still owned in one piece.

But she kept Doni company while I was serving my country. She's a loving animal that we both care for deeply. She makes our apartment a home. Most importantly, we voluntarily took this little being into our care, and she is very much a part of our family.

Last week, there was an accident, and she suffered a broken humerus. It was a completely separated fracture, too high on the leg to splint. The emergency consult at the 24-hour vet clinic didn't paint a hopeful picture. The leg was useless weight that was only going to cause her pain, and her age did not make her a good candidate for orthopedic surgery. Osteoporotic bones do not take pins and plates well, and the mending would have been long, painful, and not guaranteed. There was every chance we would have to put her down.

I'm the man of the couple. There are cultural expectations that I will be the strong and practical one. Right or wrong, my culture has left an imprint on me, and I strive to be the strong and practical one.

This wasn't the first time I've dealt with end-of-life concerns for animals in my care, but none of those prepared me to deal with something as central and long-lasting to my life as this cat. I did OK at the clinic. I reassured Doni that we would make the best decision for Arrow and consoled her when she blamed herself for the accident. I was even supportive for the vet when she had to deal with what turned out to be a DOA cat brought in by a tearful owner.

We got Arrow home with a referal to a surgical clinic for the morning, but not with a lot of hope, before I reached the end of my emotional rope. Doni was out of the room, and I hadn't put Arrow down yet. I sat down with her and had a good cry.

Until that dam broke, I hadn't really been aware of how backed up my grief was. I didn't see much chance that a close friend who relied on me for everything wouldn't have to be killed in the morning on my say. That hurt, and I selfishly took several minutes to wallow in the pain. I'd like to say I thought it would make the goodbye to follow easier, but there wasn't any kind of purposeful intent like that. I just hurt.

Early the next morning wasn't any easier. Arrow still wanted breakfast, and she had stumbled to the food bowl. Watching her try to walk was misery. She'd try to step forward onto the useless leg, it would crumple, and she'd fall on her face. Then she'd try again, and finally she got there, only to fail to figure out how to eat or drink from the dishes.

Later that morning, as we sat in a consult with the surgeon, we felt pretty dismal. When he mentioned amputation, I almost smacked my forehead. I carefully didn't look at Doni, whose face I could just imagine picturing her first personal pet being maimed, but hope surged in my heart. Of course, there was a rollercoaster of emotions left to experience. Doni had to be convinced, blood work had to done to make sure Arrow was likely to survive anesthesia, the procedure had to be completed successfully, she had to convalesce without infection or further injury. Further, was I grasping at comfort for myself or thinking of the best for my tiny charge?

The next morning, the blood work had come back positive, and I gave the order to proceed. Knowing she was cut open that afternoon, with the intent of making a part of her into medical waste, was a lot more distraction than I thought it would be. I didn't get much work done that day.

That afternoon, I got the call that she was conscious and enjoying some morphine derivative or another. My relief was palpable.

Arrow is home now, in many ways normal, but in some important ways, not so much. She still loves a good lap, but we have to be careful of her staples and the cone of shame. She's pooping in some new odd places, but I'm pretty sure that's caused by having to flex completely different muscles as she learns to get around on three legs. Bunny hopping for the litterbox, leaving a trail of poop pebbles, is funnier than it has any right to be.

And she still wants breakfast. Some things are just constant.

All of us have come out of this ordeal closer together. We were lucky. Lucky she's healthy for her age and could survive surgery where some cats would not. Lucky to find a good surgeon where we might have stumbled on a quack and not known in time. Lucky we have decent jobs to pay for the not inexpensive surgery where many families might not have had the wherewithal in today's economy.

Years ago, we accepted something precious into our care, a tiny life that would depend on us for everything it needs to continue, and depend on us to make the best decision when the chips were down. This week, I feel like we lived up to our responsibility. I feel good.

01 October 2010

The Words Must Flow

Where has my brain been? Long answer, which I will share later, probably in many shorter bits largely by coincidence.

I've been working on my site, which has me reviewing my notebooks, which are giving me ideas about blog posts. I'm not sure what changed then changed back, but I once again seem to have words that want out of my brain.

So I'm back for another round of yammer. Flee while you can.