26 April 2007

A New Short Story

I just finished writing a (very) short story. It clocks in at 790 words - less than a page and a half. That puts it squarely in the "flash fiction" category. As for subject, it's a parody of a noir detective story - the title is "Death By Bullets."

It was a lot of fun to write, and i think it's pretty funny, but I'm not quite sure what to do with it. It would be perfect for Rogue Project Leader (RPL), if I was still doing that, but I don't have any plans to revitalize that webzine for the near future. RPL was cool, but writing books is so much more fun (and books last longer).

So - if you want to read my little flash-noir-satire, drop me an email (rpleditor -at- gmail.com) and I'll send it to you. I might post it somewhere, I might submit it to my usual magazine (Defense AT&L), or I might just offer it to people who read my blog.

(side note - since I'm not doing RPL anymore, my email address is sort of stupid now. I originally created that account just to keep track of RPL stuff, and it ended up being my primary address. Changing it now would be a drag, but let this be a lesson to you all. Pick an email address that will last you for a while!)

25 April 2007

Software Isn't Gold...

I'm listening to "The World Is Flat" on CD - it's a pretty long book (and it's 15 CD's!), so I knew it would take me forever to finish it if I tried to read it the old fashioned way. But I'm enjoying it, and one line in particular sort of jumped out at me:

"Software isn't gold. It's lettuce."

In other words, it needs to be fresh to be good. You can't just get or make good software and expect it to stay good. It's a good reminder as I continue working on my Aristotle software project. We're creating it for the now, not forever... It's not gold. It's lettuce.


One of the coolest things we saw at the Museum of Natural History in New York City was the dinosaur exhibit.

We particularly enjoyed the pleiosaur fossils, since one of the theories behind Champy is that it's a small colony of pleiosaurs. I love how this photo came out.

23 April 2007

On The Road Again...

I'm hitting the road again for a few days - actually, all the rest of this week, and most of next week. Yuck!

I hate to travel - not that you could tell that by looking at my calendar for the next 4 weeks, but I really do. It hurts to be away from the family for any length of time, and 4 days is really the limit. Of course, don't let the guys in Iraq or Afghanistan hear me complaining.

So, my posting will probably be sporadic over the next few days & weeks. I'll do what I can!

Trenton Falls, NY

Six days after we got 8 inches of snow, the temperature has hit the mid seventies, and we haven't seen a cloud in three or four days.

Yesterday the trail to Trenton Falls was opened - they only do it a few times a year, so we jumped at the opportunity to go check it out. Actually, I'd never even heard of the place, but some friends from church mentioned they were going to go and invited us along. And while we were on the trail, we bumped in to two other groups of people we know. That was pretty cool.

The kids held up very well on the trek (it's about a mile each way), but they were pretty quiet on the drive home.

We're going to miss it here...

20 April 2007

Cornell Lecture

I had a GREAT time speaking to some AFROTC cadets at Cornell University yesterday. They really seemed to resonate with my crazy "radical elements" ideas, and I even met a cadet who's an aspiring novelist, so we talked about Lulu and NaNoWriMo. Too fun!

I love talking with cadets - they're all so bright, high-energy, enthusiastic, etc. Afterwards we chatted about my Aristotle project, and it was clear they really *get* the importance, value and need for that kind of technology (it's sort of like MySpace for the Air Force)... unlike some of the more seasoned leaders & managers, who need a bit more convincing & cajoling. They really give me a lot of hope for the future. I just wanted to hug 'em all.

And speaking of MySpace - I haven't done much with it lately, but I do have a profile there. I mostly created it so I could learn stuff to apply to my Aristotle project, but you can see my profile at http://www.myspace.com/majorrogue. Maybe we could be friends! ;)

Peggy Noonan on Virginia Tech

Check out Peggy Noonan's column about the Virginia Tech shooting. I think it's insightful, informative and helpful - if only we'll listen.

19 April 2007

Sally Hogshead & Risk

I'm so happy to see Sally Hogshead is blogging again with more frequency! (I wish she'd do it every day, but I'll take what I can get!).

Her latest post is about risk, a topic Quaid and I tackled in our latest AT&L article. I love how Sally described the risk situation:

"The opposite of risk isn't security. The opposite of risk is getting run over by a truck filled with a shipment of status quo while you dawdle in the middle of the road."


Two Photos

I recently had my picture taken by two professional photographers - one from a newspaper for the Boomer Sisters interview, and one here at work to accompany an official bio I had to submit for a conference I'm speaking at next month.

Guess which photo I liked better?

With the newspaper, the photographer took a million shots, chatted with me casually, had me try a bunch of different poses. We had fun, my smile was natural, and the end result was cool.

The official one, however, had me sit in a remarkably uncomfortable & unnatural pose ("sit there, let your hands hang at your side, sir. OK, point your chin that way, tilt your head the other way, hold it..." *flash*) . I'd post the photo here, but it's just not very good at all. It's not horrible, but it's just not good.

Maybe it's just a matter of opinion, but I think there's something objectively better about the newspaper photographer's approach.

18 April 2007

Love & Who We Are

I noticed something as I listened to people on the radio talk about the tragedy at Virginia Tech.

When they talk about the victims, and try to explain who they were, the descriptions almost inevitably focus on what they loved. It happened at a college, so of course every obituary starts with mentioning the person's major, but most of the discussion seems focused on what they enjoyed. He liked to work on machinery. She loved animals and loved to dance. He loved soccer, loved to coach his kids sports teams...

What we love is so central to who we are, to our identity and our legacy. The things we love help to define us. Who were the victims? They were people who loved... and that's part of what makes the killing so monstrous.

The shooting is, among other things, a reminder of how short life can be. Sorry if this question sounds shmaltzy, but have you done something you love lately?
(the drawing is by Hugh MacLeod, of Gaping Void fame)

Bookshop Gargoyle

While I was setting up for my book signing last week, I noticed this little guy tucked in a corner of Cornerstone Bookshop, and had to grab his photo.

It's little things like this which make used bookstores so human, warm and fun. I like all kinds of bookstores, but I'll choose a mom-and-pop used bookstore over a big chain anyday!

Monday's Snow

Got a wee bit of snow earlier this week - and I'm finally getting around to posting this photo, which I took at 7am on Monday, April 16th. Yes, it's April, and we got nearly 7.5 inches of snow... and it was still falling as I shoveled & photographed.
By the time it was all over, I think we were well over 8 inches. Yikes!

17 April 2007

News & Science News

The American media seems to only focus on one science topic at a time, which is a little frustrating for those of us who know there's a lot happening in the world of science.

If they're only going to cover one topic, I'm glad to see that the media has, for the most part, replaced the Evolution -vs- Creation debate with Global Warming... but only because the Evolution/Creation discussion was so lame.

Still, I'd rather see science news focus on things like alternative energy (which has implications that are environmental, cultural, economic, geopolitical, etc). Or how about bio/genetic science, which is shaping our future in unseen (& popularly unexamined) ways? Over 43,000 people die in car crashes every year - let's talk about technologies to help reduce that number. How about the Automotive X-Prize or the $100 laptop? Or, yeah, we could continue shouting at each other about evolution, or whether the planet is getting hotter.

This all points to a more basic issue - what is news, and why are so many networks so bad at doing it? There's a lot happening in the world - please spare us the latest twists in the Anna Nicole or Britney Spears sagas.

And speaking of news, my condolances to the Virginia Tech community, as they deal with the aftermath of this tragic attack.

Answering letters...

In his amazing novel Manalive, G.K. Chesterton writes:

"Half one's letters answer themselves if you can only refrain from the fleshly appetitie of answering them."

Maybe that's why I don't read all my email (much less answer it all).

16 April 2007

Successful Book tour!

Had a great time doing a mini book tour in Plattsburgh & Burlington this past week.

The Boomer Sisters books are now for sale at the ECHO Lake Aquarium in Burlington, Rulf's Orchard and Under One Roof videos in Plattsburgh, along with Cornerstone Bookshop and the North Country Cultural Center for the Arts.

The books on display!

Another satisfied customer!

06 April 2007

On the road

I'm going to be on the road all next week, doing a mini book tour in the Plattsburgh and Burlington area. Not sure if/when I'll be able to post stuff, but I'll see what I can do. Thanks for your patience - I'll be back for sure by April 16th.

The Water Escape

A few of you left comments on my last post, wondering about the near-death experience I mentioned. Yes, it's true - here's the story.

In the last semester of my senior year of college, my friend J and I took a class called Psych 483 - a Directed Study in Cognitive Psychology. Unofficially, we called it Magic 101. It was just the two of us, working with a psych professor we really liked, and we spent the semester designing a magic show, which we eventually presented to an audience of 250 people. How was this a Psych course? Easy - we just wrote a paper describing the psychological principles involved with each effect. Mostly, we hung around the theater, dreaming up cool illusions. Occasionally we rehearsed... but not much.

The final effect of the show was a homemade version of Houdini's famous Milk Can Escape. I built my own container out of large plastic garbage cans, rigged so that the cover could be locked with three padlocks (and rigged in other, secret ways too, of course). I spent a lot of time that semester in the college swimming pool, and could hold my breath for about 90 seconds. Plenty of time, I figured. In rehersal, I'd usually be out in about 30 seconds.

Well, the day of the show arrived. As we filled the tank with water, we discovered there was no hot water available back stage. The water was freezing. We had several hotpots back stage, and we dumped boiling water into the tank, to no avail. I then spent about an hour running around on stage, eating fire, etc. By the time we got to the escape, I was hot and tired, the water was still cold, and when I got in, it literally took my breath away. The lid came down anyway.

I was supposed to bang on the side of the tank if I ran into trouble, and J was supposed to get me out. On the video, you can clearly hear the banging. What you don't see is J letting me out... because he didn't.

Fortunately, and much to my surprise & relief, the lid didn't fit flush against the top of the can - there was a gap of an inch or two, and I was able to get a little air. I got myself out. The first thing I recall hearing was a voice saying "45 seconds..."

The music swelled, I waited a little longer, then pulled aside the curtain and took a bow.

I'm probably not going to do that particular trick again anytime soon... like, never. I did, however, get an A.

05 April 2007

Fusion Interview

Fusion, the weekly newspaper that ran the interview with me last week, is apparently "in transition." That means they haven't updated their website, so I haven't been able to post a link to the interview. So, for your reading pleasure, here's the Q&A I submitted, prior to meeting with the writer.

Hometown: I'm an Air Force brat and I grew up all over the world. My parents settled in Plattsburgh NY, so I generally consider that "home." I'm living in New Hartford now.
Biggest inspiration: My kids. They have so much energy and joy and wonder, and they make me laugh every day. And in the case of the Boomer Sisters books, they literally inspired me.

Artists (Authors) who influence you: President Theodore Roosevelt, G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis are my literary heroes, for the amazing scope, range, quality and influence of their writings. They influence everything I write. The Boomer Sisters books in particular were influenced by Chesterton's "Manalive," Stanley Kiesel's "The War Between the Pitiful Teachers and the Splendid Kids," Andrew Clements' "Frindle," and Eleanor Cameron's "Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet." My latest project is titled The Desert, and it's heavily influenced by Martin Bell and Ed Hayes.

Medium of choice: Spiral notebooks, college rule. Oh, and ball point pens. I went through 4 when I wrote "The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy." I seem to do most of my writing at 30,000 feet, when I'm flying somewhere for my day job.

My favorite piece: I know it sounds cliche, but what ever I'm working on now. I just finished a collection of short stories (for adults) titled "The Desert," and I love how it came out. Details are at http://TheDesertBook.googlepages.com.

Where to find my stuff: At the moment, my books are available at Lulu.com, the Village Toyshop in New Hartford and a few places in Plattsburgh. In the future, they will be everywhere (or at least at Amazon, which is the same as everywhere).

Craziest thing I've ever done for my art: Write a novel in 30 days, two years in a row. It was part of National Novel Writing Month, which is monkey-barrels of exhausting, caffeine-fuelled fun. I got up before 5 am almost every day for a month, because it was the only time I could set aside to write. Plus, in college I almost accidentally killed myself on stage in front of 250 people when I performed a home-made version of Houdini's water escape, but that doesn't have anything to do with my writing (yet). Obviously, I managed to get out, but it was close.

What I have to create before I die: I'm really impressed by the way G.K. Chesterton wrote in so many different genres - he did science fiction, detective novels, theology, politics, economics, travel books, histories, biographies... and I'm sure I'm missing a few. My objective is to create something like that. I want to write such a diverse set of books across so many different subjects that nobody except for my mom would be interested in reading them all.

Biggest misconception about artists: A lot of people think self-published books are low quality... and most of the time, that's true. But some really amazing books were originally self-published. Beatrix Potter self-published Peter Rabbit. James Joyce, Walt Whitman, TS Elliot and Henry David Thoreau all published their own stuff. These days, writers chose to self-publish for a lot of reasons, and it's not always because they can't convince a traditional publisher to buy it.

The book I'd want to see hanging on the NYT best seller list: Manalive, Orthodoxy or The Napoleon of Notting Hill, all by G.K. Chesterton. They are all brilliant, funny, thought-provoking books. They really should be read more widely than they are.

If you had an unlimited budget and could buy three pieces of art whose work would they be? First, I would love to own an original drawing by G.K. Chesterton (he was an artist as well as a writer). Winston Churchill is another fantastic writer, and he was a remarkable painter too, so I'll take one of his. Finally, I've always liked Jackson Pollock, so he'd be my #3.

Lessons From Art Class

From the Jan 2006 issue of Rogue Project Leader:
Meditations From A Drawing Class
The Rogue Zen Master recently took a 3-week drawing course at the local high school. It was a profoundly enlightening experience and a source of much insight. The following Principles from the Art of Art are presented for your meditative consideration.

- Stand up.

Just because you are drawing at a table or desk does not mean you have to be seated at that table or desk. By standing, your arm and body are able to move more freely. You’ll have better control and will be more likely to move around a little and accurately see the object you are drawing.

- Rotate the paper.
Just because your drawing will be viewed with the paper in a particular alignment doesn’t mean the paper has to remain in that alignment while you draw. For example, bio-mechanically speaking, it is easier to draw a straight line if you move the pencil from the lower left toward the upper right part of the page. When you want to draw a straight line, rotate the paper so the line you draw will begin at the lower left and proceed towards the upper right.

04 April 2007

Traditional Publishers

Despite the widespread view that self-published books are lower quality, I'm in no rush to hook up with a traditional publisher. Yes, I've sent a book proposal to a local NY publisher, and I do hope they'll say yes, but if they don't, I'm going to continue doing that thing I do - even though it means it's harder to get into regular bookstores. Here are a few of the reasons finding a traditional publisher is not a big priority.

1) Query letters are a pain to write (and take a long time). I'd rather spend my time writing my books than writing about my books.

2) Traditional publisher's timelines are painfully long. Lulu is amazingly and wonderfully quick.

3) I have a day job. This is significant not just because it pays the bills (so I don't have to worry about living off book royalties), but also because it take up so much of my time. I can't really commit to doing road trips, readings, signings, etc. If a publisher invests their time & resources to my book, it would be reasonable for them to expect me to invest some time too... and at this point, I just can't do it.

4) In all honesty, I'm a little bit afraid of editors. Partly this is a time thing (see #3 above), and partly it's an artistic integrity thing. I love working with the editor at Defense AT&L, and I trust all the changes she makes to my stuff, but then I've worked with her for several years now. I'm a little afraid that an editor at a book publisher would come in and try to make changes to my stuff without first establishing a relationship or understanding my vision. Partly, this is because that's exactly what happened the one time I (almost) worked with a traditional publisher (I had to walk away...).

03 April 2007

Desert Artwork

As I mentioned previously, I've continued to play around with paint occasionally (very, very occasionally), and recently jumped from watercolors to acrylics. It's quite a different experience from watercolors, and I think I like it better. Acrylics dry very quickly, so I've got to paint fast, which is probably good, since I'm doing these in 30 minute increments, during my lunch breaks.

Anyway, I did a few little "meditations in paint," based on stories from my latest book, The Desert. It's strictly amateur hour, and the end result is admittedly unrefined and raw, and not necessarily in a good way. Still, I had fun doing it, and am mostly pleased with how they came out. And Churchill was right - you really can't think about anything else when you're painting.

You can see all six of the paintings from The Desert on my Desert Artwork page.

More Mail...

Yesterday was an interesting mail day. Along with the Men's Wearhouse card (see post below), I also got a letter from a publisher! How exciting, right? I sent a book proposal to them a month ago, and have been waiting to hear back. Guess what the letter said?

"We've received your manuscript. Manuscript reviews take a long time. We'll get back to you."

On the one hand, I appreciate them acknowledging receipt of the manuscript. On the other hand, they've had it for a month, and they are just now sending me a note. The timeline of traditional publishing continues to frustrate and amaze me. Of course, if they agree to publish it, I'll be thrilled...

Mail Call...

I got a really surprising letter in the mail yesterday, from Men's Wearhouse. I'd bought a suit from them more than a year ago, and I really like it.

The note was from Eddie, the guy who sold me the suit, saying he saw the newspaper interview about my book. He was writing to say congratulations and to wish me well. What a cool surprise (Andy Nulman would approve).

I don't need a new suit - I hardly get to wear the one I've got - but if I needed one, guess where I'd go...

02 April 2007

General Update

Had a great visit to NYC this weekend. Got to hang out at the Natural History Museum (where the Ben Stiller movie "A Night At The Museum" was set), and even bought some cool art from a couple painters in front of the art museum, just on the other side of Central Park.

I also got a lot of ideas for the next Boomer Sisters book (The Boomers Meet Manhattan??). It's really starting to come together... I found some great quotes from C.S. Lewis about art this morning, and the duties of an artist.

What I'm reading: The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand. Very interesting & enjoyable book. I'm also in the middle of the following books:
  • Wikinomics
  • Metaphors We Live By
  • Ambient Findability
  • The Narnian

It's going to be a busy/slow week. We've got a team of inspectors coming through our lab, and I'm sitting in the "ops center" monitoring their movements, inputs, observations, etc... Lucky me!