Archive for July, 2011

When Life Gives You Lemons… or Stuffed Animals… or Swords…

Yesterday, I mentioned that I’d fallen victim to the horrible and dastardly influences of Japanese media, and been brainwashed into buying pencils and a sketchbook and stuff and returning to doodling and drawing, which I haven’t done in… over a decade.

Well, there’s a funny story in there…

As you may know, my normal writing instrument of choice is the fountain pen. I have a number of them, many of them vintage. When I took up drawing, I picked up some good old-fashioned wooden drawing pencils in various degrees of hardness… but I also picked up lead for a lovely old mechanical pencil that came as part of a set I got years ago.

How old is “old”? It’s a Sheaffer pencil in striped celluloid, which takes 0.9mm lead, dating it to WWII. With replacement lead (Pentel makes 0.9mm 2B lead, great for drawing), it works as beautifully as it looks. As you might expect from a pencil that’s coming up on its seventieth birthday, the original eraser… doesn’t.

But that’s okay, because, believe it or not, Sheaffer still makes replacements that fit it.

And so, eager to have an awesome vintage drawing tool that I can take with me places where a knife or pencil sharpener wouldn’t be appropriate, I ordered a package of the erasers on Amazon.

Two days later (I’m a Prime member, free two-day shipping, whoo!) I received…
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Published in: Geekiness, General | on July 29th, 2011 | No Comments »

Anime and Manga Really Are Horrible Influences

Every once in a while you hear or read some alarmist story about how some genre of media is having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad influence on impressionable youth, or whatever. Comic books rot your brain, Sunday-morning cartoons make you violent, video games desensitize you to death, newspaper comics impair your ability to function in society, science fiction magazines are introducing our children to bestiality and drug use and…

You get the idea.

I tend to think this is generally really stupid. Playing video games and watching classic Hanna-Barbera cartoons didn’t make me a vitriolic curmudgeon. (Going to a high school full of vapid, empty-headed dumbasses made me a vitriolic curmudgeon. Probably.)

That being said, I recently… oh man, this is really hard to say… I recently… did something…solely because I was inspired by manga.

There. I’ve admitted it. Hi, my name is Nemo de Monet, and I…
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Published in: 'D' for 'Dumb', Geekiness, General | on July 28th, 2011 | 3 Comments »

The Books That Changed My Life

One of the fun parts of being a grumpy old fart is the implicit permission to wax nostalgic for either your childhood, or a heavily-romanticized version thereof. Large parts of my formative years were miserable and traumatic enough that it would take some Soviet Union-scale revisionist history to make me nostalgic for them, but there are the occasional thing that I remember with some degree of fondness.

A lot of them have to do with books.

My parents, for all their many faults, encouraged me to read, and managing to foster a lifelong love of books in me probably counts among their few successes where raising me was concerned. By age nine, I was making biweekly trips to the town library, and making a substantial effort towards reading my way through their entire children’s section.

It was a fairly small town, and the library was not well-funded, so their selection of books tended to be a little… dated. Around age seven, I’d read My Side of the Mountain, which made me want to learn survival skills and go become a hermit somewhere. (Unhappy childhood, remember?) Around age nine, I’d read my way through their collection of ancient Hardy Boys books, and discovered – somehow – the (really much inferior, but that’s another matter) then-fairly-new paperback series featuring Frank and Joe – the “Hardy Boys Casefiles”. Alas, the library only had the first three or four.

It was thus that I was introduced to bookstores…
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Published in: Geekiness, General, History | on July 22nd, 2011 | No Comments »

Kwik Hits

The weather here in Minnesota is probably best described as “brutal” right now – but that’s only because “tropical” is becoming cliche. (As I write this it’s 85F/29C… with 80% humidity.) So forgive me if the little free time I’ve had of late has been spent in front of a fan, rather than a computer.

While it wasn’t announced until mid-August last year, my first novel (Mendacities… remember?) was actually published a year ago this week; I’ve been blogging about the e-book experience at Smashwords and Amazon’s Kindle platform over at the book’s website. Interesting reading, perhaps, if you’re contemplating publishing your own book at some point. Don’t be a miserable failure like me – learn from my mistakes. :)

(Why, you might ask, was it not announced until August when it was published in mid-July? I was waiting for it to become available at amazon.co.uk and elsewhere outside the United States, as it seemed pointless to heavily promote something online that was only readily available to Americans.)

Elsewhere, I’ve been watching the current British drama unfold with morbid fascination. I don’t really have anything to contribute to the discussions, except to note surprise at The News of the World being the first part of Murdoch’s empire to fall – didn’t see that coming! – and to point out that the whole thing is increasingly sounding like a Bourne-esque summer adventure novel/movie. Particularly the part about Sean Hoare, whistleblowing NOTW reporter whose sudden death was promptly declared “not suspicious” by, y’know, the very police department implicated in the whole ongoing scandal.

What next… a mysterious case of polonium poisoning?

This guy is my hero. That is all.

You really can follow me on Twitter, if that’s your thing. Updated regularly for your enjoyment, weather and power outages permitting.

That is all. Probably. Unless the heat and humidity do me in…

Published in: General | on July 19th, 2011 | No Comments »

On FOIA Denial and Release

I make a lot of FOIA requests, often to less-popular agencies and installations. Sadly, of late very few of these requests have turned up much interesting for this blog, but there are other less tangible benefits. One of the oddest benefits to making requests of unusual “targets” is that you often get (much!) better service from the part-time FOIA staff there than you do from the half-trained goons who have long since stopped caring. (I’m looking at you, State Department…)

Case in point: Earlier this week I received a phone call from a part-time FOIA case officer at some military facility somewhere. (Part-time as in he’s got a real 40-hour job, but also gets to handle the dozen or two FOIA requests the command receives every year.) He’d located the records I’d requested, he said, and could release them to me in full in a couple of minutes – if I’d waive any interest in the cover page.

Now, long-time readers will know that this isn’t the first time that a government agency has contacted me asking me to withdraw all or part of an FOIA request I’ve made, and that in the past I’ve been very cynically bitter about this practice, particularly when it applies to the entirety of a document or record.

In this case, the gentleman said, the report was releasable in full – but the cover memo included some kind of note of thanks to the people who’d contributed to it, and whose names were exempt from release under b(6)c – personal information.

I totally understood that, and told him that. Why ask for me to amend my request to exclude that one page, though, I asked? Just (so I cynically expected) to pad the command’s FOIA stats – a “release in full” rather than a “release in part”?

Not at all, he said. It was because he, as the command’s FOIA officer, was authorized to make a release determination on the report itself – he’d been delegated “initial release authority” – but didn’t have the authority to deny the release of the information requiring redaction on the cover sheet – “initial denial authority”.

So, if I don’t want the cover sheet, he can just e-mail me the report. If I want the cover sheet, he has to bounce the whole thing up the chain to Washington, where it goes to the back of the queue, and I get the whole report plus the redacted cover letter in, oh, eight or ten months.

Thinking about it, I guess that sort of makes sense in a twisted backwards bureaucratic sort of way…

Anyway, if you’re ever contacted by FOIA personnel asking you to amend the scope of your request to exclude specific documents or whatever, that’s (possibly) the reasoning. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle, et cetera.

Published in: Geekiness, General | on July 13th, 2011 | No Comments »