Items Tagged: blogging

The Weird Universe explores a human and natural cosmos that is not only stranger than we imagine, but stranger than we can imagine. The usual suspects are Paul Di Filippo; Alex Boese, curator of the Museum of Hoaxes; and Chuck Shepherd, purveyor of News of the Weird.

Recent posts:

  • Guess the object
    Can you figure out what this is? Answer is in extended.
  • The Liberated Look
    Perfect for the modern office! Original page here. More on the designer.
  • News of the Weird, January 25, 2015
    News of the Weird Weirdnuz.M407, January 25, 2015 Copyright 2015 by Chuck Shepherd. All rights reserved. Lead Story Fourteen employees of a Framingham, Mass., pharmacy were indicted in December for defrauding the federal government by filling bogus prescriptions (despite an owner’s explicit instructions to staff that the fake customers’ names “must resemble real names,” with “no obviously false names” that might tip off law-enforcement). Among the names later found on the customer list of the New England Compounding Center were: Baby Jesus, Hugh Jass, L.L. Bean, Filet O’Fish, Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, Harry Potter, Coco Puff, Mary Lamb, all of the Baldwin brother actors, and a grouping of Bud Weiser, Richard Coors, Raymond Rollingrock, and of course Samuel Adams. The indictments were part of an investigation of a 2012 meningitis outbreak in which 64 people died. [WBZ-TV (Boston), 12-17-2014] Cultural Diversity Two recent innovations to the generations-old Middle East sport of camel racing boosted its profile. First, to cleanse the sport of a sour period in which children from Bangladesh were trafficked in to use as jockeys, owners have begun using “robot” jockeys--electronic dummies that respond to trainers tracking the races with walkie-talkies (growling encouragement directly to camels’ ears) and joysticks (that trigger a whip at an appropriate time). Second, the firm Al Shibla Middle East of United Arab Emirates has introduced lycra-style, whole-body camel coverings that are believed to enhance blood circulation and, perhaps, racing speed (although the fashions are now used only in training and transportation, to lessen camels’ “stress”). Ultimately, of course, the coverings may carry advertising. [New York Times, 12-26-2014] [7 Days in Dubai, 12-31-2014] The New Normal “It’s not fair! There is not justice in this country!” shouted the mother of Franklin Reyes, 17, in a New York City courtroom in January after a judge ordered the son tried for manslaughter as an adult. Reyes, an unlicensed driver fleeing a police traffic stop, had plowed into a 4-year girl, killing her, but had initially convinced the judge to treat him as a “youthful offender,” and Reyes’s mom was so enraged at the judge’s switch that she had to be escorted from the room. (After the judge’s generous “youthful offender” ruling, Reyes had violated his bail conditions by getting arrested three more times.) [New York Post, 1-15-2015] In Phoenix in early 2014, Kevin (last name withheld), age 5, was viciously mauled by “Mickey,” a pit bull, necessitating multiple surgeries, leaving him with lingering pain and disfiguring facial scars, and he still requires extensive care. While Kevin’s trauma makes him live in gloom, “Mickey” has become a Phoenix celebrity after a 75,000-strong outpouring of support kept him from being euthanized for the assault. He lives now in a “no-kill” shelter, where his many supporters can track him on a 24-hour Internet “Mickey cam.” KSAZ-TV reported in December that Kevin’s mom had to quit her job to care for him and struggles to pay medical bills. [KSAZ-TV (Phoenix), 12-11-2014] Great Art! In October, vandals in Paris destroyed the large, inflatable “Tree” by U.S. artist Paul McCarthy in the city’s Place Vendome square but not before it became widely characterized as a gigantic green “plug” of the type used for anal sexual stimulation. Paris’s news website The Local reported in December that the controversy has been a boon to the city’s sex shops. “We used to sell around 50 [plugs] a month,” said one wholesaler. “Since the controversy, we’ve moved more than a thousand” (at the equivalent of $23-$45, in materials ranging from glass to stainless steel to silicone). [The Local (Paris), 12-2-2014] Overthinking It: It was billed as the first-ever art exhibition expressly for non-human appreciation--specifically, for examination by octopuses. England’s Brighton Sea Life Centre featured the five-tank shared display in November (including a bunch of grapes, a piece of Swiss cheese, and a plate of spaghetti--exhibits made of ceramic, plastic, wood, and rope) that the Centre’s curator promised would, according to an ITV report, “stimulate an octopus’s natural curiosity about color, shape, and texture.” [Independent Television (London), 11-5-2014] Wait, What? The Territorial Seed Company of Cottage Grove, Ore., introduced a plant in 2014 that sprouts both tomatoes and potatoes—the aptly nicknamed “ketchup ’n’ fries” plant. Grafting (rather than genetic modification) splices the tomato onto potato woodstock (to create single plants capable of harvests of 500 red cherry tomatoes and 4.5 pounds of potatoes each). [The Oregonian (Portland), 12-30-2014] Jihadist Toddlers: Britain’s Home Office directed in January that the UK’s nursery school staffs report pupils “at risk of becoming terrorists” but gave little guidance on what teachers and managers should look for. According to a description of the directive in the Daily Telegraph, staffs must “have training that gives them the knowledge and confidence to identify children at risk of being drawn into terrorism and [must] challenge extreme ideas . . ..” [Daily Telegraph, 1-4-2015] Latest Rights “All I’m looking for is what’s rightfully owed to me under the [corrections department] contract,” said Westchester County (N.Y.) corrections officer Jesus Encarnacion, after having drawn $1.2 million in disability salary for the last 17 years as a result of slipping on a leaf of lettuce on a stairway. When he fell, he jammed his wrist, and several surgeries ensued, and when he was finally ready for “light duty” a few years ago, he re-injured the wrist on the first day and never returned. Encarnacion now seeks a full disability retirement from the state, but officials maintain that “disability retirement” is for injuries resulting only from the rigors of the job. [New York Post, 1-5-2015] The Opportunist When a dump truck and a municipal bus collided around 1 p.m. on January 5th in downtown Phoenix, it of course drew the attention of the passengers, bystanders, motorists, and nearby construction workers. According to a report in the Arizona Republic, an unidentified man then immediately seized the moment, ran out from some bushes to the center of the commotion, and flashed the crowd before running away. [Arizona Republic, 1-5-2015] Least Competent Criminals Not Quite Clever Enough: (1) Police quickly tracking two assault suspects in Holland Township, Mich., in December arrived at a residence at just the moment that suspect Codi Antoniello, 19, was starting to shave his head to alter his appearance. Antoniello’s now-Internet-famous mugshot shows him with a full head of hair, minus the perhaps-one-fourth on top shorn by electric clippers.[shown at the link] (2) When the wife of James Rivers, 57, of Kent, Wash., was about to bust him for his alleged child-porn collection in October, he shipped his laptop to a technician to have the hard drive erased--but with explicit instructions that if the techie encounters a “hidden” file, he must not look at the photos “under any circumstances.” (The techie, of course, found the file, looked, and notified authorities, and Rivers was arrested.) [WOOD-TV (Grand Rapids, Mich.), 12-19-2014] [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 10-16-2014] Recurring Themes (1) The most recent incident of a fire breaking out on the grounds of a crematorium occurred in December at the Innisvale Cemetery and Crematorium in Innisfil, Ontario. Firefighters put out the blaze and “rescued” the 15 dead bodies that were awaiting cremation. (2) When a small plane over Lake Taupo in New Zealand developed engine trouble in January, the pilot ordered evacuation, but fortunately, the six passengers were skydivers on a training mission and landed safely, even rigging the plane’s crew members to the divers’ own parachutes so that there were no casualties (except the plane). (Working skydivers also survived a November 2013 crash of two planes over Wisconsin by making an “unscheduled” jump.) [Toronto Star, 12-24-2015] [BBC News, 1-7-2015] A News of the Weird Classic (June 2011) The Belly Button Biodiversity project at North Carolina State University has begun examining the "faunal differences" in the microbial ecosystems of our navels, to foster understanding of the "tens of thousands" of organisms crawling around inside (almost all benign or even helpful). An 85-year-old man in North Carolina may have "very different navel life" than a 7-year-old girl in France, according to a May Raleigh News & Observer report. So far, only the organisms themselves and the host's demographics have been studied; other issues, such as variations by hairiness of navel, remain. [News & Observer, 5-9-2011] Thanks This Week to the News of the Weird Board of Editorial Advisors.
  • Peas mean something
    In 1904, this young lady was dismissed as "demented." Today she might be recognized as a great performance artist. Quietly entering the offices of various city officials this morning, a young lady about twenty-five years of age, neatly and attractively gowned in green, opened a paper bag of dried peas, threw a handful on the floor and left after making the statement, "Peas mean something." Later she went to the court house and repeated the act in the offices of Clerk of Courts Fred Badger and Sheriff M.J. Rounds. Oshkosh Daily Northwestern - Apr 12, 1904
  • Rudy Santos, Octoman
    Wikipedia page. Longer essay.
  • Follies of the Madmen #240
    "I'm so dumb I can't even pronounce 'aluminum!'"

The Inferior 4+1 is a Livejournal community maintained by Paul, lizhand, Paul Witcover, lucius-t and ljgoldstein.

Recent posts:

  • New Review at LOCUS ONLINE January 21, 2015
    A look at Moorcock's new novel:
  • New Review at the B&NR January 21, 2015
    I look at a great new slipstream novel:
  • New Review at LOCUS ONLINE January 16, 2015
    In the mood for some good urban fantasy?
  • New ON BOOKS Column January 15, 2015
    My new column at ASIMOV'S.
  • Translation Offer January 9, 2015
    I just read this post from Benjamin Rosenbaum, where he points out the unfair advantage English speakers have in selling stories, and offers to try to redress the balance a little by translating stories from German to English.  Since he wrote the post nearly a year ago it's probably pointless to make any comments at his blog, so I thought I'd talk about what he said here.Says Rosenbaum, "I'd like to see more authors do this. I'd like to see us in the English speaking world make translation a regular part of our literary practice, the way it is for authors most other places. It's interesting, it's invigorating, and it's only right. You don't have to be a specialized translator. You could just do one a year. Why not?"So -- I would love to translate a short story from Spanish into English.  Like Rosenbaum, I would do this on spec, and only worry about money if the author manages to sell the story.  He suggests 25% for the translator if the story is sold, which sounds about right. Unlike Rosenbaum, though, I don't want to try to sell the story to an English market -- the author would be responsible for selling it him- or herself.  Now that most submissions can be sent by email from anywhere in the world this doesn't seem like too much of a hardship for writers from other countries.  And of course I'd be happy to make suggestions about where to send it.Rosenbaum seems to have thought about this a lot.  I can't improve on his list of what he wants from a non-Anglophone writer, so I'll just repeat it here (slightly abridged):If you are an author from the non-Anglophone world:    •    Find a story you think we should translate.    •    The story must be under 7000 words and previously published in a significant market.    •    You should specifically think that it is a fit for me because of what I write, rather than just "hey I heard there's a guy who will translate stuff on spec."    •    Contact me here, and tell me:    ◦    about the story in brief    ◦    where it was previously published    ◦    how to contact you.One more reason I'd like to do this -- I'm really curious about the kinds of stories that are being written in the Spanish-speaking world these days, and would love to see what's out there.
  • Wonderbook and the Seven Point Plot Outline January 6, 2015
    I've been reading Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer and came across this sentence, talking about the trend for "efficient" methods to spark creativity:"In the worst creative writing books, this method is expressed in seven-point plot outlines and other easy shortcuts…"  And a side-note explains the seven-point plot outline: "A simple try-fail structure… that has become a paint-by-numbers approach."I was very cheered by this, for reasons that go back nearly twenty-five years.  In 1992 I taught for a week at Clarion.  I'd read the students' submission stories before coming out to teach, and I was pleasantly surprised by the number of good writers they'd managed to attract.  (This doesn't happen every year, believe me.)  So I was very puzzled when I started reading the stories they'd written for my week.  Not that they were terrible, but there was something missing, or something twisted out of true, about most of them.It took a while, but I finally found out what was going on.  The people who had taught the week before had pushed the seven point plot outline.  I'm going to introduce you to the mysteries of the outline, but if you're a writer, I want to beg you not to use it.  The reasons for this will become apparent shortly…The seven point plot outline states that a story consists of 1) a setting and 2) a character, who has 3) a problem.  The character 4) tries and 5) fails to solve this problem.  (4 and 5 can be repeated any number of times.)  Finally, the character 6) solves the problem, and 7) gets their reward.So the stories I got that week consisted of a character trying and failing to solve a problem.  There was no rising tension, no sense of the stakes continually increasing.  And the characters and setting were wildly divergent, to the point where you wondered just what the hell that person was doing in that place.  It was almost as if the writers had chosen their settings and characters at random -- and I later found out that some of them had done just that.It was, as Jeff says, a paint-by-numbers approach to writing.  According to the plot outline, you could write a story about a drunk coming home and trying to fit his key into the lock.  He tries and fails and tries and fails until he finally manages to open the door.  And his reward, I guess, is that he gets to sleep in his own bed.Worst of all, there was no imagination in these stories, no creativity, no joy of discovery. None of those exhilarating moments when you reach for something strange or terrible or beautiful, and discover you've written a story that surprises even you.But I didn't say anything to the class.  I didn't condemn the plot outline.  I had a sense that being professional meant not arguing with another teacher, that the students would go home with everything they had learned and sort it all out and then decide what worked best for them.  I did mention rising tension, and I pointed out a few places where it could have been used.  There was one story where the character and setting meshed beautifully, where the story existed as a perfect and harmonious whole, and I could have used it as a counter-example, but I never did.  I still feel guilty about that.Jeff VanderMeer was in that class -- and you can get a sense of how good the writers were that he was just one of the students who stood out by the quality of his writing, and not the only one.  And now, over twenty years later, I find out that he, at least, had caught on to how pernicious this approach is.  So -- thank you, Jeff.  I can't tell you how heartened I am by this.