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The Ogre's Den image
Picture of Piers doing archery
JeJune 2001
I remember one of the old radio shows, circa 1940's when TV did not exist. Boy was grouching about his teacher, Picklepuss. Then Dad got a call from that teacher, complaining about Boy. Her name turned out to be Miss Whitebody. There ensued Dad's side of a hilarious dialogue, when in his distraction he said things like "Oh, Miss Pick--I mean, Whitebody. So nice to hear from you. Yes, I'll see that Boy does his homework, Miss Whitepuss. Thank you so much for calling, Miss Picklebody." Well, parts of this column may read like that. You see, this is my first HiPiers column done on my Linux system, so my attention is divided. I have much to say on that, by no means fully positive, but first an important note: The sequel to my autobiography, How Precious Was that While will be published in another month. It skims over the early years and focuses on other things; readers may take it or leave it, as they choose. But again, I want to hear from any who contributed to it, so I can send them copies. It has been several years since I wrote it, and I am out of touch with many of these folk, so don't have their current addresses. So if you contributed, or know someone who did, let me know. Most of the poems in Chapter 5 are presented anonymously, for the contributor's privacy, but I know who they are and they know who they are, so when I hear from a valid one, gives a free autographed hardcover copy. That volume was a monster to get in shape, because much is said that may raise hackles--you know me, I take ogre pride in not mincing many words--and the publisher had it vetted to be sure no one could sue and win. That is, if someone is a sorry fart and you say so in print, he's liable to sue, and if you then prove that he is a sorry fart, he doesn't win. But it is better never to be sued. Worse, many contributors are anonymous because they don't want their families and acquaintances to know what they have written. That is, if a girl was incestuously abused by her father, and wrote a poem about it, and her father saw that poem, she might not survive his ire. Hell has no fury like that of a wrongdoer exposed. But the age of consent requires that children be protected, and so they can't legally give consent for their work to be published. Consent must be given by a parent or guardian. What abuser is going to give consent for the publication of a poem exposing his abuse? I had consent, but it wasn't legal because the contributor was beneath the age of consent, and no way could legal consent be given. I wouldn't even give the publisher the names of the contributors, because I am protecting their privacy. So this was a sticky one. We compromised; I gave the lawyer the names, and he will not reveal them. I documented the consents they had given. In many cases the elapsed time moved them up over the age of consent, so they could now give it--but I had lost touch. I reached all those I could, and had to excerpt or delete others, to my regret. But I still want them to have their copies if this is possible. Fortunately the author of the most savage and beautiful poem, "I Knew to be a Woman," was of age when she sent it to me, so that one was not at risk. I suspect there will be requests for reprinting rights for that one, and I'll relay any such requests to the author, who may then reveal herself (as it were) and give permission if she chooses to. The same goes for the others. I don't own these poems, I'm merely publishing them; the rights belong to the anonymous authors. I'll be delighted if some of them subsequently choose to become known, but I won't reveal their identities without their specific permissions. I will relay reader comments to the authors, if I have the current addresses. This project has been most of a decade in the making and publishing.

Our garbage garden continues, producing small potatoes and full sized squash. About 25 squash plants came up from seeds, but there was a rapid winnowing because of frost, and only six survived, but they have done well enough. Why does this remind me of aspiring writers and publishing? Now they are dying back; I think the Florida heat is too much for them. We harvested 5 squash ranging from six ounces to a pound. I'm a vegetarian because I don't like to hurt animals, but I also don't like to hurt plants; I like it when we eat something meant to be eaten, like fruit (a squash is a fruit in this respect), and then help the seeds to renew the cycle. We are cooperating with nature.

Then there's the drought. We had good rain in Marsh, but then the dryness socked back in, pushing Florida drought records, and now there is 60,000 acre fire in north Florida and smaller ones elsewhere. We get their smoke. We fear fire on our tree farm; the drought has killed so many trees that the forest has become a tinderbox with much deadwood both standing and fallen. We had been protected, because our property is a peninsula in Lake Tsoda Popka, three quarters surrounded by water. But now that water is gone, and the peat will burn. One idiot with a careless illegal campfire, one strike of lightning, one damned arsonist, and we're in dire trouble. I have learned a real respect for drought, in recent years; it's quiet, but it's a killer. We economize on personal water; we salvage what waste water we can to dump on our grass and shrubs, and dip from the pool, which has become a cistern, in addition. Rain fills it, and between rains it lasts a good long time. We don't flush toilets for liquids, only solids, and the cold water we have to run before the hot water reaches the tap we save in jugs that we use to replenish the bird baths. And the birds do appreciate that; we now provide the only reliable water in this square mile, and we get the small birds and the big birds: owls, hawks, the piliated woodpecker, even a giant wild turkey hen who takes dust baths and drinks from the water bath. When we get rain, we don't see the big birds for a few days. No, we haven't seen any harpies or rocs. Yet. But if the drought gets worse...

Speaking of birds: Remember the Bird Maiden? She's a character in the Arabian Night's fantasy I adapted, Hasan, a princess who can don a feather suit and fly away. When I heard from a correspondent who cared for injured raptors--birds of prey--and released them back to the wild, I dubbed her the Bird Maiden, and mentioned her in the Author's Note in a later edition of ,Hasan. Well, she put on her wings, so to speak, and flew to Germany where she married her "Hasan," more or less per the novel's story. Now she has brought her family back to America, and I received a fan letter from her 12/13 year old daughter, who had of course read Hasan. How time flies! I suggested to her that since her mother was the Bird Maiden, the daughter must be a chick.

And speaking of chicks: Carroll and Lina Wren nested in the old target box I had never disposed of, produced five eggs, and all of them hatched into chicks who soon grew up and flew away. The complete cycle was about two months. Last year they nested in our pool enclosure, and one of the chicks drowned in the pool; ouch! But now they are setting up for their second nesting of the season, back in the pool enclosure. Sigh. They are bold little birds, and we like them, but that pool is dangerous to chicks. We have put stray bits of furniture around the site so that the dog can't reach it, but we'll be nervous when the chicks take flight. If I see one fall in the pool, I'll rescue it with a net, but these things typically happen when we aren't watching.

So what am I doing these days as a writer? I've been editing old novels, such as Mute and the collaborative Jason Striker martial arts series. The sixth novel in that series was never completed, because a new editor came in and cut off the series. This is what new editors do; they kill off all the progeny of the old editors so that all the slots are taken by their own choices, and to hell with the welfare of the publishers, writers, or readers. It's a temporary fiefdom. In this case there was more to the story; as a science fiction fan the man had written a review implying a racist motive in my fiction, and I called him the ass he was, and then he became a pro editor and blacklisted me for years. See my comment above about wrongdoers exposed. Until he lost his job because he hadn't been able to develop best selling authors like Piers Anthony. Yes, I was named by the one who fired him, who did not know about the blacklisting. Delicious irony. But the damage he did remained. So now I have typed that half-novel and summary into the computer, and that, too, will be published at Xlibris, in due course, together with other unpublished collaborative projects I did with Roberto Fuentes. I plan to keep going until all my old novels are available again. The only one I haven't planned to put into print is my first, The Unstilled World, because it is not up to snuff, and out of the blue collaborator Ron Leming asked to look at that, with an eye to reworking it his way. So I sent him some of it, and we'll see. Years ago I reworked part of it myself, and that became the first part of Battle Circle. My writing projects are like my children; I never really forget them. A story I had not been able to sell in 25 years became the first chapter of my collaboration with Philip Jóse Farmer, The Caterpillar's Question; that's an example. So my advice to those who have tried to crack the paying market and failed is don't give up, just wait a while, and see what you can do with those pieces years later.

Actually, I am putting some original novels at Xlibris too, like Volk and Realty Check, when I can't get them published traditionally. Well, now Reality Check is getting traditionally published, by small press WRITE WAY; I think that's scheduled for SapTimber in paperback. So I'm taking it off at Xlibris; publishers don't like that kind of competition. And here's something else publishers don't like, and I agree with them: some turd pirated eighteen of my Xanth novels and posted them on the Internet. Harlan Ellison has been having trouble with Internet pirating of his stories; I contributed to his legal fund, because this is a fight that needs to be fought and he should not have to bear the burden alone. So now it has become my business in a more personal way. I never much liked the Napster-enabled thefts of music, and sure enough, written fiction is the next target. Readers have told me that another site is pirating the BATTLE CIRCLE novels, but all it gives us is error messages to we can't verify. Still, I appreciate such reports from readers; they represent my spy corps, protecting me from some dastardly deeds. Meanwhile, any who want to contribute to the Ellison effort can make checks payable to "Law Office of M Christine Valada" and mail to Kick Internet Piracy, PO Box 55935, Sherman Oaks CA 91413. For those who protest that taking such material isn't wrong because it isn't resold, I suggest you try that line of reasoning on your local grocery store when you steal and eat its produce, or on your friendly car dealer when you sneak a vehicle out for a joyride that wrecks it. Writers, like other workers, earn their living by what they produce, and if their market is gutted by those who take it without paying, they will go broke and have to turn to ditch digging or hog farming instead. Don't destroy the livelihood of artists, musicians, or writers merely because the Internet makes it easier to steal their efforts. Some day you may be a writer; it behooves you to help that market to continue. If you don't like to pay for things, USE THE PUBLIC LIBRARY.

And I wrote a 13,000 word sample and summary of a children's novel, Tortoise Reform, because publishers said they wanted children's material from me. In my experience, if there's one thing an editor will bounce, is what he sees when a writer shows him exactly what he asked for. But I decided to give it a try, and we'll see. This novel features five Florida animals and a ten year old girl who is isolated from her family. So what makes it fantasy? It's that the animals are telepathic, and teach it to the girl. The title character is Gopher Tortoise, who lives in the burrow he dug, and shares it with several other animals including an owl. This is the way it is in Florida; gopher tortoises really do live underground, and share with other creatures. They are what is called a keystone species, one that enables many others to survive. But in the neighboring realm, it is the animals who are smart and the human beings who are dull beasts of burden. The animals are amazed and not thrilled to discover a realm where the natural order is inverted, and humans are smart. The girl, being sensible, rather prefers the telepathic animals to human beings. Wouldn't you? With telepathy there is complete understanding without deceit; the little owl will ride companionably on her shoulder, chatting mentally. The indigo snake associates similarly, and the armadillo and rabbit. Burrow mates are like family; a predator does not prey on a burrow mate, and will protect him from other predators. They look out for each other, each contributing his skills to the group. Contrast that with the way we non-telepathic humans treat each other and animals. Yes, I suppose there is an environmental and social aspect here; I regard it as better for children than the mindless violence they see in other fiction. So maybe it will bounce.

And speaking of fantasy, I read a novel by a known writer, to be published under a pen name. As with me and my frivolous fantasy, he doesn't want to be purely typed by his commercial material, so he does some more substantial books too, which of course publishers resist. This one is serious historical biographical science fantasy, Nemo, about a close friend of Jules Verne who has the adventures Verne could only dream and write about. So it is Nemo who discovers the land of dinosaurs inside our globe, who makes a historic balloon flight across Africa, and who builds a sub-marine (a ship that actually goes under the water, would you believe) and travels, let me strain my memory, something like twenty thousand leagues under the sea. How Verne envies him! It doesn't help that they both love the same woman, but she loves only Captain Nemo. Nemo will be published next Jamboree.

My wife was tested and found to have high blood pressure, so had to go on medication to lower it. So she bought a sphygmomanometer, which is the proper six bit name for a blood pressure tester. You know, the kind where you wrap a band around your upper arm, and pump up air pressure until it cuts off your circulation, then let the air slowly leak out while it records the pressures when your blood starts flowing, Systolic, and relaxes, Diastolic. High and low. So I, being a curious character, tried it on my arm. We have been learning about blood pressure. It seems that when a person is young and healthy, at age 20, his pressure is normally around 120/80, high and low. But as he ages his blood vessels stiffen up and get clogged, and his normally pressure rises to 140/90 at age 65. If it's higher, beware; it is said that high blood pressure has no symptoms, unless you count sudden death as a symptom. My wife runs about 145/95, but then the medication drops each by about 10, putting her back in the normal range. So what about me? I'm 66, going on 67. Well, my typical readings are 115/65, with a pulse rate in the 60's. Right--I'm off scale low for my age. It does vary; when I tried it right after running a mile an a half, it was about 150/70, pulse 99, and when I'm getting sleepy from reading it is more like 105/55, pulse 55. I do lead a healthy life, with diet and exercise and a generally low-stress profession, but probably it's just that I'm a low-pressure type. So now you know: ogres have low blood pressure. It's all the others they encounter who have high pressure. Can't think why. But of course ogres are not noted for their wit.

Last year I commented on the iodine test I had read about. Paint a swatch of 2% iodine on your arm, and if it remains visible less than 24 hours, you're short of iodine and your body is absorbing it. Iodine is needed by the thyroid glad, which relates to metabolism, possibly accounting for my chronic fatigue. I tried it, and my stain was gone in under six hours. So I went to the doctor, in the process acquiring a new primary physician, and my blood did test low on thyroid stimulating hormone, so now I'm on medication for that. The effect was slight but beneficial; I seem to have a little more energy, and am no longer depressive. But my fatigue remains. So now, a year later, I'm trying the iodine test again, painting a swatch on my arm every morning. I suspect this business is nonsense, but it's easy to do, and in the off chance it could help me, worth trying. Well, I've been more than swatching three weeks now, and discovered that the time does extend--but only if I paint the same place each time. When I paint a new place, it fades as fast as ever. When I overlapped an old place by 50%, the new section faded rapidly, leaving the old place with a half circle stain. So it's the local skin that gets saturated, not the body as a whole. Also, exercise speeds it up; I can lose the swatch in one hour on a running day. There has been no slowing of new-territory stains, and I have felt no systemic effects. So I think it is nonsense, but will keep trying. If anyone else tries the iodine regime, I'd be interested in hearing about your results.

Which reminds me deviously of politics. No, I'm not going to hash over the last election yet again. It's that I lived in the state of Vermont, the Green Mountain State, in my youth, and have always respected its cleanness and beauty; it has traditionally had superior politicians, compared to the jerks some other states produce. Now Vermont has done it again: the decision of its Republican senator to go independent has thrown controlling power in the Senate to the Democrats and doomed much of President Bush's agenda, especially with respect to packing the Supreme Court with lunatic fringe conservatives. Amazing. I wonder whether W and the prior Senate leadership now wish they hadn't openly snubbed Senator Jeffords and ignored his preferences? Nah. It is said that pride goeth before a fall; I think that's a mistranslation, and that it is arrogance that goes before a fall. There is a lesson that politicians need to learn: it is dangerous to try to push around a senator; like an ogre, he may push back, and you will feel the impact.

A number of readers wrote in to explain the movie Cast Away to me. What was interesting was that they had different explanations. Here's the one I think is most accurate: one FedEx package had a design of wings on it, and that symbolism impressed our hero, who would have loved to fly from that isle. So he did not open it, but saved it, and replicated the design on the cave wall, and later on his makeshift sail boat. When he finally did escape, he returned that package to its sender, whom he will likely marry in due course. Meanwhile we saw another movie, The Mummy Returns. Sure it was junk, but my kind of junk, with phenomenal and continuous effects; I don't think I have seen a movie with more. The plot was so convoluted and complicated as to become meaningless; it was like riding a roller coaster through a horror house, seeing the action without comprehending its meaning, if there was any. Movie makers don't seem to understand why a story should have a plot and theme; they seem to regard those as inessential ornaments. If writers ruled the world, movies would have clearer story lines, and stand improved. But for reasons that escape me, God did not see fit to let writers rule the world. Maybe God should watch more movies, to see the need.

The rear tire on my RowBike sprang a slow leak, so I took if off and patched it. The rubber cement had evaporated over the years, so what looked like a full tube had become all air and a bit of jelly. I used that, uncertain whether it would work, and was in luck: now the tire takes a week to soften, instead of a day. So I dug out my old foot-pedal bicycle pump and use it to inflate the tire once a week. I'm satisfied that in my dotage I have not entirely lost one skill of youth, patching a tire. When World War Three destroys civilization, that skill may serve me well.

When proofreading the galleys for How Precious Was that While I saw a comment: "What is the nature of ultimate reality? Self does not exist." It was an offhand remark, not intended seriously, but now I wonder. Maybe it's true. I regard self as like a candle flame; each burning candle seems individual, but without the flame it is dead matter; it's the flame that makes it functional. And that flame typically comes from elsewhere--a match, a firebrand, another candle, a lightning strike, whatever. Think of the fire as the animation, life, and the candle as the substance, the body. Maybe the flame is the soul. Yet one match can light several candles, so the fire is not unique; it's just a process. So if it is the self, it has no individuality; it's the same as the flames of all the other candles, or of a cigarette lighter, or a forest fire; the fuel makes all the difference, but the fuel is just matter. So in the sense of being individual, distinct, unique, meaningful--all the things we value in ourselves--self really does not exist. Merely the illusion of it. Is this ultimate reality? I hesitate to decide, lest I softly and silently fade away.

My wife and I are getting on in years; Jejune 23 will be our 45th anniversary. In Mayhem she and Daughter #2 Cheryl the newspaper woman had birthdays, so we all went out for dinner at the local Pizza Hut. We obviously lack the imagination for serious celebration. I took the one plate salad bar and piled on lettuce, tomato, potato salad, onion rings and such. Then there was no place left for chocolate pudding, so I piled that on top. With the one plate special you can't go back for dessert; you have to do it in one swell foop. So now I can report that raw onion covered with chocolate pudding is edible. Try it, you might like it too. Maybe we can start a new gastronomic trend: ogre food.

I discourage visits by readers, because there are more of them than I can accommodate, but I'll mention one: Red, from the Philippines. I was glad to see her, and not just because she's one cute girl. I have corresponded with Red and her twin sister Zai for years, and passed the Filipino stamps on to my stamp collecting prisoner. In my ogreish ignorance I tend to imagine the Philippines as a global backwater, but Red speaks English as well as I do and is knowledgeable about the world. She brought me many little gifts, which she did not have to do, such as native cloth, a model Jeepney vehicle, and a journal whose native paper pages smell of asphalt. I'm not sure I want to spoil it by actually writing in it. Maybe I'll just smell the paper and think of her. No, she doesn't smell of asphalt.

Now the continuing Linux story. Remember, each word processor I tried had some problem, such as pieing my keyboard or locking up the system, and without a word processor I'm nowhere. So Tim Jones the Linux man came back to the rescue, with wife Andrea, my fan, she of the incredibly convoluted paper folding. One day she may fold a paper spaceship and fly to Venus. My main hope at that point was Applix, but its setup screen went off my screen so I couldn't fill in the forms, and I didn't know how to make it fit, so couldn't install it. Of course it would be easy for Tim to accomplish; balky programs don't balk when they feel a master's touch. All he needed to do was resize the screen. Well, this time the system blundered, sort of like Senate Republicans, and gave him a hard time. In fact when he resized the screen it locked up repeatedly so he couldn't get anywhere. Obviously it thought I was still at the helm. It certainly chose the wrong time to misbehave. Tim pondered, and concluded that there was a bad video card. So he called the local computer store, and then took the card out, and the store exchanged it for a different make of card, no questions asked. He put that in, and sure enough, the lockups were gone; the genie had been bottled. Applix installed, no problem. On intuition, I tried calling up StarOffice, the lockup champion--and it too had been muzzled, and no longer locked up. That meant that I could give it a real try, too. And Tim also installed KDE2, which unlike the KDE1 I had had has its own word processor. So now I had three (3) word processors to try. From drought to flood, just like that.

So I tried all three. Linux enables multiple Desktops, so I set up one word processor per desktop and jumped back and forth between them, comparing features. And I discovered that Applix and KDE's Words were midgets compared to the StarOffice Writer. For example, all three programs claim to provide the number of words in a document, the word-count, but Applix's isn't there and KDE's doesn't work. Writer has it and does it write, I mean right, except for one peculiarity: you have to make a special request to get the number of lines in a document. Pages, paragraphs, characters, words you can have, but lines you must ask for. Since commercial fiction is calculated by lines, that puts me to extra nuisance. Still, you can do it. KDE has a speller, but it simply flashes on and off the screen without doing anything; you can't actually use it. I seldom cease to be bemused by programs that the proprietors have obviously never tried to use themselves before shipping them out; you'd think a user test would be mandatory. Writer is also the only one that offers the overstrike option. I, as a converted manual typewriter user, normally use overstrike mode; I never heard of this business of typing a letter and having all the letters beyond it move out of the way, and don't quite trust it. Sometimes they push all the way off the screen, heading for who knows what horrendous fate. Writer was also the only one that offered the date/time feature; I normally date my material as I go, and I hit the time button each time I make a frequent entry in my ongoing personal journal, or when the phone rings, so I know how long I have been wrested away from my work. So again, if I wanted that, Writer was the only one. Another feature I use is the glossary, also called autotext; you know, the feature that enables you to type one word or even one letter, and it puts a whole sentence or paragraph on. KDE doesn't have it. Applix has it, and it works, but there is no shortcut to use it; you have to stair-step each time through the menu. Writer has it with shortcuts. In fact, Writer gives evidence of having been broken in by real-life users, which helps a lot. So when I toted up the scores based on five sample functions, KDE had 0, Applix had 2, and StarOffice Writer had 5. I had found my word processor where I least expected it. Thus my eighth word processor, and my fourth operating system. (I had 3 word processors on CP/M, 2 on DOS, 1 on Windows, and here on Linux I tried WordPerfect before StarOffice. I count only the ones I actually used for a month or more, and wrote novel text on.)

But like a marriage, all was not necessarily well after the wedding. On Mayhem 1 I officially moved to Linux and Writer, writing Tortoise Reform. You don't really know a marriage partner until you've shared the bathroom and heard him/her snore, and you don't know a word processor until you have done some significant writing with it. We are in Daylight Saving Time now, so I advanced the Linux clock an hour. It doesn't hold; each session it reverts to the old hour and minute, and I have to set it again to get accurate time. KDE SEEMS TO BE AN INTERFACE, between Linux and the application, so I go through it to make changes. With KDE1 I HAVE MY CHOICE OF SCREEN SAVERS, BUT IT Doesn't allow my monitor to "sleep" when there is a long pause, so that nice power-saving feature is lost. KDE2 goes it one better, denying me both saver and sleep; it teasingly lists screen savers, and you can choose among them, but I have found no way to actually activate one; it Does not give you that choice. That's Like the "Oh, you mean you want the wheels with that new car?" comment by the salesman. Yes, I do expect the wheels with it. KDE2 also lacks the KPPP DIALER I USE TO FETCH MY EMAIL WITH, SO TO GET EMAIL or go online I HAVE TO SHUT DOWN KDE2 AND START UP old KDE1. KDE2 may have some nice features, but I can't use it, because its programers have shut down those features I need. I sometimes wonder whether programmers actually have brains. Writer has nice macro capacity with key assignments, which is not mentioned in the manual, not even in the index (maybe that programmer was out to lunch when they wrote the manual?) and I like it. But it doesn't hold either. It says you can save your settings, and I try, but they don't save, and I have to reset them each session. That's a nuisance. In addition, while writing this column, Writer somehow got locked on "no capitals"; I went to the dialogue box and reset it, but it automatically reverts to that, preventing me from having any capitals at all, and no apparent way to fix it. So parts of this column are uncapitilized when they should be, because the program refused to let me capitalize, as you can see with the text above. That gets old in a hurry. Also while writing this column I called up Writer, set my macros--and when I invoked the date, I got a message that the program had committed an irrecoverable error and would be shut down. And then it shut down, and I had to start over. You know, I didn't need to leave MS Word to get that kind of treatment. Also while on this column, I finished my day, invoked the Linux logout/shutdown process--and it locked up, and I had to crash it to shut down. That meant a five minute reconstitution next morning. So Linux isn't better than Windows in this respect. SOS = Same Old Shit. Maybe they're farming it out to the same programmers. In addition, Writer appears to have no paragraph to paragraph cursor jump; where MS Word has that, Writer has the switch-paragraph-places command. So when I try to travel to the next paragraph, when editing, instead I scramble my paragraphs. That's disconcerting and perhaps dangerous. A column like this is more or less random anyway, but a novel is quite another matter. Evidently this program was not crafted for serious paragraph-oriented writers. I like to have color; with Windows and Word I have a purple background with green print, that prints out black and white. (There seems to be no color in the bleak world of publishers.) But when I print from Writer, that background color prints as a shade of gray, obscuring my text. So I have to use straight dull black and white onscreen, which makes me feel as if I am in an empty house. And printing is a real chore. I can't print at all with straight Linux now; I switched out to my good monitor and printer, and Linux insists on printing the first half of each page on the bottom half of the page, and skipping the rest, so I have a series of half pages of text or email. Maybe I'm too choosy, but I find that unsatisfactory. StarOffice has its own printing setup, bypassing Linux (I think I have a notion why) and it works--but it takes more than one minute a page, and if I have too full a page it overflows and prints the last few lines a minute later on the bottom of the following sheet. I don't think my publishers would like that type of manuscript. My printer normally does ten pages a minute, so it is hobbled to one tenth speed. I am faced with the prospect of an all-day printing for a novel, instead of an hour. I think StarOffice is sending a picture rather than type to the printer, and that takes more time. But all I use is type. I found no option to change it; like Windows, it knows what you really need, and denies you that. So when I printed out 50+ pages of Tortoise I had to translate it to Word, copy it to disk, take disk to my other system and run it off at speed with Windows. I don't think StarOffice is being smart about this; how long will it take the average user to realize that he might as well do the whole thing on Word/Windows?

So I have Miss Universe in bed, as it were, but I am discovering warts on her bottom. She does perform in her fashion, but I am not quite satisfied. At the moment I am busy getting this column done, but next month I'll see about checking the StarOffice web site and asking some (pointed) questions. If they have suitable answers, fine, I'll fix the problems, because I do like StarOffice/Writer when I'm not resetting macros, traveling between paragraphs, or printing. For one thing, it (and the other Linux word processors) shows me the "saved" status of my files; when I wrote to Macrohard long ago I said I saw no legitimate reason to conceal that information from the user. (There's plenty else they conceal; it's their nature. You think you have privacy? If you only knew...) The company did not answer, which was at least consistent. But if StarOffice says in effect tough turds, you'll print our way or none, I will have to do some serious thinking about my options, despite the considerable time, effort, and money I have put into my conversion to Linux. I do have a business to run; I'm not into Linux for the joy of solving random puzzles or spending all day slaving over a hot printer. I need a program that works without hassle and conforms to my needs, rather than requiring me to conform to its whimsies. Meanwhile, my advice to those who are considering dumping Windows in favor of Linux is don't do it yet; it's not ready for serious users. Microsoft may be an old bitch, but she damn well knows how to run the household, and even Miss Universe can't make it on mere sex appeal.

So what else is new for this grumpy old ogre? Ends and odds. Daughter #1 Penny sent us four potted azaleas. There were bare stems, but soon they flowered beautifully. Then three of them put out leaves, but one did not. Is it delayed, or dead? We fear the worst. No, I don't think it died because I breathed on it.

I had an interesting question from Beverly Kemp, a freshman at the University of Texas. Her paper concerned the atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair, and her question was if Ms O'Hair or any atheist accepts God's forgiveness the second before she dies, will she go to heaven? Her class was equally divided, with some saying that Ms O'Hair's getting prayer thrown out of our schools meant she would be denied heaven regardless, so Beverly wrote to me. Here is my answer: "Now this is interesting: you are writing to an agnostic to ask whether a reformed atheist would go to heaven. As an agnostic I am officially neutral on internal matters of religion--that is, the doctrines or beliefs of any of the world's religions--but not neutral on external matters, such as whether there should be separation of church and state. I feel that any person should believe as he or she wishes, and all religions are similarly valid on their own terms, but that there should be no state sanctioned religion. I feel that Madalyn O'Hair was correct in challenging prayer in the schools, and the US court system agreed. One thing many Christians, including half your class, do not seem to realize is that the USA is not a Christian nation; it is a nation the majority of whose citizens happen to be Christians. That's a vital distinction. The majority of citizens also happen to be female, but neither is this a female nation. There are limits on the power of the majority; it must not try to force the minority to become identical to the majority. (How would you like America without men?) So if she accepted God the instant before she was murdered, did she go to heaven? Yes, if it exists. She did what she felt was right all her life, and God would understand and appreciate that, and know that her conversion was honest, and would accept her. Jesus preached forgiveness, not punishment. But I doubt that she did change her mind at the end."

And how many non-forgiving "Christians" are going to curse me for that reasonable statement? There will surely be a follow-up report next time. In a related connection, I received one of those million copy distribution emails presenting a supposedly true religious story: An atheist professor at USC (that implies Southern California) had a course whose whole purpose was to prove that God couldn't exist. His students were afraid to argue with him because of his reputation and logic. The finale was when he dropped a piece of chalk to the floor, saying that if God existed, he could prevent the chalk from breaking. Each year the chalk did break. Until after 20 years a student had the nerve to stand up, because he still believed in God. The professor called him a fool and dropped the chalk--which rolled down his pants, off his shoe, and did not break. The professor ran away and the student took over the class and spoke of God and Jesus. The story ends saying the reader has 2 choices: delete the email, or pass it along to others, encouraging their faith. No; I have never been one for accepting artificially defined either/or choices; truth is normally a shade of gray or a section of a continuum. I present another option, as an agnostic, pointing out that if God exists, he surely has better things to do than perform at the behest of an arrogant professor, in the manner of a trained dog. The chalk normally falls and breaks because it follows the rules of the universe that God made. That is not disproof of God, but vindication of his law. Satan would be the one to break those rules, not God. So the chalk proves nothing other than the foolishness of the professor, and the students who believe him. The jury is still out on God. So this is a fake message. It reminds me of another that I object to: a father offered his sons, upon graduation, a choice of two gifts. One was a fancy new car, the other a Bible. Each son took the car, except the last, who being of religious bent, took the Bible. Then when he opened it, he found the pages interleaved with thousand dollar bills, worth far more in all than the car. My objection is that this suggests that it was worth taking the Bible FOR THE MONEY. That's not much of a vindication of faith. And who is to say that there's not a Bible in the car's glove compartment? Or that the other sons did not already have Bibles, so did not need another? I'm agnostic, but I have a small collection of Bibles and other holy books. The Book of Mormon, for example, can make fascinating reading, and the Koran. The whole story falls apart when examined, and I suspect that the Pope himself would object to this story for much the same reason I do. A person of faith does not have to be deficient in logic, nor does he need money to justify his belief. Or a miracle.

The Spring 2001 issue of AMERICAN WRITER, the journal of the National Writers Union, NWU, has an article by Greg Raver Lampman. He remarks that not even successful mid-list authors make a living wage today. Even if their books are on sale at superstores, there is no real promotion, so they languish. Many authors maintain web sites advertising their books. HiPiers.com is technically such a site, though I regard it more as a service to my readers than an effort to make them buy my titles. When a customer wants to buy a book, he can click on an order button and find himself at Amazon.com where he can purchase it. Not at HiPiers; we made it a point not to tie in that way. But elsewhere, yes. But when that happens, the author gets little if anything from the sale. If the author tries to sell his/her own books, the expenses of credit card business and such may make for a loss. I have been that route; I lost a lot. So NWU is presenting the notion of an author's co-op, where an order for a book is handled by the co-op for the author, who gets a significant share of the sale. That would be a vast improvement for the author. So this is a notion worth pursuing, and if it gets anywhere, I may join.

My mail is a two-faced thing. On the one hand I resent the time it takes from my writing; if any successful writer takes more time for his fan mail than I do, I'd be surprised. On the other, individual letters and correspondents can be a delight. For example, there's Lisa, a young, sometimes depressive mother, who sends me old fashioned pin-up cards, a series of lovely young women whose skirts somehow accidentally get lifted to show their excellent thighs and sometimes even (blush) panties. One showed a girl whose picnic lunch had spilled catsup on her dress, and as she lifted it to inspect the damage she showed her marvelous legs. Another had a girl at a construction site, and a sky hook had caught on the back of her skirt, hauling it up. One was boarding a bus, and her panties had fallen around her ankles while the wind blew up her skirt, astounding the driver; how was she going to pick up her dropped purse, when she had a bag of groceries to hold? Those shapely young women get into the darndest picklements. During this column one arrived showing girl in yellow dress, evidently practicing archery (in high heels, yet); while she is pulling one arrow from the target, another arrow has somehow caught on her dress, drawing her skirt up past her bottom, exposing the world's finest legs. This may set off some feminists, who seem to think that sexual interest is demeaning to women, but I love such pictures. There's Dawn, who sent her picture of a centaur filly, with fantasy's most outstanding breasts and a lovely flowing head of hair. Other readers have notified me of the pirating of my novels on the Internet, providing enough information so that my agent's lawyer can get on the case. And of course there's the constant "egoboo" with readers claiming that I am the finest writer who ever existed. They may exaggerate the case slightly, but I can live with it. And once in a while a cri-tic sneaks in. Once I was asked to describe the things I would take with me if I knew I would be stranded on a deserted isle; one of the things was to be something no use whatsoever. I pondered, then filled in "a critic." For all that in real life, serious criticism is a noble and necessary trade; I just hate to see it spoiled by those who have mindless spot agendas that masquerade as legitimate criticism. Those are the ones I'm really condemning.

A company gave me a trial subscription to YAHOO! magazine. It wasn't bad, with a lot of information for Internet denizens, but I am really not one of those, so finally I dropped it. But it did have one excellent article on Internet pornography, which made a significant point: we are now amidst an involuntary experiment to discover whether exposure to highly erotic material really can damage young folk. Because it is available on the Internet in quantity and quality never before experienced, and children have easy access. So they are seeing it in living animated color, as much as they want. So if it rots their little minds, we should know fairly soon. I suspect that their nature will not change; they will merely be better informed. I never thought well of the Adult Conspiracy to Keep Interesting Things from Children, which is why I parody it in Xanth. But it is true that if a person learns a language young, he learns it well, and it is much harder for him to learn it as an adult, when his brain has more or less set. So there is a window of opportunity that is real. So what about sex? If he learns it young, will his understanding of it be qualitatively different? Is that good or ill? I don't know, and would like to. There is some evidence that early sexual experience can warp a person; I have heard from a number of young women who had sex forced on them as children, and they are marked by it for life. Some of their startling poems are in How Precious Was that While. But is that because they were raped, or because early sex is inherently damaging? What is the difference between seeing it onscreen in full detail, and actually experiencing it? Between voluntary and forced? Perhaps we will have answers at last.

NEW SCIENTIST had an article dear to my heart. For generations the "experts" have claimed that airplanes fly because the tops of their wings are rounded, so that they air has farther to travel, therefore exerts less pressure, and in effect sucks the plane upward. That's known as the Bernoulli principle. That always seemed like nonsense to me, because the moving wing has to push that air out of the way, and that should push the curved surface down, in contrast to its flat underside. And in fact airplanes can fly upside down. When I built a model plane I got the wings on upside down, and it still flew. So I knew all along that experts didn't know anything. Now David Anderson in NEW SCIENTIST says the same thing. Check in the issue for May 5, 2001. An airplane flies because its angled wings plane against the air, pushing the air down and the craft up. I understand there's even a picture showing a cloud section depressed behind an airplane, evidence of the effect. That's why it's called an air-plane, for shift's sake.

When we moved to backwoods Florida, in the 1970's, we had ideas for economical living. Unfortunately a rascally contractor and state laws messed much of that up. We did set up solar hot water heating, and used a wood burning stove, using dry deadwood on the property. A copper coil in the stovepipe helped heat our water, and passive solar design and a nocturnal window fan blowing out, not in, helped cool the house. But state law prevented our using a composting toilet, and our desire for a low-water flush toilet was ignored, as was our specification for thick insulation. We had to have the roof redone, making it tern-coated stainless steel, that would last for eternity. We sued the contractor and put him out of business, but the house was only part of what it should have been. Well now another environmentalistic couple is doing it, building a truly modern house, not far from the University of Florida at Gainesville. They seem to have thought of everything except the stovepipe coil, and maybe I missed that, as I didn't explore every detail of their comprehensive web site. They save water in a cistern, and generate their own solar electricity, and by damn they have the composting toilet. Maybe the law changed in the interim, or their county has different laws. Also a greenhouse. They are even vegetarians. I like these folk, never having met them. Check their site at www.phys.ufl.edu/~liz/home.html. Actually the University of Florida at Gainesville, which has a reputation as a party school, does do some good work; we worked with them on the archaeological excavation of Tatham Mound, which led to my novel of that title, and now they seem to have a breakthrough on solar refrigeration. The sun is too hot, here in backwoods Florida, and food needs cooling so as not to spoil, so they are putting the two together. They use the Rankine, or steam cycle, and the absorption-refrigeration cycle. The one heats water to make steam that drives a turbine and produces electricity. The other heats pressurized ammonia past its boiling point, generating ammonia steam. The ammonia vapor drives a turbine and falls in temperature until cold enough to make ice. Thus refrigeration or air conditioning. Thus power and coolth from the sun--ideally free. Check it at www.napa.ufl.edu/2001news/solar.htm. The future is coming.

The March 2001 issue of DISCOVER has an article on Dark Energy. It seems that even Dark Matter can't account for the full universe; two thirds of it must be Dark Energy. And they conclude that if there is energy in a vacuum--and surely there is, because I said it in a prior column--it must have a repulsive effect. Thus it makes the universe expand, on the large scale. Fascinating.

Now there is the question whether children in child care become aggressive, disobedient, and defiant. A survey seems to show this. But wait; the early years of my own life were spent in child care, that is, with a British nanny. And I became--the ogre. So maybe there's a case. But I suspect that further study will show that it is bad child care that makes bad children; good care will make good ones.

One of my endless subscriptions is to CENSORSHIP NEWS, put out by the national Coalition Against Censorship. I hate censorship, perhaps because I'm the kind of free thinking, panty-peeking writer censors salivate to suppress. Well, it says that now there is a web site for teens who need information about sex. I believe in sex education. Visit www.goaskalice.columbia.edu. Also www.sxetc.org, supported by Rutgers University Network for Family Life Education. So if you're a teen who always wanted to violate the Adult Conspiracy, but didn't know how, there is where you can go. Don't tell your parents I told you.

I take private exposés with a grain of salt. But some make me nervous. At www.justiceforjamie.com/ it tells a horrendous story. It seems that in 1994 six year old Jamie had a slight case of cerebral palsy. She needed to have two extra front baby teeth removed, one of which was impacted, so she was scheduled for oral surgery. She was told she would be put to sleep and would not feel it. The surgeon was an hour late, and Jamie became increasingly upset. The doctor said the parents were upsetting the child and banished them. (As the father, three decades ago, of a very sensitive learning-disabled child, this bothers me. My daughter needed my support, not my absence, and sometimes was mistreated when I was not there. I learned to distrust those who wanted to deprive her of her main protection.) Frightened, Jamie was crying. The doctor pinched her nose, covered her mouth, and told her that if she didn't stop crying, maybe she didn't need to breathe. This action was, it seems, violent enough to pop the blood vessels around her eyes. Then he grabbed her face so strongly as to leave bruises down the side of it. There was also a knot on her forehead, as if he hit her. At any rate she was traumatized, and thereafter her problems became much worse. The doctor stonewalled the parents' questions, and they filed a complaint with the dental board. This became a years-long odyssey that still is not resolved. Okay, as I said, I don't know the truth here, but my experience with my child inclines me to believe it. I was still fighting battles against injustice for my child through college. She made it, and went on into adulthood and marriage, but I think that she would have had a rougher time of it had there not been an ogre in her corner to scare back abusers. Check the site and form your own opinion. Of course they want money, but of course you are not obligated.

Someone sent me a checklist of symptoms of gaming addiction. You might be a gamer if: losing your dice bag would be a serious financial blow. If you could paper your bathroom with different versions of just ONE character. If you talk about your characters as if they are real people. Oops, I do that, and I'm not even a gamer. I'm a writer. Anyway, if you suspect you might be a gamer, check this out at--oops again, there's no site. It's a forwarded email.

Daniel Garcia notified me about his message board, inviting me to participate. I said I prefer to contribute to my own site, here. But I did look at the site, http://pub63.ezboard.com/bluna83999, and can recommend it to those of you who might like to participate. It has stories and things, and "The Flame Pit" for comments, including a discussion group "Things I Hate." Seems ideal for those of you with peeves.

Correspondent and aspiring writer MaryLee Boyance passed along a "Writer" joke: The writer died, and got to choose between heaven and hell. She decided to check them out first. In hell she sat row on row of writers chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop, constantly whipped with thorny lashes. So she checked heaven, and there was a similar scene. "But this is just as bad a hell," she protested. "No it's not," was the response. "Here, your work gets published."

Another reader, Mishawn, sent me an interesting list of dates and their corresponding trees. You check your birthday and discover your tree. For example, my birthday has the poplar tree. Does that mean I'm poplar with my readers? The writeup says it signifies artistic nature, uncertainty, lack of courage, animosity--um, I'm not sure I like where this is going. My wife's birthday has the ash tree. That reminds me of a joke I think I won't tell my wife: a little tree asked his dad what kind of tree he was. His dad said "Well, I'm not sure, son, but I can tell you this: your mother was the finest piece of ash in the forest." There doesn't seem to be a web site for this list, so I can't share it with you. Anyway, Daughter #1's tree is the Rowan. I didn't recognize that, so I looked it up, and learned that it is also called the Mountain Ash (now there's a family connection: wife is Ash, daughter Mountain Ash) with orange or red berries. I was then looking for a name for a lead character in Tortoise Reform, so I named her Rowan.

I heard from artist Rezo Kaishauri, and rechecked his site, www.geocities.com/goodcoin. His paintings are striking, including some anatomically correct ones--you know, uncastrated male nudity--and monsters and weird seeming sex. So those interested in pretty pictures, some of which will annoy maiden aunts or censors, may visit this gallery.

Andrea Jones forwarded a list of statements, such as "Dyslexics have more fnu." That reminds me of the dyslexic agnostic insomniac, who stays awake all night wondering whether there is a Dog. Sample other statements: "Clones are people, two." "Entropy isn't what it used to be." "COLE'S LAW: Thinly sliced cabbage." "My reality check just bounced." "Energizer bunny arrested, charged with battery." "Boycott shampoo--demand REAL poo!"

My wife and I will have our 45th anniversary this month (JeJune), and we allowed ourselves a small advance celebration by buying a new set of watches. We already have good watches, so this is a splurge. They are pretty squared-off German TROIKA watches which also show the month, date, day of the week, and 24 hour time. One day is much like another for me, as I stay home and work continuously, so this should help me keep track. My watch is blue, hers green. They have soft rubber wrist bands, which I presume are cheap, but actually are comfortable; we'll see how they stand up.

And Marisol, who runs one of the Piers Anthony fan sites (see our links section), relayed a NEW YORK TIMES article, whose essence is that after five years of astonishing growth, online book sales are flagging. Amazon.com and others are leveling off, with their share of the total book market about seven per cent. It is possible that the enormous growth of the Internet is slowing. The online book cut-price sales are passing, too. As internet bargains fade, so do sales. So we seem to be at a turning point.

Which seems to be a good point for this column to fade, too. I keep trying to write shorter columns, and not succeeding well; this one is over 10,000 words. Sigh. So let's conclude with a word from our Web Mistress: she has been getting queries from readers who wish to jazz up our dowdy web site. Let's set this straight: this is a text oriented site, with just a few illustrations so that it doesn't take too long to load. The main pain, uh, feature, is the information about my novels, such as the Xanth character database, and assistance for aspiring writers, such as the Internet Publishing survey, and my bimonthly irascible remarks here in this HiPiers column. For flashing lights and fancy animations, visit the sites of other writers. This one is locked in the twentieth century, easy to get around, specializing in information rather than special effects. Believe it or not, there are those who appreciate that. We do get about ten thousand hits a day.

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