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Piers the handyman 2007
Marsh 2010

I am participating in a flu survey. It's a double blind one, with two thirds of the participants getting a double dose of regular flu vaccine and one third a single dose, to see whether retirement-age fogies like me do better on the heavier doses. It started in SapTimber, and for four months I sailed through without symptoms of anything. Then my wife came down with a bad cold that gave her a 100° fever and constricted her breathing to the point that we made a trip to the hospital emergency room. At our age even a bad cold can be a serious matter. They said something is going around. So she coped by staying home and downstairs, lacking the energy to get upstairs, while I ran the household. After a week I came down with it, with a fever of 100.1°, runny nose, coughing, but I think not as bad, because I continued functioning normally. So I called it in to the flue survey folk, because they need to check out anything that might possibly be the flu. They had me come in for a sputum check, which meant a prod up my noseouch!and checked my temperature, which was normal. The rest of the day, before and after, it was just over 99° That figures. No, I didn't rest; I had chores to do, especially while my wife was worse off than I was. I eased up on my exercise routine, though. So how come I got a cold, when I uses Vitamin C to stop colds? Because for me it works on cold colds, but not on hot ones; if there's a fever, I'm stuck for it. It's the only cold I've gotten in years.

I read Scaring the Crows, by Gregory Miller, one of my readers who became a writer himself. This is a collection of 21 spooky stories. Many are finely characterized slice-of-life efforts, which is not my genre, but some aren't. My favorite is Arachno, about an old woman in a mental hospital who thinks she's a spider. She eats bugs and spins a nest from yarn. At the end, sure enough, she stings, binds, and will eat the attendants. Another is Wolf Stone, wherein a young man sees a two century old picture of a lovely young woman and is so taken with her that he digs up her grave. He shouldn't have; she is undead, a vampire or werewolf, and he is doomed. In the title story a woman who fears all men is stalked by a male scarecrow; each day he is closer to her house, until finally he is inside. She can't complain because the authorities are men. So while this volume is not entirely to my taste, it does have its points. The stories are well written, with a fine sense of detail character and mood; you really get to know the people therein. The author was mentored by Ray Bradbury, so if you are a Bradbury fan, you may relate well to this.

I watched another of my videos, encouraged in part by my fever. This one was Logan's Run, a 1976 science fiction movie I thought I had seen, but must not have, because I remembered none of it. I got it party because of the name, matching that of Granddaughter Logan; I thought she might like seeing it. But she watches nothing scary or violent, perhaps because of her mother's caution; remember that scary movie incident last column? I don't think it's that bad, but I'm not a half-orphaned nine year old girl. Of course she's in Oregon, and we're in Florida, so chances of watching it with her are reasonably remote. Ah, well. It set in the 23rd century, where humanity lives in a single dome city which nobody leaves, supported by machines. No one lives beyond age 30; when a person reaches that age, he/she has just one option: enter the Carrousel which is really a hunt game, with sandmen pursuing and shooting them. Except that some few may escape. Our protagonist is recruited to search out the perhaps mythical Sanctuary so they can destroy it. He asks a girl to help, because she wears an ankh, a symbol of it. She doesn't trust him, with good reason, but by the time they make it out of the dome they are in love. There's even a few seconds of nudity when they have to scramble out of freezing soaking clothes: I go for that sort of thing. They discover that hardly anyone lives outside, but the air is breathable; it is possible to survive there, with no age limit. They return to tell the others, but the machines won't allow it, of course. It's a good adventure, more of my kind of junk.

I also watched A Bridge Too Far, a World War Two movie, a good one, but at the time I was so focused on trying to get my computer keyboard (more on that in a moment) that I did not gave it proper attention. It did strike me as a quality movie about a world War Two mess-up, and it showed the enemy forces reasonably. So I can recommend it to those who are not distracted at the moment.

Literary pirating is a constant problem, especially via the Internet. It cheats authors and publishers, as these leeches steal and sell their books with nothing paid to the owners. I once had a fan letter from a reader who had enjoyed many of my books, but was slightly embarrassed that he had paid for none of them. I support libraries, which make literature accessible to all, and the Library of Congress' free recordings for the blind and disabled. I don't have to make money from everything. But piracy is not the same; it is simply theft, with the thieves making money they don't deserve. Here is the letter I sent to the eBay VERO address, by fax as they require, self explanatory, with specific addresses deleted for this reprise:

Dear eBay:

I am the Intellectual Property Rights holder of more than 140 published books, many of which are frequently pirated as ebooks or audio on eBay. Evan Filipek has complained several times on my behalf, as he is authorized to do. My literary agent Joel Gotler has complained. And I believe I have done so directly. My concern is not that you are unresponsive, but that you have put in place a mechanism that serves my need, and surely the need of other victims of piracy, poorly. In fact it may even make it more difficult for me to protest piracy on eBay than it is for the pirates to steal my books. I doubt that this can be your intention.

Here is the situation: a pirate offering of many titles will appear on eBay and run for a few hours, garnering what illicit sales it can. Naturally the pirate dos not inform me. By the time I become aware of it, the offering is likely to be gone, and I am left without recourse. Yes, you will shut down the offering when notified—but another with a different designation will appear, and the process must begin again. As long as you require individual notice from me personally about each instance of piracy, your service is essentially useless to me.

Here is what I suggest, if you wish to get serious about piracy. Designate certain chronic targets for piracy—I can hardly be the only one—as off limits for eBay marketing, unless the marketers have documentable approval from the representatives of the rights holders. That should effectively stifle the piracy without further hassle. Does this make sense to you?

I regard this as a reasonable suggestion, politely expressed. I received no response. In fact they continued to claim that they had never heard from me, and used that as a reason not to act. So two weeks later I sent another letter, this time to their email address.

To the eBay VERO program:

I faxed you a letter dated February 3, 2010 about the frequent pirating of my books on eBay. You did not acknowledge, and it seems that you continue to say you have no record of my ever contacting you. Your lack of response was similar when I faxed you in 2008. I am reluctant to believe that you insist on faxing when you do not acknowledge faxing. So, assuming that my prior letter did not get through to you, I am attaching a copy with this letter.

If you do not acknowledge this letter, it will leave the impression that you are not really interested in stopping piracy via eBay.

This time they did respond, since I had forced the issue, with a form letter describing their VERO program. Yes, the one that doesn't work for me or any of the bestselling authors, for the reason I explained. My free translation of their attitude with the polite euphemisms deleted: "Forget it, buster; we know our way doesn't work, but we are not interested in actually stopping piracy, from which we make money indirectly. We prefer to continue pretending that we are addressing the problem, without actually doing so. Get lost." So I consulted a lawyer, but he said the pirates fade in and out, and by the time a lawsuit got going, the pirates would have shifted venues and there'd be no remaining case. Like the recipe for rabbit stew: first catch your rabbit. I see it as similar to the problem of stopping the pirates who capture and hold ships for ransom in the Indian Ocean: by the time the authorities get there it's usually too late, by no coincidence; they have found haven in a lawless nation. Trying to nail eBay for knowingly facilitating piracy would be a tricky case to make, as it speaks to motive, an extremely slippery slope. Remember the phenomenal struggle Harlan Ellison had nabbing AOL about piracy? The legal action taken by the music industry to try to stop the pirating of songs? Even victory in the courts did not, it seems, really stop the thefts, and the music industry suffered grievously. So it seems the pirates can get away with it, and eBay can get away with enabling them, in this tacit collusion, and that's why eBay is not serious about stopping it. Why should they put themselves out when it's only authors, publishers, and legitimate booksellers getting ripped off, not eBay itself? It's easier to keep talking the talk without walking the walk.

Not perfectly related, but perhaps in a similar bailiwick: publisher Macmillan, which is by a chain of acquisitions now my publisher, has taken on Amazon about the latter's selling the electronic editions of their novels for $9.99. I have remarked before how Amazon runs small publishers through the grinder, cutting their margins to the point where they risk operating at a loss, and many simply have to stop selling via Amazon. Macmillan, facing similar numbers, is not small; it's one of the largest publishing complexes extant. So when Amazon pulled its stunt of removing the buy-buttons from Macmillan books, as it has done before with others, Macmillan pushed back. And what do you know: Amazon discovered it couldn't bully a bigger boy. It is in the process of yielding on the pricing of Macmillan books. The Author's Guild has been watching this, and launched WhoMovedMyBuy Button.com to enable authors to track Amazon's removal of the buy buttons on their books. It seems that Amazon, like pirates, does not necessarily notify those harmed by its actions. Author's Guild expects to monitor Amazon for years to come. Amazon is not a pirate, but some of its activities emit a similar smell.

In Jamboree I gave up on Kubuntu, which was a disaster, and installed its parent Ubuntu. It has flaws, but overall is viable. But it wouldn't let me have my keyboard. Then in FeBlueberry Jeff Yu wrote me, saying the process is simple. He spelled it out. It's a matter of going to a terminal, typing xmodmap to get my system's key assignments, then making a small file to list the changes I want. Naturally for me it was not that simple. I was in their Dvorak layout, but what it showed me was the standard American QWERTY layout. So I reinstalled Ubuntu, losing all my defaults, but getting Dvorak set as the default layout. Then it did give me that, and I made the modification file--and lost it because I didn't know how to save it. Jeff advised me on that, I tried again, and this time it worked. Thanks to him, I have my keyboard back, and at this point I expect to stay with Ubuntu. Placing macros is a pain—I hope they get around to fixing that process some year—but once I place them I don't need to do it again. Not having information on the specifications of a file I am replacing when I back up is another pain, because sometimes you don't have the files you think you have, but I try to make sure I'm doing it right. Its balkiness in pasting files where I want them can be annoying; if I'm not careful I wind up with files scattered around my system like gobs of blood spattered about the body instead of where it belongs. So there are assorted little things that they really should have fixed long ago. But overall it's a good distribution, and I'm glad to have my card games back. Now if I can just somehow manage to get it to go online via dialup...

I read Robots Have No Tails by Henry Kuttner. This is another in the PLANET STORIES series PAIZO is republishing, a service to the history of the genre. I remembered reading those stories in ASTOUNDING SF long ago, about Gallegher, an inventor who is a genius when drunk, but can't remember what he did after he sobers up. As it turned out, I remembered only one, the last of five, which makes sense since it was the only one published after I started reading the magazine. So how did I like the full collection? Actually I was not nearly as impressed at age 75 as I was at age 14. Fancy that. The stories are fun, but not really well organized and sometimes there are loose ends. For example in one Gallegher invents a machine that eats dirt, and wonders where all that dirt goes. I don't believe that is ever explained. So it was nice to catch up on this, but I'd call it a passing diversion rather than great literature.

At our age—my wife and I are septuagenarians, which means in English that we in our 70s—what passes for adventure can consist of things real folk would hardly notice. My wife flushed a toilet, and it overflowed. In fact it backed up, flooding the shower stall as well as the floor. I got going with the plunger, but the blockage was as firm as a venue for piracy. It wasn't just that toilet; none of the house drains would drain. We had a problem, being unable to flush toilets, wash dishes, or do laundry. Naturally it happened on a Friday evening. That freaked out my wife; women care about such things. So we spent the night in a local hotel. This led to a juxtaposition of rather different moods. You see, for me a night in a hotel with my wife is a romantic occasion. For her it was a damned inconvenience. So while I was waxing amorous, she was fretting about clogging toilets. I suspect this is typical of marriages; men and women have different priorities. We did get to watch the Olympics opening show, and have a nice buffet style breakfast in the morning, which I didn't have to make. Then we returned home and called the plumber, and he came over and established that roots were clogging the septic tank and access thereto. We do live in a forest with real live trees and vines. In due course, and a healthy bill, it was fixed. Our adventure of the month. Or, in summary: love and the septic tank.

I've been on a virtual soft diet for several months, as my progress toward dentures proceeds glacially. I do eat solid foods, but I have only about five chewing teeth, and eating supper can take me up to two hours. So I supplement a lot with glop—that is, balanced nutritional drink, and that's fine. But I have lost weight. Couple years back I weighed about 150 pounds nude in the morning. A paunch was starting, so I decided to drop five pounds, to 145. I did, but then came the dentistry, and now it's about 140. I'm getting too lean, but I figure that will change once I finally at last eventually get those teeth in a few more months. Meanwhile there's a problem: my trousers don't stay up. I have things like a glasses case and cell phone hooked to them, weighing them down. I have to keep tightening my belt, but that gets uncomfortable and my pants still drop. So I have moved into suspenders. They work, though my shoulders feel the weight. But there are side effects. For example, when I have to poop it can be on short notice. At my age a successful poop can be an accomplishment, and I take it when I can get it. So I hurry to the bathroom—and can't drop my pants, because of the suspenders. I have to remove a heavy shirt or two, or a jacket, this being winter, and put them back on when I'm done. So it becomes more complicated than just doing it. I'll be glad when summer comes and I can wear shorts again, no suspenders.

Much of my present life consists of minutia, which I'm sure is typical. I'm a artist at heart; I took art classes four years in high school and two years in college before concluding that I would not be able to make it commercially as a painter, and abruptly switched to writing. In long retrospect I think that was a good decision, and writing has been my fulfillment in ways I doubt painting could have been, regardless of my level of ability or recompense. Actually I regard fiction writing as a form of storytelling, and as an art. But still my sense of esthetics shows in assorted little ways. When I tie my hair back in a ponytail I like to match the color of the tie—my wife calls them bobbles—to the color of my shirt. When I hang up towels I fold them so the tag is neatly in back and the fold is to the left, a pleasing display. When I take stamps from a 20 stamp sheet to amend the postage on letters, I take them in patterns, forming Xs or crosses or alternating spaces. When I type the address on a letter I like the length of the lines to be reasonably even, so I will spell out "avenue" or similar if that accomplishes that. I like things to be esthetic, though I know no one else will notice, or care if they do. It's the way I am. My wife calls it compulsive. I call it artistic.

Last year I had a bone mass measurement, as hypothyroidism, which I have, can lead to loss of bone density and eventually to fractures or broken bones. It turned out that my bones were indeed eroding, and I had the expensive osteoporosis treatment Reclast, whose side effects wiped me out and put me in a fever for 18 days. I did not want a repeat treatment despite the assurance that "some flu-like symptoms" would not repeat. I took extra calcium, magnesium, strontium, and of course plenty of Vitamin D via pill and sunshine. I even added butter to my diet, because of a report that that helps. After a year I requested another bone density test, to see if the medication and my efforts had turned the corner. It turned out they had; I now have osteopenia rather than osteoporosis. Fine. But Medicare decided not to pay for the test. It would have paid for a far more expensive unnecessary Reclast repeat treatment, and it would have paid for the bone density test if a different specialty of doctor had asked for it, but it would not pay for mine. Okay, my attitude has always been that if the government doesn't pay for a test I want, I will pay for it myself. But they won't let me. Instead they are stiffing the lab that made the test. We went in and talked to the lab folk, and they said we couldn't pay for it without horrendous complications for them; they would simply have to take the loss. That bothers me.

Once I had my keyboard, I went to work on a novel. For one thing, I have to work on a real project in order to fathom all the nuances of a computer program. There are countless little things I do when writing that don't come up at other times, like copying revisions to a printout file or assembling chapters into a novel file. So I resumed work on my horror novel The Sopaths. I conceived this back around 1980 or earlier—the first related note in my Idea File is undated, which means it's old—and collected a huge folder of newspaper clippings from 1980 on, relating to man's inhumanity to man. Eventually I stopped, because the awful items just kept coming. But I didn't write the novel, because it was simply too horrible to write, let alone publish. The essence is simple: there are a limited number of human souls available, about six billion, and when the global population exceeds that number, babies start being born without souls. They look just like regular babies, but without souls they have no conscience or capacity to develop one. So as they grow and achieve increasing independence, their totally unscrupulous nature becomes apparent. They are utterly sociopathic. Hence the contraction to sopath. If a three year old sopath sees a two year old child eating candy, the sopath will take the candy for himself. If he gets punished for that, next time he will make sure the smaller child doesn't tell by clubbing him to death, then eating the candy with no remorse. If he gets punished for that, he will watch for his chance, then kill the parent. He does have desires and feelings, just not decency. There simply are no moral limits, only practical ones. Picture a politician, if that helps convey the concept. There is no physical way to distinguish a sopath from a normal person; a soul can't be measured. The older the sopath gets, the more deviously dangerous he becomes. In time civilization itself will be threatened, as the number of sopaths rivals the number of souled folk. Unless action is taken. That's where the story comes in, as a man whose family is wiped out by its sopath member, before he kills it, gets together with a woman in a similar situation, and they adopt two children, similar survivors. They have to start killing children others don't understand are sopaths. Others prefer to think they are just misunderstood children, being in denial. And of course reducing the birth rate to avoid the issue is opposed by implacable religious and political forces. I am finding ways to make the story less awful so that it can be written, but it's still not pleasant. And yes, I am doing it now in part because of the mood the death of my daughter put me in. I wrote the first chapter in 2001 and quit; in FeBluberry 2010 I wrote the next four chapters. Will it ever be published? Maybe not commercially, but today with self publishing viable, probably yes. This is the last of my unfinished projects; I have been trying to catch up on them as my future diminishes, just in case the inevitable happens.

Interesting public legal notice in the newspaper: "If you are age 40 or over and write or were interested in writing for television, a proposed settlement may affect your rights." It seems to be a class-action lawsuit about age discrimination, and the settlement is seventy million dollars. I am over 40, but never tried to write for television, so I am not involved, but I applaud the effort. Maybe in due course there will be a similar one about age discrimination in regular publishing. The idea of rejecting good, original, commercial fiction simply because the author is over 40 appalls me. If I ran the world, any editor or publisher caught doing that would be immediately put out of business, especially if it had existed more than 40 years. The literary and/or commercial quality of the material should be the primary consideration, not the age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or whatever of the author.

Item in SCIENCE NEWS and surely elsewhere: modern man's ancestor Homo erectus may have crossed the sea 800,000 years ago. Certainly well before the 9,000 years they have hitherto credited. For example, they showed up on Crete over 130,000 years ago, and that means either crossing the water or flying, and I am skeptical about the latter. Mankind was doing things eons before historical records indicate.

Letter by Christopher Radulich in the ST PETERSBURG TIMES asks if corporations are now considered legally people with full First Amendment rights, so they can swamp the elections with money in the guise of free speech, why can they still be bought and sold? Yes, isn't slavery illegal?

William Tenn died, age 89. He was the pseudonym for Philip Klass, and a great science fiction writer. When I discovered science fiction, with the March 1947 issue of ASTOUNDING magazine, one of the stories therein that captivated me was "Child's Play" by him, which described the complications when a man of the present accidentally got hold of a Build-A-Man kit from the future.

Excerpt in THE WEEK from a book by John West, The Last Goodnights. It describes how he helped his parents commit suicide, and may face legal action because of it. His father had terminal cancer and faced ugly physical decline and death in months; his mother had Alzheimer's, osteoporosis, and emphysema. "Should she have been forced to deteriorate into a walking vegetable, soiling herself, wandering into traffic, hunched over like a crab, and coughing up blood, just because some people say that's how it's always been and always should be?" So he helped them take the pills they needed to overdose themselves to death. Was he wrong? Not as I see it. I think a person's death, like a person's life, should be governed to the extent feasible by the choice of that person. Maybe duly authenticated by a court, to prevent abuse. If I faced the loss of my health and mind, with only pain and ruinous expense to postpone the inevitable, I would want to end my life at a time and manner of my choice. Quick, painless, tidy, and noble. Wouldn't anyone? I have thought that there should exist a two-stage euthanasia pill, that gives a wakeup jolt an hour after taking it to remind you that this is lethal. At that point you can take the antidote, or maybe you have to make a second pill, and then you will fade on out painlessly.

Article in NEW SCIENTIST ABOUT HUMOR: it turns out to be far more complicated than primeval pleasures like sex or food. Yes. I admit to secret pride in the fact that I made most of my success with humor. If you can write humor, you can probably write anything. Critics without a sense of humor are of course deficient. People's sense of humor says a lot about them. I have always mistrusted those who find jokes about blacks, gays, women, or Jews hilarious. One of my favorite publications is Rationale of the Dirty Joke by G Legman, a huge two volume edition summarizing thousands of jokes, whose thesis is that the key to a person's character is accurately defined by his favorite dirty joke. My favorite relates to the power of language. I wrote to Legman I think in the 1970s, to point out that his enormous compendium lacked that joke, and he admitted it. Here it is, in summary: A trucker entered a wayside eatery and demands a cuppa coffee and a fucking donut. Well, they haul him into court for obscenity. Then he tells his story, about the awful fucking day he's had, when the fucking truck wouldn't start, got a fucking flat tire, and so on, with that single adjective of choice used everywhere. He concludes "Then I saw this neat fucking little restaurant, and this nice fucking waitress comes up and says what'll you fucking have, and I say gimme a cuppa coffee and a donut." At which point the waitress jumps up in the courtroom and cries "That's a fucking lie!" and the judge bangs his gavel and says "Quiet, or I'll clear the fucking courtroom!" Make of that what you will, critics; I still think it's hilarious.

We watched the two weeks of the Winter Olympics in Canada, a grand show. Who would have expected a photo finish in a 50 kilometer skiing race? What they can do these days on skate boards is amazing. But I am bothered by the hair-trigger disqualifications that sometimes eliminate the obvious best performers for accidental technical fouls, such as the Korean tag-team skaters or the American Ohno. How about some sense of proportion? Isn't the idea to showcase the best players in the world, rather than demonstrating how arbitrary the officials can be?

I was sent a copy of a radio interview for The Author Hour I did a while back. I will try to include the link here, so that anyone who wants to listen to it can do so. I tend to sound nasal and not too smart, but what else is news?

The Author Hour interview site, thanks to Matthew Peterson.

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