Writing

Get Bent – The Time Thief

Here the protagonist and main characters all had their genders swapped. And again it doesn’t change the story one bit.

Time steals away. But who steals time?

(Based on The Thief of Time By Captain S. P. Meek)

The Time Thief

Harriett Winston, paying teller of the First National Bank of Chicago, stripped the band from a bundle of twenty dollar bills, counted out seventeen of them and added them to the pile on the counter before her.

“Twelve hundred and thirty-one tens,” she read from the payroll change slip before her. The paymaster of the Cramer Packing Company nodded an assent and Winston turned to the stacked bills in her rear currency rack. She picked up a handful of bundles and turned back to the grill. Her gaze swept the counter where, a moment before, she had stacked the twenties, and her jaw dropped.

“You got those twenties, Ms. Trier?” she asked.

“Got them? Of course not, how could I?” replied the paymaster. “There they are….”

Her voice trailed off into nothingness as she looked at the empty counter.

“I must have dropped them,” said Winston as she turned. She glanced back at the rear rack where her main stock of currency was piled. She stood paralyzed for a moment and then reached under the counter and pushed a button.

The bank resounded instantly to the clangor of gongs and huge steel grills shot into place with a clang, sealing all doors and preventing anyone from entering or leaving the bank. The guards sprang to their stations with drawn weapons and from the inner offices the bank officials came swarming out. The cashier, followed by two women, hurried to the paying teller’s cage.

“What is it, Ms. Winston?” she cried.

“I’ve been robbed!” gasped the teller.

“Who by? How?” demanded the cashier.

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Writing

Get Bent – Altered At Midnight

This was another complete gender swap and the story works just as well as it ever did. So why was the protagonist originally written as a male?

The true cost of spaceflight is always paid in lives. But sometimes, the ones who go aren’t the ones who pay the most!

(Based on The Altar at Midnight By C. M. Kornbluth)

Altered at Midnight

She had quite a rum-blossom on her for a kid, I thought at first. But when she moved closer to the light by the cash register to ask the bartender for a match or something, I saw it wasn’t that. Not just the nose. Broken veins on her cheeks, too, and the funny eyes. She must have seen me look, because she slid back away from the light.

The bartender shook my bottle of ale in front of me like a Swiss bell-ringer so it foamed inside the green glass.

“You ready for another, lady?” she asked.

I shook my head. Down the bar, she tried it on the kid – she was drinking scotch and water or something like that – and found out she could push her around. She sold her three scotch and waters in ten minutes.

When she tried for number four, the kid had her courage up and said, “I’ll tell you when I’m ready for another, Jack.” But there wasn’t any trouble.

It was almost nine and the place began to fill up. The manager, a real hood type, stationed himself by the door to screen out the high-school kids and give the big hello to conventioneers. The boys came hurrying in, too, with their little makeup cases and their fancy hair styled just so and their frozen faces with the perfect mouths. One of them stopped to say something to the manager, some excuse about something, and she said: “That’s aw ri’; get inna dressing room.”

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Writing

Get Bent – The Sunken Empire

For this one, I only changed the gender of the protagonist’s love interest. Why is is that speaking of a man the way we speak of a woman should sound so creepy? 

What strange passions lie sunken in the human heart?

The Sunken Empire

(Based on The Sunken Empire by H. Thompson Rich)

“Then you really expect to find the lost continent of Atlantis, Professor?”

Martin Stevens lifted his bearded face sternly to the reporter who was interviewing him in his study aboard the torpedo-submarine Nereus, a craft of his own invention, as it lay moored at the Brooklyn wharf, on an afternoon in October.

“My dear young man,” he said, “I am not even going to look for it.”

The aspiring journalist – Leon Hunter by name – was properly abashed.

“But I thought,” he insisted nevertheless, “that you said you were going to explore the ocean floor under the Sargasso Sea?”

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Writing

Get Bent – A Man’s Place

This was a fairly simple case of substitution; for men, I put women and vice versa. So why is it so darn funny?

The old adage still rings true – A man’s place is in the home. Or is it in the stars?

(Based on A Woman’s Place by Mark Irvin Clifton)

A Man’s Place

Based on A Woman’s Place by Mark Irvin Clifton

It was the speaking of Mister Dougie’s name which half roused him from sleep. He eased his angular body into a more comfortable position in the sack. Still more asleep than awake, his mind reflected tartly that in this lifeboat, hurtling away from their wrecked spaceship back to Earth, the sleeping accommodation was quite appropriately named. On another mental level, he tried to hear more of what was being said about him. Naturally, hearing one’s name spoken, one would.

“We’re going to have to tell Mister Dougie as soon as he wakes up.” It was Samantha Eade talking to Lt. Harper–the two women who had escaped with him.

“Yes, Samantha,” the lieutenant answered. “What we’ve suspected all along is pretty definite now.”

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Writing

Get Bent – Why Bother?

If you’ve paid attention to science fiction over the past year, you’ve probably heard that the field is in a crisis. The same has been said about society in general. “We’re changing too much!” the sticks-in-the-mud cry. “We’re not changing enough!” the social justice warriors declaim. As usual, both sides are right and both sides are wrong.

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Writing

NaNoWriMo

Hello!

This year, I will be taking part in the National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo as it is known to literary geeks). However, being me [1], I’ll be doing things a bit differently. For example, instead of writing a novel [2] I’ll be writing an anthology. And I won’t really be writing it, unless you consider what Richard Prince does “making art”. What I’ll be doing is transforming old science fiction stories into new science fiction stories [3] by changing the gender dynamics. As for why I’m doing that, that will be my first installment. By the end of the month, I should have ten different tales rejiggered to fit.

In the meantime, sit back, enjoy, and get some popcorn to throw. It is going to be a lumpy write!

John

[1] I tried being Batman but the line was too long.
[2] It isn’t that I lack ideas; it is that all of my ideas are either under-developed [a] or too derivative [b] and would cause you and me more frustration than they are worth.
[3] Though, as Heinlein once pointed out, that is all any author does. They are just less blatant about it.

[a] A love story between a living man and a ghost set in a universe similar to that of Bujold’s “Chalion” series (i.e., with multiple gods and medieval technology).
[b] A rewriting of The Phantom Of The Opera in a style similar to that of Grendel with dashes of Gary Stu.

politics

Wheel In The Sky Keep On Turning

WARNING This post contains strong language and stronger ideas. Do not read if you are easily offended or lack the intellectual ability to understand what “in context” means.

This is not the America that I grew up in. Society has changed in ways both simple and profound [1]. And those changes have had effects on scales from national to personal.

When I grew up, the national minimum wage was $1.15; today, that would be the equivalent of $9.06. The work week was 40 hours and the typical white collar worker worked from 9 AM to 5 PM five days a week with two weeks of paid vacation each year and one week of sick leave. Women didn’t work, or if they did they were typically relegated to subservient roles [2]. Unions were strong (too strong, some might argue) and jobs were for life; you’d start with a company and work for it until you retired. Three martini lunches were common as were deadly car wrecks.

Today, the national minimum wage is $7.25; when I grew up, that would be the equivalent of $0.92 (80% of what they had then). Workweeks have become anything from 4-40 (four “ten hour days” [3] a week and three days off) to 9-80 (a week of “nine hour days” then two days off then a week with three “nine hour days” and one “eight hour day” and three days off) to “flex time” (you work when they call you in for as long as they need you). Instead of vacation and sick leave, you get Paid Time Off (PTO) and get to decide which is more important – going to the in-laws for a week or having the flu? [4] Women now make up 47% of the workforce and fill roles ranging from fry cook to CEO (though the majority are still in less powerful positions than men). Thanks to a series of “right to work” laws [5] passed in the 70s and 80s, unions are now mostly irrelevant and thanks to a wave of mergers in the 1980s, millennials can expect to work at up to fifteen different jobs during their career. That’s assuming that they aren’t branded as “independent contractors” by their bosses in a legal dodge that usually saves the company money as many benefits don’t accrue to contractors [6]. And drug and alcohol testing are now the norm, with “random” testing happening in most states [7].

What else has changed? When I was growing up, my hometown had a “Sundown Law“; if you don’t know what the phrase means, let my grandfather explain it to you: “It means that you’d better get out of town before sundown, nigger” [8]. Thanks to restrictive welfare laws and social restrictions, African American households led the nation in unwed mothers (which was a scandal back then) and poverty. Many neighborhoods had covenants against selling to “niggers, kykes, or other undesirables”. Homosexuals were called fags in polite society when they weren’t being told that their custom was no longer required. They couldn’t even think about joining any branch of the military; if they got caught in the military, they were typically given a choice between going to Vietnam to fight or Fort Leavenworth as a prisoner. Homosexuals were automatically assumed to be security risks and child rapists; African Americans were assumed to be rapists and thieves; raped women and children were assumed to have been “asking for it”.

Today, Sundown Laws are a matter of history [9] and people of any race, color or creed are welcome almost anywhere – as long as they have money to spend. Welfare reform has allowed for more people to get off of the public dole [10], both by pulling themselves up and, unfortunately, by being disqualified after an extended period of need. African Americans have become wealthier as a group and more firmly integrated into society. During the same period, women’s rights have waxed (ERA, Roe v Wade) and waned (ERA failure, Roe v Wade) but they are generally better off than they were.

But the most significant change has been in the realm of gay rights. Where they were once marginalized and hounded, today they are considered by many to be as normal as rain in the spring and by most to be “none of my damn business” [11]. And most of that change has happened only recently. Starting with Lawrence v Texas in 2003, which basically said that what two (or more) consensual adults do in their bedroom is none of the government’s business, and capping it with today’s Obergefell v Hodges, which ruled that homosexuals have the same right to marry each other that heterosexuals do, homosexuals have become a strongly integrated part of society.

So what does this mean? This is not the America that I grew up in. It has become, in the immortal words of our Founding Fathers, a more perfect union. But it will never be perfect. We don’t, we can’t do perfect. But overall it is better than it was. Sure, for every victory Americans see in one arena, we’ll see a loss in another. Some years it will be more victories than defeats; other years, it will be the other way around. But the wheels of justice will keep turning, Proud Mary will keep burning, and eventually we will be better than we are. Not perfect, just better. And that is good enough for me.

John

[1] There is, of course, nothing new in that. As Karr once wrote, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (“the more things change, the more they stay the same”).
[2] With a few notable, delightful exceptions.
[3] Why the quotes around “ten hour days”? Because today a ten hour day is actually eleven hours (7 AM to 6 PM) as lunch is no longer considered to be work time; as a result, in order to “work” ten hours, you have to work eleven.
[4] You’d be surprised by how many prefer the in-laws.
[5] How do you know what a law does? Just read what it says – and assume the opposite. Right to work really means that you can be fired at any time with no explanation from your boss [a] just as “Clear Skies” weakened the EPA’s ability to limit air pollution and “No Child Left Behind” forced more children out of proven programs and into sub-standard education.
[6] Which benefits? Mainly restrictions on time (another favorite dodge for this is making everyone, from the janitor to the CEO, a “manager”) and requirements for overtime and Social Security and Medicare tax payments.
[7] “Random” in the sense of “you aren’t a vital employee so we’ll test you”.
[8] An actual statement that he made.
[9] Though it took my hometown until 1995 to strike the law from the books, they were legally unenforceable after 1968.
[10] Though most of them weren’t actually on the dole for that long, even back in the day; a typical family would be on welfare for five years before pulling out of poverty (though, sadly, many would fall back in at a later time).
[11] A quote from my other grandfather.
[a] And, under current work laws, it is better if they don’t give you an explanation. If they just fire you, you have no legal basis for appeal unless you can show that they disproportionately fired members of a protected class that you happen to be in (people of a certain race, ethnicity, religious background, or age, typically). But if they say why they fired you, you can always appeal it to the labor board and sometimes you even win.

politics

Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do

I’ve been watching a lot of internet arguments [1] lately over the whole pizza place and cake place and flower place incidents. It seems to me that people are getting confused over a couple of simple points [2]. In the interests of attempting to sort them out, I’ve put together the following [3].

Enjoy. Comment. In that order, please.

John

[1] Which have had a surprisingly high ratio of light to heat for a change. Perhaps things do get better.

[2] Which surprises me because these points were mostly decided back in the 1950s, if not earlier.

[3] With clip art from clkr.com and inspiration from the old “I’m a Mac” commercials.

Bob1 Bob2 Bob3

cooking, meme slut

Yet more food

This post was first published way back in 2006. I’ve updated it (things in italics) to reflect the what I’ve eaten since the post was originally sent forth to wreck havoc on an unsuspecting world. Using the tags on my last post [1] lead me to schustafa’s blog, where he linked to a list compiled by the BBC of 50 Things to Eat Before You Die. The list is:

1. Fresh fish
2. Lobster
3. Steak
4. Thai food
5. Chinese food
6. Ice cream
7. Pizza

8. Crab
9. Curry
10. Prawns
11. Moreton Bay Bugs
12. Clam chowder

13. Barbecues
14. Pancakes
15. Pasta

16. Mussels
17. Cheesecake
18. Lamb
19. Cream tea
20. Alligator

21. Oysters
22. Kangaroo
23. Chocolate
24. Sandwiches
25. Greek food
26. Burgers
27. Mexican food

28. Squid
29. American diner breakfast
30. Salmon
31. Venison

32. Guinea pig
33. Shark
34. Sushi

35. Paella
36. Barramundi
37. Reindeer
38. Kebab
39. Scallops
40. Australian meat pie
41. Mango
42. Durian fruit
43. Octopus
44. Ribs
45. Roast beef
46. Tapas
47. Jerk chicken/pork

48. Haggis
49. Caviar
50. Cornish pasty

Things struckthrough are things that I’ve eaten; things in red are things that could kill me if I ate them [2].  I am now down to just “guinea pig” as an uneaten “delicacy”. Anyone know a ten year old with a spare pet? (I kid!)

So – how well do you score? And what would your alternate list of “50 things ya gotta eat” look like?

John

[1] This is one of the better features of Vox, IMHO; it encourages “browsing” in much the same way that looking up an unfamiliar word in the encyclopedia does. Inevitably, the information gleaned from those unplanned stops is more useful that what I originally went looking to find…

[2] Lobster was quite the experience. It was a good thing that it was badly prepared so I only ate a mouthful; that alone almost put me in the hospital. It turns out that I cannot eat anything with a shell, nor anything prepared with anything with a shell. This made living in Louisianna, where “crawfish boils” are a local tradition, somewhat interesting.
politics

This little piggy went to marketing

If you ever wanted proof that the folks in Marketing just don’t get it, here it is! I signed up for season(ish) tickets to the local ball team. Because the folks in marketing want to sell you extra crap, they required that you tell them your email, phone number, address, and birthdate (!) in order to buy the tickets online [1]. Ordinarily, I would have schlepped down to the local office to buy the tickets in person, but the ball team doesn’t allow that. So I bought the tickets but included a note in the comments that my email was not to be used for any purpose other than the one-time purchase of the tickets [2].

The next day, I get this email (italics mark bits that have been changed for anonymity’s sake):

Good Afternoon Mr. D.,

Hope this week is treating you well. I just wanted to reach out to you to let you know we got your online order and introduce myself as your new account rep. I noticed that the number you listed on your account is a 800 number so if I could grab a good number to get in contact with you about your account that would be great. If there is anything that you need please do not hesitate to either email me or call me at my direct line listed below.

Can’t wait to see you at the ball park!

Lauren C. l Inside Sales Representative
Local Baseball Team

So I replied:

Dear Ms. C.,

I do not want to talk with you about my account. I do not want to hear about the “many wonderful opportunities” to spend more money. To be honest, all I want is my tickets. If I had had a choice, I would not have created an account nor given you my email address. Speaking for quite a few people, the insistence of organizations like yours on getting details that you have no need for (e.g., my birthdate – have you never heard of identity theft?) is more than a little annoying.

Do us both a favor. Don’t send any more emails. Don’t try to call me. If you really must get in contact with me, then send me a letter (surely you remember letters). That way you’ll still have my patronage and I’ll still get to see the ball games I want to.

Sincerely yours,

John

All was well until yesterday when they decided to ignore what I thought were pretty clear instructions:

Dear John,We are excited to announce that the local baseball team are hosting renowned Christian rock band Hawk Nelson as part of Faith Night on Sunday, July 19th!

Your special status as an local baseball team Season Ticket Holder allows you the opportunity to purchase tickets for this concert before they go on sale to the general public!

The concert will take place at the ball park before the game on July 19th. Hawk Nelson will play at 4:00 p.m. and first pitch of the game will be at 6:05 p.m.

The concert will be general admission and standing room only. Another email will be sent prior to the event with additional details regarding parking, entrance, and the concert itself.

Tickets for Faith Night are just $15 and include admission to the concert as well as the baseball game that evening. We’ll also throw in a limited edition OKC Dodgers hat as a thank you for joining us for this special night!

To reserve your seats for Faith Night, simply contact your account representative, Lauren C. at phone number or email or click here to order online and enter promo code NELSON.

We’ll see you on July 19th for Hawk Nelson and the game!

Sincerely,

Michael B.

Michael B. | President/General Manager
local baseball team

So I replied, cc’ing the GM [3]:

What part of “No email” is unclear?

To which I got the following reply:

Mr. D,
My name is Ben B and I am Lauren’s manager with the local ball team. She had brought your email from last week to my attention in addition to today’s so I wanted to reach out and touch base with you.The reason why we keep the email addresses of our Season Ticket Holders on file is because we communicate to our customers frequently through email. Season ticket delivery, special events, and any game-night news regarding weather, etc. is disseminated in this manner, and we strongly encourage our Season Ticket Holders to have their email on file with us.

It is not Lauren’s decision, and by reaching out to you she was simply doing her job.

The only way to guarantee that you do not receive emails from our organization is to remove your address from the system. I can do this, but it will cause you to miss important announcements pertaining to your account and the team.

Would you like me to remove your email address from our system?

Thank you,

Ben B.
Manager of Inside Sales & Service
local baseball team

Now telling someone something once is OK. Telling them twice is annoying. But telling them three times? That just pisses me off. So I let Ben have it, again cc’ing the GM:

Ben,Yes, I do want you to stop sending me spam. That’s why I told Lauren not to send me any promotional emails the last time she ignored my “do not email” statement and why I refused to give you my phone number. That’s also why I lied on my birth date – honestly, don’/t (sic) you people know anything about identity theft? You’re going to have one heck of a liability problem when (not if) your database gets hacked!

Let me be as blunt as possible; perhaps then you will understand. We (the general public) don’t like spam. We don’t like getting email after email from your company trying to sell us yet one more thing. The only reason most people put up with it is because they aren’t willing to argue with the idiots in marketing who think that annoying people translates into more sales in the long run. (It really doesn’t.) If I had been able to order the tickets without giving you my email, I would have done so but you wouldn’t permit that. So I included a note on my order that you were not to use my email for any purpose other than completing the order – a notice which makes you liable under CAN-SPAM for any unsolicited emails (like the last one you sent).

Now you may think that what you send out isn’t spam. But the decision isn’t yours; it is the customer’s. And we *do* think it is spam. And since you won’t stop spamming me, I want to take your ability to spam me away by getting my email out of your system. If you told more people about that option, you’d be amazed at how many people would use it. (Or perhaps that is why you don’t tell people about that option.)

So please remove my email. Now. I really don’t want to have this conversation again; once was too often and twice was just rude on your part.

Sincerely yours,

John D.

I must have gotten under Ben’s skin because he immediately tried to defend himself:

John,I can honestly say that this is the first time I have had this complaint and therefore find it difficult to see that you speak for “we”, the general public. We have thousands of season ticket holders that enjoy receiving updates and interacting positively with our messaging.

I do not appreciate the condescending tone that you are using with Lauren or myself. Simply asking us to remove your email from the system would have taken care of everything and not led to long, time-consuming emails. I am quite sure that it is not fair to be calling Lauren and myself rude in this instance.

I have removed your email address from the ticketing system.

Ben B.

Manager of Inside Sales & Service
local baseball team

Not being one to let barking dogs lie, I replied once more cc’ing the GM:

Ben,
You contradict yourself. If you honestly believed that people are fine with your constant emails, then you would offer the option of buying the tickets without using an email address. As you do not allow that, you know that what you are doing is wrong and choose to do it anyways. (There is also the matter of Lauren ignoring my first and second calls to be removed. You obviously don’t understand simple English over there.)

As for the “condescending tone”, when a stranger interrupts your day there is no call to be polite – especially if you had already posted a “no trespassing sign”. Lauren’s choice to ignore my statement that I do not want to be pestered was simply rude; doing it twice was obnoxious. So you should not complain when I return rudeness for rudeness.

Now go away and never email me again.

Sincerely yours,

John D.

And that’s where the matter lies. If I don’t hear back from them, then I’ll know it worked. If I do, then I’ll just get ruder [4] until they do stop emailing me.

So why do I tilt at this particular windmill? Because it matters to me [5]. It always has mattered. During my marketing courses getting the MBA, I annoyed quite a few fellow students (and some professors) by pointing out that the customer has choices and trying to take them away never ends well for the business. When I was at the other science museum, I seriously piqued both the exhibit designer and the chief educator by pointing out that tracking our patrons [6] without their knowledge or consent was a violation of privacy, probably against state law, and definitely against NSF rules for human experimentation [7].

It matters to me because we are watching our privacy erode at an ever-increasing rate. And that erosion is almost entirely one-sided: companies and governments are learning more about you than you can ever learn about them, simply because they have more money which equals more ability. Unless we fight against this rising tide, eventually we will be unable to do anything that is not “public”, from buying bread to walking down the street to how often we go to the bathroom. Once that information is “public” (which really means “the property of some company”) it becomes a product that they can sell to others. And suddenly you start getting emails from Tibet inviting you to try their yak tea to cure your constipation.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not a product. I’m a private person who owns (or should own) the data I generate. And that’s why I toss sand into the gears of email spammers and others – because they are trying to steal what is mine.

John

[1] When I buy in person and they ask for that information, I tell them that I don’t have one. If they persist, then I call for the manager and tell them that they can either have the sale or insist on getting my information. If they insist, I leave after reminding them that under state laws, they cannot require that information.

[2] Under the CAN-SPAM Act, the statement limits this to a one-time purchase and voids the “ongoing business relationship” exclusion.

[3] Why CC the GM? Two reasons. First, it is entirely possible that he is unaware of what they are sending out under his signature; this lets him know. And two, it alerts him to problems with his management team and reminds him that without the support of the public there would be no baseball team.

[4] Why get ruder? Because they are being rude and don’t want to acknowledge it [a, b]. By being rude right back (and pointing out that I am only responding to their rudeness), I might eventually drive the point home that the customer’s choices are the only ones that matter; if you ignore this, then eventually you won’t have any customers.

[5] As a wise man once said, there is no such thing as altruism, just enlightened self-interest.

[6] And it still amazes me that the chief educator, who claimed to be fluent in Spanish” didn’t know what the word “patron” meant.

[7] That last mattered because the museum gets a significant fraction of its funding from the NSF.

[a] Why won’t they acknowledge it? Because they are unwilling to put themselves in the customer’s shoes. (Which is why they have to resort to rude measures in the first place.) Their very job depends on ignoring my choice to not have my email in their system.

[b] As Heinlein once wrote, “certain feet were made for stepping on, in order to improve the breed, promote the general welfare, and minimize the ancient insolence of office”.