Damon Kaswell

Damon Kaswell

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Posts by Damon Kaswell

Google+ hangouts = Worldwide coffee shop writing sessions

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I hate social networking. I do. I also love it, but that doesn’t lessen my hate. Allow me to explain…

If you’re anything like me — and if you’re reading this, you’re probably another science fiction and fantasy writer, so you’re at least a little bit like me — then you know exactly how effective Twitter, Facebook, LiveJournal, and other social networking sites can be at helping you vacuum the cat. Oh sure, you could work on that novel or write that short story you’ve been thinking about… or you could check your friend stream, and peruse various amusing pictures of cats. Look, your friend Gary’s got a new chihuahua, and gosh, that’s a hilarious video of monkeys grabbing a sandwich from someone standing too close to the bars at the zoo! It’s midnight already? Oh well, no time to write tonight…

Don’t get me wrong, social networks aren’t all bad. Among other things, they’re good ways to remain connected to friends and family you might otherwise grow distant from. Awesome. But they’re designed to keep your attention on them instead of on, for instance, that novel or short story you’re trying to finish.

But suddenly that has changed, with the advent of Google+. Google has done something I once considered impossible: It has provided the world with a social networking site that actually helps its users be more productive, not less. It accomplishes this with something they call “Hangouts.”

A Hangout is essentially an on-the-fly group video-conference. It allows groups of people from anywhere in the world to chat with each other. For writers, this is an absolute miracle of productivity, because nothing quite gets the creative juices going like peer pressure. It’s why we meet up to write in coffee shops and libraries.

Now, if I’m in a writing mood, I can essentially create my own virtual coffee shop, announce its presence to the world, and let writers I can’t normally hang out with drop in for some productivity. It is, in a word, awesome.

How awesome, you might ask? Well, let me put it this way… As a parent of two young kids, I hardly get writing time at all before 9:00 PM, when my eldest is asleep. Most of my writing for the last few years has been on buses, while commuting to and from the day job. This is not a terribly productive atmosphere, and I usually have to pack up and get off the bus just when I’m really getting going. And at 9:00 it’s really hard to make myself write instead of surf the web for those aforementioned cat pictures. But somehow, knowing there are other writers staring at me through my webcam forces me to open that story document, and start writing — even if they can’t actually see me, because they’re too busy looking at their own story documents. Their mere virtual presence is enough shame fuel to get me started. And of course, once I’m started, I keep going, because I like to write. All I need is some impetus, and something to distract me from the cats.

So from now on, I’ll be doing these hangouts regularly. Right now, Wednesday nights starting at 9:00 PM seem to work best, but I’ll update if that changes. If I have a couple hours to spare at other times, I’ll do hangouts then, too. If you see me, drop by, say hi, and start writing.

Egads… Sorry about that.

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So apparently, I suck at migrating posts from LiveJournal to here. I promise I’ll never do that again.

Greek god-like, yes?

Exercise (and cyborg gorillas)

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As some of you may know, I’m a computer engineer by day (and a superhero by night, but that’s a different story). The life of a computer technician is filled with enriching opportunities in the areas of Sitting All Day, Not Moving, and Forgetting Why You Have Feet.

I only get one body in this life, assuming I never have my brain placed in a cyborg gorilla. Barring advances in cyborg gorilla technology, I should expect to remain encased in this particular collection of meat and calcium for the duration. I’d prefer to enjoy being in it, and I’d like it to last well into the adulthoods of my grandchildren. Hence my foray into the mysterious land of Exercise. In this picture, you can see the results thus far. I’m pretty happy with them — although I’d be the first to admit a cyborg gorilla body would probably be more muscular, and would certainly have more lasers.

On a serious note, I’ve known too many computer professionals who passed away too young, because they never managed to get out of the poor-health rut computer work tends to draw people into. Please… Just a few minutes a day can mean the difference between a longer, happier life and an early grave. There’s no such thing as no time to exercise.

Cyborg gorillas are exempt from this plea, of course.

Greek god-like, yes?

You are not intelligently designed… yet…

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Human beings still have wisdom teeth. Our spines aren’t very good at standing us up straight. Our recurrent laryngeal nerves make a biologically unnecessary trip down into the thorax before making their way back up our necks. And we’re woefully inefficient food processors, producing far more waste than would be biologically necessary if someone decided to make a human from the ground up.

But… We’re also very, very smart.

Human biological engineering is becoming more and more a science fact, rather than science fiction, and that got me to thinking: What if we could engineer away our own inefficiencies?

Take food, for instance. Imagine you could rework your stomach and intestines to extract far more from what you eat than you currently do, turning your body into a super-efficient calorie-extracting machine. Imagine one meal keeping you sated for a week, after which you would… ahem… excrete whatever tiny amount of matter could not be used as fuel in any way, in the form of one small, hard pellet.

From an environmental and humanitarian standpoint, such a biological change would be of extraordinary benefit. No more starvation, no more squabbling over land resources for growing food… It’s hard to imagine a down side. Overnight, overpopulation concerns are gone, or at least staved off for a day far in the future.

And what about water? Why do we need to urinate at all? If we were more efficient, everything that currently comes out as urine could be included in your weekly excretion. We could stay hydrated on maybe one cup of water every two days. The drain on the world’s waterways could disappear practically over night.

And sleep? What if you could improve your sleep efficiency such that one hour a night was enough? Or even take a pill that negates the need for sleep entirely? Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to spend an extra eight hours a day with their family and friends? Or earn a little extra income with an additional part-time job? Or, to make it more personal, have the time to work on that novel?

I know some people would be horrified at the concept of a human being as thoroughly bioengineered as I’m describing, but why? Is there a downside? If so, what? Sure, I’d miss eating lots, but that’s because I’m biologically wired to crave food. What if I wasn’t?

And how would society change to accommodate a human race that eats once a week, drinks very little water, and hardly ever sleeps? What other changes can you imagine that would make us more efficient?

Hey, look at that…

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Oh Table Of Contents, you’re such a wonderful tease: Electric Velocipede, Issue 21/22.

The Act of Creation

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Some time in the next few days, I’ll become a father again, and it’s got me thinking about the nature of creativity.

The universe is an inherently entropic system. Whether it eventually collapses back into the singularity from which it emerged, or expands continuously until the very atoms that comprise matter rip themselves apart, this universe will end. Perhaps it is a cyclical event, and a new one will appear in its place, but that is academic. This universe, this time, this place in which I find myself… It will not be in any meaningful sense a part of whatever comes after.

Creativity, to me, is the act of striving against this eventuality. Making order out of chaos, whether it’s the chaos of ideas that fills my head and becomes my stories, or the chaos of matter sloshing against matter that becomes my children. Doing, building, giving form and shape… these are anti-entropic acts.

I find that amazing. What an astonishing turn of events, that an assortment of atoms came together and became adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine, which in turn produced my ancestors and, eventually, me. And that I, in my small way, can resist entropy, can make some tiny portion of the universe go the other way. I can create.

What an opportunity!

Enfranchise yourself

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If you currently live in the United States, then you probably pay your taxes. You probably obey traffic rules. You probably don’t spend all day breaking and/or ignoring the law or otherwise behaving in a manner wholly inconsistent with societal norms.

In other words, your behavior and actions are, for pragmatic reasons if nothing else, bound and restricted by the society you have chosen to live in.

There’s a school of thought — and I use the word “school” and the word “thought” here loosely — that suggests choosing not to vote is a valid way of expressing one’s rejection of the system of laws we’re bound by. Refusing to participate in the electoral process becomes a weapon against the corruption of that process and the government it is associated with. It’s a way of saying, “I won’t be bound by your petty rules!”

This is utterly wrong. Unless you have rejected your social security number, work only under the table for barter, reject the use of anything created by or for the government at any level, and so on, you are obviously bound by the government’s “petty rules.” Every time you wait for the light to change, drink municipal water, use money, make a phone call, email anyone, or engage with society in nearly any way, you are also engaging with that society’s laws.

By choosing not to vote, you are not rejecting the law. You are only rejecting your own ability to have any say in the law.

You are free to abandon this society completely, if you so choose. But as long as you live here, why not take a few minutes out of your day to have some input regarding the society that, like it or not, you are bound by?

Do yourself a favor. Vote.

Resuming radio silence

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Have a good night, everyone. And I do mean everyone. I’ll leave you all with this little-known fact: When I catch a cold, I usually lose my voice, but not all of my voice. Just the mid-range, where I usually talk. I’m left with a squeaky falsetto, a deep baritone, and nothing in between.

That’s right. Today, I am swinging wildly from Mickey Mouse to Luther Vandross.

[Politics] I voted

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Now it’s your turn.

[Politics] Temporarily ending radio silence

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I’m home sick today, and [ljuser]floatingtide[/ljuser] is out with Beatrix at her cousin’s birthday party, so I figured I’d kick back, do a little writing, and relax.

Instead, the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear is on, and has sucked me in. So I will be spending the day being entertained instead, and blog/liveblog about it. (For instance, Jon Stewart is on at the moment).

Oh, that’s not to say I won’t be productive in a few other ways. I’ll do some dishes, I’ll have some Vitamin C (after all, what’s more productive than trying to nuke the virus making me feel miserable right now?), and one other thing:

I’m going to VOTE.

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