March of Progress

You are a scientist at the top of your field. The government has given you millions in funding, because they believe your research might be of long-term practical use to them. You’re weeks, maybe days, away from completion, and you find out that the government you believed to be peaceful and only wants your dangerous technology for the greater good of man is in fact building a weapon of mass destruction. Desperate you have to choose between letting them take the device and possibly killing millions with it, or destroy your research and bury yourself in some distant third-world country and hope they never find you and force you to recreate the work. What do you do?

I hate to take the edge of this riveting hypothetical moral dilemma, but it doesn’t matter what you do. If you’re that close to completing your research then three or four other people around the world probably are as well. And even if you’re ahead of your game on this, it’ll be reinvented in a year or two. There’s no motivation for the human race to get something done then knowing for certain that it can be done. You can destroy your research, but that won’t stop it from being recreated. Once something is invented, even by just one person, it can’t be un-invented. We can’t go back in time. Technology has this way of sticking around whether we like it or not.

For hundreds of years people have screamed about the march of progress. As an acquaintance of mine once put it “I’m sure horse breeder decried the auto-mobile as well.” This attitude continues today. “This technology is harmful. It should be banned, or legislated or suppressed.” Or maybe we’re afraid technology will put people out of work, and upset the economic balance. Never mind that overall it is progress: better not to go there. Suppress the research, pass laws restricting the use of the tech, and spread discontent through a culture to inhibit it’s usefulness.

Guess what? There’s no point. Sooner or later it will come into use. And you know what? We’ll survive, just like we always have. The horse breeders found some other line of occupation. Blacksmiths phased out of existence without upsetting the economy. And you know what? Writers, and publishers, and agents and musicians and record labels will survive the existence of the internet as well.

I mean, the organizations might not. But the human race will get by without them anyway. Didn’t see that coming, did you? Yes, this is a post about ebooks and pirating and people who can’t recognize when they’re not needed any more. It’s written in response to this article by Wired, talking about how insane ebook pricing is right now. It’s understandable; we’re afraid of change. And the publishing companies have the most to lose, so of course they’re going to fight. But in the end there’s no point. And we shouldn’t encourage them. A quick merciful death is the best way.

The world is changing. “The old rules don’t apply anymore, and no one knows what the new rules will be.” And that’s okay. It’s going to be chaos and pandemonium for a while as we figure out how writers are going to get paid, but we’ll figure it and things will stabilize again and books will still get written for as long as there are people to read them. The sooner we all give up and stop fighting the machine the quicker and easier the transition will be. Stop fighting the inevitable. Stand aside and let the world march on.

Technlogy is Changing Your Life (And you Don’t Even Know It)

After the Windows 8 incident I suddenly started noticing all the other ways technology has improved in ways we don’t even realize. They’re coming up with creative new ways to do things we didn’t realize needed to be change. Such as ice trays.

Remember these? These are what I had in my freezer my whole life. (Except when we had automatic ice makers, which is a completely different story.) They’re made of plastic. Hard plastic. To get the ice out you have to twist them into an S. We had some flexible ones, but after a few twists they would start breaking, which made for pretty poor ice trays. So eventually my mom found some old ones at a garage sale made of much stiffer stuff. We cheered for backwards progress; no more cracks! But… you can’t twist them. At all. And therefore the ice doesn’t come out. Oh well…

One day, a few months ago, I opened the freezer door and found this beautiful thing waiting for me.

(Well, mine is blue.)

Now, I knew they’d been making ice trays entirely out of silicone rubber, but they weren’t much better than the plastic ones. Their problem was that they were too flexible; the ice just bent around with them and never came out. And they came in fancy shapes that sort of clung to small nooks and crannies and couldn’t be pried out. I ignored those ice trays and stuck to the old fashioned ones. But this new toy…

It’s made out of hard plastic, like a proper ice tray should be. Nice and stiff to hold the ice cubes in ice cube shapes. But in the bottom, just the bottom, it’s soft, pliable, silicone rubber. Just right for sticking in a finger and popping out a single cube. Or two, or three; the exact number you need instead of the entire tray. And it comes out nicely, without any fuss or banging.

I’m still marvelling. It never occurred to me that there was a better way to make ice cube trays! They’re just a part of life, like death and taxes. But there it was before me; one of the marvels of modern technology.

The second thing is ketchup packets.

Yeah, I’m serious. Remember these things? How they slurp all over and get on your fingers, no matter how careful you are. How there’s never hardly any ketchup in them, so you have to ask the drive-through lady for like, twenty, and then there are leftovers rattling around the car forever, and you have so many empty packets by the time you’re done with your fries that you can make a card house–if you can get them open, that is. I mean, who doesn’t hate these?

And then I was in Chik-fil-A and they had something different. Something new, and shiny, fancy, creative, and completely innovative. No more mess, no more fuss, no more impossible to open packets that suddenly break and squirt ketchup where it’s not meant to go.

Who came up with these? Who was looking at the lame foil ketchup packets in McDonald’s and thought “there’s a better way to do this”? Whoever they are; good for them. I hope they’re now rich beyond their wildest dreams. They deserve a prize for improving our day-to-day lives without us even having to ask for it.

And a bonus entry before I go: I was standing in the checkout lane of Publix and they had SD cards and USB flashdrives right there next to the batteries and the lighters. The future is here.

Windows 8 and the Future is Here

I know, if I were going to write a review about the latest Windows operating system I’m a bit late. You’ve probably heard it already, multiple times, or else you don’t care. But this is different. Promise. To begin with, I don’t really like Windows. I like Ubuntu. This post isn’t really about Windows. This is about Windows 8, and how it’s a herald of the future.

A few months ago I started thinking about buying a laptop. I thought about what I wanted in a laptop, I started staring at ultrabooks on Amazon, and finally I trudged over to Staples to see what sort of shiny new hardware they had lying around. (That’s what I like about real brick-and-mortar electronic stores; you can play with stuff and then go home and buy it on Amazon.) They didn’t have an ultrabooks, sadly, but they had all the cool tablets, and some cool laptops. And then I got down to the desktop setups and discovered they had touch screen monitors.

My friend keeps insisting this is nothing new. Touchscreen monitors come and go like 3D movies. And I know I’m probably quite behind the times and everyone else already knows about this. But since I haven’t heard anyone saying it I think you’ve missed the point. We have touch screen monitors.

Do you know what this means? We have achieved Minority Report level of technology. Iron Man level is only a few years off. Standing there in that old fashioned, real life electronics store I flicked my fingers and screens flashed by. I had the option of a mouse and keyboard for finer work, but the convenience of simple hand-gestures was astonishing and a little addicting. Seriously, I want one.

No, really. I want one. Don’t tell me it’s bad for you or impractical. Those movies weren’t that far off. Soon we’ll have that level of technology on a day-to-day basis. We will have computers that are tablets, and vice versa, that work with external input or respond to hand gestures. And meanwhile we’re working on something else:

Google glass. Virtual reality glasses. In the movies these are holographic projections. Remember that scene in Iron Man 3 where he recreates the bomb scene? Or, in fact, every seen in all those movies where he changes the zoom of what he’s working with by flicking his fingers? If we’re already used to working on computers with our fingers, once we have virtual reality glasses that project holographic illusions, then those glasses can respond to the same gestures and we’ll have Iron Man class technology.

Every Office Joke Ever

I work in an office now.

I’ve read Dilbert all my life, and Blondie for a good many years. My father is an Electrical Engineer by trade, and Staple is one of my favourite stores. I thought I understood the office thing pretty well.

Let me tell you; there is a difference between understanding and experiencing. For one thing, it’s all true. Every joke ever made is based in solid fact. The water cooler gossip, the office party, the boss snapping at you to get back to work–it all makes sense now!

To begin with, office work is mind-blowingly dull. It’s all about answering the phone, sending email, and filing. All day, every day. No matter how much you do, there’s more to be done. Delivering pizza or flipping burgers begins to look like as an alternative; except for one thing. Office work pays better than fast food. Much better. And why?

1. Office work is meticulous. You deal with idiots on the phone all day, and you can’t ever lose patience with them. You must be cool and calm and helfup and polite every. single. time. 2. You can’t make mistakes. You know the joke about how a misplaced comma can save a life? It can also save millions of dollars. 3. It takes a brain. Your average hamburger flipper can’t work in an office job. You have to be able to read, write legibly, perform basic math, and not make mistakes.

Besides being better paid, office workers are also better treated. They get to sit on their butts all day, decorate their own space, and work in a calm, clean, quiet, air-conditioned environment. Minimum-wage-job workers are jealous of this, and with reason. But why are office workers so well treated? Because a happy office worker is a productive office worker, and all office work is about productivity. Over at Burger King you threaten and employee with his job if he’s not fast enough. And if he quits, you replace him. In the office you might threaten too, but you also pacify. Anger taken out on hamburgers is anger well spent. Anger taken out on customers means a lost deal.

And that’s why office managers do things like provide a water cooler, throw office parties, and offer bonuses. It’s all about keeping those employees happy, and thus making sure those employees don’t make mistakes. It also helps employees enjoy their job because of the nice atmosphere; because who could possibly enjoy the mind-numbing tedium induced by a page full of telephone numbers?

Which leads me to the other thing I never quite understood: office pranks. ThinkGeek offers many toys for the purpose of pranking the office. These I never understood. Try to pull a trick like that in Wal-mart and you’ll be walking out the door. They have no patience for fun and games. Offices, you see, are different. Fun and games (within reason) are encouraged to alleviate boredom. Office pranking (within reason) is no more out of bounds than gossip.

Ideally would an office manager wish his employees were all robots who mindlessly did their task perfectly, and without question? Of course. But they don’t expect it. Instead they pay well, treat their employees well, and tolerate office pranking. And they do this in so many ways! Staples sells enormous jars of snacks or candy. I never understood why; until now. It’s for office managers to provide their employees with to help spread peace and goodwill and productivity.

Excuse me while I sing a few choruses of “It’s Friday” and watch a few episodes of “The Office” and try to scare some semblance of creativity back into my brain. And the next time you’re laughing at an episode of “Dilbert” remember.

It’s all true.

(And this. This is true too.)

Misha Collin’s Biggest Prank

At the beginning of this year I spent six weeks in Minnesota with a friend. While I was up there one of the things she insisted I do was watch the show Supernatural with her. She did this particularly because she wanted me to be acquainted with the character of Castiel (or Cas) an angel who’s alternately used for dramatic or comedic relief. (Seriously, the showriters used that character. There’s no other word for it.) Cas remains throughout the show innocent, serious, loyal, honest to a fault, loyal, serious, and innocent. And then I came home and got involved with actually having a life and sort of forgot about it.

Until, for some reason, I followed the actor on twitter. The actor’s name is Misha Collins. You can follow him here. He’s as unlike his character (Cas) as an actor possibly can be. I’ve only followed him for about two weeks, and instantly I learned one very important fact. The guy likes to have fun. Lots of it. And he likes to have fun at other people’s expense. He’s a celebrity, which means people pay attention to him. And most celebrities use their popularity to help charities in some way, but Misha is really serious about it. The only thing he’s more serious about is having fun. At the expense of other people.

So last week I found out about one of Misha’s biggest projects. The Greatest International Scavenger Hunt The World Has Ever Seen, or GISHWHES for short. I found out about it the day registration closed, a week before the seven day Hunt began, and I spent all day reading and rereading the website and mulling it over.

It looked like fun. Tons of fun. It also looked like a huge time commitment. But then I’m practically unemployed, so I have a lot of time on my hands. There’s a registration fee; but that’s to keep people honest. And finally, after some encouragement from an old friend, I signed up. I made a graphic. And I spent the next few days wondering what I had got myself into.

Of course, I also took the precaution of following some people on Twitter and Facebook, and soon a list of last years items surface. 150 some items. All of them rather huge projects. I laughed at them, and began to look forward to the event. I marvelled at their complexity, and the deviousness of their author. I admired how some of them were intended to benefit the community independently from the actual Hunt. I found it cool that some of them were publicity stunts in the style of improv everywhere. But some of them were so utterly ridiculous that I thought “who would ever do these?” And then the true nature of Misha Collins dawned on me.

He’s a prankster, plain and simple.

And GISHWHES is his biggest prank ever.

The Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen is exactly what it claims to be, and a little bit more. He tricks us all by picking winners and making it seem like there’s really some kind of a point to it, when secretly his laughing his pants off because he managed to get so many otherwise sane people to engage in totally pointless and utterly insane activities. GISHWHES is one big joke, and all the participants are the butt of it.

I mean, think about it. If an ordinary stranger asked us to take a picture wearing nothing but kitchenware, we’d call the cops. If a school friend dared us to take a picture wearing nothing but kitchenware we’d tell him to take a hike. But because it’s Misha Collin’s scavenger hunt thousands of people rush off to do just that.

I fell for it. I’m a part of GISHWHES 2013, and I’m going to do my best and have a lot of fun and fail spectacularly. I’ll let you know how it goes when it’s over. It starts on Sunday. Wish me luck.

And if I ever get a chance to prank Misha big time then, believe me, I’m going to take it.

The Greatest Story Ever Told

This post is about Superman.

My sister, father, and I went to see Man of Steel in theatres. This was a big deal for us. We all love Superman, and were really, really excited about the new movie. My sister and dad don’t even go to see theatrical releases. But, alas, this is the year of disappointing movies.

After the film was over we went to McDonalds and got ice cream. We talked about the 40 minutes of mandatory car-smashing and glass-breaking that occurs in all these films. We talked about the distinct lack of plot and originality in various superhero films. On the drive home we compared Man of Steel to Christopher Reeves Superman. We came to the following conclusion:

The original (Christopher Reeves) Superman was really hokey in terms of effects. I mean, flying around the world really fast to reverse time? O-kay. But the plot was good. The relationships were compelling. In Man of Steel the effects were jaw-dropping. The details of Krypton was stunning. The plot was meh, and the relationships were pretty much non-existent. (Except for all the development between Clark and his parents. I will grant that that was extremely well-done. And I will also point out that clips from that made up 85% of the trailers. Mostly we’re picking on Lois Lane here.)

And then we figured out what the plot for Man of Steel should have been. It primarily involves making Zod more wily, and less idiotic. Clark holds the fate of an entire race in his hands, and destroys it, and nobody cares because they don’t realize what’s going on. It hasn’t had time to be absorbed because we only just had it explained to us. Clark never even hesitates. And then, in the final battle with Zod, it turns into a big “I don’t want to kill you” or “I don’t kill” sort of emotional thing that was never set up for! (Because, basically, there is no dialogue during these fight scenes. What happened to the time-honored tradition of witty banter between hero and villain?)

So here’s what Zod should have done. He should have come in peace. He doesn’t know what Clark knows. Even Clark isn’t sure what he knows. The mere prescence of aliens would have been enough to draw him out. Zod should hav e been friendly, fatherly. Shown him the wonders and history of Krypton. Offered him a piece of what he had lost. Explain why he’s so important to saving Krypton. Done a bit of lying. And Clark would have been tempted. He should have considered it. It should have been a hard choice. So when he finally does destroy the Genesis chamber it would break his heart…. and all of us with it.

It should have been more like the third season finale of Doctor Who. We all know that the Doctor doesn’t like killing anyone. Even his enemies. And we all know that he’s alone in the world, and desperately lonely. And then suddenly there’s a chance, just a chance, that he’s not alone after all. There’s another member of his race, a man who’s almost a brother to him, his oldest, most charming enemy – the Master.

The third season finale of Doctor Who is really hokey in some ways. But we don’t care, just like we didn’t care about Christopher Reeves reversing time by flying really fast, because we’re so drawn into the emotion of what’s going on. The Doctor’s agony in having to destroy the only hope for companionship he’s ever going to get it very, very real to us. Clark’s agony is something we’re only guessing exists. He never even appeals to Zod as a kinsman. (Because, again, no dialogue in this movie.)

Now we come to the bottom line. My dad is the one who figured out what makes Doctor Who so compelling, and what makes Man of Steel so blah. And he’s not a writer. He has no story sense. He’s a good critique, but not all that great at coming up with plots. So if you agree with me that our alternate version of Man of Steel is pretty good then you’ll be wondering why it wasn’t the writer that came up with it. It’s because my dad is really smart.

All the best stories are based in some manner upon the story of Christ. It’s the greatest story ever told, and it has no equal. It has plots no one has ever thought of, or ever will. It has themes like betrayal, redemption, and temptation. My dad said: “Clark is perfect. Christ is perfect and he got tempted in the wilderness for 40 days. So why wasn’t Clark tempted?” In his mind it’s a logical progression. Perfect protagonists have to suffer from temptation. The Doctor, for all his occasional sappy behaviour, weeps for his enemies; another rare concept found primarily and originally in the bible. Christopher Reeves, in his Superman, portrays sacrificial love.

Take your favourite story, your most compelling character, and find out what aspect of the bible is portrayed in them. I think you’ll be surprised at the results. And the next time you’re writing a story that seems boring, unoriginal, or lacking intensity, look at it through these lenses and see what’s missing. Reinvent the oldest story in the world, and you’ll be retelling the greatest story ever told. And that’s a film my dad and I will spend money to see.

Three Doctors at a Ren Faire (Illustrated!)

The First Time

“I know!” The Doctor said to me. “We’ll go to a Renaissance Faire!”

“You have a time machine,” I pointed out. “Why don’t we just go to the Renaissance?”

“Don’t be boring,” he retorted, twirling around the console, pin-striped coat flapping behind him. “They’re completely different things. The actual Renaissance spanned hundreds of years and multiple countries and didn’t involve brightly coloured costumes or sword swallower at all. This will be much more fun.”

Before I could open my mouth to protest he pulled a big blue lever and we careened wildly into the vortex.

The Second Time

The Doctor was never forgetful. He could list every where he’d been, and when, with whom, and what they had done. It would take years to complete the list, but he could do it. The moment he opened the TARDIS doors and stepped out onto the broad grey-gravel square of Briarwood he knew he’d been here before, and that he was fated to come again. There was no way to fight it; and no reason too. The way he remembered it they all helped each other…

The Third Time

It was time. Somehow instinctively he knew, in his hearts, in his bones, that the moment was right and it was time to go back. It was time to save the world again, save himself, save them all… for a moment he wondered what the point was. Wondered if he just didn’t go; left himself behind there. Maybe it would be better that way. But even as he thought gloomy thoughts he was instinctively setting coordinates, travelling backwards to cross his own timeline for the third and final time.

The First Time

The Doctor was right; the faire was fun. I kept losing track of him in the crowds, but never for long. He was always easily found in the middle of the action, talking to anyone who crossed his path, and blissfully unaware how out of place he looked in the swirl of colors and costumes. Walking back from the circus I lost him again, and this time he didn’t reappear as easily as he had before. I soon caught a glimpse of him in the Tavern, and was surprised to see him standing behind the counter talking to some of the Faire Staff.

“Doctor!” I shouted, running towards him. I stopped as he turned towards me, skidded to a stop as he took a step back.

“You– you changed clothes,” I stammered, although that was clearly not the most important thing at hand.

“Mikaela,” he spoke my name. “Of course. I’m so sorry…”

The Second Time

He hadn’t expected to see her yet. He didn’t remember this. There was no script for him to follow. For a moment he stared incomprehensibly.

“What are you doing here?” she stammered. “Why are you looking at me this way?”

“It’s complicated,” he tried to explain. “I’m not who you think I am. Well, I am. I mean, I’m the Doctor. But not your Doctor. You should find him. Tell him to get out of here while he still can.”

“Why?” she asks. She’s confused, but not frightened. Brave girl.

“Tell him to beware of the Enchanter,” the Doctor says. “He’ll stop at nothing to destroy us all.”‘

The Third Time

He sits and waits. He tries to be inconspicuous, but everyone keeps glancing curiously at his tweed coat and bow-tie. He’s out of place in this flashy world of flowers, fairy wings, and ridiculous hats. He doesn’t remember feeling uncomfortable about his appearance before. Not in nine-hundred years of travelling. But today he wishes he could just be invisible. He doesn’t want to see them, but he knows he must. And so he keeps watch on the Enchanter’s tent.

The First Time

I find the Doctor again, this time wearing the same blue suit he had had on all day. All week, in fact. He was talking animatedly to a shop keeper, bouncing on his heels like a little boy in a toy shop.

“Doctor,” I exclaimed breathlessly. “We have to talk.”

“Mikaela,” he said, with a smile. “There you are. Enjoying yourself?”

“Yes,” I said instantly, for I was. “But there’s something weird going on.”

He pays attention to me instantly. We both know what weird can mean.

“Weird how?” he asks.

“I just saw you,” I explain. “There.” I point. “And you were wearing different clothes.”

He frowns. “Did I say anything?”

“Yes,” I tell him. “You told me to tell… you, to leave while you still can. And to look out for the Enchanter; he’ll stop at nothing to destroy us all.”

“The Enchanter?” he looks instantly worried. “We should go. Come on!”

“Why?” I asked breathlessly. “What’s going on? Doctor, what is it?”

“I don’t know,” the Doctor said. “But if there’s another version of me here, a future version…”

He stopped abruptly, and I ran straight into his back. “Ow,” I said, stepping back and rubbing my nose.

He didn’t respond; only stared at the empty field.

“What is it?” I asked again.

“The TARDIS,” he squeaked, pointing. “It’s gone!”

The Second Time

The warning wouldn’t do any good, of course. The Doctor ran out into the courtyard, knowing things would play out the second time in exactly the same way they had the first time. If he could get to his TARDIS maybe he could–

He came to an abrupt halt, staring at the wide stone yard. The TARDIS was gone.

The Third Time

No point avoiding it any more. He feels it in his bones just as he did before. Now is the time to stand up, stretch, and stand somewhere he’ll be visible when they–there. He sees himself running from one direction with Mikaela, and from the other alone. They all three meet in front of the Enchanter’s tent.

All Three Times Together

“You!” the first two doctors exclaim, staring at each other, fascinated.

“I know what you’re all wondering,” the third Doctor interjects, stepping between them. “Yes, I’m you. Yes, I’m you from the future. Your TARDISes have been taken by the Enchanter, who is currently ensconced in that tent over there. I suppose you’d like them back now?”

The first two doctors stop poking at each other and pay attention to their future incarnation.

“How do you know all this?” they exclaim at the same time.

“I’ve been here before,” the third one explains. “Twice, in fact.”

“Ah, right,” they say, at the same time. Again.

“This is too weird,” Mikaela says, covering her eyes in mock horror. “This is waaaay too weird.”

“So who is the Enchanter?” the first one asks.

“And how do we stop him?” the second one asks. “I don’t remember this part.”

The third Doctor straightens his bow-tie. “Let’s go ask him,” he suggests, and walks purposely towards the tent. His past selves follow.

The Enchanter

The Enchanter cackles as he bends over his bubbling green pot. His hair is long and stringy, and grey with dirt, grime, and age. Surrounding him are the marks of his trade; bird’s claws and foul-smelling weeds. And hanging from his ceiling, shimmering in the firelight are three miniature TARDISes, barely over a foot in height. All his life he has waited for this moment; the moment that his enemy walks into his hands; three times over.

Mikaela

I watched the three versions of my Doctor walk away from me, and felt no urge to follow. Was it smart to walk right into the enemy’s camp like that? None of them seemed to notice me, which just made me more angry. Clearly the Doctor was more interested in himself than he was in me. Maybe it was high time to go home and get on with a real life instead of gallivanting around putting my life in danger just for the sake of high adventure. I started to walk away, changed my mind, and went back to the bench the strange man in a bow-tie had been sitting on. Was he really the Doctor as well? I wondered. How had he changed his appearance? I settled down to wait.

The Enchanter

“Mwahahaha!” he exclaims, as his enemy walks through the tent door in triplicate. “Now I have you all right where I want you!”

The air is thick with herbs and magic. The second Doctor coughs, the third Doctor breaths in through his sleeve, and the first Doctor looks around anxiously for his companion.

“Where is Mikaela?” he exclaims.

Mikaela

The Doctor is only absent-minded, not careless. Within seconds he’s back, looking around anxiously.

“Mikaela!” He shouts. I’m more relieved then I thought I would be to hear his voice.

“Right here, Doctor,” I said, standing. “Would you kindly tell me what’s going on?”

“Do you want to know what’s going on with the missing TARDIS or with the other versions of me?” he asked worriedly.

“Both,” I said.

“Can I deal with the one first and explain the other later?” he pleads.

I toyed momentarily with the idea of tormenting him, but he’s so anxious that I gave in. “Fine,” I said. “As long as you make good on that promise.”

“I always keep my promises,” he retorted instantly. “Come on then!”

He holds out his hand, and I took it, knowing I could never give this up.

Two Doctors and a Madman

“What have you done with my TARDIS?” the two remaining Doctors shout simultaneously. The second turns to the third, confused. “Weren’t you expecting this?” he asked.

“Not as such, no,” the third admits. “I kind of thought my job was just to show up and repeat everything I remembered from the previous two times I was here. Apparently our Enchanter friend is messing with our history as well!”

The Enchanter chuckles and rubs his hands together. “I control your TARDIS,” he says. “In three different points in time. I can alter your timeline in any way I choose. In fact, I can control any part of time I wish! Using my magic arts I can change time without even leaving my tent! And the first act of villainy I will commit will be to wipe you out of existence, leaving me the sole master of the Vortex!”

“Stop him!” the second Doctor yells.

“I don’t know how to do that,” the third responds. “I always improvise!”

“Well, so do I,” says the second, “But nothing is coming to mind at this point!”

At that moment the back of the tent is torn open and the first Doctor bursts through, sonic screwdriver glowing. One of the TARDISes responds instantly, regrowing to full size and crushing the bubbling pot in the process.

“What have you done?” the Enchanter yells furiously.

“It was Mikaela’s idea,” the Doctor says with a grin.

“Watch out,” the second Doctor says. “He controls the time Vortex!”

“He can’t possibly,” the first Doctor scoffs. “Not unless he can get inside, and making the TARDIS small doesn’t help with that. He was bluffing.”

“But he said he changed the timelines,” the second Doctor insists. “This ridiculously dressed future version of ourselves didn’t remember any of this.”

The third Doctor coughed, and everyone turned to look at him.

“First of all,” he said indignantly, “I am not sadly dressed. Bow-ties are cool.”

No one responds. Everyone waits for the second thing.

“Secondly,” he says finally, “I remember all this just fine. I lied about the changing timeline.”

“Why?” the second Doctor asks, annoyed. “You could have saved us so much trouble.”

The third shrugs. “It’s what happened the last two times I was here,” he said. “What else was I supposed to do?”

He pulls his own sonic screw driver out of his pocket, and in a minute there are two full-sized TARDISes standing side by side. “Now that I’ve sorted all that out I should be going,” he says. “I was kind of in the middle of a crises when I came here. Saving the world and all that.”

“Tally-ho!” says the first Doctor, but the second one puts a hand on the third’s shoulder gently.

“Are you all right?” he asks himself. “I mean, you don’t look all that good.”

“You know I can’t talk about that,” the Doctor says quietly.

“But if you could?” he asks himself.

He shakes his head and steps inside. In a moment the TARDIS is gone, leaving room for second Doctor to enlarge his own.

“So where am I?” Mikaela demands. “How come you’re him but I’m not here too?”

“Sometimes people move on,” the second Doctor says with a shrug. “No one ever stays forever.”

Mikaela

“Is that true?” I demanded of the Doctor, my Doctor. “No one stays? Why?”

He gestured clumsily at the ruined tent and the howling Enchanter. “Have you never got tired of all this?” he asked. “The running and constantly being almost killed?”

“No,” I said instantly, but I lied. For a moment there was uncomfortable silence. Then:

“Well, where do you want to go next?” he asked brightly, and a shadow lifted from the room.

“Hmmm,” I pretended to think.

He laughed at me, already knowing what I was going to say.

“All right, all right,” he said. “We’ll go see the real Renaissance. It’s past time to pay Will Shakespeare another visit anyway. I wonder if he’s finished Hamlet yet?”

Epilogue

Yesterday I went to the KyRenFaire with four friends. We saw many things while we were there, including three versions of the Doctor from Doctor Who. I don’t usually post fiction on here, let alone fanfic, but I feel that this needs to be shared with the world as a Mostly Totally True Story. And it’s illustrated! And here’s us: standing outside the gate. Sadly we didn’t drag all three Doctors out to pose with us, and none of us bought a bird-house TARDIS.

My Bastard Children

Everyone, at some point, has done something and then ignored it. Perhaps it seemed a good idea at the time, or you did it because you were confident of success, or a friend or relative pressured you into it, or it was just the cool thing to do. And then you forgot about it because it turned out to be less of a good idea, or a dismal failure, or it was plain embarrassing, or just not worth the effort. These are your bastard children.

Maybe you write a fantasy novel when you were fifteen (or twelve, if you’re fifteen at the time of reading this) and decided to self-publish it through Createspace. After all, that’s the popular thing to do, and it’s a really great novel, and your family was all so proud of you. Now, five years later, you wince every time someone mentions the title.

Or maybe you thought that, since you write so much for your blog you should put some blog posts together and publish them as an instant ebook and make some extra money that way! Only, two years later, you figure no one is really interested in your opinion anyway, let alone paying for what they can get for free, so you keep thinking “Oh yeah, I do have this other book” and generally being embarrassed that you haven’t given it proper attention.

Yeah, I’m talking about Sanctity of Life. You can see it in the sidebar to your right. In fact, that’s the only place you can see it; there and at #80 on Amazons “Philosophy and Politics” list. There aren’t even any reviews of it!

When you have a bastard child you can do one of two things. You can ignore it and treat it as a source of embarrassment to you, or you can acknowledge it or you can embrace it as your own in spite of its flaws. Sometimes you hire an assassin to murder it so it can’t hurt your future career choices.

We all tend towards the first option, but shouldn’t we really take the second course of action? Isn’t that more profitable to us and our children; legitimate or otherwise? Occasionally the third option should be taken, as in the case of that novel you published when you were fifteen. (or twelve.)

This is me acknowledging “Sanctity of Life” as a proper book, and promising to treat it with dignity and respect. And it’s even going to get a cousin! Look for “The Universe, Science, and God” coming this summer. And I promise to find reviewers for both.

In fact, if you would like to write a review then let me know and I’ll be happy to send you a complimentary copy!

So what are you going to do with your bastards? Acknowledge them, or have them taken out back and shot?

Make Bad Art

If you haven’t seen Neil Gaiman’s “Make Good Art” speech you should. Right now. Here’s a link for you. It’s only 20 minutes; I’ll wait. Or you can get the book. There’s a book now. I haven’t read it, but I’m sure it’s quite good.

Now you know what I’m parodying in the title, right? Good.

So why would someone who’s as big a fan of “Make Good Art” as I am write a blog post encouraging people to make bad art? I’ll tell you why; because you’re going to do it anyway.

We all make terrible art at some point in our lives. We all write stuff that’s really crummy, or perform badly, or generally blunder around not knowing what we’re doing. And we compare our current efforts to what we wish we were doing and it results in discouragement, frustration, and discontentment. We begin to worry that we’ll never turn out any good art in our lives.

Well that’s not true. It might never be considered brilliant by the rest of the world, but if you keep at it and do your best you will eventually do something you’re proud of. All it takes is determination.

But even if your worst fears come true; you never succeed in producing good art, and all you do is saturate the market with your pitiful attempts–that’s a good thing too. It’s a necessary thing. And the next time you want to complain about all the terrible art out there think of this.

If there was no terrible art we wouldn’t have any art at all.

It’s a law of nature that only a very small percentage of anything falls into the “exceptional” category. But if there was nothing to take a percentage of, would we ever get up to that level? The less art there is the world the less art there is in that 1% that’s truly remarkable. If all the bad artists gave up and went home then there would be nothing to set the great artists apart.

Bad art forms the stepping stones for good art to succeed.

Of course, no one wants to be a stepping stone. But it’s actually something to be proud of. If you are an artist, however little known, you can look at successful people and think “They got there because of me.” And even the great artists also turn out mediocre art, or just plain bad art. Everyone has something not working reading, or watching, or listening to.

We are all cogs in a great machine, and no part is unimportant. No piece is small and insignificant.

So make bad art. Do it proudly! Do it without shame and regret, or apologies for not being better. If you keep at it you will be better, and even if you never rise above mediocre-to-middling status, your work has not been in vain. Somewhere there’s a brilliant new masterpiece being created because of you.

POSTSCRIPT: When I started off on this theory of stepping stones to my dad he brought up the bell curve. The bell curve is a statistcal function that appears everywhere in nature. When I told him I was going to write a blog post on the subject, I think he thought I was going to write about the bell curve. However, even the idea that my thoughts might be backed up scientifically isn’t quite enough to make me stick my neck out in the graphing world. If you want to know the science behind the theory feel free to research it and write a blog post of your own!

Change is Not Bad

They say that when you’re revising a novel, and you can’t get a chapter to flow properly, that you should try cutting your favourite scene. You know the one. The one you wrote first. The one that inspired the chapter, the character, or even the whole book. The one you think is so perfect, so emotional, so driving. Yeah. That one. Cut it out, and suddenly your book makes so much more sense.

And by they I mean Joss Whedon. He’s the one who said that. And he’s the most brilliant storyteller I’ve ever encountered. So you should take him seriously.

We hold onto things because they’re familiar. We love them. We put work into them, and have fond memories of them. But eventually they start standing in our way. They hinder our progress. The novel has gone on and changed, as novels do, and we’re still trying to keep our white elephant.

Change is good. We think something is wonderful, and perfect, and exactly how we want it and we never want it to change. But if things really are perfect it means we have no higher goal to strive for, and that’s never true. Perfection doesn’t exist. We have to keep changing, reaching, and improving. We have to keep trying to reach that distant, impossible star.

Look at the seasons. When spring comes we’re all like “Oooh, green leaves. Pretty. And flowers. Gorgeous. Spring is my favourite season!” and then Fall comes and its the same thing all over again. Striking colours. Tumbling leaves. Crisp autumn breezes. Breathtaking sunsets. And we never want it to end. But then winter comes, with icicles and snow white fields, and brown forests transformed into a winter wonderland that takes our breath away.

Who can say which season is the best? They all are. To say “I never want this to change” is to deprive yourself of the wonder and magic of the other seasons. Change is good.

Change is painful. Cutting out that favourite scene? It’s like cutting out your heart. But if you don’t do it, you’ll never improve. Sometimes when change comes you don’t know what will happen. It might end in disaster. It might backfire, or explode. Changes in seasons have their downsides too. They come with storms and rain and mud and frozen pipes and tornadoes.

And when metal goes through the fire to be tempered, that hurts too.

Is there such a thing as bad change? Oh, sure. But until you try it you don’t know if it’s good or bad. But it is worth the risk. It is ALWAYS worth the risk. And which would you rather be? A risk-taker or a scaredy-cat?

You have to reach out, embrace the change, leap for the stars, fight the impossible, and cut your favourite scene.

Because if you don’t you’ll never win the prize. You’ll never publish your novel. And you’ll never see how gorgeous winter can be.