Uncle Josh Considers Flags and Actions

There was an image floating around the internet a few days ago: stick figures, one or two waving a swastika flag and two other figures arguing about punching the Nazis. I can’t find the image but it started an argument that some may see the flying of the swastika an action of free speech, and as reprehensible as that is, it is something we must accept. The other stick figure argued that the supreme court has explicitly said inciting speech is not protected. I still need to look up the context for that decision.

I am not sure if waving a flag is an inciting action or not.

Then I came across this story of the Rainbow Flag (http://www.sftravel.com/article/brief-history-rainbow-flag) and there it absolutely claims that displaying the Rainbow Flag is an action.

If displaying this flag is an action, then displaying other flags is an action, and so waving a swastika in my face is an action and therefore punchable? I’m afraid I wouldn’t have the internal strength to punch a Nazi, and that might make me a bad American.

Uncle Josh Considers Flags and Actions was originally published on Uncle Josh Talks Too Much

Uncle Josh is a Geek

A quick follow up to the LiveJournal reminiscing during an otherwise busy Holy Week (two down, five to go!). I found my GeekCode block and have updated it:

-----BEGIN GEEK CODE BLOCK-----
Version: 3.1
GM/ED/MU d- s-:++ a+ C++ !U P--- L ?E W++(+) N++ ?K w 
M+(+) PS++ PE-- Y PGP t+@ 5+++ X+@ R+++ tv+ b+++ DI++ 
D+ G e+++ h--- r+++ z?
------END GEEK CODE BLOCK------

Sadly, the Geek Code page is blank. The Internet Archive does it’s thing. I have long wanted to build version 4, especially as our understanding of Geekery has expanded enough to call football fans wearing jersey in public “cosplay”. Maybe that’s just me. There is no room in the 3.1 Geek Code for the Geek of Sports, or the Geek of Athletics.

The Geek Code is also biased towards Unix and Perl, instead of modern (or my preferred) language: Python. It also refers to Netscape. Really?

But it was a fun distraction 20 years ago. Robert A Hayden had some fun. It’s time for that kind of fun again, I say.

Uncle Josh is a Geek was originally published on Uncle Josh Talks Too Much

Uncle Josh Bids LiveJournal Adieu

Apparently LiveJournal has gone bad. I haven’t read my friends feed over there in a long time, and added nothing to the journal there that wasn’t cross-posted here. So, like many others, it’s time to leave.

Of course, that means a retrospective, which is a good time to catch up with myself, look at the great patterns of my life, and come to the conclusion that I’m pretty much the same person I was when I started on Jan 4, 2006. I left Blogger for LiveJournal. I had several Blogger blogs (I think they still exists, so abandoned they don’t even get porn-spam comments) because Blogger didn’t handle tagging back then, and I wanted to separate the different thought streams. Because I thought it mattered.

2006

I was writing and submitting a lot back then, and discovering new literary loves. I wrote of finding Raymond Chandler that month, the perils of writing for your workshop (short version: don’t), and started my ill-named Story-A-Day project.

Highlight from February: My first vaguepost:

The Email was still there

This was my first fiction sale: $5 for Memory of Flesh in AlienSkinMag.com (it’s not as dirty as it sounds.)

I also replaced my old desk with my current desk. Mmmm… maybe I should buy another desk.

I also read a lot of comments from Jay Lake, whom I still miss.

I also read a strong implication that we went to a talk by Sir Roger Penrose but for the life of me I don’t remember doing that.

Another gem from a first draft:

She sat in her chair and fucked up this story so badly that there’s nothing I can do to fix it.

Hey, it got a giggle out of Jay!

I also took (and publicized) and embarrassingly large number of internet personality quizzes.

Finally, it seems there were a lot of people commenting on that blog who I remember, but could not identify with a real name.

I’ll keep reviewing this cleanup of a decade of my life.

Uncle Josh Bids LiveJournal Adieu was originally published on Uncle Josh Talks Too Much

Uncle Josh Tries to Plot His Way Out of a Paper Bag

Once again I turn my hand to writing and trying to do something with the stockpile of stories I have unsold and unfinished. Once again I turn to structure templates and books on writing to solve the perennial problem of “what happens next?” Once again I map out plot points and realize I still don’t have enough scenes to make it work.

My latest attempt at re-writing my 2004 NaNoWriMo entry involved reading a couple of books by James Scott Bell that Dale Ivan Smith recommended. His books list 14 structural checkpoints, 5 in Act I, 4 in Act II, and 5 in Act III. I struggle with pacing in all my stories. To have 4 checkpoints in 50-55% of the book and 10 for the remaining 45-50% is frustrating. This is where I fall apart. I need to find other ways to fill this narrative space.

I need scenes. I don’t want to mistake these checkpoints for actual scenes, but my organizational pattern searching brain is trying to map them one-to-one.

I know I am hitting the greatest fault of all would-be writers, in that I’m not writing. I’ve tried pantsing my way through novels and it doesn’t work. I end up hitting a wall where I cannot come up with the  next thing. I’ve tried several plotting methods and those still leave gaps in my second acts.

Maybe, after 14 years of this, I should give up.

Uncle Josh Tries to Plot His Way Out of a Paper Bag was originally published on Uncle Josh Talks Too Much

Scatalogical Utterance v 1.0: Role Playing Rules for Pessimists

Scatological Utterance version 1.0

A Role Playing Game for Pessimists

SU is a paper and pencil RPG, designed for campaigns that could last anywhere from thirty minutes to two hours. A play session longer than that could be very bad for your soul, unless you have a truly twisted sense of humor, in which case: Game On!
SU is not restricted to any genre of game. In any game session the DM (DeMotivator) and the Players could be in high fantasy, gothic romance, science fiction, weird west, bustlepunk, horror, you name it. As long as the genre is agreed upon: Game On!

Character Generation

Characters in normal RPGs have attributes like strength and dexterity and durability. This is SU. Players have the following attributes:

Oafishness. The chance that the character will unintentionally break something.
Butterfingers. The inability to hold onto weapons or tools in dramatic moments.
Jinx. Despite the character’s best efforts, things still go wrong.
Lethonomia. Failure to think of the right word when you need it.
Boorishness. Failure to keep others interested in the character or any interesting fact or bluff they are trying to pull off.

When creating a character, after determining the genre of the game, the players should agree on the number of dice for each attribute. There should be two, three, or four dice used. Roll that number of dice once for each attribute and distribute those numbers as you see fit. Match your mood. Feel like lifting a great log so you party can crawl underneath it just to have it snap in your arms and possibly kill them? Put your highest attribute in Oafishness. Want to throw knives behind you into the wizard instead of at the ogre rushing the party? Go high in Butterfingers. Want to bore the guard with your daring tales of designing PowerPoint presentations? Pick up your Boorishness trait. Of course, if you just want your bowstring to snap, go with a solid Jinx score.

Testing Attributes.

No adventure is complete without a challenge. The DeMotivator will decide if a task is easy (1), run-of-the-mill (2), hard (3), or stupid (4). They will roll the indicated number of six-sided dice from a common pool of five dice. The player will roll the remaining dice and add that to their inability. Low score wins.

Example. Lorto the Inelegant is a 3-dice character who wants to use his body as a brace between two slabs of stone closing off the corridor in the deathtrap designed by Mock the Magnificent to protect his genuine diamelle collection.

The DM decides this would be a stupid test of oafishness, and grabs four dice and rolls an 18. Lorto’s rolls the remaining die and gets a 5, which he adds to his oafishness score of 8 for a total of 13, which is less than the DM’s 18, so the test is a success. This interferes with the first unwritten rule of Scatalogical Utterance: there are no successes in Scatelogical Utterance!

Lorto may be able to keep the stone slabs from squashing him like a bug for a while, so the DM declares that the first person to scramble through his legs needs pass an Stupid test against Jinx to make it through. After all, isn’t crawling through the unwashed legs of an Oaf to progress through one death trap a really stupid thing to do?

Cyrano the Cyclopedia goes first, (ask him about insects. Any insect. We dare you) and rolls one die, gets a 2, adds his 10 Jinx for a total of 12. The DM rolls 15, and Cyrano gets through.

Eddie is next. The Demotivator decides that, emboldened by the walls being held and Cyrano making it through, the challenge is downgraded to Hard. He rolls three dice and gets 12. Eddie rolls a 10, adds it to his Jinx score of 9, and as an end result forgets to remove his backpack before crawling through the hairy arches and smashes Lorto right in the soprano makers. The walls may now close in on the pair for fun and games.

Health and Combat

Unlike the disability scores, a character’s health is measured on a scale:

Zippity-Doo-Dah: The player is feeling good and optimistic.
Feeling Groovy: The player is not so hot, but holding on to a positive world view.
Meh: The player could call it quits anytime now
Yesterday: The player has regrets
Smile: Short for “Please Don’t Ask Me to Smile”
Plate Mail: Short for “donning plate mail, going to the top of the mountain in the storm, and blaspheming the local thunder gods”.
Dead: When all else fails, the only option is to go through the character’s pockets and look for loose change.

Combat is meant to be fast and flexible, so SU does away with all “to-hit” checks or rolling up points or any of that recordkeeping nonsense. Characters who attack with brute force should check against their Oafishness to see if they break their weapon or not (any residual energy could, in theory, be applied to to downgrading their opponents health label). Characters who want to fire a gun or a bow or throw something check against Butterfingers or Jinx, depending on the circumstances. Naturally, a spell thrower or esper would have to remember the inflection tone for fireball is almost, but not quite, the same as the chirp that turns themselves into a parakeet. Bard types, when not being strung up by their party for the obvious reasons, need to check against Boorishness to ensure they don’t sing their tank to sleep instead of the thing the tank is fighting.

Demotivator’s Guide

Your job is simple: entertain the players and challenge them in ways that get them to plate mail as soon as possible. Killing characters is generally discouraged unless the party goes into the game planning for multiple personalities, in which case the game session should feel less like The Lord of the Rings and more like Whose Line Is It Anyway?

The players should, despite the many ways these should go wrong, at all times embrace the attitude of Joel and the Bots (or Mike, or Jonah, if you prefer): This is gonna suck, may as well get in a few snarks before we die.

Scatalogical Utterance v 1.0: Role Playing Rules for Pessimists was originally published on Uncle Josh Talks Too Much

Uncle Josh Reviews Logan

First, anyone thinking of taking a child to see this “comic book” movie should take the R rating seriously. I think I heard the MPAA ratings board has a threshold of the number of times a script can have “fuck” or “shit” and stay in PG land. Logan jumps that shark in the first five minutes. It felt like a lot of lazy writing.

I found the first hour or so very difficult and slow. It wasn’t the swearing and the violence, although I hit action fatigue early on. It was the Hero’s Journey Rejection of the Challenge phase took for frikken ever. I think it spent too long justifying why this movie doesn’t follow from the previous ones. (Disclaimer: Uncle Josh watched X-Men, maybe X-Men 2, maybe 3. I stopped watching them when Scott Summers was killed off screen for no reason other than they didn’t know what do do with his character.) The movie establishes the future setting (nice to see cell phones won’t change over the next 15 years and there’s no Southern Border Wall) and the reasons for treating Charles Xavier in such a shitty way in the beginning of them. It’s all reasonable. Comic book readers are used to that sort of convenient back-fill for the readers who may not have read that book.

There were only a couple of scenes where I felt the actors enjoying their roles in the few moments of levity offered. They may have liked the whole process, but it was too much the old run-down dogs tired of life.

However, when the movie picks up and the characters connect, it gets powerful. The final scenes wrench at the heart.

It’s a fitting end for Hugh Jackman’s run with the character.

Uncle Josh Reviews Logan was originally published on Uncle Josh Talks Too Much

Giving Days

I wrote this for a writing group holiday reading party. now it is yours.

Giving Days

by Joshua R. English

On one hand, Raina was larger than the average woman, not overweight so much as oversized. Her boyfriend had rekeyed their condo and kept the dog. No note, no voicemail, not even a text. She had no car or housing, only a glimmer of Christmas. She could do the job. She needed the job.

On the other hand, no one had heard of a woman playing Santa at the mall.

Mrs. Claus was just standing around serving warmed-over brownies and watered down eggnog. That wasn’t what she wanted. Her life was out of control and she needed to control just this little bit. She needed to play Santa.

“Our beards aren’t the best,” the Rent-a-Santa man said. “And the voice. Kids can tell.”

“Ho ho ho,” she said.

“How the hell does a woman make that sound?”

“I sang tenor in college. I’m down on my luck, mister. This is the only way I’m going to get a little bit of Christmas into my life. One weekend. That’s all I ask.”

“I have a small gig in a strip mall on Saturday. They don’t expect a lot of people, and it’s out in Hillsboro. Can you get there?”

Only if Trimet is running that day, she thought. “Absolutely,” she said.

“Choose a suit from the wardrobe. Take it home, wear it around, get used to it. These things are hot. Load up on vitamin C and buy a gallon of hand sanitizer. I can’t supply it, but it’s tax-deductible.”

The wardrobe was a small office lined with Santa suits. Even the shortest suit was too tall. She had the voice, she had the shoulders, could find the belly, but she wasn’t going to grow six inches overnight. It was either frumpy Santa or no Santa. Frumpy won. As she lifted the best she could get from the hanger, she noticed an old fashioned clothes chest behind the rack. She pushed her way to it and opened it, half expecting to find a reindeer corpse or desiccated elf mummies.

Inside was a suit. A thin suit. Threadbare but small. She shook it out and held it against her body. It was the right length. It looked like it could be too small. She shook it again and the suit felt larger, enough to fit around her.

She took off her jacket and put on the red coat over her tee shirt.

#

She was in a house she didn’t recognize, in a room lit only by flashing red, blue, and green lights. Her shadow, heavy plump and bearded, flickered against a wall of family portraits. She dropped the half empty bag she’d been carrying. A gasp. A young girl, wearing a Thor the god of thunder shirt down to her knees, watched her.

The girl’s mouth flickered with the lights between a smile and horror.

“Let’s get you to bed,” she said, her voice a baritone whisper. “Before you end up on the naughty list for peeking.”

Raina picked up the girl in her gloved hands and carried her up the stairs. The girl fell asleep instantly, like she had an off switch. Raina knew which bedroom was right, and tucked the girl back into bed.

She stood, her hand brushing a now-bulging pocket. Inside she found a stuffed toy reindeer. She tucked this into bed, too, and the girl wrapped her arms around it.

“Ho Ho Ho.”

#

She woke up in her hotel room. Not Saturday. Not yet. She patted herself down. No belly. Normal breasts. No beard. The suit hung by itself on a hook by the door. The boots on the floor and the gloves resting on top. The clock told her she only had a few minutes to grab a free continental bagel and orange juice.

The news was a constant fixture on the lobby television. She was alone, noshing, sipping, watching the reports of mysterious presents appearing under trees when she, suddenly and without warning, felt giddy. True childlike glee and giggles. Police and bomb squads were out checking packages and rather chagrined to find toys under the silver wrapping paper with candy cane stripe ribbons. The talking heads debated the possibility of Santa Claus being real. She sat all day, watching, transfixed. She ate a dinner out of a vending machine and went back into her room to put on the suit.

#

Saturday morning felt like she had been run over by something large and alcoholic. She moved only when she could force her entire will on the act. She still made it to the lobby in time for breakfast, and had a nagging feeling that something was horribly wrong. She barely recognized the news of twenty-foot Christmas trees appearing fully decorated in the middle of homeless camps, the silver and candy-cane ribbon packages loaded with food and blankets and books and clothes. The homeless population never looked better dressed.

The national news ran similar stories of silver boxes appearing under trees all over the country. People interviewed on the street said they had purchased gifts for random strangers. Toy drives and food drives were overflowing. Raina considered volunteering to help store it all at the local food bank, but her feet rebelled.

On Fox, they insisted that these events were a secret government program softening up the population for the mass surveillance state, or a massive terrorist attack. And Santa was a litterbug who needed to be stopped.

#

Saturday night. Five days before Christmas Eve. Raina could feel it happening, appearing in more homes than she thought possible, more children, more toys, more kitchen gadgets. Her bag never empty, and strangely never full. No reindeer but the echo of jingling when she moved from place to place, until the place she never thought she’d see again.

Her condo. Her ex’s condo. A small tree sat by the window. The pile of presents was small, with tags from his mother and sister, and tags to the dog. Best to get this over with, she thought, and reached for the bag to open it.

The bag was empty.

She checked again. It had never needed a magic word to work, so she couldn’t think of any to try.

It remained empty.

She couldn’t leave. She felt that it would be impossible until she left something but she had nothing.

She walked into the bedroom, bracing herself for bad news. He was there, sleeping, one hand under his head, the other on top of his stomach. The dog took up her side of the bed.

She had assumed there was someone else. If no one, then why? It didn’t matter. He wanted to be free.

She bent over him and kissed him goodbye.

#

On Monday morning she was fully awake, charged up like a really good cup of coffee had settled in. She showered before her continental bagel and OJ. She felt ready to conquer everything, including, especially, returning the suit. She hadn’t done the job she’d been hired to do. Packing up the suit and preparing for a good yelling-at and no paycheck, she returned to the Rent-a-Santa.

Last week it had been a small office with a short chubby unshaven man. Now it was a bookstore. It had always been a bookstore.

She browsed the shelves and it was clear the books had been there a while. She had enough cash in her wallet to buy a book that her ex had mentioned wanting but never bought for himself, and–this being Portland–a stuffed Jack London dog toy.

Outside, she hefted the purchases in one hand. She had no easy way to give them. In the other hand she held the bag with the suit in it.

There were still four giving-days until Christmas.

Thank you for reading. Have a Merry Christmas

Giving Days was originally published on Uncle Josh Talks Too Much