And That’s Why They Play the Game

red-soxWe are traveling during the final games of the regular baseball season, and it’s causing my husband a great deal of hardship. His beloved Red Sox have been on fire, winning eleven games in a row, and he has had to content himself with replays seen on my computer and games viewed on a small screen in the middle of the night. Worse yet, no one here in Europe cares.

So it has fallen to me, as a good travel companion, to listen each morning to the endless remaining permutations of possibilities for Red Sox success. Over one breakfast, Boston had at least secured a wildcard slot. By another, they had to lose every single remaining game to not win their division. Various future scenarios offer home field advantages, and each loss by other successful teams in the division changes the formula. The configuration even left him temporarily rooting for the hated Yankees this weekend as they played a team close on Boston’s heels.

I don’t really care about baseball, but I do care about him, so I try to pay attention while he speaks. Still, my mind wanders.

riverWe’ve been on the road nearly two weeks now and in a macro sense the vacation has gone as planned.  You know, we’ve shown up where we were supposed to be, when we were supposed to be there. No glitches. But that’s sort of like the Red Sox showing up to play their games, isn’t it? Yes, being there is essential, but it is the other stuff that makes it interesting.

Who could have predicted that the Douro Valley would be such a frustrating place to drive that we would be content to make several dinners out of our breakfast leftovers rather than brave the roads? Who could have guessed that a full moon rising over the Portuguese countryside would inspire us so much with its beauty?

One might have guessed that the GPS would get us into trouble, but who would have thought we’d manage to high center our rental car so thoroughly on a tiny mountain road that it would have to picked up by hand and moved? I certainly didn’t see that one coming.

p-seaNor did I imagine the twenty or so whales we got to watch playing in the late afternoon sunlight of a boat tour, or the wonderful custard-filled tarts that are everywhere. I didn’t know that hot coffee in a big cup would be quite that impossible to find or that a single difficult-to-use espresso machine could frustrate so many half-awake people at once. Why is the air circulation here so bad? Why is the bread here so good?

The original idea for my novel d4, outlined many years ago, was that everyone at some point in the future develops prescience, and they all know what tomorrow will bring, as well as the next year and the next decade. Every human understands how they will die, and when. My overall thesis was that this society would be sad and bored.

My feelings about predestination and freewill have changed a lot in the decades since I thought this one up, and I like to think that my story telling abilities have improved also. I recognize now that such a tale would be hard to tell well and I like the array of my partially prescient characters in d4 much better. But the original story idea has me thinking.

roadIn an hour or so, Boston is going to play New York, and they might clinch the title in their division. Computer models have them likely to win by three points, and odds makers are favoring Boston heavily. You don’t have to be a sports fan to recognize that in spite of this, the Red Sox might well lose tonight. Because of that, my husband can’t wait to watch the game.

And a year from now, the things I will remember most about this trip will be all the wonderful and the difficult things that surprised me. They will be what made the trip interesting. Tonight, I’m thinking about how we don’t show up just to be somewhere. We show up to find out what happens once we arrive.

(For more vacation-inspired epiphanies see Our Brand is Crisis on my z2 blog, Happy International Day of Peace, Alberto and Maria on my x0 blog, and The Moon Rises on my c3 blog,)

 

 

 

Bulletproof

Every so often one finds a song that they really like the first time they hear it, and they still like it dozens if not hundreds of times later. I’ve got a few of those, and La Roux’s “Bulletproof” is one. So when I was assembling my largely-female-indie-artist playlist for d4, I was delighted when my music expert recommended it.

Why so much love for this song? It’s always hard to say why you like something. I’m a “words” person when it comes to music, and the lyrics are just so clever. You’ve met this guy. You know this lady. You’ve seen the dynamics. But it’s more than that. The very concept of being bulletproof appeals to something deep within. It doesn’t just mean being immune to his manipulations. It also means not being afraid of icy ski slopes or catty store clerks or traveling alone. The lyrics speak to me about being stronger; for the next presentation at work, for the next nasty book review, for the next thing that strikes fear into me whatever it is.

Yet it is more than the lyrics. The infectious beat and sing along melody is part of what make it all work for me. I found this video from a live performance at the Isle Of Wight Festival in 2010 and it captures every bit of that. I can hardly keep from waving my arms along with the crowd while I watch.

No, I can’t explain why I like this song so much. But I hope you enjoy it too, as well as the short excerpt from d4 showing how I mentioned the song in my book.

She decided to take Friday off work, and Eoin did not object.

“Any special plans?” he asked.

“No. Just preparing,” she said. He didn’t ask for more.

The day turned out to be one of those unusual winter days when the sky is bright blue and the temperature climbs into the sixties. Ariel smiled at her good fortune as she took the little car the company leased for her and headed north out of Dublin, planning to drive for as long as it sounded good, and then to stop and do yoga somewhere along the shore.

Ireland doesn’t have much in the way of sandy beaches. Much of the coast is ancient granite and volcanic remains, and much of its rocky core is old limestone, formed from the remains of tiny sea creatures that led happy lives nearly half a billion years ago, back when Ireland was located near the equator and no mammal had yet set foot on the Earth. Ariel reached for her music, and spent a minute picking her song. She decided on “Bulletproof” by La Roux; it was the perfect choice.

 She drove far enough to find a rocky bit of shore that was deserted, spread out her mat, and worked on clearing her mind. The poses came to her in a random sequence, without thought. The table. The cat. The bow. The plough.

Her goal was to calm down, and gather her strength. To make herself as bulletproof as possible.

Downward dog into a cobra into a sun salute and repeat it again. Warrior poses. Low warrior. Warrior two. Warrior three. She had skills, she had advantages, and she had back-up. She finished her routine concentrating on balance, holding a strong tree pose while she gazed at the far horizon.

She was ready. Now, she needed to go do what needed to be done.

You can also listen to or buy La Roux’s “Bulletproof” at Amazon.

Of baseball, tennis and predatory lending

I’m married to a Red Sox fan, and Friday night he was upset when his Sox won. This doesn’t happen often, so he had my attention. Apparently a fan interfered with a hit that should have allowed LA to tie the game, but a bad call on the play stood and gave Boston the victory.

“The manager knew, the team knew it, the fans knew it,” he said. “The manager should have just given LA the run. But of course he would have been fired for doing that.”

tennisThe source of much of his ire comes from the fact that he plays tennis, a “gentleman’s” game even for ladies. At all but the highest levels of play, competitors referee themselves and are expected to make calls fairly, not in their own best interest. It’s not a flawless system, but most tennis players buy into it and try to get it right.

He got me thinking. There are two ways to approach any competition. One is to take every advantage that you can. Soccer players writhing in imagined pain hoping to inflict a foul on the other team are an extreme example of this. In this world, the savvy player tries to play everyone, and get away with everything possible. The only goal is to win.

The other approach is cooperative only in the sense that one of the goals is to get the calls right. Players believe that points should be scored and games won with good rules that are fairly applied.

What do you think happens most often in a close competition between a team or person taking the first approach and one taking the second? Yes, you’re right. I believe we call it “nice guys finish last.”

This got me thinking — what is the U.S. philosophy for doing business? Well, I think there are plenty of ethical people would prefer to not only follow the letter of the law, but who would also choose to follow the spirit of the law, thereby behaving like the ladies and gentlemen on a tennis court, if you will.

loansBut, business is lot more complicated than any sport, and the rules and the playing field are always changing. Therefore, the ability to weasel around the rules is so much greater. If you put an adept weaseler in competition with a businessperson who is trying to do it right, who do think is going to drive whom out of business? More often than not? Yeah, I think so too.

A few weeks ago I read about proposed legislation to regulate what is known as predatory lending traps. These payday and auto title loans are part of a business model built on lending money to people who probably can’t afford to pay you back, thereby giving the lender the opportunity to roll over the principal into a new loan at much higher interest rates. If you’d like to know more about this practice, you can read a Southern Poverty Law Center article on how these practices wreck people’s lives. The proposed new rules would apply to products that are aimed at financially vulnerable consumers with the intent of setting them up to fail with loan payments. You can read about the new rules at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

umpireLike most people, I don’t like rules. I used to think that the less we had of them the better. However, being married to a sports fanatic has taught me a few things and one of them is that if you don’t have fair and reasonable rules to cover a situation, then the team or person with the least integrity will take advantage. When done right, rules and referees are there to make the game fair, and to see that the best player, not the most devious player, wins. Rules in the business world are there for the same purpose.

life lessons18Of course, there are those that say what goes around comes around, and that those who profit unfairly will get what they deserve eventually. I think that is probably true, but I’m not willing to see people suffer while waiting for cosmic justice.

Yes, yes, I know that sometimes it does come rather quickly. Last night Boston played LA again, for the second game in the series. They lost by a comical 21 to 2. My husband is happy because as far as he is concerned, the two teams are now even. He has high hopes that Boston will win today.

Words we need

You’ve noticed a lot of things we don’t have a word for. And, if you play word games like I do, you’ve also noticed a lot of reasonable letter combinations that don’t make a word. I mean, I get that wiqxm isn’t going to be in the dictionary. But what about lete? or dife? These would make excellent words. Why isn’t anyone working to pair these two needs together?

27-Courage-22Well, it turns out that there are people who are.  Recently I joined a group of speculative fiction writers who meet weekly to bounce ideas off of each other. I shared with them how when I wrote d4 I really needed a word to describe a memory of the future. I tried out “premory” and the more I used it the better it worked for me. In the end, premory and premories made it into my book 64 times and the story read the better for it.

Sharing with other writers in my genre has been wonderful in many ways, and one of them was discovering that night that every single one of the other writers in the group had done the same thing. Sometimes you just have to make up a word. I’m told by one of our more literary members that Shakespeare did this all the time, and we use some of his creations to this day. (Dishearten. Eventful. Eyeball. Seriously, eyeball.)

Well, new words have to be created somehow.

On the flip side, there are a ridiculous amount of words that most of us do not know. I stumbled on a wonderful blog post the other day called “Emotions We Feel but Can’t Explain” on a blog called The Girl who Feared Oblivion. It’s a fine blog and a fun article and it introduced me to JAOUSKA (a hypothetical conversation that you compulsively play out in your head), RUBATOSIS (the unsettling awareness of your own heartbeat) and any writer’s favorite, FINIFUGAL (wanting to prolong the final moments of a story).

Yes, I aspire to have my readers experience finifugal as they near the end of my books, and then to have them engage in a little jaouska as the hold conversations with my characters.

And yes, I aspire to create the words lete and dife in my next novel, or at the very least ot and le. There is no questions that ot and le both need to become English words, and the sooner the better.

 

Support d4 and win free stuff

spring flingEvery once in awhile I get into an advertising sort of mood and sign up to promote one of my books. This time I found a good one.

The folks over at The Kindle Book Review  are holding a giveaway with a chance for you to win a Kindle Fire 6″ HD, a Kid’s Kindle Bundle, a 1-Year Amazon Prime, or $100 in Amazon gift cards.

Anyone can enter, but if you follow me (or any of the other authors) on Face Book or twitter your odds of winning go up. That is so easy to do. If you purchase any one of the sponsoring novels, they go WAY up.

Hint — d4 is just 99 cents and you can buy it so easily by just clicking on its cover once you go to the Spring Fling website.

“How do I get to this site” you may be asking? It is easy. Click here.

The giveaway ends April 30.

“The Big Short”: a review and a look at modern investing

BS3In 2007 I took over managing all the money my husband and I had saved over our lifetime, even though I knew nothing about investing. Most of the money was in a 401K plan with my employer. I got laid off, was damned sure I didn’t want to keep that company’s stock, and so I had to do something else with it. We’d already had bad experiences with professionals too busy to answer the questions of folks with our meager level of savings, and twice we’d been directed into investments clearly not in our own best interest.  There wasn’t going to be a third time. Not when everything we had was on the table.

B8So I spent the rest of 2007 figuring out how to buy stocks myself and, hopefully, how do it well. The jargon was overwhelming and the websites intimidating and the calls from other people who wanted to handle my money for me were relentless. I think it was the tenacity of those who wanted to get their hands on my savings that pushed me to persevere.  I mean, if they were all that eager to do this, it couldn’t be that good for me, right? Then, well…..

I guess you all heard about what happened to the economy in 2008, didn’t you?

BS1“The Big Short” is an emotional movie for me for many reasons, but the biggest is the way it attacks the veil of complication draped over modern money management. In an attempt to get the average viewer to open their minds the movie uses techniques like having a champagne-drinking blond in a bubble bath explaining what a sub-prime mortgage is and letting chef Anthony Bourdain tackle describing a Collateralize Debt Obligation as he makes a fish stew. Even after nine years of studying this stuff, there are parts of the movie that I still did not understand, so I can’t say they were totally successful making all of this simple, but it is an impressive attempt.

BS7The movie is really three stories told simultaneously. Each one is engrossing and would have made a fine movie of it’s own. In fact my biggest criticism of the film is that I would have liked to have known more about each of the characters and more details about their story. The tales never really intertwine, and while I applaud the writers for honoring reality and not forcing connections where there were none, it does leave the viewer with the feeling of having watched three movies about a related subject at once.

That aside, I enjoyed the movie immensely. It is well written, well acted and a compelling look at how something could go so wrong with so few people noticing. The housing collapse itself is well explained; I just got lost in the nuances of how each of the characters ending up making money on the collapse. The wide variety of people shown profiting from the system makes the fair point that it wasn’t only greedy Wall Street bankers that brought this upon us. Pretty much everyone who had a chance to make hay while the sun shone tried to get theirs from a system that was spinning out of control, and this makes the whole mess all that more more understandable.

BS4One can’t help but cheer on the movie’s three groups of small time investors who discover what is going on, who try to sound an alarm, and who are all ignored. It is hard to begrudge them their profits in the end. The movie does raise legitimate questions about why so few were punished for what eventually turned into fraud, and why the very richest experienced so few consequences while so many others down the food chain had their lives turned inside out.

BS9In spite of these worthy themes, I feel that there is a bigger one here, and it is best voiced by Brad Pitt’s cynical former trader. Why does this system exist as all? I mean the question seriously.

Why doesn’t a stock exchange simply exchange stocks? You know, buy and sell them.  Why can one short (bet against) a stock? That adds no value at all. Why can one trade options? Why can one use the stock market to engage in a host of other, far more complicated methods of gambling that add no value to the underlying companies but only serve to provide an increasingly convoluted casino? Does no one notice that this casino has rules that tilt in favor of those with much more to invest? Why have games been devised that are too complicated for the average player to understand? Is it primarily to provide income to those trained specifically to manage money?

BS6If we are going to have corporations, let’s invest in them, not use them like sports teams for some kind of complicated fantasy football gambling fest. Worse yet, let’s not use them like a complicated fantasy football gambling fest in which you have to hire an expert to mange your team for you because the rules have become to complicated for you to understand. Isn’t our economy too important for this kind of nonsense? Most of the folks who lost their homes in the mess of 2008 surely agree that it is.

BS5I could so easily have been one such person. I took a life savings and put it into a system I barely understood, trusting that the system would behave reasonably. What saved me was my own timidness. I split my sum into tiny parcels, directed most of the money to a variety of cautious endeavors, with all of them scattered across the spectrum of investments I was qualified to make. Basically, I drove like my grandmother. It was a good time for that, and I’m just plain lucky that I did. (I don’t always.)

At the very end of the movie, there is a hint as to why these convoluted games are not to our collective advantage. We all know that they provide for endless paths by which one can figure out a way to cheat the system. The movie is nice enough to point out a “new” investment vehicle which basically does what the Collateralize Debt Obligations of 2007 did. But hey, it’s now called something else. No one will notice the similarity, right?

 

 

Kill free meat: the future is coming?

flying carYou find the future in the oddest places. I mean if you are like me and have been reading science fiction for decades, you probably go along feeling like nothing has really changed all that much compared to the future you read about. Yes, yes, our cell phones can do all kinds of cool things but where are the Jetson cars and colonies on the moon and cute talking robots and all those other things that the future was supposed to bring?

And then, blat, along comes a piece of that science fiction that has turned real, and you find out about it in a place you least expected it.

A few years ago I ended up on a Pop Sugar Fitness email list by virtue of downloading a workout video. The articles were short and often interesting, enough so that I was willing to ignore the others with headlines like “28 Healthy Zucchini Recipes” and “The Best Gym Bags by Personality Type.” (I did not make either of these up.) Then the other day I saw this.

Scientists Have Found a Way to Make Meat Without Killing Animals

The article went on to say that a company called Memphis Meats “has found a way to manufacture meat in a lab” and that the product’s appearance, smell, and taste are “identical to real meat.”

chickenSo. There it was. The giant blob of factory grown chicken flesh from “The Space Merchants” (and how many other novels) in which human hunger is finally assuaged by scientists figuring out how to grow meat without bothering with the rest of the animal.

Two things popped into my mind right away. One, I’m surprised it has taken this long. Given claims of all we have done with modified food and genetic engineering, this doesn’t seem like a giant leap from current technology.

Light Within 2The other is that this makes sense. It’s more humane, possibly more healthy, probably more ecological, and certainly more efficient. And yet it is somehow totally creepy. Who wants to eat a slice of animal part grown in a lab? On the other hand, why is eating a slice of an animal that once was alive any less creepy?

To the credit of Pop Sugar, they got that this technique would meet with both praise and disgust and asked for readers to weigh in with their opinions. Want to to speak up? Leave a comment at their site and feel free to leave it here as well.

The potential reality of factory-grown blobs of animal flesh reminded me that every day we do wake up in the future.  And every so often, we’re just not entirely sure how we feel about it.