This Blog Post Is A Dumpster Fire

The newest catch phrase on the Internet is “dumpster fire,” which I’ve been hearing in reference to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign (or lack thereof). If you paid attention to the election so far (most voters won’t tune in until after Labor Day in September), the short-fingered vulgarian turned political pretender had a horrible week: attacking a Muslim family whose Army son died in Iraq, proclaiming that his sacrifices in business was equivalent to a family losing their son in war, attacking the Republican leadership for not supporting him, complaining about a crying baby at a rally, and the list goes on and on and on.

A real dumpster fire is no fun.

My roommates and I had rented a three-bedroom triplex in Cupertino for six years when we decided to move out in 2001. The Hong Kong owner was happy to see us go, as we were only paying $1,600 per month in rent. With the Silicon Valley real estate market going insane in the run up to the Dot Com Bust, the owner doubled the rent to $3,200 per month and found tenants shortly after we moved out.  If he still owns the triplex today, which is down the street from the new Apple campus under construction, it wouldn’t surprise me if the apartments went for $5,000 per month.

Since we were parting ways and moving into smaller apartments, we decided to throwaway a lot of stuff. I got tasked with acquiring a 10-yard dumpster that got delivered to the parking alley behind the triplex. Sofa, love seat, kitchen table, books, old electronics and the accumulated crap from inside the attached garage went straight into the dumpster. We had so much stuff that it towered over the four-foot walls of the dumpster, presenting a problem on how compact everything below the wall height before I could call the company to remove the dumpster.

On the Sunday morning of our last week at the apartment, we learned that the dumpster caught on fire. The bonfire got so hot that it melted the glass pane in the laundry room window ten feet away. The firefighters quickly put the fire out. Since they initially believed it was spontaneous combustion that caused the fire, they took a fire ax to the garage door lock and found an empty garage. The arson investigator concluded from eyewitness reports that a passing homeless person tossed a burning match into the dumpster after lighting up a cigarette.

The dumpster fire reduced our towering possessions to two feet of soggy ashes. While that created room to throw out more stuff, it created more headaches for me. Even though my name wasn’t on the lease, the property manager held me responsible since I ordered the dumpster that got delivered too close to the building and I was the only one among my roommates who had rental insurance. The roommate whose name was on the lease decided to disappear for a while, leaving me stuck with winding down the apartment.

After several weeks of phone calls with the insurance investigator and the property manager, the insurance company declined coverage as the fire took place outside of the apartment. The owner’s insurance policy covered the damages. The property manager wanted to pursue legal action against me, but the owner declined to do so since his rental income doubled. I’m damned lucky to get out of that dumpster fire.

Or so I thought.

A year later I moved in with a different set of roommates who found a nice apartment in a San Jose triplex. The property manager for that triplex also managed the Cupertino triplex. We had to meet in her office to sign the rental agreement. She spent an hour roasting me for what happened at the old apartment in front of my new roommates, whom I’ve already told about and they enjoyed me being on the hot seat. She then surprised them by announcing that they were getting the apartment because she trusted me as being the only responsible adult among them. They didn’t like being burned that way.

Deleting Drive-By Hate Comments

One of the most popular pins I have on Pinterest is an editorial cartoon from three years ago, where an official complains about a breastfeeding mother in public while standing in front of a Victoria’s Secret store with a model displaying boobs for commerce. My comment to this obvious irony was an ironic snark: “Nursing a child in front of a Victoria’s Secret store is criminal. Guys don’t need any more help in visualizing boobs.” This week I got a drive-by hate comment regarding this pin, which I promptly deleted as inappropriate.

Here’s the unedited comment from Dee Gee:

Your disgusting. The only one sexualizing a completely innocent act of feeding a baby is YOU! You’re the problem. Not that mother who’s natural instinct to her child crying is feeding her. “Why don’t you pump and bring a bottle? It would make everyone comfortable.” BECAUSE IM NOT GOING TO PUMP FOR 2 DAYS TO MAKE YOU COMFORTABLE FOR 10 FREAKING MINUTES!!!!!!! Ugh! Put a blanket over your own head you sexist.

For the record, I have no problem with breastfeeding in public. I’ve seen mothers use a blanket to cover up while breastfeeding on park benches to mothers who take off their shirts to let it all hang out while breastfeeding on buses. Of course, I live in Silicon Valley. I’m used to dealing with people from different cultures from around the world, speaking languages other than English and behaving in ways that I wouldn’t behave as a white metrosexual.

But I do have a problem with this comment.

The woman who wrote this projected her hatred on to me, calling me disgusting and sexist, and that I was sexualizing a situation I’ve never actually experienced. Why? Because I pointed out the irony of the double standard that exists in the United States regarding public nudity as expressed in the editorial cartoon, where breastfeeding is scandalous behavior but advertising boobs for commerce is not.

Sometimes the irony gets lost on some people who are too literal-minded. It then becomes their God-given right to leave a drive-by hate comment; as if their insights will change anything in America (the rest of the world doesn’t have this puritanical hang-up). The only thing this comment show is how ignorant the person is.

What makes this more interesting is that Dee Gee repinned my pin to one of her boards. She’s probably unaware that I’ve deleted her comment 15 minutes after I received the email notification and 45 minutes after she posted it. Her one and only follower—probably mom—won’t ever see her comment. By repinning my pin without her comment, she is effectively endorsing my ironic snark regarding the underlying situation.

Her “thank you” board is a blend of news items from the right-wing echo chamber that my lily-white, tea-party loving relatives in Idaho send to me all the time. This kind of nonsense since the beginning of the Obama Administration in 2009 is what turned the 2016 presidential election into a reality TV show, dooming the Republican Party to the same fate as the Whig Party in 1848.

As a content creator, I have the God-given power to delete comments willy-nilly. I don’t delete comments unless they are inanely stupid—and this one qualifies. A drive-by hate comment isn’t something I want to promote on Pinterest or anywhere else.

Update 07 August 2016: Not surprisingly, Dee Gee’s Pinterest page went away. I guess mom didn’t like the drive-by hate comments.

Moving The Author Websites Again

Five years ago I left the Internet Service Provider (ISP) I was with for 15 years because my websites disappeared during a week-long service interruption. The one-man operation that my writing business depended on had lost both leased lines from separate carriers to the Internet at the same time. Resolving those issues and adding a third leased line prevented the owner from communicating with angry customers. After the service got restored, I’ve already moved my websites to DirectNIC and the owner graciously accepted my cancellation notice. Last month I moved my websites from DirectNIC to DreamHost for entirely different reasons.

I never have any problems with the web hosting at DirectNIC until a server upgrade in 2013 caused my websites to disappear on April Fool’s Day. After I opened a support ticket, my websites got split up to different servers that left some working and some not working. That didn’t get sorted out until I complained on Twitter with the support ticket number. Whenever DirectNIC announces a new server upgrade, it never goes smoothly for my websites.

Over the past year, I started experiencing resource errors—a lack of available CPU, hard drive and/or memory—that knocked my websites offline for a few minutes to a few days. Numerous support tickets got opened, some of which I complained about on Twitter. No one could tell me why this was happening. The CPanel shared hosting interface doesn’t allow me to get under the hood to see what was going on from the Linux command line. The support tickets devolved into a series of “your servers, your websites” finger-pointing that didn’t help anyone.

As 2014 drew to a close, I desperately needed to upgrade and update my websites to the latest and the greatest in technology and contents. That wasn’t going to happen with DirectNIC, as my websites have grown “too brittle” to update without knocking the websites offline for three days. I made the business decision to move the websites to a different web hosting provider.

I searched around the Internet to find DreamHost and immediately signed up for the managed Virtual Private Server (VPS) hosting for $15 USD per month. DirectNIC web hosting had my websites shared with other websites on the same virtual server and provided no access to the Linux command line. DreamHost gives me the whole virtual server for my websites and access to the Linux command line. With the Python scripting language installed on the server, I can write scripts for repetitive tasks and experiment with Python-based website frameworks like Django and Flask.

Moving the websites took a few days, but working out the kinks took a week. With access to the command line, I found damaged files that needed replacement and corrected file permission issues. My websites are now loading twice as fast and updating normally without knocking all the other websites offline. CPU usage is less than one percent, while hard drive and memory are less than 30%. I shouldn’t encounter any resource errors for a long time.

DirectNIC still has my domain name registration business, which I’ve never had a problem with in the last 15 years. Changing the DNS addresses for my domains pointed them to the new web hosting. After I opened a support ticket to cancel the web hosting at DirectNIC, I got an apology that things didn’t work out and credited three months of payments to my account.

Switching web host providers was the easy part. Upgrading and updating the websites will be harder, something I’ve been putting off for over a year. Soon I can switch focus from behind-the-scenes technical issues to rebuilding my author platform.

Finding Markets With Duotrope

DuotropeDuring my snail mail days (2006-2010), I found new markets to submit my short stories via the Writer’s Digest annual market guides. Every six weeks I would thumbed through my worn copy, read the market descriptions, make a list, and send out another two-dozen short stories to face a cruel world of rejections. That changed when I started submitting short stories via email and came across Duotrope.

The Writer’s Digest market guides became the writing bible since the 1920’s. As a teenaged wannabe writer, I checked out the previous market guides from the library to read the articles and see how the markets changed year-to-year from the 1960’s to the 1980’s. So ingrained that the market guides were back then, a magazine editor took me to task for submitting a manuscript by not reading the current 1984 market guide and cited the 1980 market guide that I did use. Comparing the two volumes side-by-side, there was a big change in the market description.

The market guides have gotten thinner and thinner over the years as rising paper and postage costs drastically reduced the number of magazine publishers, and the traditional publishing houses merged from many independent rivals to a few conglomerates. As I made the transition to submitting exclusively via email, I could no longer justify the cost of a thinner market guide.

Consulting printed volumes in the Internet age often meant finding market descriptions stale and out of date most of the time. Although you could go to the publisher website or send off a self-addressed stamped envelope (S.A.S.E) for the latest writer’s guidelines, you had to wait until the next volume came out to discover new markets. Not all publishers went through the trouble of being listed. Writers needed an online service to search market listings.

Duotrope came on the scene in 2005 as a free service, and recently became a subscription service for $5 USD per month or $50 USD per year. It’s worth every penny. With ~5,000 fiction, non-fiction and poetry markets are available to search by title, genre, length, payments, and submission type (electronic or postal). If you use the submission tracker, you can contribute to the statistics for each market by how long it takes for a publisher to respond to each submission and the acceptance-to-rejection ratio.

I’ve found many market listings that I submitted my short stories and poems to over the years. According to the submission tracker, I currently have a 22% acceptance rate (4.9% for short stories, 61% for poems) for the past year. My favorite feature is the weekly email that lists new markets, recently opened/closed markets, and submission deadlines for themed anthologies. I scanned the approaching deadlines to submit recently rejected short stories or find writing prompts for new short stories in the near future.

Writer’s Digest had an online service called Writers Market for many years. The service was often bundled with the deluxe edition of Writer’s Market at $70 USD per year. Not too surprising that Writer’s Digest would overprice their online service to protect their printed monopoly. The service is now available for $5.99 USD per month or $39.99 USD per year. With prices being more reasonable, I might give it a try someday. Until then I’m using Duotrope.

Writing A Daily Haiku Poem

I wrote various haiku and tanka poems to distract myself while being sick over the holidays. Each poem was a puzzle that I needed to figure out by breaking the words into a specific syllable pattern (5-7-5 for haiku and 5-7-5-7-7 for tanka) that conveyed the meaning I wanted to express. Once the puzzle gets figured out, the poem was almost done (tweaking takes longer).

One of my new initiatives for 2014 is to write and publish a daily haiku poem on, a Tumblr micro-blog that I started to showcase my poems, including all my published poems from Fictionaut and my FREE poetry ebook. The daily haiku poems will appear on Tumblr first. Tanka and free verse poems that I’m not submitting to a poetry journal will appear first on Fictionaut and later on Tumblr.

The nicest feature on Tumblr is queuing my poems for daily publication. I can usually write three to five poems each night. With weird news of the day being the primary inspiration, a haiku allows me to put a twisted spin on that weirdness. If you read any of the original Japanese haikus, the form demands witty commentary on current events. I have ~30 haikus waiting in the queue.

Being on Tumblr means reading the other poets who also post their work there. Some of it is quite strange and very different, probably because I’m not a poet by training or profession. I took many literature courses in college, but I never had much exposure to poetry other than attending an occasional William Shakespeare’s play in the park.

The one time that a poem got dissected in class like a dead frog involved a two-line poem about a red rose with thorns, a pricked finger and a drop of blood.

My reading of the poem was literally what I saw on the page. The instructor insisted that the rose was a vagina, the pricked finger a penis, and the drop of blood was from a girl loosing her virginity. This rather sexiest interpretation didn’t sit well with me, probably due to my lack of sexual experience. I got into an argument with the instructor on when is a rose isn’t a rose, which was the point of this particular textbook exercise.

My enthusiasm for any form of poetry was pricked that day.

During the holidays in late 2009, I was too sick to write prose. With a 15-minute attention span and a restless pen, I tried writing some free verse and haiku poems. Read some books about writing poetry. A couple of editors I knew published my early poems, which became the basis for my FREE poetry ebook. I later went back to writing prose and forgot about poetry, as submitting batches of poems to the journals was a pain in the ass.

This time around I’m more determine to write poetry. Mostly for personal illumination as I study Zen and Japanese history, but also to jazz up my prose and essay writing. I’m also reading “The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share, and Teach Haiku” by William J. Higgison. The syllabic form is easy; the nuanced meanings are not as easy.

After Ending A 15-Year-Old Website

A year-and-a-half ago I made the decision not to renew the *.ws domain name for my website, Once Upon An Albatross… (OUAA), that I got a decade earlier for five bucks a year when *.com domain names were way too expensive. With a $25 USD renewal fee due, and a domain name that didn’t reflect my identity as a writer, it was time for it to go. OUAA got moved to a subdomain on my author website.

That prompted another decision six months later to stop updating the blog, bringing a storied 15-year-old website to an end. I’ve gotten burnt out from blogging three days a week, felt like I was grasping at straws most of the time. When I surveyed the website to put together the first volume of the blog compilation ebooks, the website has taken so many twisty turns over the years that it had no unifying theme.

In short, my 15-year-old website reflected my somewhat messy life.

1995 – 1996

The namesake, OUAA, started life in 1995 as a dial-up Wildcat! Bulletin Board System (BBS), running on an ancient IBM AT computer with a 2400-baud modem. The beginnings of an online empire that got wiped out by something called the Internet in 1996. I also got kicked out of the university staying up in the wee hours playing Magic: The Gathering card games with my equally irresponsible roommates.

1997 – 2001

The website started life on a free website hosting service to show off my non-existent video game design talent after I got a testing job at Accolade/Infogrames/Atari (same company, different owners, multiple identity crisis). Being a tester sucked the life out of being a designer at home, but I did learn enough HTML and CSS to put together web pages.

2002 – 2007

Becoming a lead video game tester in 2001 prompted me to go back to school to learn computer programming in 2002. I ordered the *.ws domain name that became the website home for a decade. The website became an ongoing programming LAMP project for the five years that it took to get my second associate degree on a part-time basis. I also became serious about writing.

2008 – 2009

No longer going to school and working as a help desk support technician in 2008, I switched out my programming project for the Joomla! CMS. I also used Joomla for my author website. Although I written posts on the website from time to time, I started blogging on a semi-irregular basis.

2010 – 2012

When I started this writing blog in 2010, I switched to WordPress. Joomla didn’t have a native blogging component, and the blogging component I paid for was chunky at best. I switched the website to WordPress, reorganizing all the content as blog posts and renaming the website after my old Wildcat! BBS.

A year later, I haven’t done much with OUAA except poke at it. Setting up the ebook publication schedule for next year, I’m coming out with the five volumes of blog posting compilation ebooks. That’s 300+ blog posts and 120,000+ words. I’ll clean up the website, apply some spit polish and let it be the spam magnet that it always has been.

Five months after I stopped blogging for OUAA, I got a new *.com domain name and started a new WordPress blog, Kicking The Bit Bucket (KTBB), with the tag line, “One blog post at a time!” The wordplay between title and tag line suggests kicking a bad habit by doing less of it. I started blogging with multiple posts every Wednesday, if I had more than one item to blog about. Now it’s a single blog post every week. Like OUAA before it, KTBB will probably become a reflection of my somewhat messy life.

SPECIAL NOTE: You can now pre-order the annual blog compilation ebooks for A Silicon Valley Writer (01/11/2014) and Kicking The Bit Bucket (01/25/2014).

Throwing The Book At Stephen King On Twitter

The Real Stephen King On TwitterStephen King made his first appearance on Twitter this week. I found out when another writer re-tweeted his initial tweet: “My first tweet. No longer a virgin. Be gentle!”

(Uh, huh. Where’s my cattle prod?)

Since I haven’t been to a Stephen King book signing (yet), I haven’t had an opportunity to complain to him about killing off my favorite character in “Cell” that made me throw the paperback against the wall.

My first tweet to him was just that: “I threw ‘Cell’ against the wall & let sit on floor for week after girl got killed at NH/Maine border. WTF, @StephenKingAuth? :P”

“Cell” came out as a premium-format paperback in late 2006. The new paperback format was taller with a larger font size and a higher $9.99 USD sticker price than the typical mass market paperback. As a teenager in the early 1980’s, I could get ten paperbacks for $30 USD (which was my weekly allowance from my indulgent mother). I can barely buy three paperbacks for $30 USD, although it’s possible to get ten ebooks for $30 USD.

The book begins with a mysterious signal going out over the cellphone network that turns everyone into a zombie. That’s not an original idea. Having seen both the Japanese (2001) and American (2006) versions of “Pulse,” where a mysterious signal over the TV causes college students to commit suicide, the overall theme was quite familiar. When reading a Stephen King novel, you’re catching a wild ride through Stephen King country.

And Stephen King country was where I had trouble with this novel.

If you read enough Stephen King over the years, you know right away that the three characters coming around the bend on the road to cross from New Hampshire into Maine will result in one of them being killed. The main character was safe. The other two characters, a man and a teenaged girl, weren’t safe. Since I didn’t care for the man at all, I wanted the girl to survive the encounter. Who got killed in a senseless act of violence?

The girl.

I was so angry that I threw the paperback across the room to hit the wall and land on a floor. I’ve never thrown a book like that before. The worst thing I’ve ever done to a book was close the cover and forget about it. This time I had a vicarious reaction to the story. I let the book sit on the floor for a week before I picked it up again to finish reading.

Although “Cell” was a good story, I didn’t like it and haven’t read it again. Stephen King redeemed himself with “Lisey’s Story,” about a widowed wife dealing with the death of her famous writer husband. When the hardback came out also in late 2006, I was seeing a counselor to deal with my grief over my mother’s death from breast cancer. Both my counselor and I were reading the book at home, where it became a touchstone in our conversations. I cried through the ending of that book.

When Your Debit Card Travels To London Without You

If you want to stay on top of your finances, you need to spend ten minutes every day looking at your account balances. This little habit can help you spot problems before they get out of hand. I got a nasty surprise last week when I found two unauthorized transactions pending on my personal checking account. The timing was terrible. The rent check was coming in and I didn’t have enough in savings to cover it.

I called the toll-free number for my credit union to report the unauthorized transactions and cancel my debit card. I asked the woman assisting me how my debit card could be used if it never left my physical possession. She told me that my debit card information could be copied by a waiter at a restaurant, from a hidden card skimmer at a gas station or a spyware-infected computer watching a legitimate Internet purchase being made.

I haven’t visited any restaurants where the waiter could disappear with my debit card. The gas pump I usually use was down for maintenance several days before the unauthorized transactions appeared. When I came back the following week to get gas, all the gas pumps had inspection stickers from the county weights and measure department. No way to know if that was the source. As for my computers, I run anti-spyware and anti-virus scanners on a regular basis and avoided questionable websites.

The affidavit form to dispute the charges never arrived at my personal email address. I went down to my credit union on Saturday morning to talk to the branch manager. He confirmed that my debit card got cancelled, flagged the unauthorized transactions as being fraudulent, and printed out the affidavit form for me to fill out. I withdrew some cash since the new debit card won’t arrive for two weeks.

An Internet search on the two companies for the unauthorized transactions revealed that they were cosmetics companies, which is a product category that I have little use for. I filled out the “contact us” form to request the identity of the person who placed the orders and threatened to file a police report against the companies if they don’t comply.

The first company based in San Francisco told me that their privacy policies prevented them from revealing the identity of their customers, and, besides, the transaction never went through on their end. The pending hold on my checking account fell off a few days later. I didn’t pursue the matter with them any further.

The second company based in Texas immediately gave up the identity of the customer and refunded the money taken from my checking account. Either I was dealing with an inexperienced business owner or the privacy laws in “no tax / low regs” Texas don’t exist.

The customer (a.k.a., the thief) had my debit card info and street address, used her presumably real name, listed a phone number for a storage rental place in San Francisco (50 miles north of Silicon Valley), and wanted the merchandise shipped to London via FedEx overnight delivery. Didn’t I read something like this in a Stephanie Plum novel?

I wanted to file a police report on the London Police Department website, but forwarded the information to my credit union to handle instead. I didn’t lose any money; my rent check went through. This has been another needless distraction in a long month of needless distractions that have taken me away from writing. Seems like it never ends.

Plan B For The Plan B Magazine

While sending out some older short stories as reprints to face a cruel world of rejections in the slush piles, I sent “The Uninvited Spook” to the Plan B Magazine that Duotrope listed as a fledging market (i.e., less than six months). The premise for this new online magazine is to publish a mystery short story each week, pay semi-pro rates of one-cent per word and publish an anthology ebook every quarter. My spook-spying-on-spooks short story got accepted for publication—with a catch.

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The semi-pro rates are dependent on the crowdfunding campaign at Indiegogo to raise $3,500 USD, which has less than 10% of the minimum amount raised and 11 days before the campaign ends. Unless contributors start pouring out of the woodwork in a hurry, there will be no funding for the semi-pro rates and all the accepted short stories will revert back to the writers.

Why anyone would need $3,500 USD to start an online magazine? A domain name and web hosting for a year doesn’t cost much these days. The amount was too small for the editor to live on. That number didn’t make sense until I re-read the writer guidelines on the payment structure, where the maximum payout is $50 USD for a 5,000-word short story each week. The funding goal represents a year or more of payments for short stories, depending on the word count of each short story.

Indiegogo is similar to Kickstarter that you can set up a project with a minimum-funding goal and offer various incentive levels for contributors. Indiegogo offers two interesting choices if the minimum-funding goal isn’t met: return the money or keep the money. Depending on your project, this offers some flexibility. Plan B Magazine will return the money if the minimum-funding goal isn’t met.

I’m thinking about putting together a full-length collection of my speculative short stories as a print book. if I put together a print-on-demand (POD) book, I could take pre-orders on Indiegogo and keep the money to order the books without worrying if I set the minimum-funding goal too high. The difference between a successful and unsuccessful campaign is on whether or not you have an audience.

The alternative for Plan B Magazine—let’s call it Plan B—is to provide writers the option to have their short stories published online for FREE to help build up the new magazine so that it could semi-pro rates someday.

Although I would rather see the money (one-cent per word is better than my usual 1/4-cent per word), I’m more interested in seeing this new market establishing itself. Since “The Uninvited Spook” was first published in a print-only magazine in 2008, and published as a short story ebook in 2010, I don’t mind it being reprinted for FREE to help expand my reading audience and grow a new market at the same time.

UPDATED 02/23/2013: The editor announced that the funding campaign at Indiegogo has failed and she is switching to Plan B to pay out of her own pocket. Twelve short stories—including my own reprint, “The Uninvited Spook”—will be published bi-weekly for six months, collected into an anthology ebook for sale, and all the writers will get paid their one-cent per word rate. We will see if this online mystery magazine can fund itself after six months.