Guess Where I'm Blogging From

I'm en route to DFW tonight, to spend Thanksgiving with my parents, brother, and sister. Delta is debuting a new service, in-flight wifi. They want to charge $10 for this eventually, but it looks like the first taste is free. It's a very slow connection, so I don't think they'll hook me longterm. But realistically, I am a hopeless cheapskate, and therefore not their target audience.

The spread of wifi seems to be really accelerating. Just last month Borders bit the bullet and started providing free wifi to compete with Barnes and Noble. Things are cutthroat in that cafe now; you can't get an outlet to save your life.

Meanwhile, Google is busy making plans for netbooks running its new Chrome OS, an operating system that is fast, cheap, and simple to use -- because all it is, basically, is an access portal to the internet. Which means the spread of wifi is a very, very good thing for them.

Are we heading toward a whole new world? Or is it really true that the more things change, the more things stay the same? I don't really know, but it kind of blows my mind that my kids will grow up more pluggged into the global community than I could ever have dreamed of in my youth.

Actually, it kind of blows my mind that I'm sitting on a plane blogging, using words like "the global community" to talk to that community while I drink my free half-a-coke and the captain warns us about turbulence.

But that's life here on the bleeding edge.

What Did You Bait Yours With Today?

I wish pedantry wasn't so much fun, because everyone hates a pedant. And with, I suppose, good reason. Showing people up is not nice.

But there's such joy in it, I tell you! And so, for the next five minutes, I will give myself permission to be a nasty smarty-pants and present to you:

Three Humorous Homophones I See All Over the Internet
(And Occasionally in Print)
  1. "My kids know how to tow the line." I always picture a kid with a line slung over his shoulder, pulling for all he's worth. It is properly toe the line. As in, to not make the roller coaster operator yell at you.
  2. "We were able to eek out a compromise." Ball your hands into fists, squint your eyes and squeal "A compromise!" It's fun. Correctly, this is eke out a compromise.
  3. "I was waiting with baited breath." My absolute fave. Caviar is good, but some people swear by a good old-fashioned worm. It should be bated. As in abate, to diminish or repress.
And now I shall return to being the proper lady that my mother and Miss Manners would like me to be. Pay no attention to the lady behind the curtain. Yes, she is a pedant. But most of the time she knows better.


I'm blaming the lack of a Tuesday update on Mark.


This would look better if I'd quit adding cards.


We are entering the home stretch, folks. The cards indicate things I have left to do for my book. On the left, tasks not yet completed. In the middle, tasks in progress. And on the right, tasks already completed this week.

Getting there.

Jane's Guide to Editing in the Tub

  1. Put your hair up with a chopstick. This not only keeps it dry, it looks writerly.
  2. Think ahead. If you tend to accumulate almost-but-not-quite-out-of-ink pens, scribble test before you get soaked.
  3. Keep a washcloth nearby so you can keep your hands (and pages) dry.
  4. You can tolerate a much longer, much hotter bath if you get a cool drink. I recommend a big 32 oz. of Naked Juice, available at half price from Sam's.
  5. Bubbles are not compulsory, but are recommended.

Racism, Realism, and the 20th Century

Writing a book that takes place in 1928 requires certain adjustments. Adjustments in my way of thinking, but also in my way of using words. Kitty uses "O.K," not the more modern spelling "okay." She would never dream of taking the Lord's name in vain. And when she wants to call bullshit, she calls "applesauce" instead.

But there are times when I just can't go whole hog for 1928 speech. Such as, when it comes to race. The language of 1928 was, let's face it, pretty racist. And I don't just mean the actual words, like, you know, like that word. I mean the grammar was racist.

Pick up a newspaper from the early twentieth century, and you'll notice something funny. A story about a white man reads, "Joe Watson was run over by a car today." But a story about a black man reads, "Joe Watson, colored, was run over by a car today." The subject's race was apparently as essential to the article as the subject's gender is today.

And then there's the use of words that denote race as nouns, rather than as adjectives. Maybe you'll think this is a small quibble, but I think it's not. I think it matters. Say something like "A Negro was sitting on the park bench," and you're using the word "Negro" in place of the word "man." It begins to sound like you don't think the subject is a man at all -- at least not in the same way that "a (white) man sitting on the park bench" would be. Kitty uses twenties vocabulary such as "Oriental" and "Negro," because those are the words that are available to her -- but she would no more say "a Negro" than I would say "a black."

And her attitudes are, I'll cheerfully admit, much more egalitarian than the average person of her day. Kitty sees race very easily -- in fact, she sees it with a finer grain than most modern people, as she generally notes the heritage of white characters, be they Irish or Italian or Polish. But she doesn't stereotype, look down on, or fear people because of their race. She believes all men are created equal.

This may not be realistic, but realism doesn't necessarily make good fiction. And there are other things to worry about besides realism: (1) the reader's enjoyment of the book (reading about characters who are badly out of step with modern mores isn't all that enjoyable) and (2) my own morals.

My Small Contribution to the Health Care Debate

I usually try to keep politics off this blog, partly because I know not everyone wants to hear about it, but mostly, I confess, because I am a coward and I fear losing friends. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems like political discourse has gotten a lot less friendly and a lot more scream-y over recent years. And of course the health care debate is no exception.

I am no fan of government-run health care, but I have to admit that the current system needs work. And so, though I know it would not solve everything, I present my own modest proposal:

No flat co-pays.

It's all about externalities. In economic terms, an externality is when someone makes a decision but doesn't bear the consequences of that decision. When you buy a plane ticket your boss is paying for, that's an externality. And generally externalities lead to extra costs: you just aren't as careful with someone else's money as you are with your own. Maybe you forget to buy that ticket until after the rates go up; maybe you pay through the nose for a direct flight you wouldn't have bought with your own scratch.

It seems to me that a lot of the problems with American health care can be traced to two externalities:

  1. The insurance company is involved in making medical decisions, but they don't care how bad you feel and
  2. You are involved in making medical decisions, but you don't care how much the insurance company pays
Though, of course, you should care -- you're paying for it in the end. Anyway, let's deal with Externality #2 for a moment. Let me tell you a little story.

A couple of years back, Mark had a bruise on his leg that wouldn't go away. Many days after the injury, it was still dark-colored and painful. I convinced him to go to the doctor to check it out -- maybe the bone had a stress fracture? Or maybe I was a nervous Nellie. Anyway, he went.

"It's not a stress fracture," said the doctor. "To be honest with you, I think it's just a bad bruise. There's a small chance -- really small -- that you could have a blood clot. If you want, we can do an ultrasound to be sure. But honestly I don't think it's necessary."

For us, this decision seemed easy. We were paying the same flat co-pay either way, so why not just do the ultrasound? The other decision -- leave and come back in a week or so if the pain persisted -- might wind up costing us time, whereas this option cost us nothing.

If we had been paying a percentage-based co-pay instead, maybe it wouldn't have been such a no-brainer. Maybe we would have looked at the extra cost and decided against it. But as it was, we made a decision that benefited us marginally and hurt everyone else on our plan.

And we weren't alone. Because this is the same thing everybody else is doing when they assent to all these "extra procedures" the touted government efficiency is supposed to prevent. These people aren't evil, or even necessarily all that callous, they're just sensible. And because of an externality, they have no incentive to act differently. Heck, they don't even have an incentive to check over the bill and make sure the services their insurance was billed for were actually performed.

Make patients bear some of the costs of their own decisions, and you would enlist them in keeping those costs down.

So that addresses Externality #2, and now we're back to Externality #1: insurance companies don't care how bad you feel. Well, in my ideal world, what you'd "buy" for accepting a percentage-based co-pay would be greater control over your own health care decisions. Now that you're working to balance the two concerns at hand: -- your health and the cost of your care -- your insurance company should be able to just butt out and more or less let you run things.

Also, decouple insurance and employment and you'd allow consumers to punish bad business practices by (1) switching providers and (2) spreading word of mouth. Then maybe, just maybe, the insurance company would care how you feel.

Zombies Ate My Weekend

I may be just a mild-mannered writer in a ruffle-collared blouse, but even I have dreams that in the Zombie Apocalypse, I will be one of the few to survive. I imagine boarding up the windows and, if necessary, taking out the stairs from the first story of my house to the second. Zombies can't climb rope ladders, don't you know?

Anyway, this weekend I got the chance to try out my zombie busting skillz for the first time, with a little gem from PopCap called Plants vs. Zombies. Basically, you defend your home from zombies by planting various plants, each of which have abilities such as shooting peas, tossing watermelons, or expelling poisonous gas.

Mark downloaded it first, then after a few hours he let me take a crack at it. He watched me play the first few levels. "Ah," he mused, "to be young again and playing Plants vs. Zombies for the first time."

I totally get it, babe. Because, man, these plants! These zombies! They are totally addictive, and it's only now, after a full two days of immersion, that I am starting to break away.

What's so great about Plants vs. Zombies?

First of all: cute! The art in the game is really charming; even the zombies manage to look adorable. I mean, look at that guy. With a cone on his head! Silly zombie.

Second of all: grindable! The game has a wealth of things to buy, complete, collect, and otherwise muck about with. It's chicken soup for the obsessive compulsive soul.

It's been a long time since I enjoyed a game this much, and to be honest it doesn't come at the best time. I am, for the first time in a long time, in flow with my writing. Deep flow. Like, rip tide. I'm talking push-on-through-to-the-end-of-the-book-and-get-it-in-the-mail flow. And if my flow has one nemesis in all the world, it's -- no, not zombies --gaming.

I hope I won't be accused of melodrama if I say that, through gaming, I have come to understand how alcoholics feel about alcohol. It's not just a compulsion, you understand. It's love. It's the beautiful, rich color of a really good scotch. It's the giddy feeling you get when you toast a zombie with your Cob Cannon just as he steps onto your porch.

For better or worse, but I think forever -- I love to game. Love it enough to ignore the other things I love, like reading and socializing and writing my book. And so to have some zombie come and woo my inner gamer right now, just when I've gotten into flow -- well, it frightens me. Which is why the mouse I need to play this game is at home, and I am currently at Borders.

Blogging about Plants vs. Zombies.