How to spook out your daughter

After I tucked Evie in bed, I started some laundry and then went upstairs. Some time later, Sara was doing something downstairs.

“Mom?” called Evie in a quavery voice. “The laundry light keeps flickering on and off by itself.”
“I think daddy was doing some laundry, honey.”
“Yeah, but I heard him go upstairs a long time ago, and it keeps doing it.”

Sara looked around.

“I don’t think so, it’s not on now. Just go to bed.”

Apparently when CFL bulbs start to go, they can do that creepy, flickery thing that we’ve grown so used to in horror movies. I’ve had other CFLs just stop working, but the one in the laundry room was blinking like a strobe light. “Thats…really creepy,” Evie had said earlier in the day.

Now, of course I couldn’t be bothered to actually change the lightbulb. We don’t really use it all that often, and you can usually get by with the light from the hallway. Apparently it had gone out while I was doing the laundry, and somehow I didn’t notice that? So I neglected to turn off the switch when I went upstairs.

We didn’t realize it until the next morning, but apparently all night long it would just come on and start flickering for awhile before going off again.

Talk about CREEPY. I can’t blame her for being creeped out on that one!


“The Dress”, Explained

So, last night, us citizens of the Internet collectively lost our minds over a picture. Cat pictures? Leaked celebrity nudes? Pictures of llamas? (Well, yes actually, that happened as well.) Some daring red carpet attire?

No, I’m talking about this picture, of course:

It turns out that some percentage of (WRONG, WRONG, ABSOLUTELY WRONG) people see that dress as blue and black. Another percentage of people, looking at the exact same picture, see that picture (CORRECTLY I MIGHT ADD) as white and gold. (Many people report having seen both, or being able to switch back and forth between the two.) (Spoiler alert, the dress actually is blue and black.)

It takes quite awhile to get over the fact that this isn’t some kind of massive Internet hoax. You should see the looks on people’s faces when I tell them that, to me, that dress is white and gold. The progression from disbelief (“Are you stupid?”), to suspicion (“Why are you playing stupid? What’s your angle?”), to pity (“Oh you are stupid, you poor simple thing!”) which flashes there before they have a chance to hide it is actually kind of frightening. (Now I know how you really feel about me!) When you see something with your own eyes, it is fact. Seeing is believing. How could anybody disagree? It is, quite literally, as plain as the nose on my face.

I might not have believe it either, except that Sara sees blue, even when we are looking at the exact same picture at the exact same time. There’s like this weird moment where we realize, we’re not seeing the same thing and calling it different words, we’re actually experiencing different things. And then my mind melts.

I’ve read quite a few “explanations” about why this happens, and, needless to say, they left me a little underwhelmed. They mostly consist of a “vision expert” saying, “Rods and cones. Rods. And. Cones.” So I’ve pieced together the best articles, and what I’ve come up with is this:

Seeing is actually quite difficult, and in the nanosecond between when your eyes experience light bouncing off something and you “see” it, your brain does some processing. Depending on what your brain expects to see, it may modify the input just a little bit, to give you a “better” image. This gives rise to the many optical illusions that you’ve probably seen elsewhere in books, science museums, or the Internet.

This particular case is a combination of the actual equipment of your eyeballs and the split second of processing in your brain. If your eyes are good enough, you detect enough blue for your brain to say, “This is a blue dress under yellow light”, and that is the image you “see”. If your eyes are just on the other side of that magical tipping point, your brain says, “this is a white dress under blue light” and helpfully color-corrects the image for you.

This dress is just perfectly, accidentally, right on that tipping point such that some people go one way and some go the other. Some can “trick” their brain into falling one way or another by changing the brightness on their monitor, or looking at something blue or white first, before looking at the dress.

As to why your brain “changes” what you are seeing, it is really trying to help you. As I said, seeing is a difficult thing. All colors are based on seeing which light reflects from something. A red shirt is absorbing all spectrums of light except red; observers see the reflected red light and say, “Hey, that’s a red shirt!”

Imagine the red shirt is up against a white wall. Now imagine that the only illumination in the room is a red light bulb. The shirt is still reflecting red light, but now the white wall is *also* reflecting red light. And so your brain has to decide: did the wall suddenly become a red wall, or is it a white wall with red light reflecting off of it?

When you look at the dress, your brain is very quickly trying to decide which scenario you are actually seeing: a blue dress under yellow light, or a white dress under blue light. Some brains pick one, some pick the other, and some change their minds based on other things (such as recently seeing something blue).

The fact that two people can actually see the same thing differently is fascinating to me. It’s like we’re not living in the same layer of reality. And that’s not even taking into account animals with acute senses of hearing or smell, or who can see into the ultraviolet, or senses we can’t even imagine, like electromagnetic detection. Who knows how those animal perceive the world differently than us? For that matter, who can say what else we are experiencing differently?

(My wife, for lack of a better term, lives in a much “smellier” world than I do. Is it because my nose has died inside after being subjected to years of my own reek, or because her brain is causing her to BELIEVE she is smelling things that she can’t possibly be smelling because they don’t exist and that is ridiculous? WE CAN NEVER KNOW.)

We used to have a bag that I insisted was purple, and Sara insisted was blue. It kind of became a running gag; however, we both ultimately assumed that we were seeing the same thing, but calling that thing a different name. In the aftermath of “the dress”, however, I am forced to conclude it is possible that we were actually experiencing legitimately different colors. Experiencing a different reality.

And, also?

It’s still white and gold.

Chewbacca for Mayor

Now, I don’t follow Chicago politics very closely, but if I’m understanding the news these days correctly, and I believe I am, Chicago has just taken a significant step forward in electing this nation’s first wookie mayor.


I have been voting for Chewbacca as a write-in mayoral candidate for YEARS, so I’m glad that the mainstream media has finally taken notice. Chewy has the sharp fangs, thick pelt, and starship piloting expertise needed in todays tough political climate.


Watch your back, Rahm. Most politicians don’t pull people’s arms out of their sockets when they lose. Wookiees, on the other hand, are known to do that.

We’re strapped in, Chewy. Make the jump to lightspeed!


Encore performance

I am happy to announce that The Pulp Stage will be once again performing the theater adaptation of my story, “My Heart is a Quadratic Equation” in Portland on May 8.

I am so, so happy with the adaptation. I have the audio from the original performance and it is simply awesome! If you are in Portland I highly recommend stopping by, either on May 8th, or to any of their other performances.

How I defeated the oven and saved the day

Last week, Ollie came down with a nasty stomach bug. The universe, just to prove how snuggly and warm it is, decided that would be wonderful time for the oven to stop working.

I mean, it was working fine one minute, and then the second Evie finished up a batch of granola, it just wouldn’t light. Nada.

I had to stay home with Ollie the next day anyway, so we decided to take it apart to see what makes it tick. As soon as I took off the oven door, Ollie exclaimed, “Oh! Now THAT’S interesting!”

There is nothing that captures Ollie’s imagination more than taking things apart, or seeing how they work. I know he’s too young to really understand much, but he really is just fascinated by it. So I knew he’d be a good helper, even if it was just fetching tools.

Now, I’m not going to lie; being a handyman is not my strong suit. And that’s what made this next part so absolutely awesome.

We completely took apart the oven, diagnosed the problem, found an appliance parts store in Chicago, got the part we needed, put it all back together, and it worked! I mean, this was some serious repair work: there were multiple screw drivers, a socket set, wires that had to be spliced together, part numbers to be looked up…believe me, I’m more shocked than anybody.

After we replaced the ignitor, I told Ollie, “Okay, if we did this right, that part should start to glow.” It takes 30 seconds or so for it to kick in, but when it started glowing you would have thought we had just won the Superbowl. “OH!” Ollie cried, pointing. “IT’S GLOWING! IT’S DOING IT! IT’S GLOWING!”

Many high-fives were given.

I don’t know if it scratches some heretofore undiscovered man-itch buried deep inside me (heh, heh, he said ‘man-itch’), or if it’s just the satisfaction anyone would feel accomplishing something that is completely outside their wheelhouse, but I was strutting like a peacock for that one.

1) Correctly diagnosing the problem, 2) actually successfully completing the project, and 3) doing it all in under a day are usually the unholy trifecta of failure for me. Top that off with only spending $65 total and, I assure you, I was completely insufferable for the rest of the day.

(You know, even more than usual.)

An Analog Man

I am very please to announce that my story, “The Story of Daro and the Arbolita” will be appearing in Analog Science Fiction and Fact.

I know non-writers are probably not as familiar with the prestige of one market versus another, but there are definite “tiers” between the magazines. In the top tier of magazines, there are three known as the “big three”: Analog, Asimov’s, and Fantasy & Science Fiction. Those are the last three big print magazines; the ones you can actually subscribe to through the mail like a regular magazine, the ones you can still occasionally find on the shelf in a bookstore. Of the “big three”, Analog is the biggest, at least by circulation (they are over 27,000 subscribers).

In fact, Analog is the longest running science fiction magazine, going back to 1930 (known back then as “Astounding Stories”). If you are not a science fiction fan, you can trust that they have published every science fiction author you have heard of: people like Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick, Robert Heinlein, and a lot of others. Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight first appeared in Analog. Frank Herbert’s Dune first appeared in Analog.

All of this is a long way to say, I’m dead.

I died now.

Clearly this crazy, ridiculous world in which I have a story forthcoming from Analog is some sort of non-reality heaven simulation, and none of you are real.

You know, two things:
1) After the amazing writing year I had last year, I was really braced for a slump this year. It seemed like it could only be downhill. So far, that doesn’t appear to be the case.
2) There is a certain voice that says, “Hey, maybe you aught to cool it with these announcements, buddy. Be a pro. Act like you been there before.” But you know what? Screw that. I *am* a pro, and so whatever I do? That’s what a pro does.

Do you know what a pro does when he sells a story to Analog?

Dream Warriors

Oliver just called out in his sleep, “I need help!” (which, by the way, is a pretty creepy thing to say in your sleep)

I went in his room, but he seemed to be neither awake, nor embattled in a Freddy Krueger dream-battle.

I would like to state publicly, and for the record, that if I shout “I need help!” in my sleep, I expect some Dream Warriors to form up and tag team whatever we need to defeat. I don’t ask for help lightly.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a job to do.

Boy said he need’s help.


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