Changing The Name

Last night, I clicked a button, and transfered Worlds In A Grain of Sand to a new address, where you’re reading now. I did this for a couple of reasons, and while it will likely take a little while to get the traffic that I enjoyed on the prior site to get back to normal, I think this change will be a positive one.

A little while ago, I wrote an article/commentary for io9, which generated a number of e-mail and comments. While I was thrilled at the response, good and bad, what bothered me the most was two people, one who wrote to me directly and another on another website who made a couple of judgements of my argument simply on the basis of my email alone, with the screen name JediTrilobite.

JediTrilobite is a screen name that I’ve used for over a decade at this point: it started off in 1999 on the TheForce.net forums, combining a couple of my favorite interests. As I got more into Star Wars fandom and other places in the Internet, I continued the usage- I started up a blog and generally used it as a sort of online persona. That worked fine within the massive Star Wars community on the Internet, but over the past year, I’ve begun far more serious work online, writing for io9 and SF Signal, where my real name is far more important. Plus, my interest in Star Wars has largely waned from my fanboy days back in high school. I still like it, but not unadbashably so. These days, I’m far more interested in history and popular culture, and when writing about these things, I found that it’ll be harder for people to take my arguments seriously if they can’t get past a silly email/ online handle.

Only two people really commented on it. But, out of the 35,000 or so people who read that article, I can’t help but wonder what others might have thought, either other fans or other people who might have otherwise looked at my article differently. Plus, I always operated under the assumption that in some circles, JediTrilobite generally was associated with Andrew Liptak. I don’t know if that’s as much of a healthy association professionally, and I’ve begun to take a bit more of a professional stance with how I appear online.

Thus, Worlds In A Grain of Sand now has the slightly less fun handle, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing either. As I begin to write more and more, and hopefully more professionally, it’s essential to tie my writing to me, as a sort of brand (god, that sounds horribly pretentious), rather than some random online persona.

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Barre St. Market

I stopped by the small corner market on my street last night. It’s not a place that I’ve visited much, despite it being just down the street from me, within an easy walk. I only went into it because while cooking dinner last night, I found that I didn’t have any milk. Part of my meal was already cooking, so I grabbed my jacket and walked down to pick up something, and seeing that Shaw’s was about a half-mile down the road, this would be quicker.

I honestly don’t know why I’ve never stopped by the place. I think I’ve been in there only once before. I think the perception of that street and the shop’s size has just led me to think that there’s not much there – the larger supermarkets in the area carry just about everything that I need, and as such, I tend to drive right past this place. When I walked in last night, I wasn’t necessarily expecting much. I picked up my milk (Which I suspect, is currently sitting on the counter after using it last night. Crap.) went to the counter to pay, only to be told my the owner (who I think is Bangladeshi) politely told me that there was a ten-dollar minimum on debit purchases. Annoyed, I turned and looked around for something else to get so that I could complete my purchase and walk through the rain to my apartment to finish my cooking.

The store was immaculate. I hadn’t so much as glanced around the room when I walked into the shop as I made a beeline for the milk. Now that I had a chance to look around the store a bit more, I saw that the shoulder-high shelves were laden with goods, and they were organized, their bright labels facing outwards, each one perched on the edge of the shelf with care. The floor was spotless, and the candy bars were behind a pane of glass, neatly arranged. Further browsing for a second revealed that this wasn’t like a gas station convenience store, with the stock number of goods designed for a quick grab by a traveller looking to get in and out – there was a genuine selection here.

I grabbed a six-pack of beer, one of the things that sprung to mind that I knew I didn’t have, and planned to pick up, and returned to the front, where I waited for the shop owner to sell a boy a candy bar while his dad browsed. The exchange was very homely, comforting and alien to me. In the past two years that I’ve lived in Montpelier, I don’t think that I’ve exchanged more than a couple of words to the vendor, who looked about as interested in my day as I was in theirs. Similarly, I’ve never seen the same amount of devotion and attention to detail in the larger stores.

I’m not likely to shop there as much as I do the other stores. There’s a reason why I’ll make the drive over to Berlin or down the street to one of the larger stores – they have a larger selection for what I generally buy, and probably a bit cheaper. When I go shopping, I tend to go cheap, and get everything at once. But having gone down to this small street market, I’m far more inclined to stop in more. I like the feeling and ambience with the place. It is far more welcoming and interesting. Not to mention closer.

This Is My Bookshelf

I bought a new bookshelf today to help accomodate the vast overflow of books that I’ve accumulated during the past year and a half at my apartment. Since I’ve moved in, I’ve aquired a couple hundred new books in all numbers of genres. I had a number of piles, then towers of books springing up in very strange places all over my apartment, and the time was needed to find them a new home. A trip to Staples later, and I found such a home, a five-shelf, seven foot tall tower bookshelf. After a little construction, it was up and running, and a couple hours later, it became home to all of my history, biography, geek, science and space books, all now proudly on display. The piles are now gone, and the remaining shelves have been freed up a little, so I’m not too afraid of them bursting apart any more under the stress of overburdened shelves.

I love books. I can’t say why or how, really, but looking at my new shelf, now neatly organized by genre, then by author and title, I’ve found myself sitting and letting my eyes wander across the titles and the brightly coloured spines. There’s one about the 82nd Airborne in Normandy, the British Military during the Victorian era, the Spitfire aircraft, the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, the Paris 1919 peace conference, Kit Carson, the origins of the US Navy, Smallpox, comic comic books, Isaac Asimov, Roy Chapman Andrews, Apollo 13, Dwight Eisenhower, Salt, the Falklands and on and on. At my fingertips is a thousand journeys, stories and personalities, bound together with some paper, glue and ink, almost beckoning me to discover something new.

I suppose that there is a pretentious nature to this display, and I’m okay with that. Some people deck out their cars with the finest of accessories or toys or mud, while others display their degrees on the wall. I guess I want to demonstrate that I’m well read, versed in a number of different fields, eras of history, people, concepts or opinions, while still realizing that I haven’t read all of these. My own journey is one of learning, and looking at this shelf, I can see that there’s still a lot of distance to go there.

My main concern right now is that after all of the books have been settled in their proper place, shifted back and forth, there’s no more space left for the inevitable next couple hundred books that will be coming through the door to join them.

Why We Write

That’s a bit of a bad pun but while talking with someone earlier today, I realized just how much I write. When I was in high school, I wanted to be a science fiction writer; I penned a number of really bad short stories, and submitted several of them to publishers, in hopes that I would become the next Isaac Asimov. Unsurprisingly, that never happened, although it’s still a hope kicking around in the back of my head that someday, I’ll be able to publish a science fiction story somewhere.

In college, I began to maintain a blog, which is what this has ended up being. I’ve culled a lot of the older entries, over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed that I’ve begun to refine my writing style, and the topics that I write about. This blog, which was originally more of a personal project, has gone towards something that is more analytical, rather than personal. This is something that I’ve noticed change over the past couple of years, influenced by several people whom I’ve come into contact with socially and through school.

I’ve begun to write again for my music blog, Carry You Away, something that I had backed off from because of problems that I had with the music industry, but also the fans of the music that I posted up. Writing there turned from a personal pleasure towards something that was more along the lines of regurgitating press releases that I received from publicists, pushing things on me that I had no interest in writing about, and over the past couple of weeks, while reviewing several albums from bands that I did like, I remembered just how much I enjoyed doing this, and how I was able to help them.

Another reason why I pulled back from CYA was my recent addition to the staff of io9 as their ‘Research Fellow’, which I have been enjoying immensely. There, I’ve written a number of articles about subjects that I really enjoyed: What a Stormtrooper Is Made Of , Stalking NASA, Trilobites: The Greatest Survivors in Earth’s History, The History (and Future) of Commercial Space Flight, Angels and Aliens Meet on Your February Bookshelf, Nine SciFi Books that Deserve to be Films, Tragedy for NASA’s Climate Science Satellite Program and China Lands on the Moon – Sort of, with more to come. This site has proven to be a fantastic outlet for some of my interests, such as space exploration, science fiction and history. Some of my articles have received tens of thousands of hits, with hundreds of comments, which is both facinating and gratifying.

Looking over these places, I’ve wondered why I like to write – it’s a lot more than I generally would have expected, and I suspect that it’s a bit more than the average person. Coupled with my master’s work with my Military History degree, there’s certainly a lot there. I like to tell people about things. I guess blogging is one of the natural extensions of how I can do this, because I’ve never been the most comfortable around people, and it takes me a little while to really warm up to people, with a few very rare exceptions. Writing, I’ve found, is a way for me to get ideas down on paper (virtual or otherwise), in a logical fashion, and is a means for me to really examine things, for all their flaws, whether it is looking at a new album, a book, news, history or any other random idea that I’ve got bouncing around. In a way, it’s a form of teaching, I guess, which is something that I would really like to do, especially in the academic history fields, which is what I’m mainly striving towards for my Master’s. Already, I’m beginning to start thinking about my thesis, as well as extended work on the Norwich University D-Day paper that I did for my Senior thesis as an undergrad, not to mention my Byron Clark paper, which deals with local history during the progressive era.

It’s fun to tell people about new things, and I like to think that I can help open people’s minds, turn them to new things or see things in a different light than they had before.Thinking back to my conversation earlier today, I do write a lot. I guess it just comes naturally.

Paper Ballots

Why on earth doesn’t everyone else utilize these? I just voted in Montpelier – No lines at all at 8 am – and used a paper ballot. Simple, one sheet, fill in the dots for your choice.


Not mine, but what I used

I’m watching NPR, Twitter and the New York Times and I’m seeing that there’s massive problems with a lot of the new fangled technology for voting, and I have to wonder – why doesn’t the rest of the country use a standardized ballot that is most likely cheaper and simpler to use, not to mention a hard copy record of what you just voted for? There’s been a lot of talk about voter confusion as things change, but honestly? It seems like far too much work and added complexity with these things.

Technology can just plain suck.

Introduction to Fantasy

Over the past couple of years, I’ve done a lot of thinking about how I’ve reached the point to where I am today, how I obtained the interests and passions that I have now. I’m a geek, and I’ve been one for a long time, but I’ve never really questioned or considered just how I’ve gotten to this point until recently.
Those who know me know that I’m a huge fan of Science Fiction and Fantasy – books, films, comics, TV shows, etc. Largely, I attribute this to being taken to a screening of A New Hope in 1997 when the series was re-released to theaters. Watching the film at that age really had a huge impact on me and my imagination, and it’s not too mellow dramatic to say that it was a life changing experience.

But thinking back, I’ve come to realize that I’ve been exposed to the genre much earlier, but I could never really track down just how or what I had been reading or listening to. In elementary school, I largely read the Hardy Boys or other mysteries – I wanted to be a detective for the longest time that I could remember.

It hit me a couple months ago while at home – Merlin and the Dragons. I’ve become very convinced that this was one of the first introductions that I had to the genre. When I was in elementary school, my mother worked as a secretary for the principle and would drive me and my siblings into school every morning. I can’t remember when exactly when I listened to it, but it was most likely around ’92-’95 or so.

The story opens with a young King Arthur, who is having trouble sleeping. Walking around, he comes across Merlin, who tells him a story about a young boy in a village who was an orphan, booksmart and outcast from the rest of the children in the village. During the story, he has dreams and makes some predictions about the future. The king, Martigan, orders a tower to be built, and when it’s completed, it is destroyed, only to be rebuilt and destroyed again. The boy dreamed of two dragon eggs under the tower that hatch into dragons, and they battle in the skies over the tower and the village.

This story is a really good one, as a story on its own. It has a number of themes – predicting the future and destiny, archetypes of purely evil and purely good characters, all while tying into the Arthurian legends nicely. It’s a far different story in tone from the Disney Cartoon that I remember watching from the same time – this has some wholly dark elements to it, and some elegant storytelling that really sets this apart for me.

Listening to the audio book at that age, the narrator captured my imagination with talk of evil kings, dragons and mythology. I remember paticularly vivid imagry associated with this story, and listening to it now, it is bringing back a flood of memories that I’d largely forgotten. I’m getting chills while listening to this, remembering this story after such a long time.

Genius!

I’m an unabashed fan of Apple and most of their products. I own an iPod (I’ve gone through several) and use iTunes compulsively at work and at home. I listen to a lot of music – over the past year, since I started working on my music blog, I’ve come across a lot of music and my tastes in music has spread to a number of genres that I might not have ordinarily gone to.

Apple last week unveiled iTunes 8, the latest edition of the program, which seems to have caught up with the user-generated content phase with the internet, chiefly through the addition of the latest addition to the program, Genius. The program takes the music that is in your music library and compares it to the rest of the music online, other users preferences and the popularity of other songs. From there, it makes recommendations and with the push of a button, can create custom playlists based on certain attributes of the selected song, and provide you with a playlist of similar songs.

It’s neat in theory, and I’m guessing it works pretty well, but while I like the push-button option to create a playlist, I’m not terribly thrilled with iTunes taking my personal information and making personal recommendations based upon it. Granted, it’s something that I’ve come to terms with when it comes to sites such as Amazon.com, and you can turn off the sidebar, which I was initially afraid was a permenant fixture to the main window.

My main problem right now is that the music that’s on my computer right now is limited. I only have a hundred or so songs at any given time on this computer, while the good stuff is on my home desktop, which isn’t connected to the internet. Unfortunately, it’ll probably give my computer a stroke if I try and install it, but we’ll see.

This comes at a time when the nano and other iPods have been re-designed a bit, per the usual Apple methods, putting mine out of date, and making the newer ones much more desirable. I’m currently contemplating upgrading to an iTouch, simply because you can do more with it – including surfing the internet and the like. iPhones, while they work in Vermont, can’t be purchased because of something with the networks they run on. I guess we’ll see. The prices have come down a little, and they’re not terribly out of reach for me any more. I guess we’ll see.

Essential Websites

Throughout my day, there’s a variety of websites that I check out religiously, or at the very least, pretty often, either for amusement or general reference. Some just once a day to once a week or so for news and what have you, others more often as they’re updated throughout the day.

The Hype Machine

This site is a fun one. I’ve been going to it for over a year now, and have my own blog listed on it. The Hype Machine is a godsend for music fans – it tracks and posts content on its front page from thousands of music blogs around the world. Oftentimes, you can find obscure covers, duets, through to the current popular songs. The music that filters through tends to be more towards the indie-rock / rock spectrum, but everything is represented at some point.

The New York Times

Print newspapers are the way to go. Because I don’t subscribe because of expense and the vast number of newspapers that would build up quickly at my apartment, I check in at the NYT a couple of times a day. They update throughout the day, and it’s generally a good place to get news. I also am a big fan of their arts section, and I generally agree with their movie reviews.

Wired Magazine

Wired is a fun magazine to page through, and their website is one that I’ve just added to my list of places to visit and check up on, because it gets a lot of fantastic interviews, reviews and news of all sorts.

Flickr

When it comes to pictures, you can’t get better than flickr. It’s easy to use, very open and versitile. You can tag pictures with locations, search based on just about anything, create profiles and keep an eye on people that you know, as well as keep an eye on pictures that catch your eye by marking them as favorites.

Amazon.com


Actually, I prefer independent bookstores over all others. BUT, when it comes to the internet, Amazon.com is a powerhouse of buying things. Customer reviews, cover images, a very, very good used section and just about everything that you’d ever want is literally at your fingertips when it comes to books, movies and music (that’s my use of it anyway). I got a text book for a penny once. And, they’re fast.

io9

I came across this site several months ago, and check it religously. Interesting articles, lots of up-to-date information on all sorts of interesting geek things when it comes to books, movies, music and culture. Commentators are screened out, so there’s none of this IMDB bullshit that goes on with their forums. I’ve come across so many interesting things here, this is a fantastic place to visit.

Facebook

Okay, I’m a bit of a facebook junkie. I’ve found it to be a very good way to keep in touch with a lot of people, former classmates, 501st members from around the globe, camp friends, things like that, not to mention a fun way to see what people are up to. Granted, there’s always the concern about security and how much information you should be putting up on the internet, but if you’re careful (and I think this is a far better place than myspace), you’ll be fine.

Word Press

I used blogger for years, and was convinced to come over to do WordPress from a couple of friends recently. Overall, I like it far better. Easier to use and manage, much better looking and all around more impressive than my prior platform. Manages comments really well, allows you to host your own pictures, allows for rather seamless intigration of media into posts. My only complaint is that the post section is too narrow.

Intellicast

This comes as habit from my dad, but I’ve always found Intellicast to be the best source for weather forecasting, aside from Eye in the Sky, on NPR. I generally check in when I’m planning something outside.

SciFi

The SciFi channel’s website. It’s a good source for information about their programs, but I mainly go there for their SciFiWire, which has 10 or so big stories from the genre’s news over the day, as well as some interviews and other content. Plus, they have SciFi’s shows online.

Youtube

Youtube is addicting. There’s too much crap, too many kids with guitars pretending that they can sing, but oh, the possibilities for amusement, catching news broadcasts or speeches, TV clips or entire episodes, etc, are endless.

Wikipedia

As an academic-wannabe, I can’t stand Wikipedia. There’s far too much potential for someone to mess with information, and I’ve seen too many students liberally copying passages from it to trust or really like its influence on how information is gathered – people really need to learn to go to regular sources, like books. Remember those?

However, Wikipedia is a really, really handy reference for quick information. Like Cape Verde, halite, Valeriy Polyakov, or anything else you want to know. Superficial information? Great! More detailed stuff – not so much, although often, it’ll tell you where to find it. And, despite the obvious drawbacks of user-uploadead information, it’s usually correct stuff that goes up, or at least, corrected quickly.

iTunes

Okay, not a website really, but as a platform for listening to music, it’s wonderful. There’s a lot that I listen to, and it’s one of the first things that I fire up in the morning. Plus, it’s a great way to listen to news, I’ve found, as I subscribe to a number of podcasts, such as the BBC, NPR, NYTimes and a couple others to listen to the news while I work.

Google/Gmail/Calendar/Maps/Everything else

And what would this list be without Google and gmail? GMail is fantastic, great e-mail provider, although google can be really scary at times, especially when it comes to censoring information in China or something like that, it’s the best way to find things online. Period.

And yes, I do work. Checking all of these takes about 15-20 minutes over the entire day, usually during a break. Or running in the background.

Worlds in A Grain of Sand's New Home

For the past couple of years, I’ve hosted this blog on blogger.com. Recently, I’ve been wanting to do more with my blogging, and a couple friends of mine, notably Noel Green, recommended that I try Word Press. Looking over the platform over the past couple of weeks, I’ve found that I can transfer all my posts over here, and that the interface is a lot easier to use, which I like, plus, it looks better.

While all of the original posts (900 +) are on here, some of the links might not work, or might lead back to the original blog site, which I’ll be keeping around.

Currently, the tags only go through last summer. I’m planning on updating them over time, but at this point, it’s not a priority. I’m going to be updating the links over the next couple of days. WordPress has a feature to convert all the catagories into tags. I love this engine.

TV Stuff

Some random TV news that I’ve come across lately.

Don Davis passed away over the weekend, which came as a very big surprise to me. Davis was the actor behind one of my favorite SG-1 characters, Gen. Hammond, who was in charge of Stargate command for most of seven seasons before he retired. He was also in a couple of other shows, Supernatural, The Dead Zone, the West Wing, Andromeda, Star Gate Atlantis, and numerous other features. Davis brought a grace and intensity to Hammond, who started off as a very strong character, who really became more than a series extra. He shall be missed.

Chris Noth is leaving Law and Order: Chriminal Intent. Personally, I’m pretty happy about this, because I’ve always felt that his character, Logan, didn’t hold a candle to Detective Goren, although he did bring an interesting take to his episodes, which I did like. Now, his replacement should be interesting: Jeff Goldblum, who’s already played a crazy detective in the show Raines, which I loved. Unfortunately, the crazy cop sees dead people thing isn’t the most original, and it was canceled. Goldblum is the perfect choice for this show, and hopefully, we’ll see some crossover episodes with him and Det. Goren. THAT should be interesting to watch.

And, this BBC person says that TV Drama has replaced literature:

Television drama had supplanted the novel, she said, as the “narrative of our times that gives our lives meaning and shape”.

I think that to some extent, that’s true, but I don’t think that I would ever classify TV Drama as something that’s replaced books. It’s a very scary thought. I’m split when it comes to this – I do enjoy a number of things on TV, it’s a guilty pleasure of mine – the BBC especially, with Dr. Who and Life on Mars, but also some shows in the US like Law and Order, House MD, Pushing Daisies, among others. They’re interesting, makes you think, but there’s also a lot on TV that is complete drivel and shallow. Even these dramas aren’t up to the quality of a good book.