Monthly Archives: September 2006

Real-Life Mysteries

How often does any of us come into contact with, much less become involved with, situations that might well be stories, or even mysteries? I have two cases to relate.

First, about two years ago I read an article in the LA Times about an aspiring young Hollywood model who’d disappeared. Police went to her residence and found bloody clothing and no sign of the owner of the house where she was staying. The article described the house as in the “5000 block of Medina Road” and I realized… that was just up the street from me. In fact, I’d been in that house (it had TV reporters in front of it when I drove by later that same day); there’d been a “for rent” sign in front of it a couple months before, and on impulse I’d stopped by to see what the house was like. It was large, some 3500 square feet, on a hillside below the street, three levels from street level down, with a tennis court below that; however it was some 30 years old, so it lacked the high ceilings and large bathrooms and walk-in closets you see in new construction today. Nice, though not luxurious by contemporary standards.

Subsequently a body was found in a dumpster at a self-storage facility about three miles north of the house. Owner still missing. Several months later, another LAT article told about the discovery by police of the owner of that house, who’d committed suicide in a motel somewhere near the Mexican border. End of story… except that ever since then, the house has still been for rent, off and on, no one staying there for long. And it’s for rent again today as I write.

Second, ever since I moved into my present residence a little over 3 years ago, I’ve been getting telephone calls and messages for someone named Kevin Terani (I’m guessing at the spelling), who apparently once had the phone number that I now have. When I answer the calls myself, I tell them I have no idea who Kevin Terani is, that I’ve had this phone number since 2003, and cannot help them. Still the calls come… never identifying themselves or why they want to contact this person. I can only imagine that Kevin Terani was in financial difficulties with numerous parties. But I don’t know. Just this evening, two calls came asking for this person — but they were automated recordings, unresponsive to my replies.

No doubt a talented horror or mystery writer could use these incidents as bases for much more interesting scenarios than I could possibly imagine myself. Any such writers who are reading this are welcome to them.

DSL issue

I’ve been having a curious problem with my DSL service in recent weeks: whenever I receive or make a voice call on my telephone line, the DSL signal is disrupted for at least several minutes. Often it returns by itself, after a few minutes, but sometimes I have to power-off and power-on the DSL modem and the wireless router (clue?) that I use to get the signal to my laptop before it recovers. I could contact Verizon–now AT&T in my area–about this, but it’s quicker to post a note here and hope someone might know what the problem could be. Anyone?

Links and Blinks

I had a chance today to spend some time processing e-mails sent me over the past few months suggesting various websites to add to Locus Online’s various links pages, and to troll through my own Blinks posts for links to add to the permanent collection. (I’m not quite done with the latter task.) The updated links pages have been posted to the site. Feel free to browse, and, of course, suggest any additions, revisions, or updates.

On Reading H.P. Lovecraft for the First Time (Part One)

I shouldn’t be prolonging or teasing about this; so I’ll start by saying that I feel slightly embarrassed to admit not having read H.P. Lovecraft, one of those writers it seems that everyone else read when they were 16, until just this past month. More precisely, I’ve read 3 or 4 HPL stories in anthologies over the years, but I’ve never before sat down to systematically read his works, or even one complete story collection. I think I knew that I would someday, or should: I’d picked up a couple of the Ballantine editions first published in the ’70s, and had acquired the 3 authoritative Arkham House collections in the years since then.

I say this with due humility, because there’ve been a number of times when I’ve chatted with this writer or that hardcore fan at conventions and been rather amazed at their casually mentioning never having read Isaac Asimov, say, or Robert Heinlein. (And they let you write a novel?) It’s not that surprising, I suppose, to hear this; the field is too vast for any but the most dedicated (and senior) readers (John Clute, Don D’Ammassa) to have read everything worth reading, and obviously young writers are responding to the field as it exists today, without having necessarily spent time studiously learning its past history.

Still, for those of my generation, HPL is perhaps a significant omission. In my golden age, beginning of course around age 12, I discovered and sought out and read everything I could find by Bradbury and Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein, and then Silverberg and Ballard and others. I suppose I considered myself a hard-headed SF reader, open to literary writing but skeptical of wishy-washy fantasy, and the passing encounters I may have had with HPL left me unmoved. (I bought a 1970s Ballantine ‘Adult Fantasy’ edition of The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, whose title story I now realize is perhaps the least characteristic major story by HPL.)

But something a couple months ago led me to pick up one of those Ballantine editions and read a story or two. And discovering that electronic texts are available online — albeit uncorrected and sometimes corrupt texts — contributed something (which you may guess at but I’ll not further explain) to my sudden intention to finally pay attention to HPL. And so since early August I’ve been reading my way through the stories, at first haphazardly but then systemically, chronologically that is, which means that as of this evening — after having spent a week working my way through “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” and then finishing “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” just a few minutes ago — I still have yet to read many of the ‘major’ HPL stories such as “The Dunwich Horror” and “The Colour Out of Space” and “The Shadow Out of Time”, not to mention a handful of titles I’d never even recognized until this current project, such as “The Dreams in the Witch-House” and “The Haunter of the Dark” and “The Thing on the Doorstep” and “The Whisperer in Darkness”. The best is yet ahead, perhaps? — not that I haven’t been fascinated by all those before, the way HPL themes recur over and over, the way as with some writers every story seems a variation on every other story, all of them accumulating to some great whole.

And so I expect to spend another week or two finishing the last dozen or so HPL stories, closing off the Ballantine editions and the Arkham House editions and the Library of America and Joyce Carol Oates and Andrew Wheeler editions, and then posting another entry here about what I find fascinating about HPL, as if anyone needs my impressions, and then returning to current reading and current projects.

Checking In 18 Sept.

Running behind as usual, especially with jury duty and the flu this past week, in addition to the usual. Still planning a post about HP Lovecraft; have comments to Cory’s latest column to post on the site; New in Paperback listings are about ready.

A Phantom Airplane That Never Left the Ground

Some links related to the last couple posts…

Time Magazine has an article on Snooping Bosses: “Think your employer is checking your e-mail, Web searches and voice mail? You’re probably right.” The article doesn’t mention the most insidious technique I’ve heard rumored: keyboard monitors. They track every keystroke you make, and analyze/filter the results. Good thing my friend isn’t trying to write a novel in the time he used to surf the web.

And here’s a page about ISBN-13, which formally goes into effect January 1, 2007.

Yes, I recall the advice about pertinent blog post titles. That doesn’t mean I always care to follow it…

Rules of ISBN

What I learned at Worldcon: Chatting with Bill Contento, Locus Index compiler, at the Locus table at the Anaheim Worldcon one day, I learned that the formula for computing the checksum digit of the new 13-digit ISBN is different than the old formula.

For anyone not into cataloguing books, the ISBN, International Standard Book Number, has been the unique identifier for books published in the last 30 years or so. A typical ISBN runs 0-679-45077-7, where the 0 is a domain or continent ID [the US typically being 0, except for small presses and some newer publishers], the 679 is a publisher ID [this one is Knopf], the 45077 identifies the particular title, and the final digit is a ‘checksum’ computed from the previous digits according to some arcane formula. Responding to a kind of Y2K crisis, the publishing industry is migrating to an expanded, 13-digit ISBN system, and for a year or so now many US publishers have printed both the old-style ISBN-10 and the new-style ISBN-13 on the back covers of their books, right by the bar code. I have here, for example, a copy of the elusive Infoquake by David Louis Edelman (which despite all the publicity, I never have seen a copy of in a physical B&N or Borders store, and which I finally ordered from Amazon), which has these numbers:

ISBN-13: 978-159102442-2
ISBN-10: 159102442-0

Now at first glance it would appear that all that has been done is to tack 978- onto the front end of the 10-digit ISBN number, and this does seem to be the case for all the examples of current US books I’ve seen. But… a more careful glance reveals that the final digit, the checksum digit, is different. I hadn’t realized this, until Bill mentioned it. The new formula, he claimed, is different, one effect being that in the new system the final digit will never be ‘X’, has it was once every 11 times or so under the old system. (The checksum was a sum of products of the earlier digits, modulo 11.)

Now aside from the obvious, inherent fascination of these details, the reason I discuss this here is that one way I compile ISBNs for new books is by scanning reviews on the Publishers Weekly website every Monday or Tuesday, and tagging titles reviewed there in my Books database. If I don’t already have an ISBN for some title, I copy and paste the ISBN from the PW review into my database. For some time now…weeks? months?… I’ve been cropping the 978 off the 13-digit ISBNs listed by PW and pasting the result into the database.

Oops. That doesn’t work. You can find a book via ISBN on the Amazon site, with or without embedded hyphens, but search for 159102442-2 (from the example above) and you find nothing. The checksum digit is wrong. Which means…. some number of ISBNs in my database, reflected in the weekly New Books listings and in the Directory pages (which include forthcoming titles I haven’t yet seen), may be wrong.

I will be double-checking the Amazon links for new listings as I generate them for the website, but if some errors slip through, if you click on an Amazon link and get an error, this may be the reason. Of course if you do encounter such an error, let me know.

On a separate but related topic, I see that Amazon has changed the way it generates links to books, at least for current titles. To illustrate, if I search for Infoquake, the page I’m directed to has this link:

This URL has a huge chunk of text in the middle identifying the title and author. You’d think the ISBN number — see, they’re still relying on the 10-digit version, there right after the /dp/ — would be sufficient to identify a path to the book. Why is Amazon doing this? I have no idea. To make it more difficult for automated spammers to assault their site, perhaps?

My concern is that, as an Amazon associate, who gets a commission from every order to Amazon via a link, any change in the format of links might disrupt that revenue stream. It’s not a lot, but it does allow me to pay the reviewers — Howard and Lawrence and Gary and the others. Fortunately, the associate link format doesn’t seem to be affected; the link I’d build for Infoquake,, still works.

(And I thought this would be a short post.)

Featured Blog

A quick note to mention that this blog is currently a “featured blog” on the Analog and Asimov’s blog pages, here linked. Willie Garcia of Dell Magazines sent me a form to sign and fax back, as if permission to link were some official legal thing. In contrast, I’ve always assumed that anything accessible on the web is free game, public knowledge, no permission required, as I tell those occasional e-mail inquirers who think that they need my permission to link to Locus Online. (Of course most such e-mails have other ends in mind.)

Meanwhile, three forthcoming posts here are in work or in thought, one on ISBNs, one on reading HP Lovecraft, and one on reading metrics. In work for weeks or months, in the latter cases. Perhaps I take this blog too seriously..? As if anyone is reading?


I read somewhere not long ago that people who read blogs tend to be middle-class white-collar workers who surf the web from their computers at work. They have time on their hands, in the sense that they don’t make widgets and so don’t have to be ‘productive’ every minute of the day. I suspect many Locus Online readers are like that too.

But I have this friend, see, who called me the other day to complain about his workplace situation. Apparently his company got sold from one big-name corporation (a well-known West Coast-based manufacturer of passenger aircraft, as it happens) to another (a somewhat lesser-known East Coast-based conglomerate, whose subsidiaries manufacture, among other things, jet engines and elevators) about a year ago. The change in corporate culture has been dramatic. “These people are uptight and paranoid,” my friend complained. “They’re obsessed with regimented procedures, with labels on file cabinets and bookshelves, and they wear suits.” I sympathized; I can’t remember the last time I saw anyone in a suit in my own southern California company.

“And basically,” he went on, “these new corporate overlords of ours are just not on our side. They don’t trust us. They’ve said so explicitly. They filter our e-mail for key words–like ‘breast’ !–and if they find something, you get a Phone Call to ask what’s going on. They’re watching us every moment. And of course, they’re blocking the Internet.”

Blocking the Internet? Well, my company has always taken a dim view of surfing porn at work.

“Oh not just that,” my friend went on, “they’ve got three guys sitting in a room scanning web access logs and manually blocking anything they find that they don’t consider work-related. I went to Salon the other day and got this big warning on my screen instead– THIS SITE HAS BEEN BLOCKED PER CORPORATE POLICY…. It’s classified as an ‘entertainment’ site, see, and obviously entertainment is not a suitable activity for the workplace.”

Well, I responded, that’s not unusual corporate policy, is it? I mean, you’re supposed to be there to work, right?

“Yeah well, sure, like the admin next to me who yaks for hours on the phone every day with her friends isn’t supposed to be working too? Like we can’t just take a break once in a while?? Anyway the Internet blocks are in effect 24/7. I used to spend my lunch hours surfing the web, reading blogs and other websites — like Locus Online — but lately so many sites are blocked, I’ve given up. They’ve won. I don’t even try anymore. We’re in a lockdown situation here.”

He sounded so forlorn. Well, that’s rough, I agreed, but there’s not much you can do about it. Get a cellphone with internet access perhaps?

“They can’t win!” my friend agreed. “Technology can’t be suppressed!”

Well just don’t risk your job over it, I advised. Thinking about it, I suppose I would be greatly inconvenienced if that happened to me; I mean, suppose I were running a website, say, and were used to spending my lunch hours gathering content for it. To be cut off like that would really hurt. I’m not sure what I would do. There are only so many hours in the day.

Coincidentally I saw an article recently claiming that younger jobseekers

will think twice about employers who lock down work internet access.

“These kids are saying: forget it! I don’t want to work with you. I don’t want to work at a place where I can’t be freely online during the day,” said Anne Kirah, Microsoft Senior Design Anthropologist. …

“Companies all over the world are saying, oh, you can’t be on the internet while you’re at work. You can’t be on instant messaging at work…” she said. “These are digital immigrant ideas.”

Kirah defines ‘digital immigrants’ as people who were not born into the digital lifestyle and view it as a distraction rather than an integral part of life. The younger generation of workers have been using computers and mobile phones since birth and she calls them ‘digital natives’.

Microsoft obviously has a vested interest in letting people use computers, but I’m not surprised that young people might think this way.

The final condolence I offered my friend was that, maybe without the distraction of the Internet at work, he might really become a lot more productive, and be suitably rewarded in coming pay raise cycles.

“Yeah, right,” he said. “I’ll let you know.”