Monday, September 27, 2010
And last night, I discovered Fountains of Wayne are playing Boston two days later. Cool.
Saturday, September 25, 2010
One of the most dreaded places in the entire galaxy is the main terminal of the wormhole depot near Ophiuchus V. First of all, it was designed with complete disregard to things like movement and traffic flow. The placement of gates stairwells, escalators, and shop doorways facilitated beings bumping into each other every five feet. A rare hour went by when there wasn’t a fight of some kind, usually by beings who had never been to the depot before. Veterans, on the other hand(s), were used to it and just sighed a lot.
Then there was the fact that it was constructed without even the slightest consideration of aesthetics. Words simply cannot describe how depressingly awful the architecture and design is. Galactic Traveler magazine once described the Ophiuchus V wormhole depot as looking like the result of Frank Lloyd Wright eating, partially digesting, and throwing back up the main lobby of the Chrysler Building.
Shops of all sorts were strewn randomly around the perimeter of the main concourse, and the Food Court, many said, was aptly named, because in it you felt like you were on trial for your life, combining the most inedible food from twenty-five different worlds and cultures. All the various cooking smells coalesced into a thick miasma that hung over the food court like a pall and challenged anyone to actually remain hungry, or at the very least not be violently ill.
Needless to say, the wormhole depot was an ordeal even under the best traveling conditions. And “best traveling conditions” was not a phrase that even remotely applied to Zev Zyzzyx and his wife Eep. They shambled into the main concourse from Gate 9 and Zev collapsed onto a plastic chair—one with the least number of stains—in the waiting area and panted heavily.
“I tell you,” he said, “they need to do some sort of maintenance on that thing. I’ve never traveled in a wormhole that was so unstable. I can’t actually find a part of my body that doesn’t ache right now.”
“I’m surprised you can find any part of your body at all,” said Eep. “You haven’t used your real form in at least six or seven years.”
“Longer than that, I think.”
Zyzzyx was a shapeshifter whose normal form is somewhat squidlike and tentacled, but, after emigrating to Earth more than a decade ago, morphed into the physical form of American actor Ernest Borgnine and remained that way—largely because his wife Eep had fallen in love with him while he was in Borgnine form. Why mess with a good thing?
Actually, it had been about five years since Zev Zyzzyx traveled off his home planet of Gargleplax. He was shocked at how far into disrepair some of his most heavily traveled wormholes in his youth had fallen. Blame it on galaxy-wide budget cuts.
Beings traveled with relative speed and ease throughout the Milky Way Galaxy by means of a series of wormholes that the Galactic Transportation Bureau (GTB) had constructed several decades earlier. Wormholes clustered at various nodes or depots scattered throughout the galaxy. Travelers sit inside small egg-shaped pods and, when a wormhole opens—which they do at set times, like train schedules, only more reliable—the pod is inserted into the hole and shunted along to the next wormhole depot, where travelers can transfer to other wormholes or catch a shuttle to the planet nearest to the wormhole depot. To get from Gargleplax to Earth takes four transfers, and each one appears to Zyzzyx to have involved a less and less stable wormhole. The GTB has been strapped for cash for decades.
“Well,” said Eep, who had been doing a lot more off-planet traveling than Zyzzyx lately, “they’re experimenting with a private toll-based wormhole over in Orion and the fares and surcharges are outrageous. You have to pay $50 for any luggage you are carrying. They even have telepaths on the staff who scan travelers’ brains and charge them an additional $100 for emotional baggage. They claim its for the benefit of service personnel.”
“You should never take it. They can tell if someone is a shapeshifter and they’ll charge a separate fee for any additional physical forms you could take.”
“I’d be broke by the time I got to Scorpius.”
“Speaking of being broke, there’s a pretty big gift shop here. We have forty-five minutes until the next wormhole opens...”
Eep was a sucker for a good wormhole depot gift shop, and the one on Ophiuchus was one of the most elaborate—and deeply upsetting. T shirts that read “Ophiuchus V is for Lovers” were offset by similar T shirts that read “Ophiuchus V is for Bitter Enemies.” There was an entire wall of shelves devoted to coffee mugs designed for every conceivable mouthpart. One souvenir Ophiuchus V mug for the spider beings of Arachnis XII cost more than the entire U.S. space program, due largely to the complexity of its manufacture.
The biggest point of contention, however, involved gift store items of questionable taste—well, taste being a relative term when it comes to wormhole depot gift shops. The beings native to the planet Ophiuchus V, which was the name given to the Class M planet orbiting Alpha Ophiuchi, are tripedal, have three arms, and have faces dominated by an eight-inch-long maroon-colored nose. They are a very kind, mild-mannered species (with three hands, they are known for their exceptionally complex yet beautiful piano music), and in some ways their docile nature has made them ripe for parody throughout the galaxy. When the wormhole depot gift shop opened, the first items to be offered for sale—created by the GTB’s Gifts & Novelties Division—were big plastic noses, Ophiuchian versions of the old Earth Groucho nose and glasses, exaggerated plush toys, decorative tripods, a spare arm that can be attached to another being’s chest with Velcro, and many more such gifts. There was also a relatively respectful action figure of Queen Cleolanta, one of Ophiuchius V’s most important historical figures.
The crème de la crème of the gift shop, if that’s what you want to call it, is a large ceramic teapot, the body of which is a sphere painted to look like the planet Ophiuchus V, while the spout is a long red nose. The tea is dispensed from the nostrils. Galactic Traveler magazine has voted the Ophiuchian teapot the “tackiest gift shop item in the galaxy,” a close second being the Mount Rushmore bookends sold on Earth.
It should be said that the Ophiuchians were themselves none too pleased about these items, but once they saw how much money they were making as a result of the sale of them, them swallowed their pride, took an extraordinarily deep breath, and let it be.
Zyzzyx looked at Eep. “I don’t need a rubber nose.” He suddenly looked around. “Hey, what happened to Astra?”
“He had to go in the pet pod. Because of the bad wormhole conditions, the GTB disallows luggage and pet carriers in the same pod as travelers. He should be along shortly.”
Zev and Eep, being two distinct species from different planets, were incapable of interbreeding, and had no interest in children of any kind anyway, but did adopt a pet Squog which, as its name suggests, is somewhat reminiscent of a squid crossed with a dog. It is covered with shaggy gold-colored fur, has four legs, as well as a dozen flailing tentacles. It lacks a head in the conventional sense, has two large eyes on either side of its torso, and in the center of the tentacles, a razor-sharp parrot-like beak. It lives predominantly on dry land, but is partially aquatic and likes to frolic in water. Zev has found that the resulting smell is a combination of wet dog and day-old seafood. (Basically, Astra was Eep’s idea.) The Squog is a highly intelligent species, and Zev found that the only obedience-related challenge was teaching Astra the difference between “brother in law” and “chew toy.” They had the Gargleplaxian equivalent of 911 on speed dial for a while.
Zev sat back on the seat and closed his eyes for a moment. Eep stared into space, started, then rolled her eyes. Zev looked at her.
“Another beet from my brother.”
Social media had made its way across the galaxy, of course, and given that the Festerians—Eep’s race—were telepaths, their version of social media took place mentally via what were called “brain tweets” or “beets.” Many folks on Festeria lived for the beets, but they tended to give Eep a headache.
“What’s he doing now?” Zev asked.
“He just had a sandwich and found some mystery eggs in it. I told him to avoid that deli.”
Zev grunted, and rubbed his temples. “All I can say is that I am very happy your brother found a hack to disable the marketing chip. I really couldn’t take that right now.”
“He said he got it from an O’Reilly book,” said Eep.
Laws had been passed that prohibited anyone from traveling throughout the galaxy without a marketing chip installed in their brains. Each chip included a being’s name, home address, planet of origin, phone number, e-mail address, blood type, average yearly income, type of car/spacecraft driven, favorite color, favorite food, religion, sexual orientation, physical attributes one found most sexually alluring, and so on—basically, every aspect of one’s personality. The marketing chip enabled all of the marketers and advertisers in a given public location, like a wormhole depot, to target someone with true one-to-one marketing that took the form of vivid hallucinations and holgrammatic pop-up ads, often featuring relatives, loved ones, ancestors, and even religious figures, all hawking various products and services. These “ad-visions” often drove people into complete and utter insanity (there was a psychiatrist call button located next to the defibrillator), but their return on investment was dynamite.
An Ophiuchian redcap wheeled out a metallic box the size of a filing cabinet. It was dotted with inch-wide airholes and something could be seen moving about inside.
“Mr. Zyzzyx and Ms. Eep? I have your pet.”
The box shuddered and the creature inside—Astra—made a noise that sounded like an opera tenor gargling with a nylon stocking filled with Jell-O.
“Aww,” said Eep, “isn’t he cute?”
“Please sign this acceptance form,” said the redcap to Eep, unlocking the metal container from the handtruck with his left hand, holding out the form in his right hand, and offering a pen in his center hand. He sniffed reflexively, an Ophiuchian idiosyncrasy.
Eep signed the form, tipped the redcap, and the Ophiuchian tri-toddled off. She leaned over the pet carrier. Astra was still lurching violently back and forth. “There there, mummy’s here now. Did you have a nice trip?” To Zev she added, “He really doesn’t like traveling all that much. He gets very grouchy.”
“I know how he feels.”
Eep looked over at him. “Zev, is everything all right?”
“What do you mean? You know how I hate traveling.”
“It’s not that. It just— in the past five years, you seem to have gotten...I don’t know...more morose and less playful than you used to be.”
“Remember the first time we traveled, we were stuck in this depot because of some serious wormhole instability or something.”
“That narrows it down...”
“There was this hideously disgusting couple from Proxima Centauri—newlyweds, we guessed, they were just all over each other. And the guy had to pee or something, so you decided to play a trick on them and shapeshifted into his form. I could read your mind so I knew it was all a joke, but you and she started going at it—and when the guy came back, he was shocked to find his wife making out with...himself. I thought it was hysterical.”
“How puckish of me.”
“Then...” she was really starting to crack herself up at this point, “you decided to shapeshift into an Ophiuchian, but you had forgotten that you can’t shapeshift your clothes, and, well, that third leg had nowhere to go.”
The memory brought a smile to Zev’s face. “Yes, and all the females were staring at the...um, result with lust and admiration.”
“Actually, I think they were agape with horror.”
“It’s a fine line.”
“We used to have a lot more fun, is all I’m saying,” said Eep. “And I was just wondering if everything was all right. I could read your mind, of course, but you know I hate doing that.”
You do? he thought.
“Yes, I do!” she said.
“I rest my case,” said Zev, smiling. “Anyway, yes, I feel fine. It’s just...I don’t know. A kind of ennui, perhaps. It’ll pass.”
“I hope so.”
Eep got up, took a deep breath, and walked over to the Food Court across the concourse. She ordered a pastrami sandwich for herself, an Arcturan grot with cheese for Zev, and a large slab of raw Ophiuchian malm steak for Astra.
When she got back to the seats, she was aghast. “Astra! How did you get out of your carrier! Get off those seats! And why are you wearing Zev’s pants...Oh, I see. Cute.”
Zev popped back into his normal form. ”Gotcha!” he said with a laugh.
“Now that’s more like it.”
She handed Zev his grot, lifted the lid of the pet carrier, and tossed in the malm. She quickly closed the lid. Inside, Astra convulsed wildly and ate his malm steak with a noise that sounded like an inner tube filled with geese going through an industrial meat grinder. Which wasn’t far from the case, actually.
After lunch, they still had another twenty minutes before the wormhole opened, so they sat back and napped. Suddenly, Eep was jolted awake. Her eyes popped open and she stared straight ahead. “Oh, my god!”
That woke Zev. He looked at her. “What is it?”
“A rebeet from my brother. Tharbax Cannuutuu’s ship was attacked.”
“What? Why? By whom?”
“I don’t know.”
Zev reached into his pocket and took out his mobile communicator. He made a quick call. When he was done, he snapped it off.
“It was the Ziij,” he said.
“The Ziij? But why? Sure, they’re not the most agreeable race in the galaxy, but they’ve never attacked anyone before.”
“I don’t know. Tharbax is at General Pid-I mean, General Armstrong’s now. When we get to Earth, I’ll drop you off in New York and head out to New Jersey. This is serious.”
“Who’d want to attack Tharbax Cannuutuu? That’s just crazy.”
“I don’t know.”
They got up and nervously paced until the wormhole was due to open.
Saturday, September 18, 2010
In Antisocial!, it is five years later, and the Elite Computer Virus Task Force has been shut down. General Armstrong 7 and his new wife Mellory--young, attractive, with an IQ of 900 and a prehensile tail--has launched an initiative to unite the inhabited planets of the galaxy. Complicating matters, someone is launching surprise attacks on trading vessels. Who would be so rude...and why? Could it have something to do with the new galaxy-wide social-media network? Really? That's the premise? Okay...
Recalled to Earth from his home planet, extraterrestrial shapeshifter Zev Zyzzyx, his wife Eep (and pet Astra) seek to get to the heart of the matter. Or at the very least, the liver of the matter.
Meanwhile, speaking of livers, Dr. Pock and the robot Jet accidentally fall into a "wanderhole" and randomly travel the galaxy, meeting a planet of fun-loving, proper-noun-hating beings whose culture parallels Earth development only in the case of the English language and Journey songs; the Monk Mimes of Mellitus and their infamous "walking vegetables" and heady eggplant wine; and the denizens of 0100100100 IV, a planet of Luddite robots. Will they make it home...and, come to think of it, why would they want to?
Chapter 1 is below.
Virus!, meanwhile, is now available as an e-book via the Apple iBookstore for the iPad; as an e-book for the Amazon Kindle; and, of course, in good old-fashioned print.
A Novel by Richard Romano
The marble spacecraft glided silently through space, like a lead hockey puck sailing across a starlit beach in slow motion. It passed close by a few outposts and deep-space convenience stores, and watchers seeing it elegantly drift by gaped in awe. It lacked the gaudiness that so many spaceships possessed; indeed, this craft had a certain baroque elegance. Unlike the typical outer space cruiser, with headache-inducing arrays of blinking, flashing colored lights—most of which clashed harshly—this craft had a bare minimum of illumination; nothing colored or flashing, just simple white lights at various intervals around the center of the craft, only what was necessary to comply with outer space navigation regulations, as well as highlight the inlaid goldwork and gargoyles that decorated the circular hull.
To those on board, it was the equivalent of late night, and Tharbax Cannuutuu was strolling down the carpeted corridor toward what on any conventional ship would be considered the bridge, but on Canuutuu’s ship was called the social director’s office. Canuutuu was between five and six feet tall, bipedal, and vaguely humanoid; kind of like any castmember of Jersey Shore. His hairless skin was the color of a good fifteen-year-old Scotch, and his wrinkled three-fingered/one-thumbed hand gripped a snifter of Arcturan brandy. He walked into the office and settled into a Queen Anne chair mounted atop a marble podium. In front of him, two secretaries sat at Victorian desks entering diary logs, checking supplies, and piloting the ship. The leaded-glass viewscreen on the wall displayed the view ahead—deep space.
Tharbax was the Host of the Gadabout I, the flagship of the Aldeberan VI social scene. Often voted as “the most hospitable planet in the galaxy,” Aldeberan VI’s space program was launched to travel the galaxy and make contact with other races and species by means of parties and soirées. In fact, Aldeberan VI’s engineers spent decades perfecting a staggeringly tiny yet immensely powerful engine simply so the ship could have more space for ballroom dancing.
“Mr. Spuumantii,” said Tharbax, swirling the turquoise liquid in his snifter, “what is our canapé count?”
The secretary to Tharbax’s left consulted a parchment ledger. “We are down to fifty sklorm rolls, seventy-seven fried mostancho flowers, and we are completely out of shrimp rings. We cannot handle another party without replenishing our reserves.” There was a barely perceptible tone of panic in his report.
“He’s right,” said the other secretary. “And the Master of Crudités reports that we are fresh out of...well, fresh vegetables.”
“I see,” said Tharbax. “How close is the nearest catering planet?”
“Within five light years,” said Spuumantii. “At maximum amble, we should make it in less than two Aldeberan days.”
“Excellent. Please set course for it.”
“By all means.”
The ship veered slightly and continued its travels through the inky blackness.
“Gentlemen,” said Tharbax, rising from his seat, “I think I shall call it a night—“
He was interrupted by a violent lurching of the craft.
“What the devil was that?” asked Tharbax.
“I don’t know,” said Spuumantii. He picked up the receiver of an antique telephone and dialed 0. He listened for a moment. “Apparently, we are under attack.”
“Attack?” said Tharbax with no small amount of incredulity.
The craft lurched again, knocking Tharbax back to his seat. He nearly dropped his snifter. Plaster dust rained down from the ceiling. The main viewscreen went blank.
“Where’s the lieutenant sous chef? Get him on the speaker, please.”
“Right away.” Spuumantii’s partner, Caastuulii, flipped some crystal knobs on the desk in front of him. From a large, scalloped gramophone horn, the tinny voice of the lieutenant sous chef could be heard.
“Tharbax! We have sustained serious hits to the dorsal and ventral portions of the hull.”
There was another, more violent lurch. The chandelier above Tharbax’s chair swayed violently back and forth. Tharbax regarded it warily, and stood up to move from beneath it.
“How very rude,” said Tharbax. “Who’s attacking us? And why?”
“We do not know,” said Spuumatii. “The sensors are out and the screen is nonfunctional.”
“Well, then, could someone please look out a window?”
There was silence for a moment, then the lieutenant sous chef came back over the gramophone horn. “It’s the Ziij. I recognize their warships. A most inelegant design and their food synthesizers are appalling.”
“So I’ve heard,” said Tharbax. “Why on Aldeberan VI are they attacking us? We’ve had no contact with them in years.”
“And they know we have no weapons,” said Caastuulii.
“Well, except for that Antarean wine someone gave us. That could be considered a weapon, but we would never even think of serving it to the Ziij.” Tharbax thought for a moment. “Spuumantii, send a message to the Ziij flagship.“
“Right away.” He flipped a knob and a sheet of fine notepaper slid out from a slot on the desk. He took a fountain pen from its holder and glanced back at Tharbax in readiness.
“Dear Sir,” dictated Tharbax, as Spauumantii write in a flowing, elegant hand. (Inhabitants of Aldeberan VI were also known for their excellent penmanship.) “I am Tharbax Canuutuu, of the Aldeberan Canuutuus. It has come to my attention that a fleet of Ziij warships is firing upon the Gadabout I, and I’m afraid I find this most unacceptable. Please discontinue at once, or I shall be forced to seek retribution. As you well know, we are not a violent race, but I must warn you that unless this attack ceases, I will send a sternly-worded letter to the Grand Exalted Leader of the Ziij.” He paused for a moment. “Spuumantii, please be sure to capitalize the title ‘Grand Exalted Leader.’ He’s rather picky about that.”
“Thank you. Now, please deliver that immediately.”
Spuumantii folded the sheet of paper into an envelope, addressed it, and affixed the proper postage. He inserted the letter into a mail slot in the underside of his desk. There was a soft thoonk as it was pneumatically sucked into the bowels of the craft. “Ready Postal Bay 5,” said Spuumantii into his phone. He nodded as he heard the confirmation in his earpiece. “Ready...and...mail.” He nodded again. “Thank you,” he said and hung up. “Message sent,” he said to Tharbax.
“Excellent, thank you.”
There was one more violent lurch which dislodged several of the wall sconces. They clattered to the oak floor. Tharbax winced as he saw several gouges appear in the wood where the sconces fell. All was quiet for a few moments. Tharbax looked at his secretaries expectantly. Spuumantii’s phone purred. He picked up the receiver and listened. “Tharbax, the attack has been broken off.”
“I see. I guess my letter had the intended effect.”
“No, actually, I’m sorry, but it appears that the Ziij ship refused delivery. They broke off the attack of their own accord.”
“I see. Well, as long as it’s broken off. What is our damage report?”
“Coming through now,” said Caastuulii, listening over his own telephone handset. “Minor structural damage...gargoyles C4 and D7 missing their heads...fuel line severed...we have only three hours of power left.”
“Is that all?”
“I’m afraid not....Severe damage to the wine cellar. We lost all the Orion reds.”
Tharbax collapsed back into his chair. “Oh, my God. Including...?”
Caastuulii looked back and nodded sadly.
“The ’56 Mintaka? It’s always the innocent who must suffer. This is a tragedy beyond all imagining. Spuumantii, what is the nearest planet?”
“Let me see...Earth is within a six-hour scampering.”
“Excellent,” said Tharbax. “I know someone there who will be able to help us plan our revenge.”
“I know, it’s rather gauche and all, but that ‘56 Mintaka must be avenged! Set course for Earth.”
“Anywhere on Earth in particular?”
Tharbax thought. “Yes. We need help with revenge and retribution of the most unspeakable kind. Set course for New Jersey.”
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
My inaugural projects for the new FoodCEO.com include a brace of articles on the NY Locavore Challenge (Part 1 and Part 2), as well as my first blog post detailing the challenge.
Thursday, September 09, 2010
It arrived yesterday, and within an hour I was completely enamored of it. It does almost everything I use my iPhone for, except calling (but then AT&T's reception seems to have gotten so much worse lately, that it's just as well) and anything that requires a camera (like QR codes or WhatTheFont) or a microphone (Shazam). It immediately hooked into my WiFi network (I have the 3G version, but so far have no real need to buy the service; perhaps when next I travel) and it quickly sync'ed (sunc?) all my various e-mail accounts, calendars, contacts, etc. It tried to fit my entire iTunes library on it but, well, my iTunes library is 85 GB and requires a separate external disk, so it was unsurprisingly unsuccessful.
It sync'd all the apps that I had downloaded or purchased for my iPhone, and most of them work OK on the iPad, although some (like Yelp and TweetDeck) do not resize to the iPad's dimensions well.
The onscreen keyboard is very comfortable to type on, much much much better than the teeny tiny iPhone keyboard. In fact, I downloaded Apple's Pages app ($9.99) and it is easy and comfortable to write on the iPad. And I can export a Pages document to Word format and, when next I sync the iPad, can download whatever document I was writing to my Mac and open it in Word. So I have begun writing my iPad report on the iPad itself, which seems apt. Other programs in the iWork suite are also available as apps, including the spreadsheet program Numbers and the presentation program Keynote (which I always liked better than PowerPoint, but then I like leprosy better than PowerPoint). There is an adapter available to connect a projector to the iPad so it could conceivably be used for presentations. Hmm...
I have begun checking out more and more apps. The New York Times app is well done, as is the NPR one. I found a National Geographic one produced by Zinio and it is lame, being just the pages of the print edition, which means two-page spreads are separate pages. Very inelegant.
The iBook app for buying and reading e-books is actually pretty good, although the selection on the Apple iBookstore is still a bit skimpy. I bought Paul Murray's Skippy Dies as an iBook e-book and am about 70 e-pages into it--and iBook is probably the best e-book reading experience I have yet had. Reading on the iPhone isn't bad, but it is pretty small, and oddly, the small size of the device makes it a little difficult to read comfortably, if you're used to printed books. The iPad is about the size of large paperback, and is quite comfortable, ergonomically and visually. (Oh, and Skippy Dies is also a very funny book.)
I tried downloading the Barnes & Noble Nook app and it looks OK, but for some reason the e-bookstore doesn't like my credit card, despite the fact that I had used the same account to buy printed books two weeks ago. I kept getting a "could not authenticate credit card" error message in the app, and it told me to call a phone number, which led to a voicemail system from hell that ultimately couldn't identify the order number. So much for the Nook app. More like Nyuk.
NASA, by the way, has a terrific app that lets you track satellites, see where the International Space Station is, watch video, learn about the solar system, and a million other cool things in a beautifully designed "HD" app.
Already, after only a day, my behavior has been changed by the iPad. While eating meals, I would typically read whatever printed magazines have come in the mail (and I never eat at the computer, for a variety of reasons mostly involving the potential for liquids to blow it up) but now I have started reading iPad news apps like the NYT while eating, although I suspect I should not use the touchpad the next time I have pizza or chicken wings. I spend more time on YouTube now. The Web is now more portable than ever--and the form factor is just about ideal. It's not as bulky as a laptop (odd that I should consider laptops bulky!) but it's easier to scroll around on type on than the iPhone.
Perhaps even most crucially, I downloaded the New York Times Crossword Puzzle iPad app, and it actually lets me sign in using my pre-existing subscription log-in, something the older iPhone app never let me do. I only very rarely used to do the puzzle on the computer, preferring to print it out and do it in pen, but the experience of doing it on the iPad was pretty good. (I did today's in a pretty slow 18 minutes because half of that was figuring out how the app worked.)
In a nutshell, I adore the iPad, but I guess we'll see what happens once the novelty wears off.