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Monthly Archives: June 2012

Presidential Hair Fashion

In my endless procrastination in order to avoid doing university work over the summer, I spend a fair bit of time perusing Wikipedia. For whatever reason, I somehow managed to get to reading about U.S. Presidents. By reading, of course, I mean looking at their Wikipedia portraits and noting how they have changed over time. Interestingly, the Presidential fashion sense has gone through some distinct phases with relatively clear boundaries. I encourage everyone to also go through the Wikipedia pages of the United States Presidents, and see what they think of my following Eras of Presidential Hair Fashion. For best reading results, please open up the Wikipedia page of George Washington, and look at the portraits as we go.

The Wigged Old Men: George Washington to James Madison

In the early days of the United States Presidency, the American heads of state took their cues from England, and retained their odd penchant for uncomfortable looking wigs and serious looks on their faces. These Presidents include George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison – the first four. Or, perhaps we should call them the Fab Four?

The Slick Men With Prominent Foreheads: James Monroe to Andrew Jackson

These men used large amounts of hair gel, and likely combed their hair back not only to cover their bald spots, but also to proudly show off their large, well-developed, sometimes-shiny foreheads. Their hair was all nicely combed back, giving their hair a nice, slick look to complement their beautiful skulls. John Quincy Adams falls into this category not so much for the slicked-back hair, but because he was unafraid to lose his hair in order to flaunt his forehead. James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, and Andrew Jackson were all men with slicked back hair and really nice foreheads.

Van Buren, Mad Scientist: Martin van Buren

It is only fitting that the only President not born on American soil have his own category. To be fair, John Quincy Adams in many ways resembles Van Buren, but Van Buren takes Adams’ mad scientist look even further, leaving Adams with his cronies in the large forehead department while catapulting himself into a category all on his own, with crazy hair on either side of his head, and very little of it in the middle. He looks quite the mad scientist.

Men With Almost-Bangs: William Henry Harrison and John Tyler

In contrast to the slicked-back hair of their predecessors, both William H. Harrison and John Tyler let their hair grow forwards, and while that hair might not be quite long enough to hide their elegant foreheads, they certainly made an effort to grow those bands! William Henry Harrison and John Tyler are the only presidents in this category.

The Slicked-back Renaissance: James Polk

James Polk, for whatever reason, rejected the bang-growing ways of his predecessors and returned to the days of Monroe, Adams II, and Jackson, and represents the culmination of the look.

Crazy Hair Taylor and Slick Fillmore: Zachary Taylor to Millard Fillmore

His hair is crazy. No one liked it at the time, so he was replaced by another President with slicked-back hair, Millard Fillmore. Fillmore, unfortunately, was unable to effectively revive the slicked-back look, and lost his election, surprisingly, to another president with crazy hair.

The New Crazy Hair Party: Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan

It turned out that Zachary Taylor was ahead of his time, and when the young and dashing Franklin Pierce adopted his long, scraggly, wild hairstyle, everyone went wild for it, and he probably won the election in a landslide. The older generation picked up on the craze, and James Buchanan attempted to emulate him, but instead got a very strange, wild head of short hair. Nice try, though; A for effort!

The Bearded Generation and Slicked-back Interregnum: Abraham Lincoln to James A. Garfield

Abraham Lincoln began a new craze, but like President Taylor, he was ahead of his time. Lincoln was the first president to sport a beard while in office, but following his assassination, his successor was afraid to grow one. Andrew Johnson, instead, returned to more conservative fashions, fearing for his safety. His hair embodies the old “slicked-back forehead” style, and he ruled well during the Bearded Interregnum. The bearded Ulysses S. Grant revived the bearded style following Johnson’s removal from office on account of too much hair gel, and he began a generation of bearded presidents, with Rutherford B. Hayes representing the Golden Age of Presidential Beards. After Grant, Presidents of the bearded generation include Rutherford B. Hayes and James A. Garfield.

The Mustachioed Revolution: Chester A. Arthur and Grover Cleveland

Chester A. Arthur began to Mustachioed state, where all men addressed each other as “mustachioed comrade.” Arthur pioneered the look, and he was emulated by his lesser successor Grover Cleveland, much like Stalin pretended to emulate Lenin. Unfortunately, like the Soviet Union, the mustachioed men could not hold the nation together, and so lost the presidency.

The Facial Hair Wars: Benjamin Harrison to William McKinley

The more conservative Benjamin Harrison revived the bearded tradition, but a second mustachioed revolution overthrew his hegemony and Grover Cleveland’s mustache again took center stage as he became the only President to rule twice nonconsecutively. Unfortunately, like before, Cleveland was unable to hold onto power for a long time, and so he was overthrown in a coup by William McKinley, who had neither beard nor mustache, and for a brief time ended the dominance of facial hair.

The Mustachioed Resurgence

Following William McKinley’s death at the hand of an ardent (if slightly deranged) mustache-supporter, the mustachioed men again gained dominance, with Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt leading the charge, in the process also making glasses look awesome. His successor, William Howard Taft, continued the mustachioed tradition, and even exceeded his predecessor’s mustachioed talents with the greatest Presidential Mustache of all time. Taft was the last President to wear facial hair.

The Decline of Facial Hair and the Dynasty of Presidents Without Facial Hair: Woodrow Wilson to Dwight D. Eisenhower

Unfortunately, the glorious mustache would not last long. Woodrow Wilson, in honor of McKinley, denounced mustachioed violence and went clean-shaven to show his support for the mustache-less underclass of America. As a result, facial hair declined in the United States, with his successors Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, and Dwight D. Eisenhower also refusing to sport a mustache. The Dynasty of Presidents Without Facial Hair, founded by Wilson, was the longest-lasting American Presidential Dynasty. A second, less commonly-noted fact about this Dynasty is that they revived the slicked-back hair tradition of the Monroe area, many of them taking the style to new extremes. Their foreheads became shinier and their hair slicker during this area as fashions returned to more conservative values.

A Man With Slicked Bangs: John F. Kennedy

Not only did this man’s life end with a bang, but he also had bangs. Unfortunately for bang-lovers, he slicked his bangs back so that the beloved JFK did not look too liberal. However, his hairstyle also had the effect of making his forehead far less prominent than his hair, which represents the height of presidential hair fashion.

A Foreheaded Revival: Lyndon B. Johnson to Gerald Ford

Following Kennedy’s semi-daring almost-bangs – and then the bang that ended JFK’s life – his vice president Lyndon B. Johnson, who had always hated that hair style,returned once more to the traditional slicked-back hair, shining forehead that so many Americans were used to. Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford also kept this old tradition alive.

The Man With Bangs: Jimmy Carter

For the first time in the entire history of the Presidency, a man with bangs was elected, giving banged people across the country something to celebrate for once. Carter was unafraid to hide his forehead, and did so proudly, his hair falling over the upper part of his head, unencumbered by gel. Unfortunately for him, the American populace did not appreciate this look, and got rid of him for someone with more gel.

The Gel Duo: Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush

Unappreciative of Carter’s experimentation, the American public decided that Ronald Reagan, whose hair gel probably weighed more than he did, was better suited for the job. His successor, George H. W. Bushed, tried to emulate his master, but his neck was not strong enough to sustain the same weight of gel, so he had to make do with less, in a still-impressive attempt to look like Reagan. Both men also had prominent foreheads that their slick, gelled hair showed off.

A Man With a Lot of Hair: Bill Clinton

Like Franklin Pierce, Bill Clinton had a lot of hair. Unlike President Pierce, Clinton’s hair was not long and wild: it was thick and tamed. Weighed down with a considerable amount of gel, Bill Clinton’s hair rivaled and possibly exceeded Reagan’s. However, he did not use nearly as much gel, and that is where he fell short.

A Gelled Revolution: George W. Bush

Like father, like son. George W. Bush attempted to emulate his father’s (and Reagan’s) gelled style, but used even less gel than Clinton did with even more hair than his father. The result was a strange style never before seen in the history of the Presidency, where it almost seems as if George Bush’s forehead was framed by his hair. The style seemed popular, though, and it was eight years before he was overthrown.

That’s Hair? My, What Big Ears You Have!: Barack Obama

Barack Obama has very little hair. He also has large ears. His fashion sense is dangerous, as it is so unlike the Presidents preceding him. This upcoming election year, we will see if he has what it takes to survive on the 2012 Presidential Runway against Mitt Romney, whose hair seems to promise a return to the forehead-framing days of Bush and his ilk.

What fashion direction will the Presidential Hair take next? Comment and weigh in!

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Posted by on June 26, 2012 in Philosophical Musings

 

Hard and Soft Science Fiction

I consider myself primarily a writer of science fiction, and most of what I read is science fiction as well. In the science fiction camp, there are many ways to categorize the genre – military, space opera, alien, humanist, social, and many others – but one polarized model frequently comes to the fore: hard and soft science fiction. Like any polarity, I believe that categorizing science fiction into one of these two categories is a disservice to the genre, but yet it still tends to be done. To be fair, most people will acknowledge that there is a “spectrum” of science fiction “hardness,” and that most science fiction plots, worlds, and characters are a mix of soft and hard. Yet, even so, this does mean that certain science fiction universes and plots are classified as “hard” or “soft” depending on which side they tend to fall on more often.

Still, despite the polarization doing the genre a disservice, the terms “hard” and “soft” are still useful in describing many works of science fiction. For those unfamiliar with the terms, “hard” science fiction is science fiction that tries to get its science right and present a realistic world based on solid scientific principles. Examples of hard science fiction authors include Iain Banks and Arthur C. Clarke. “Soft” science fiction is science fiction that does not necessarily adhere to the principles of scientific realism, and is not based upon proven science fiction principles. Both types of science fiction have their flaws and their benefits, and both add their own unique contribution to the collective science fiction consciousness.

Yet, I often see soft science fiction derided by hard science fiction authors as not “real” science fiction, or as “weak” science fiction, or as “fantasy” and not science fiction at all. I hate to break it to people like this, but science fiction is fantasy. It is speculative fantasy, and the key to defining science fiction, in my opinion, is the word “speculative.” Science fiction plots and worlds generally start with the question “what if?” and then go on from there. The biggest difference between hard and soft science fiction is how they approach the answer.

For example, say that a hard science fiction writer and a soft science fiction writer both ask the question “What if humanity was able to somehow travel faster than the speed of light?” (a common enough question in the science fiction world). A hard science fiction author would frame his answer in terms of how humanity would have managed to achieve this, and tends to focus on how that technology can be directly applied to situations, and how exactly it functions.

A soft science fiction writer would approach the question differently, and instead of asking “how,” would ask what effects will this technology have on society? Like I mentioned above, all science fiction mixes up both of these things, but what makes a story “hard” or “soft” is which answering style is focused on.

Let’s take another example. The question: “What if humanity found sentient extraterrestrial life?” A hard science fiction author might answer that question by describing the difficulties in opening communication with that alien species, technological differences, and the sheer improbability of finding another sentient lifeform. A soft science fiction author might answer that question by examining what would happen were the two societies to merge, how extraterrestrial intelligence would change life on home, and how the human race would change. Again, the two classifications are in no way mutually exclusive; it’s the focus that defines “hard” and “soft.”

So, in a nutshell, what do I think the difference between hard and soft science fiction is? Hard science fiction is science fiction that emphasizes the how (things would work), and soft science fiction is science fiction that emphasizes the what (things would happen). Hard science fiction plots tend to examine science, and soft science fiction tends to examine society. To draw another comparison, hard science fiction is like science, and soft science fiction is like the humanities. They both offer invaluable contributions to the picture of science fiction as a whole, and I don’t think either can be ignored, or one valued more than the other. They both have their place on the science fiction spectrum.

Of course, being a soft science fiction author myself, I know that soft science fiction is, naturally, better.

Any thoughts from other authors – hard, soft, or non science fiction – are more than welcome.

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2012 in Philosophical Musings

 

Typos: The Root of All Evil

Typos are a writer’s worst nightmare. Or, at least, my own worst nightmare. As I have discussed before, I write primarily for myself, and so I am fairly confident in the ideas, plots, characters, and worlds I have created, and often my willingness to change what I consider pure imagination is limited (though it does happen, and certainly my imagination is influenced by others!). So, people not fully comprehending my ideas or not liking my plots, worlds, characters, and worlds is fine with me. It’s subjective, anyway; some people will like it and some won’t. I can deal with that. When people tell me that they can’t understand what I’m saying on a basic level, I start to worry, because I do still want to communicate my ideas to readers. One of the single most deadly poisons in a story of any length are typos and tiny mistakes in writing.

I bring this up because I recently published my third book, The Libel of Blood. My first reader – my brother – talked to me about it, and the very first thing he said was that it was full of typos. To be fair, he stole my proof copy of the book, which did contain several formatting errors which have since been fixed, but his words wounded me far more deeply than any criticism of the story, plot, characters, ideas, or world would have (in fact, he actually really did like all of those elements). The mere fact, though, that the technical errors in the writing were the first thing he noticed instantly poisoned his perception of the book, and of me as an author.

Why? Because it implies laziness through a lack of proper editing. This is not necessarily true; I don’t consider myself having been lazy in this department, having gone through and edited this particular book between three and five times (depending on the section). I have seen many, many professionally published books in which a few typos appear. Generally I don’t care, unless they are very numerous. My brother is the same way, and so when he commented on the typos, I became rather upset that I had let so many slip through my fingers – and my editor’s and other early stage-reader’s fingers – and began to have my usual doubts about self-worth and all of that. So, steeling myself, I went back and re-read large sections of the book again, scouring it for typos and other errors. Unfortunately, there were some. I caught three total, two of which were formatting hiccups, and one of which was a random dash where it should’t have been. I searched my electronic document for common typos, like “teh” and “fo,” and nothing came up. I am not sure if the search function was working properly (I’ve noticed with large documents it doesn’t always), or if perhaps I am also unable to see my own typos because I so strongly will them not to be there. If the latter is true, I am ashamed of myself, but there is little I can do about it.

Suffice to say, I did not find the numerous typos my brother mentioned, but I do trust him (even though he could not find any of the typos either, when going back later), and I deeply apologize to my readers who find them, and hope that you can see past the errors to the story beneath. I considered re-releasing the book with all of the errors fixed, but I don’t think I found enough to justify a complete press release overhaul. All that I hope for now is to catch them better next time.

So, what was that confession all about? Insecurity. Typos are my single largest fear in writing, because, surprisingly, they are not an easy fix. They are nearly impossible to find as a writer, because you know what you were trying to say. Many readers also gloss over them, but there are always those who don’t, and for those who see the typos, the professionalism of the book is called into question and that reader might not be a return reader. Typos are something that the writer can exert relatively little control over. The tiny mistakes are often harder to correct than the larger ones, even with extensive editing (and, one could argue that extensive editing makes finding the typos harder as you familiarize yourself overly much with your wording and structure).

So, the moral of this story? I hate typos, and I wish that automated spellcheckers worked better. When your writing team consists only of yourself and a few non-professional editorial readers, typos can often slip through the strainer, and all you can sometimes do is cross your fingers and hope you caught them all after your fifth run-through of the book.

It’s time we voted typos off the writing island.

 
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Posted by on June 6, 2012 in Writing

 

Farscape

I recently finished the entire science fiction show Farscape, including its concluding miniseries after the series was cancelled. It was, without a doubt, one of the best television shows I have ever seen, and I miss it already. The character development in the show was phenomenal, and I have never seen any cast of characters change so much. Unlike most shows, there was not a single character I didn’t like; every character brought something unique that no one else had. There were no straight men; every single character had a deep story and real motives, so even though the cast was mostly alien, every character seemed very, very real.

One of the best parts of the show was also its complete and utter disregard for science. There was a point in the fourth season when the crew is faced with impossible science, and Rygel says “”I don’t assume the universe obeys my preconceptions, but I know a frelling fact when it hits me in the face.” This irreverent attitude towards what is possible and what isn’t is part of what made the show so charming, and if you’re a hard science fiction fan, this show definitely isn’t for you. The show’s premise also says loads about its treatment of fate and science fiction: an astronaut is testing an experiment when a wormhole appears and sucks him up, depositing him into the middle of a space battle where his ship accidentally kills the brother of the commander of one of the sides, who then chases him for vengeance when he is picked up by the other side. It is rather contrived.

I only had one qualm with the show, and that was its “filler” episodes. They were fine at first, when there wasn’t an overarching plot, but in seasons three and especially four, there were occasional episodes that didn’t advance the plot at all thrown in there that were almost painful to watch. Other than that, show, Farscape has become my second favorite show of all time, only slightly behind Babylon 5, and I couldn’t recommend it more! Just be prepared for the absurd.

 
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Posted by on June 2, 2012 in Watchings

 

May #Writemotivation Wrap-up and Camp NaNoWriMo!

So, May has ended and with it has ended #Writemotivation – for now. I did not manage to complete my one goal, which was originally to write eight chapters in Beneath, and then to write six. I wrote one and a large chunk of another. However, this is not quite as bad as it sounds, because the chapter I have written a chunk of is so far about the length of three chapters, so it’s like a I wrote four. Overall, then, I’m happy with my progress; it was a lot more than I made in March!

For the month of June, in place of #Writemotivation, I’ll be participating in Camp NaNoWriMo. I will be working on the same novel, Beneath, and trying to write 50,000 words in it or finish it – whichever I can reach, and hopefully both. We’ll see how that turns out!

 
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Posted by on June 2, 2012 in Writing

 

Guest Blog Post at Dream Scape

Hey everyone, just letting you know that I am responsible for the latest guest blog post on creativity at Jacob G. Adams’ blog Dream Scape. Check it out here!

 
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Posted by on June 1, 2012 in Writing