Monday, November 2, 2015

HelloHorror: Halloween Issue

I'm very happy to announce that I've appeared in the Halloween Issue of Hello Horror!  The magazine has kindly published a novel excerpt, and the entire issue can be read (for free!) at their website (located here).  If you enjoy thrills, chills, and bloodspattered good fun, you could do no better than indulging in an afternoon read!


Saturday, March 28, 2015

Read My First Novel FREE

     Thanks to the positive response to sharing excerpts from my first novel, Starshadow, I am excited to put out the very first scene on my blog. If you enjoy it, feel free to email or tweet me @MendicantB for a free copy.  The book is also available on Amazon Kindle (Free on Kindle Unlimited).

Aestor-Caelestim was the largest city in the world.  Its inhabitants were countless, although the most recent census indicated that the legal citizens were more than forty thousand men, not including women, children, and slaves.  Add to that the travelers, traders, criminals, and garrisons, and you got a number nearer two hundred thousand divided into twenty districts.
Not bad for the Capitol of the known world.
But things had not always been that way, and if certain steps were not taken, the city was destined to fall like all the other great cities of the past.  Corruption, debt, venereal disease, and internal unrest were only a few of the spices that gave the city its special flavor.  All of which, as fate would have it, were traits that Senator Glaucus shared with the city.
At the moment, though, he was hardly in the mood to ponder the irony.  He was too busy hurrying through a bitterly cold winter’s night, huddled in a tattered cloak that was meant to disguise him as a peasant.  The disguise was not perfect, but by this time, he was precisely what he appeared to be: tired, cold, and damp.
The reason he was not riding in state, or staying in his warm mansion for that matter, was that he was late for a very important and very secret meeting with Senator Pyrrhus.  Senator Pyrrhus was even more famous and wealthy than Glaucus had ever been, which was why Glaucus had consented to meeting in a dangerous and poor district amid the worst snows in recorded history. 
Interior District Three, as all good citizens knew, was the very best location for a person who wanted to be robbed, killed, or raped even in broad daylight – sometimes all three, and sometimes in that order depending on the day.  This was why it was very good that Senator Pyrrhus, having chosen this location, also chose as the time a miserable night during which anyone not cowering near a dying fire would be busy dying himself.  The chief difference between the man with the fire and the man without one, Glaucus reflected, would be that the first would have the benefit of seeing the frost spread slowly from his feet and hands towards his heart, whereas the second man would suffer not only a slow death but intense boredom during the process.
“Damn his eyes,” Glaucus muttered, fervently hoping that Pyrrhus was as thinly clad as he was.  Not that the curse was needed – everyone even remotely connected to the Capitol’s political doings knew that Pyrrhus’ body and soul had probably been damned a hundred times over by now.  The man had been behind more assassination, embezzlement, and general skullduggery than the rest of the senate combined. 
And this was precisely the reason why he was still in power.
At last, Glaucus rounded the last corner and saw the dark cathedral.  Groaning in relief, he limped toward the front doors and slumped against them, ready to stumble into the comparative warmth…
The huge oak doors were locked tight.
Glaucus began to pound on the door, careless of the street, heeding only the howling wind and the chill of the snow melting in his hair.  Slowly, the door creaked open.  Without even stopping to see who was inside, Glaucus stumbled gratefully into the firelight. 
Pyrrhus’ voice sent a fresh chill down Glaucus’ spine.
“What have you brought me?”
Glaucus’ teeth would not stop chattering as he edged towards the burning brazier.  Pyrrhus was sitting nearby, feet propped lazily toward the fire, seated comfortably on thick cushions.  He was surrounded by large, martial figures that bristled rather unsettlingly with blades of various size and serration.
There was no response from the seated figure.  After a few awkward moments, Glaucus fumbled in his cloak and produced a wrapped package.
“I don’t suppose…”
Glaucus was interrupted as Pyrrhus snapped his fingers.  A huge guard snatched the package from Glaucus and passed it to the recumbent senator.
“Thank you, Sergeant,” the senator said lazily.
Glaucus shivered helplessly, eying the huge guard as Pyrrhus pulled a scroll from the leather tube and began to read.  He was younger than Glaucus by at least fifteen years, but his eyes were old and deep with ill-gotten power and cunning.  Glaucus began to feel more than slightly aware of his loneliness in the dark.
The old man flinched as the church door slammed open again.  Two more dark-cloaked guards lumbered inside, seemingly heedless of the miserable chill.  They did not bother to close the door.
“He was not followed, my lord.”  The taller of the two had a rumbling voice; Glaucus could not see his face, but his accent was strange.
“Good.  Shut the door, Sergeant, the man is freezing.  I still need him for a bit longer, you know.”
As the door rumbled shut, Glaucus edged away from the new men.  Somehow, he felt that it would not be wise to interrupt Pyrrhus’ reading.
Then Pyrrhus sucked in a breath through his teeth.
“Death and damnation.  He has betrayed us.”
Pyrrhus rolled up the scroll and cast it into the brazier.
“Tyrian has uncovered something of a conspiracy and, despite his stupidity, appears to be coming to that realization himself.  Moreover, he has joined the General on a grand tour of the Southern Defenses.  Two thirds of the Triumvirate are miles away from supervision and are doubtless up to their eyes in conspiracy.”
Glaucus was somewhat bewildered.  Tyrian, it was said, had a heart of gold and a brain of clay.  Despite his position as head of the richest merchant family in the Kingdoms, his charitable foundations along with his legendary love of strong wine and exquisite women made people think of him as a loveable rascal.  To think that Tyrian was one of the Triumvirs, part of the shadow government… 
He didn’t know why, but Glaucus suddenly realized that he was standing before the leader of the group – and, worse, that the sneering Pyrrhus knew that he knew.  Wonderful.
Glaucus gazed solemnly at Pyrrhus.
“Glaucus,” the younger man said sweetly, “I don’t suppose you happen to be wearing your signet ring on this cold night?  Being an aide to His Majesty, I know you have certain… Privileges.”
Fighting nausea and panic, Glaucus tried to think.  If he denied it, Pyrrhus would probably slit his throat and take the ring from his dead corpse.  If he admitted it, the senator would do the same thing…  Unless…
“I keep it hidden unless needed.  What does my lord…”
As soon as Pyrrhus snapped his fingers, the ten armed men drew their blades.  Glaucus was surrounded.
“I believe I asked, do you have your signet ring?”
Trembling, Glaucus pulled at his glove until it slipped to the floor.  He pulled the ring from his numb fingers and held it out.  The sneering, giant Sergeant Arvis snatched the ring in a massive paw and passed it to Pyrrhus, who had abandoned his cushions and was leaning towards the brazier, warming the seal on a scroll.
“Excellent.  Now I have irrefutable royal approval for these impossibly scandalous military orders.  Should anything go awry, the seal will lead to the king through the great Senator Glaucus.  Meanwhile, you will be unable to deny these charges…”
Glaucus was already rushing to the door, trying to shoulder past the guards, putting every last ounce of strength into his aging, aching body…
“From the grave.”
The sound of the words intertwined with the sound of Pyrrhus snapping his fingers.  Glaucus gasped as icy steel pierced his heart.  The hall echoed with the stabbing and slashing.
“And when they find your mutilated body, they will believe you to have been murdered in the course of consorting with unsavory persons in the course of personal conspiracy.”
Blood pooled on the floor, and the brazier hissed as it was extinguished.
“This conspiracy theory, ironically enough, will have been absolutely true.”

Without another word, Pyrrhus stepped over the body and walked outside, into the howling darkness.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Read an Excerpt from my Novel!

I have just released my first novel on Amazon Kindle!  It is called Starshadow and it's about war, demons, doomed love, and the Singularity.  Kind of a strange mix, but it be what it be.  In this scene, enjoy a tasteful mix of the gore and terror that inhabit the darker regions of my brain!  

The Imperial Legion is about to launch its campaign to wipe out the Karkatim people, whose only hope are the elite but hopelessly outnumbered Keshu Deathmen.  The Keshu are a force of assassins sworn to following an ancient death cult, and their leader is Takuri, an ancient but deadly warrior and political powerhouse.  Takuri is about to make one last effort to convince the Legion commander to turn back.
The night was clear.
Only the watch fires marred the perfect darkness.  Not a single star was veiled from sight – the constellations were stretched out in the sky as if in a painting. 
It was very cold.
The legions had been force-marched for weeks, finally reaching the Southern borders in a weary wave driven by terror, rage, and the twin promise of revenge and spoil.
“We’ll give those Southern pagans a whipping they’ll never forget,” the coarse veterans promised trembling recruits.  “They’ll never know what hit them.”  Alcohol and hashish had eased the young men’s fears, filling them with foolish bravado.  Shiny breastplates, newly forged swords, and young blood now lay below the stars in a great mass of humanity.  Tomorrow, they would be marching deep into Karkatim territory, and war would be unavoidable.
General Valerian was hardly concerned with great thoughts, however, for he had just received word that his camp was about to receive a visitor.  The Sixteenth Legion, vanguard of battle, had been notified by Karkatim outriders that a delegation approached.  Whether spies or negotiators, the General hardly cared.  His response would be the same in either case – his orders were clear.
He stood straight as a statue in the semi-darkness of his tent, the fire burning gently in its brazier.  Reports lay scattered on his desk, and bodyguards stood at attention next to the door of his tent.  Footsteps crunched in the dirt outside.  Taking a deep breath, Valerian stood to attention.
A gigantic Karkatim warrior entered the tent, tall enough that his linen turban scraped the top of the tent.
“His Greatness, Lord Takuri,” the man rumbled as he turned and bowed deeply.
A short man entered behind him, richly robed.  The small man wore many rings on his fingers.  Valerian had to suppress a gasp – the famous man before him was the Viceroy of the Parvai himself.  The small man had the ear of the Supreme Ruler, the Chief Priest, and the Prophet.  It was rumored that his wealth and power rivaled that of the disappeared Lord Tyrian himself during his days of power.  His age was unknown, but it was said that he was a strong warrior in the days of Ytrian the First.
Takuri returned Valerian’s deep bow.  When they were seated, Valerian took a bottle from an attendant.
“Wine, my lord?”
Takuri denied the offer with a courteous gesture.
“We sit together on the edge of a precipice, General.”  The old man’s dark eyes glittered.  “It is my intention to offer a solution before either of us chooses to jump.”
Valerian sipped at his wine, shrugging.
“Neither of us is entirely free, old man.  We both serve the whims of those who are greater.”
Takuri’s laughter was brittle.
“Speak for yourself, child.  I have lived longer than you think, and take my word for it, this war is even now not unavoidable.  If you finish your mission, the hammer blows of God will shake the earth itself.  At least,” the old man sighed, “that’s what our dear Prophet keeps telling us.  Frankly, few of us really believe him, but the results of your little campaign would be catastrophic nonetheless.”
Valerian finished his wine and tossed the goblet aside.
“You’re starting to bore me, friend.”  He knew he was in the presence of a far greater man, but was determined not to show it.  “You know we won’t turn back, and you know we’re stronger than any current force you could possibly have mobilized in such a short time.  What will you fight us with, camel herders?  If you sue for peace, perhaps we can come to terms, but otherwise, I’m quite busy annexing our new kingdom.”  Valerian gestured at the cluttered desk.  “Actually, I’m still working out a dilemma.  How many wives shall I take from the daughters of your people?  Or should I do as the ancient warriors and take a harem?”
Takuri smiled coldly.  His bodyguard growled, hand rising to the hilt of his scimitar.
“Child, we both know you are less than my shadow on the ground.  Were I to say the word, you would be killed before the night was over.  I possess powers that you cannot even begin to imagine, and my people remembers the ancient arts of Takur and all his servants.  Have you no understanding of my land?  The Desert itself rises to defend her children, and the ghosts of the past breathe fear and death into the hearts of invaders.  I am old enough to remember your predecessor, if you can believe it.”  The old man smiled.  “Would you like to meet him?”
Valerian shook his head uncomprehendingly.
“Ninety years ago, before your grandfather was done sucking at his mother’s teat, Ytrius Noventus invaded these lands in a final bid for victory in the Great Wars.  He was defeated, and he retreated, leaving mountains of the dead to lie rotting in his wake.  His great commander, the mercenary Urbus, was taken prisoner.  My father personally crucified him there, in the desert.  But the desert has magic, child Valerian, and he was preserved.  Do you believe me?  He still lies as he lay almost a century ago.  I warned him, as I warn you, on a night long ago that was not unlike this.  But he was a fool, and he did not believe me when I warned him of the Keshu, the Wrath of the Night.”
Valerian narrowed his eyes and half rose from his seat, pointing angrily at the door, but before he could speak, Takuri rose and beckoned.
“Come with me, General!  The night is beautiful, and you want to see me on my way!  Or do you wish to order your men to ambush me?”
Valerian, gripping the hilt of his blade, rushed after Takuri into the night – and skidded to a stop.  The watch fire burned brightly, but his compound guards were nowhere to be seen.  Before the fire, a wooden cross was erected.  On the cross, illuminated by the yellow flames, a dried corpse hung from its wrists, nailed to the wood.  The horrible creature’s leathery flesh was twisted in a frozen grimace of absolute suffering.  The naked body’s hide was completely tanned, and holes had been torn all over it by vultures over the decades.  Dried guts bulged through the holes.  A legion tattoo identified the man as an Imperial, but the mark was too faded to tell anything else of his identity.
And the mouth moved.
“Kill me,” the creature croaked.
Trembling, Valerian drew his blade and swung at the back of old Takuri’s turban, a scream on his lips.  Before he could utter it, the old man whirled with inhuman speed, a fierce smile on his slips.  Swatting the blow aside, his hand came out in a blade and chopped Valerian on the throat, depriving him of breath and speech.  Gasping and choking, the general fell to the earth with the momentum of his own strike, falling to the feet of the cross.  The barely living corpse was dripping gore, and some of it fell in his face.
Takuri swooped down, pinning the general to the ground, his smile never wavering.
“This man is you, General, if you continue your invasion.  Don’t worry, I and my men will see ourselves out.  If you continue your attack, I will drive the nails into you myself and I will watch as you mummify on the highest hill in the desert.  Have you heard the legends of the Keshu?  How they stalk the night, and eat the hearts and drink the blood of their still-living victims?  Believe them, General, for I am Keshu.  Let me help your faith.”
And with those words, Takuri reached up to the body and drove his hand into the corpse, driving a final shriek from the twisted form.  Up through the belly, he gripped hard and pulled.  In a shower of fluid, the heart came free.  Keeling face to face with Valerian, the old man raised the heart to his lips.  It was still beating as he took a large bite.  Above him, the now dead body gave an unearthly groan as the lungs distended of their own accord.
“Bland.  Like all imperials’ blood.  I warn you, my lord, do not tempt the wrath of God.”
He spat the meat out and threw the heart into Valerian’s petrified face.
“Come!  Gather the brethren!  We prepare for battle!”  Takuri cried as he rushed into the night with his men.
And then there was no sound but the whistling of the wind, and Valerian knew true fear.  They had left him alive, had left him in command of an army.
Because they were having fun.
And there by the dying fire, under stars that had already seen so much of war and death, General Valerian wept like a child.

Starshadow Part I: Dreams and Shadows is available on Kindle.  I'll be sharing more excerpts here in the weeks to come.  Free copies of the novel are available in return for online reviews.  Cheers!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Planning the Human-Robot War (Maybe?)

(IMG credit:
The (Possibly Kind of Maybe) Rise of the Machines
     What with the recent announcement of a robot-staffed hotel opening in Japan, the internet has been awash with stories of Skynet and robot-human battles for supremacy.  Elon Musk recently donated $10 million dollars toward research designed to prevent a hostile AI from evolving -- and with geniuses of his clout joining institutions like the Singularity University, the public is bound to be nervous.  So just what's at stake?

     Even Hollywood has jumped on board the "singularity" wagon, with the recent Johnny Depp movie Transcendence and the upcoming Terminator reboots (featuring a wise-cracking Arnold Schwarzenegger, and yes I am totally pumped!)  Bestselling tomes on the issue have made millions for authors like the inventor Ray Kurzweil (father of voice recognition, creator of the first working music synthesizer, founder of SingularityU, etc.)  Indeed, it was his book, The Singularity is Near, that gave me my first in depth introduction to the issues and debates at hand -- and outlined Kurzweil's GNR theory of evolution.

     In GNR, intelligent life evolves, and then takes control of its own evolution.  Genetic manipulation comes first, with intelligent life (humans, in our case) being able to recreate their own physical bodies and eliminate disease.  Then comes the nanotechnology revolution (Kurzweil highlights the work of Eric Drexler, considered by many to be the father of nanotechnology theory): any substance will be instantly creaeable, even the human body, and godlike power to manufacture anything, anywhere, in any quantity will be ours.  Finally, both revolutions will play into the Robotics revolution, in which powerful robotics are blended with learning, conscious Artificial Intelligence to create powerful, immortal bodies.  At this point, the Singularity occurs -- according to Kurzweil, humanity will reach an undefinable point of evolution where matter, space, and even time itself are utterly manipulable.

     Granted, further research revealed that many of these admittedly exciting ideas are familiar from popular culture.  The Singularity/godhood event are familiar from Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick's collaboration, 2001: A Space Oddyssey (read the book first, it's better).  Indeed, the most recent mindbender from the dark and brilliant mind of Christopher Nolan, Interstellar, features similar ideas (no spoilers here, go watch it for yourself!  It's brilliant, stimulating, and annoying, like most of Nolan's work).
Interstellar - IMG:

     Perhaps most intriguingly, Kurzweil-esque theories seem to match up fairly well with what we've pieced together of evolution (from Dawkins et al) -- RNA finds a way to replicate, in theory, causing abiogenesis (as Kurzweil emphasizes, all matter is patterns, and intelligent or self-organizing patterns are more powerful).  It is this theme of growing ability to organize that really stands out about the whole GNR idea -- there's an air of rightness about it, a feeling that this was meant to be.   The brilliant writers and speakers all seem to know what they're talking about, and the ramifications are so startling and exciting that you want to believe and fear not to do so.

     But powerful objections remain.  One of the most powerful comes from Jaron Lanier, a programmer who argues that humans are grossly incapable at programming, which means that programming a learning, self-aware AI is impossible, or will at the very least take a VERY long time.  Others, like biologist PZ Myers, scathingly accuse Kurzweil and others of lazily glossing over the vast biological (esp. neurological) complexities involved in any "reverse-engineering" of the brain and thus consciousness.  We simply don't know enough to even predict the nature of future evolution.

     Finally, the most compelling (and comforting) argument that I have encountered synthesizes both viewpoints (an approach I always appreciate).  Yes, computers are advancing rapidly -- at one way of thinking, argues Walter Isaacson in The Innovators, his masterwork on the history of computing.  Isaacson posits that computers and humans are good at different and complimentary tasks, and while computers can grow infinitely in their niche, they will never be able to match the power of humans and computers working in tandem.  He backs this up with hundreds of pages that trace the symbiotic nature of computers and humans, which was the original intention of many of the masterminds of the computer revolution (like JCR Licklider and Vannevar Bush).

     So in the end, while it's always fun to kick back and watch Terminator, and while it's prudent to create safeguards against technology gone amok, and while it is further pleasant to await potential enhancements to human existence -- don't hold your breath.  Make the most of the gifts of the age, be aware of possible danger, but no matter what, LIVE HUMANLY AND HUMANELY.  Even if the meaning of the first word evolves in the next century! :)

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Least Literary

I'm feeling confused.

More properly considered, as I jot these ephemeral thoughts into the ether, I am feeling lost.  I have just realized a dream (in a way) by publishing my very first eBook, and have spent two largely sleepless days trying to arrange its marketing.

And I realized that it simply didn't feel right.

Perhaps it's another mood swing (seeing as I was filled with inexplicable euphoria a day ago), but the art isn't there.  I feel like I'm forcing something, rushing things, that I'm selling out in some way.

Am I just second-guessing myself?

I'm interviewing for another 9-5 in a day, and part of me is thrilled and excited at the opportunity.  Another part of me wonders if I'm still wandering about aimlessly.  Am I missing it?  Whatever it is that I'm supposed to be doing?

Maybe it's just anxiety and uncertainty.

But I know I can do better.  That feeling of rightness, that you're doing what it is that you are supposed to be doing -- that is true happiness.  Money and power are just ways we try to find that feeling, the Element as Ken Robinson calls it.  Finding what you're meant to be doing -- finding out how to be ourselves, as Hunter S. Thompson puts it: see the excellent blog post by Brain Pickings that contains Hunter S. Thompson's excellent letter to a friend on the topic of finding purpose.  I think that's why gurus like Timothy Ferriss thrill and excite us so much, because he urges escaping the chains of a forced identity and living your passion.

Life is too short for anything else.

Not sure what it means, but I'm going to figure it out.

In the mean time, I shall consult with the inimitable Stephen Fry, being as I am halfway through More Fool Me, and as always enjoying the good company.  I'm finally getting a handful of his apposite references, and was pleased to catch his references to Malcolm Gladwell and the history of computing (Walter Isaacson comes in handy).

Saturday, February 7, 2015

I'm Launching My eBook!

Well, the time has come to take action and stop pining away and waiting for good things to happy randomly.  I have published my first eBook!  It's called Starshadow Part I: Dreams and Shadows.  It is available on for FREE for 5 days, starting on 2/7/15.  If you email me at during the month of February, I will email you a FREE COPY WITH A HANDWRITTEN NOTE in return for a user review on

The Mendicant Bookworm

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Random Balm for the Digital Soul: The Innovators by Walter Isaacson (and other chaotic detritus)

Well, every once in a while you need a nice nerdly spree.

Mine started perhaps 12 hours ago, when I sat down and resolved that if I was going to spend miserable hours or days waiting to hear back from prospective employers, I might as well go ahead and do my best to be productive in the meanwhile.  And/or enjoy myself.

Whether any of these things actually happened, is (of course) open to interpretation and debate.  In the meantime, I shall use the excellent advice of a very wise blogger and author: PERFECTION DELAYS ACTION.  This has become my mantra and shall help to motivate me in posting yet another obscure and nearly unread blog post.  Who knows - maybe in the year 2100, some poor graduate research assistant will be helping to research or ghostwrite a book on 21st century madmen and will dig up my post on one out of a billion blogs and decide (hope against hope) that I produced prolific words of wisdom, a veritable golden horde of tasty metaphysical tidbits.

Maybe I need to go back to see that shrink.

In any case, I was delighted to finish (among other things) the marvelous The Innovators by Walter Isaacson, an excellent, broad, and deep history of computing, starting with Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage and going all the way through to the present day.  You can read my review on Amazon.

The main joy for me, besides FINALLY getting a decent overview of the rise of the (for me) intimidating Information Age, and besides being shown the beauty of the intersection of arts and sciences (at last, I understand what Hitchens was trying to say in years of essays), I received a full overview of Artificial Intelligence and the competing views on the future of intelligent life on the planet.

You see, when reading brilliant authors like Ray Kurzweil, you can quickly despair and see a future in which humans become obsolete (don't get me wrong, Arthur C. Clarke painted a beautiful vision of this in 2001: A Space Oddyssey 50 years before Kurzweil began penning his bestselling nonfiction discussions of the putative Singularity).  I like Isaacson's far more nuanced view of a symbiotic relationship between humans and computers, as exemplified with the work IBM has done with Watson (one of the world's premier super computers).  "In other words, the future might belong to people who can best partner and collaborate with computers," he writes (p. 476).  Isaacson describes a researcher who helped the medical community use Watson for researching cancer, and her words are powerful:

"'I watched Watson interact in a collegial way with the doctors," she said. 'It was the clearest testament of how machines can truly be partners with humans rather than try to replace them.  I feel strongly about that.'"

Isaacson follows the narrative with a heart-warming alternative to what Jaron Lanier has (somewhat unfairly) called Cybernetic Totalism (the idea that humans will be replaced/destroyed by intelligent machines):

"Perhaps no matter how fast computers progress, artificial intelligence may never outstrip the intelligence of the human-machine partnership."  (P. 478).

Even if human intelligence (H) remains constant, the nearly infinite growth of computer intelligence (C) will, Isaacson contends, always trump mere infinite computer intelligence; in my handy-dandy dummy's equation (I have been spending quality time with Asimov's Physics, after all): HC>C.  As Bender would say in Futurama, Neat!

Isaacson's lengthy book convinces me that this is a more likely scenario, especially after detailing the many predictions and actual failures of true artificial consciousness to materialize, and detailing the long history of symbiosis or cybernetic thought throughout the history of computing innovations (see the sections on Vannevar Bush and his memex, or JCR Licklider and his philosophies).

(Yes, I know that consciousness has yet to be satisfactorily defined, and that it is possible that we ourselves are not exhibiting independent thought, etc. etc.  I haven't finished Dennett's book, and I'll probably never understand it, but I feel comfortable with the layman's understanding of the term!)

In other news, I have no idea why AdSense is giving me the middle finger (but shall continue valiantly to fill the void with the meaningless ravings of an unstable and sleep-deprived mind), I'm still torn between my respect for Maajid Nawaz and my instinctive antipathy for religion in general, I need to start eating better before I actually have a heart attack, and I shall always remember with great fondness the day a kindhearted Lisa Shearin answered a tweet and one of my favorite authors answered a good natured email in kind.

How can I recover my old sense of humor and lose the unwelcome grimness?

For amazing and incredible advice on breaking out of unemployed misery after a liberal arts degree: