Monday, December 31, 2012

The End of the Year as We Know it - personal wrap-up of my AV adventures

Happy December everyone. I'll close the year with my last "pixel" post; a wrap-up of my adventures in the wonderful world of professional AV, as well as some thoughts on what's happening in the industry.
This isn't a comprehensive list, but a few stories and trends that, for whatever reason caught my attention.

Extron left Infocomm, Finally released XTP

I was at Extron for one of their week-long training classes the week that this news broke, and it took everyone by some level of surprise. Not too many years ago, if I were designing a high-end conference room I'd start with an Extron switcher without a second thought. They didn't seem to follow the shift to digital as quickly as many of their competitors, and today I'd still choose Crestron Digital Media or AMX Enova before Extron's newer XTP. They have some nice ideas and features, but I'm not sure if they're quite there yet. Still, Extron had an interesting year, debuting several intriguing new products including the first energy-star certified amplifiers, audio DSPs, and signal extenders with varying price-points and specifications.

They also opened an impressive showcase in their Saloon and Ranch, using their own control products along with some nice Meyer Sound line arrays. It's loud and sounds amazing. Here's hoping that 2013 is a good year for them, whether or not they come back to the big trade shows.

Avaya buys Radvision. Polycom moves to software
Since Cisco purchased Norwegian teleconferencing giant Tandberg they've been the force to recon with in the telecommunications/telepresence/unified communications arena. Logitech purchased Lifesize, leaving not too many independent operators in the telepresence field. Avaya threw their hat into the teleconferencing ring by purchasing Radvision. Radvision has both teleconferencing appliances (including integrated 4 and 8port MCUs on even the smaller ones) and a suite of software-based desktop applications.

Polycom, meanwhile, seems to be taking steps to move away from appliance-based solutions and towards software. The name of their RealPresence CloudAxis might sound like it came from a buzzword bingo card, but the idea of a secure, enterprise quality video system which can link Skype, standards-based VTC appliances, GoogleChat, Microsoft Lync, and even Facebook is a very good one. I'll be interested to see where this goes.

Green AV is something we talk about. But that's about it.
There are steps towards more sustainability in the AV field, from RoHS-compliant hardware to the first Energy Star certified AV product (the aforementioned Extron's XPA line of amplifiers), but it's still nowhere near the top of anybody's list. This is a conversation I'll be looking to continue next year, with Gina Sansivero of Project Green AV and others. Until there are LEED or other certifications available for green AV it will likely not be anyone's top priority, but it's still worth thinking about.

I left AV Project Management for Project Engineering

My workspace at Biamp Training
My favorite parts of the job have always been the technical ones; figuring out the best way to accomplish something, how to help end-users answer questions they didn't even know to ask. I even liked getting my hands dirty and fixing something - or at least figuring out where it was broken. Juggling schedules, managing construction sites, and horse-trading for resources has never been my favorite part. So, the good people on our team at AVI-SPL agreed to help me transition to the Project Engineer position. I spend much of early 2012 learning, travelling a bit, and settling into a new role. After years of implementing other people's designs and concepts, I had a chance to put my name on the title block of our drawings.

I left AV Project Engineering for Consulting
It's been a whirlwind. Late summer I left AVI-SPL and took a step even farther from the hands-on part of the industry towards the pure design realm of consulting with the firm of SM&W. I've already had the chance to work on some eye-poppingly cool projects, met some more very talented colleagues, and am genuinely enjoying this next phase of my professional life. In addition to the other skills acquired over the past year, I've learned the basics of Revit, much more abotu AutoCAD, and even took part in my first screening-room design. This is a role where my borderline-obsessiveness (the first thing I notice anywhere I go is AV) really fits in and will pay off.

Those are my personal thoughts at the close of 2012. In 2013 I look forward to learning more, seeing more, doing more. I've also made a New Years resolution to update this blog at least weekly, so watch this space.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Pixels, Ink, and tears. Some thoughts following a tragedy

I'm due for a writing-related post, with perhaps some thoughts on character, on modernism, or where I'm going to go next. Perhaps Duotrope's move from a donation-based to a fee-based service. Instead, I find myself writing this in the aftermath of yet another gun-related tragedy - the murder of twenty schoolchildren in Newton, CT. Today I give you my thoughts and reflections on that tragedy - as a writer, as a father, as a human being.

This will not be a post about gun rights or gun control laws.

Today is the first weekday since, a day I took a rare late start (for reasons unrelated) to drop off my own six-year old girl at our own local school and trying not to think about how final this same act was for so many people last week. I write these words on the Long Island Railroad, a commuter line that itself saw a senseless massacre two decades ago.  I didn't find out until hours later when I finally arrived home after a long, long delay in my commute. I was riding on the very next train. Caroline McCarthy, widowed those twenty years ago, ran for and was elected to Congress where she fought against the gun lobby and for gun control laws. There were flurries of action and long lulls, victories and defeats and finally, as the horror faded into memory for most of us, a slow erosion of regulations as we just simply stopped talking about the issue.

But, as I said,  this is not a post about gun control.

What is it about? What do I see in this about which I want to talk?

As a writer, a former gamer, and a citizen I want to talk about our culture.

This is a discussion some of us seem almost ready to have, but one which is still too easy to dismiss. When asked about the role of violent films, critic Roger Ebert turned the question around and blamed news media. When fellow writer Andrea Trask (her work, including Flash Fiction, horror, and even Pirate-themed erotica can be found on Amazon or Smashwords) and is highly recommended) shared her poignant thoughts as a parent of young children herself (here), it sparked several discussions on social media, including one in which a woman spoke of requesting that her (adult) son set aside his violent video games for a time as a sign of respect. Trask's answer was personal, well-stated, and encapsulates the pro-violent entertainment side of this discussion beautifully:

I play violent video games.

I play violent video games a lot. I play World of Warcraft and kill creatures by the thousands. I play Diablo I, II, and III and kill horrors unimaginable. I play Portal I and II and die endlessly, throwing myself against the wall of a physics-oriented challenge until I triumph over it. I play GTA, driving various vehicles willy-nilly through wet dark city streets, running down pedestrians who don't walk fast enough and shooting gangbangers. I play first person shooters, I play epic RPGs.

And I don't run people over, torture or kill small animals, or shoot people in the real world, because those are just games. They are pixels. They are NOT REAL.

Do not blame any sort of entertainments for a person's inability to distinguish right things from wrong ones.

Someone killing another person is not the fault of a video game, or a gun, or a book, or a genre of music, or a television show. It's the fault of a widespread cultural inability to foster the need for and encouragement of reaching out to other people, to give them anchors, and love, to keep them grounded in the face of a vast uncaring universe that is not obligated to care about any one of us. First we have to care for ourselves, and then for each other.

Cultural entropy is inevitable; the trick is not to stand around pointing fingers of blame, but to give it direction, and turn it into change.

I wish I could be so sure. I at one point was with her. Slaughtering orcs on the weekend, and slaughtering the demonic horrors of Doom in all their pixellated glory. I have not (so far as any of you know) murdered anyone. Along with Ebert, along with Trask, I considered entertainment to be just that - entertainment. But it is, of course, more. It becomes part of how we think. It becomes part of who we are. Does watching violent movies or playing violent games make all of  us violent? Of course not. One effect they do have is to make us see the exercise of physical power as a virtuous act at best, as a just another means to an end at worst. Having respect for violence, seeing supposed heroes commit acts of violence on the silver screen or the pages of a comic book, role-playing such violence yourself through video games or pen-and-paper role-playing won't turn you violent, but it will erode a barrier towards seeing yourself that way.

As writers, should we even be writing if we don't believe that our words can change people? Should game-makers be game-making and filmmakers film-making?

Sharing such entertainments might not create killers overnight, but they help weaken those barriers between acceptable thoughts and the idea of murdering everyone you know. We push and push at them, until something breaks and people are dead.

This is not a new idea.  Plato, in his Republic said that the state should carefully choose which stories we can tell our young people because stories have power to shape the development of our values.

This is not an old idea. The American army uses simulations -- video games --  both as a recruiting tool and a method of training. Scenarios are played over and over again until what the army considers to be the "right" choice has become the soldiers natural choice.

This is not a purely subjective idea. Powerful tools such as fMRIs let us look into the brains of people as they play games. We can see how an increasingly immersive experience is effecting emotional responses, and compare it to the effect of real-world actions. 

Finally, this shouldn't be a controversial idea; after all, a story or film or video game is, beneath all else, a means of communication. If you believe in literature -- if you believe in stories -- then you believe that they have the power to move people, to make people think and, after all is said, to change people.

I don't know what the answer is. This is a time when there really are no answers. What I know that we shouldn't do is fear asking the questions, and fear examining the parts of our culture and our actions that could lead to this kind of tragedy.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Tweet-up and Meet-up: an evening with the Women in AV

Tweeted from Chapel Hill
Holiday season is here, which means - amongst other things -holiday parties. Last night was a special event in the AV industry as we had the first of what I hope to be many annual multi-city celebration of the Women in AV.

Why celebrate women in AV, and why is WAVE such an important organization? I talked about that in this space last year, but you probably know already. Professional and commercial AV, like so many other technology-related fields, continues to be dramatically male-dominated. In fact, some see it as worse than the IT field. Are reasons for this? Maybe. Are there clear, simple reasons with clear, simple answers? No. So the talented women in our industry mentor, they educate, they join their voices to the chorus whispering into the ears of young girls that they can have a career in technology.  And perhaps, slowly, attitudes change.

Tweeted from New York, NY
The New York City branch of the WAVE party was hosted by Crestron and Sapphire Marketting at Crestron's New York City showroom and design center. It's certainly more residendial than their Experience Center in Rockleigh and, therefore, less of a fit for my interests, but it is a sleek and modern space which does an excellent job of showcasing applications of various Crestron control solutions, including wall-mounted iPad docks, touchpanels of varying sizes, and a faux living room boasting a 90" LED TV. It not as jaw-droppingly impressive as the Theo Kalomirakus-designed "home" theater in the Rockleigh location, but is a very nicely executed system.  
Tweeted from New Jersey

Our event wasn't as well attended as it could have been, on the heels of the Crestron/Sapphire Marketting Holiday party (Marla of Sapphire joked that we're trending towards a party together every week. Which would be fine with me), but there was a nice and engaging crowd of bright and enthusiastic AV professionals on hand. Discussion ranged from the disappointing number of women in the industry and why that might be, to green initiatives in AV, to little-league baseball and parenting. See the pictures for a taste of how the various cities presented their events via the magic of Twitter.

The City of Brotherly (and Sisterly!) Love

...and low.

Salt Lake City!
I had a terrific conversation with the talented Gina Sansivero of Project Green AV about the directions our industry could and should go in environmental sustainability. More on this at another time, but to make a long story short, there are few accepted standards, nobody earns LEED points for using more efficient AV gear, and there's just not much incentive for end-users to invest in more sustainable technology unless you can sell them a ROI based on energy savings alone. This will likely change, but it looks like a depressingly slow process. In the meantime, it's great to have people like Gina fighting the good fight. It was a pleasure to meet so many colleagues with passion for not only our work, but for how our industry fits into the world at large.

All told, it was a great event and a good something to be a part of. Thanks to the good folk at Women in AV for putting it together.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Dispatches from the underside of the iceberg

I'm back from too long a break from having posted here, with an update of where I've ended up in the AV field. I'm still in the commercial AV world, but have left not only AVI-SPL, but the entire world of systems integration. I've moved crosswise and upward to the consulting side of the business as an associate in the AV department of the very talented multidisciplinary consulting firm Shen, Milsom and Wilke. So what does that mean? It means no more time in the trenches trying to make things work, and no more creating detailed "shop drawings" with individually labelled wires. What it does mean is being in a place closer to the actual user, helping them figure out what their needs are and how we can translate those to an AV design.  Why do I feel misunderstood here? Let it suffice to say that last to weeks ago, when I was summoned to jury duty, I was the only one asked "what does that mean" after telling the judge what  did for a living.

So what do I do for a living? The easy answer is that I'm part of a team that sells expertise; we don't sell microphones or loudspeakers or touchpanels, but will tell you what kind of a touchpanel you need, and where you should put loudspeakers or microphones or projectors. We work with the people who do sell you those things, but our work is largely on the other side of the iceberg.

The metaphor should be obvious. An iceberg is a tiny sliver of frozen water bobbing above the surface. On it you might find a microphone, a touchpanel, a speaker, and a projection screen. In fact, you'd see every inch of an AV system you'll ever see. Seemingly in contradiction of the laws of physics, it floats above the surface of customer expectations. If you get too close without exercising a great deal of care, the bigger part - the part that lurks under the sea - will send you and your unsinkable ship to the bottom of the ocean. Just like an AV project. Having worked on bid-build projects from the contractor side, I've dealt mainly with the top of the iceberg; the last few months in a process that could take years.

My new desk. It's grown a second monitor since
this photo was taken.
Much of the bottom of the iceberg is made up of things I'd already known about; needs analysis with the eventual end user, the need for infrastructure like power and data and conduit, coordination of AV systems with lighting and millwork, ceilings and walls. It's the meetings in the design development phase, not only before there's construction, but before there are even floor plans.

It's lots of fun.

Office, Sweet office
I'm lucky to be part of a team at SMW with a terrific, open team-oriented culture. Everyone has their own projects, but everyone also has at least some idea of what everyone else is doing, and someone is always there to pitch in with help from a technical suggestion to the tedious detail work of re-numbering a drawing package to anything in between. 

Do I miss anything about the contractor side of the business? I do miss the hands-on scramble to make something work. The odds of  my having to grab tools, a laptop, a ladder, and an assortment of adapter cables and make something work are pretty slim these days. Some of my fondest memories in the AV field were having the "aha!" moment that comes from solving what looked like an insoluble problem. There are different problems and challenges, but part of me will miss the hands-on aspect. So, for old-times' sake, I'll close with a real-world puzzle.

Sources included a Mac Mini, Windows PC, and laptop interface. Destinations included a projector (Digital Projections dVision series) and interactive touch-monitor (Smart interactive pen display) and two rack-mounted test monitors. The windows PC displayed to all locations. The Mac Mini displayed on the projector, but not the touch-monitor.  If I swapped the touch- and rack-mount monitors, the problem followed the touch-monitor. If I bypassed the Crestron digital media switch at the heart of this system, the Mac would display perfectly on any of the displays. If I swapped the Mac and PC, the roblem followed the Mac. It was ONLY through the system going to the projector plus touch-monitor that there'd be a problem. I ended up calling Crestron who told me all that I needed to know to fix it. AV people out there: what did Crestron tell me to do? It seems obvious now, but took roughly forever onsite to figure out.

Reading the above again, perhaps I shouldn't miss the "hands on" bit that much after all.

Tonight I'll be meeting some of my friends in the industry for the Women in AV Holiday gathering and "tweet-up" -- look for updates soon.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Pixels and Ink on Vacation

Two personal notes: First, I've been quiet here since I've been workign my way through the Modern Poetry course from UPenn, Coursera. Expect a further review as we approach the penultimate week of poetry readings.

Second, as many of you know I live in New York. Fortunately, we are very lucky to be in a party of the city largely untouched by the recent storm; we still have power, still have internet, and are OK. Now, on with a quick post about our recent vacation:

Last month was the big vacation - to the happiest place on earth. That's right, we gathered up the family for a journey to the strange and magical place known as Disneyworld. What did I think?

As a writer, I see it as a messy and confused but glorious weave of all the stories from the Disney empire, from Mickey Mouse to their telling of Cinderella to more modern stories like _Finding Nemo_ or _The Princess and the Frog._ It's like being in the middle of a big crossover story without a plot but with at least a cameo by every favorite character you could imagine.

As an AV professional, it's the biggest multi-media show in the world, with 3-D movies, live shows, and a distributed audio system which is *everywhere* and used to great effect in providing a soundtrack to the experience. Do you know how movies use music for thematic effect to build a mood? Disney does that in real life over the entire park. It's subtle, but once you know to listen for it it's always there. It's a great example of how technology needn't be too dramatic or cutting edge to be very effective.

One great thing is how smoothly everything runs; shows start on time, the monorail runs regularly and efficiently, the parade starts when you expect it to. We had one attraction we missed because it was closed, and one ride break down while we were on board - the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Seen up-close from outside the confines of the car, the ride doesn't seem as impressive or slick; everything was painted plywood with simple motors supplying some motion. Here's a brief glimpse of Team Suskin being lead out through the darkness:

What is amazing about rides like this, _Peter Pan's Flight_ and even the much-maligned and much-beloved _It's a Small World_ is how different - and how immersive - the experience can be with relatively little in the way of technology. What technology there was is deployed carefully - audio is crisp, video is sharp, and acoustics are good enough that you don't hear anything distracting or outside the experience. When they add more effects - such as the surround-sound, smell, and other effects in the _Mickey's Philharmagic_ 3D movie - they're always well-done and fit seemlessly into the experience.

The best moments didn't involve technology at all. I'll leave you with two nifty moments: a princess-makeover for Chloe at the "Bibbity-bobbity-boutique" at Cinderella's Castle:

And a first haircut for Nathaniel at the Barber Shop in the Magic Kingdom's Main Street USA.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Writing Equals Constant Research - Guest Post by AM Jenner

I'm quite excited to have AM Jenner here, stopping on a rollicking blog-tour to talk about writing. So, without further ado, I'll hand over the reigns. Expect me back early next week with a perhaps long-overdo tech post, of which we've been light as of late.


Fourth stop on my international blog tour, Bayside, New York. Thanks so much to
Leonard Suskin for hosting me; it’s good to be here.

Every place I go, I always stop along the wayside to learn new trivial bits of
information. As an author I never know when I may need to use them in a novel. For
example, I may never need to know that the strings on a harpsichord are plucked as
the keys are pressed, rather than struck with a hammer like a piano. On the other hand,
someday I might need that piece of information.

The old adage about writing is to "write what you know". I both agree and disagree
with the statement. I have seen writing friends spent years researching various topics
for a book they want to write, but they never seem to get down to actually writing the
book. In my mind, this research is simply wasted time. They have spent many years
looking up obscure facts they will never need to know in order to write the story they
desire to write.

On the other hand, I have read books which contain technical details that are
incorrect. If I am in a position to recognize that this particular detail is incorrect, it throws
me out of the story. If too many details are incorrect, I have been known to set the book
aside and not finish it because it is too frustrating to read so many inaccuracies, even in

Good writing strikes a balance between the two extremes. An author has to have
done enough research in the field in which they are writing about in order to appear
knowledgeable enough to those readers who know better. At the same time, they do
need to actually write and finish the book, or, no matter how technically perfect it is,
nobody will ever get a chance to read it.

The way I approach the situation is this: I simply begin writing, following the outline I
have, and listening to my characters. If I come to a situation where I'm not quite sure of
the right way to do a particular thing, I make myself a note that I need to research that
particular thing. Then I go on writing until the first draft is complete. Sometimes, the thing
I thought I needed to research ends up not being important, and is removed from the
manuscript during the first revision. If I find that I do actually need that particular piece of
knowledge, this is when I do the research.

For example, when I was writing Fabric of the World, there were several camels
involved in the story. There were also many horses involved. I found that I had to do
research on which animal was better for what applications in a Sahara-type desert.
When my main character got on his camel for the first time, I had to do research on

how a camel gets up from a kneeling position so that I could properly describe the
movements and sensations my character experienced. Additionally, there was over an
hour of research time spent learning the exact mechanics of the mating practices of
camels. However, there was no need for me to become an overall expert on the subject
of camels in order to glean the few small pieces of information about them which I
needed for my novel.

Likewise, if I am writing a techno-thriller where a computer goes mad and tries to
take over the world, I need general information on the capabilities of various computers,
rather than an in-depth knowledge of how to build and repair computers, and what
makes them work.

If every writer only wrote about things which they had a deep understanding of, it
would hamper them severely in their ability to write fiction. In writing fiction, although it is
extremely important to make sure that information presented as fact is correct, there is
an even higher priority to ensure that the story gets told.

All writing has a purpose. That purpose can be to inform, to entertain, or to invoke
a particular feeling. Good writing does more than one thing at a time. Great writing
incorporates all three goals at once. Great writing cannot be accomplished by an author
ignorant of facts and who refuses to do research. However, if an author is spending
so much time on research to become an expert in a given field that they never write
their story, then they’ve gained that knowledge for no reason and their time has been
wasted, because the story goes untold.


The Siege of Kwennjurat is the second book in the Kwennjurat Chronicles. Alone in Kwenndara, Princess Tanella cares for the refugees from war-torn Jurisse, while she worries about her loved ones’ safety. Her new husband Fergan is two days away in Renthenn, coordinating the business of two kingdoms.

Kings Jameisaan and Fergasse join forces in Jurisse to pursue the war against the Black Army. They know Liammial hasn't played his last card, and are willing to give their lives to protect their people and their children.
Who will triumph and claim the throne of Kwennjurat?

A M Jenner lives in Gilbert, Arizona, with her family, a car named Babycakes,
several quirky computers, and around 5,000 books. A self-professed hermit, she loves to interact with her readers online. Her books are available at, as well as most major online retailers.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Spirits and Staircases, two more weeks of poems

More poetry today! I'll start with something a little strange and experimental; this is another one I wrote for my good friends at the Brooklyn Speculative Fiction Writers group. As I've already mentioned here, I'm slogging my way through the Modern Poetry course from UPenn offered on Coursera. So I took this writing prompt (a photo of a ghostly figure on a staircase which I seem to have misplaced) and threw a mashup of various poetic styles we've studied at it. It's also a touch feminist in that there are obvious references and allusions to four famous female poets or other artists. Is it obvious who?

Spirit of the Stair

You see the ghostly form upon the stair
An apparation clad in wisps of white
She whispers secret words as you draw near
steady she remains as you take flight

Does she hear you? Would Cassandra? Would Cassandra
would she hear you? Would Cassandra would she hear you
hear you hear you hear her hear you? would you hear her hear her hear
you would she hear you hear her hear you hear the risers rising
upward hear you rising upward see

her ghostly face is fair, but soon forgot
her ghostly arms, they fade into the air
Her ghostly frame, some would call it hot
but nothing more. The spirit of the stair.

into your glass eyes, your button eyes, your dead eyes
you are flesh, she is soul --
she will rise, she will descend
she is air, she is real
You are flesh.
Is Cassanda? Is Cassandra on her deathbed? On her deathbed?
Would you hear Cassandra on her deathbed, on your deathbed,
would you hear Cassandra when you hear Cassandra

Beneath your feet, the treads are solid wood
the balustrade your hands caress is smooth
You'd stop to meet the spirit if you could
but up you sweep, a brain within its groove.

You stay within your groove
the one that mother gives you doesn't do anything at all
But they know
the lifeguard found Sylvia already immensely drowned, but they know
they know they know.

You'll not drown.

You'll not touch the spirit.


Would you meet the spirit gaze to gaze
to see the echoes of your better days?

And, some horror poetry from the Nightmare Fuel project, of which I'm slowly fading out:

"Three small turns"

Again a night of jagged, broken sleep
again the well-trod path, bed to kitchen to crib to bed
nightmares to milk to sleep to nightmares - 
an insomniac's triangle-trade
My eyes are red
her eyes are red
his eyes are red. 
His night-terrors haunt us through the day until

until the ancient guardian is engaged
a man of wood clad in a wooden hat
a sentinal from when my nightmares raged
who calmed my fears of spider and of rat
beneath his watchful eyes the terrors cease
and now once more we all could sleep in peace


the jagged edges of broken sleep cut once more
no spiders, no rats, no monsters under my bed
but terrors named

so I take it
creep into his room - he whose nightmares are banished
and take the talisman of my youth
its wooden face still severe, strong, beneath a wooden helmet
worn smooth by young fingers

The terrors stop
the terrors stop

in the pre-dawn I wake to see 
termines fleeing the disintigrating wooden carcass
to feast on fat houseflies

The wood is no longer hard, no longer smooth, 
but soft and rotten and stinking of decay

The nightmares of parents are stronger.

And, finally, something blatantly and shamelessly political:

The hundred less one arrived to join the hunt
left words behind, spoke only in animal grunts
will the goddess and gods protect those who eschew meat
from bright-burning hundredth with carnivore's teeth?
On this day masks are worn outside our face
See our spirits form paper-mache-
clad this - this autumn night when worlds collide
when veils grow thin, we see the other side
When we, the hundred less one run enmasked
as ancestors did walk in days long past
though creatures meek as we may earn your scorn
remember that stags too are armed with horn.

Overall, my favorite thing about these is how I have the chance to play with form, with meter, and with the sounds of words as well as the words themselves. Look for more experiments in weeks to come.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

A week of Horrible Things

Happy October! For this month, in addition to continuing with the Modern Poetry course at Coursera, I'm playing with a daily writing-prompt exercise on the Google+ social network called "Nightmare Fuel". Google Plussers can find the Nightmare Fuel page here. Every day the lovely and talented Bliss Morgan (aka Andrea Trask) posts an image, and every day all those interested write .. something. Anything. A story. A flash piece. A poem. Then we share them.

Because this is daily and time is at a premium, I've been taking the influence of the Modern Poetry class to write poems for most of these. Others have taken different directions. I'm especially taken with the "prosems" Kary Gaul is writing and the horrific little flash pieces from... well, I'm not sure what the man's real name is, but this guy here. sometimes known as Kewangi and sometimes as Johannes It doesn't matter. His stuff is consistently creepy and punchy.

Check out theirs, and look below for my attempts:
 Attribution-ShareAlike Creative Commons License.
Day 1 - The Curator

Standing stone -
your letters and numbers
edges sharp, grooves deep and even -

Standing stone
slick and smooth. Reflecting 

What engine carved
lines and squares
- an alien script - 
for what engines to read?

and earth

Standing stone -
will your faded lines remain
will you remember
when the engines have fallen
Creative commons 
Day 2 - Sparkly Shoes

An early fall morning, a crisp fall morning. A drycool bite in the dry cool air. Summer is over. I'm walking with the girl and her new backpack full of marble composition books and crayons and number two pencils and erasers and tissues and even - for reasons unknown to me - plastic baggies. A bag as big as she is. The girl in her new dress and new windbreaker and new shiny purple maryjanes. Companionable silence down the street, past the swimming pool, long since drained for the winter. Companionable silence across the street, now a half-block from the already-formed clusters of chattering girls and hyperactive boys and gossipping moms at the dropoff. 

Companionable silence broken by the girl's voice. 

"Lynsey has sparkly shoes. And Maddy. And Jessie."

Indeed, they do. Brightpink glitterclad things adornded and embellished with flowers, with hearts, with peace-signs. Flashy things with thick pink laces and little blinking lights winking at the world with each shuffling step of little girls' feet. Sparkly shoes indeed.

I'm calm, noncommital. "So they do." I'm not crazy. I hear the edge in her voice, I hear the pleading. I also know that the shoes on her feet - her rapidly growing feet - cost forty dollars, and the sneakers under her bed (white with fun pink stripes. Not spartly) another thirty. The shoe money is spent. 

The girl starts to say something in a hushed whisper. Pat her on the head as I turn, bridge the gap to a mom-cluster at the periphery of the dropoff, an empty unspecial square of sidewalk. The girl edges into a cluster of other girls, her eyes on her own feet As Lynsey and Maddie and Jessie hold court over the sidewalk, their eyes up, oblivious to the winking, sparkling, blinking beacons adorning their own feet.

Day 3 - The Machines

The machines like a dream, like a wish.

Everywhere - the machines -Clean and proud in the bank

Encased in logo-bearing glass - the machines -Beside the battered ice machine


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loitering in a supermarket - the machinesin a dark alleyway

ill-fitting here today gone the nexta magic shop out of a fairy tale

full of wishes open for wishesa battered plastic well gleaming

in the city night.

the machines reflect eyes the machines have eyes the machines are eyesI see them seeing me seeing them


Like in a fairy talewishing machines like in a fairy tale full of wishes

I wave my card with a big swish swish and then I wish to wish a wishfor a dish of fish to be rich i wish 

I wish

I wish.

Nobody knows my wishes
Nobody save the machines.
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Day 4 - Surviving Excerpts From the log of the FNC Emma Goldman

Tuesday, May 1
Not on ship yet, but it's motherfuckin Mayday and we have a motherfuckin ship. The Emma Goldman, a state of the art sailing vessel. Or at least she would have been two or three centuries ago. Today? She's ours. She's seaworthy. She even has a manifesto - to be the best damn anarchist-collective freespirited, freeloving, freesailing freelance cargo ship these oceans have ever seen. To the seas!

July 3rd
Finally got a cargo, on the high seas at last. Struck the flag we're registered under (I won't even write it here) raised our true flag - the black flag. Beholden to no nation, lyal to none but ourselves.

Glad to be at sea. The business part is the part I hate, but until someone gets around to overthrowing capitalism, this is our world. We need money for spare parts, money for foodstuffs, money for rum. We're tall-ship sailors. There has has to be rum.

Anyway, the cargo part is what I hate. Creepy client was creepy, mysterious boxen are mysterious. Battered leather trunks, smelling of mildew and mothballs and... something else.

July 8th
Rum gone. Too many fucking disasters. Damage. Rats. Matty drank the damn rum. And he had the nerve to 

August 2nd
still not working but we have the sextant. Anctient tech FTW. Matty said he hears sounds from the cargo. Voices. He must have a secret stash of

August 9th

.............walk the plank if we were pirates. We should still throw the bastard overboard after it. We still have the stars. We'll find our way.

must have jumped overboard. Just wasn't there one day but he's right there are voices they're talking whispering some strange language I wish I could understand I wish I

No sun for days. Sea is grey, sky grey, sails grey. The black flag is grey. I am grey. The others are looking funny at me, I know. They might know

A cheer from above. Land? I need to see first. Need to see what's in this cargo. I can almost make out the words. 

I think it's callng me. From above a scream, "what is that". I'm down here I'm openingit now

Source Unknown

Day 5 - backroads

Back roads, way off the interstate

the smell of fake pine

Late afternoon, small town
through dry dust and dry air an old
sign reds and blues faded into woodgrain


tired and I need to stop eyes need to start
eyes need to wake step in

No freaks.
No living freaks.

Curio cabinets full of two-headed taxidermy dogs
inexpertly stiched together
improbably dry spiders
wax sculptures of the freaks
the mystics the hysterics the madmen the drifters on 
the backroads.

stiff posed manikins no art no artifice no motion but
disapproving scowls
and a lingering scent
of fake pine 
and a scream

Day 6 - Patriot Day

Source Unknown
The specter of those hands against the glass
shut tight against the smoke and acrid gas
A hand but not a face
haunting, follows 

in each mirror
each window
each mirror or window or glass door or glass wall or showerglass or plateglass window or display glass each glass each window

each glass door
no matter how far from the city, is that glass door. 
Even in the woods, even in the cabin, it is that window
hands pressed hard against behind faceless faces
A window I dare not open.