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Friday, April 30, 2010

Dirty Little Writer Secret

Writers, can I tell you a secret?

You don't use your assets enough.

I edit the newsletter for OWW, Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror, and I can tell you it's like pulling teeth to get some authors to pony up their information.

If the author is an OWW member, they get special privileges and can merit a spot on my interview roster if they happen to score a contract with one of the Big 6 publishers. I even do one better and try to get them interviewed as close to their release date as possible.

Oy! The things I do for authors.

Yet they do so little for themselves. If you're an OWW member, tell me you've made a sale. If you have an agent or editor, ask them if I can interview them--and earn a mention a second time by them.

Even if you're not a member there is a way to get noticed. Do you have any big name author friends, agents or editors hiding on your hard drive? Introduce them to me. That is the fastest way for YOU to get your name in the newsletter and a link back to your web site.

OWW is only one venue. There are thousands out there for you to mine. Big forums and newsletters have a lot of subscribers. And that means more eyes on your career.

Networking, people! Whether you realize it or not, you have people who can help you spread your name around. It doesn't always have to be about your work, but it can lead that way if you know just the right names to drop.

In April, I interviewed agent, Nathan Bransford. For May (as in tomorrow) I interviewed the very awesome Lois McMaster Bujold. Find Bujold's interview here.

Make yourself visible and don't just do it when you have a book to pitch. Saying smart things all throughout the year on sites that recognize and promote your genre(s) is the best way to keep your name in circulation.
I'll discuss networking with groups in greater length on a future post.

What are you doing to network in May?


Coyote Con starts tomorrow. It is a 31 day digital author conference and I'm on the blog line up. This conference is absolutely free, but you must register in order to enter the conference rooms.

That seemed like the perfect segue to welcome Killer Campaigns back. Starting May 14th, the Killer is back. This time we're going to expand the concept and discuss not only marketing ideas but also business tactics as it applies to publishing.

I'm always looking for topics on the business of publishing. If you have a question or a topic you want discussed, drop me a line and earn a link back to your blog. (That's called networking.) I'll do my research and show you what I uncovered along the way.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Texas Stadium Implodes, Inside Look

On April 11, 2010, Texas Stadium in Irving, TX was demolished, having been replaced by a bigger, shinier stadium in Arlington, TX. Texas Stadium was the home of the Dallas Cowboys.

If you've never been there, the place was enormous, capable of seating nearly 66,000 people. Here is one view from the outside shown on the local news. The security before and after the explosions were set in place was said to be immense. They did not want any yahoos getting into trouble.

You can watch many different YouTube videos of the implosion as seen from the outside, but the video link below is a view from the INSIDE. You have got to check it out.

Hard as I tried, I couldn't find a way to embed the video, so I'm giving you the link. It's a split screen. If you move the viewfinder in the lower half of the screen you can get a 360 degree view.

Go here to witness a moment of annihilation from the inside.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Facelift: One More Time

I did it again. I found another template that I liked for my blog. I preferred the moodier one I had earlier, but I really hate to read reverse text on black backgrounds. It hurts my eyes.

This one is nice because it has a little navigation bar at the top where you can flip to different pages. Eventually, I'll fill in all the pages with more good material, but for now it's fine.

So what do you think? Does it appear all right on your monitor? Do all the pages work? Is it easy to read?

I like it. Other than the fact that it takes an extra step to post new entries, I can live with this one for a while.

The theme works for the kind of writing I do too. It's a cross between Indiana Jones and Avatar. Consider me your guide on this journey, so sit back and enjoy.

You ain't getting your money back anyway. :grin:

Do you like the theme on your blog? How would you describe it? If you're a writer, do you think it reflects your writing style?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Chicken Adventures: Injuries

The first picture is of my 2-week old Americauna chick. The second one shows 4 week old Astralorps and Buff Orpingtons. The blonde chick to the far right in that picture is the same one as the last photo. More on her later.

I wasn't planning on doing another chick post so soon, but it helps me to remember these events if I put them down in the blog.

We've had two accidents in the few weeks the chicken divas have been with us. The first one was a bad one.

Two weeks ago, I had just moved the
first batch of chicks into their new quarters when the littlest one in the bunch (a black Astralorp) got picked on.

There is one thing you have to know about birds. They can be vicious inside their social circle. It doesn't matter what kind of bird it is either. They will pick on the weak or injured until they kill it unless something or someone intervenes.

was it this go round and they pecked on that little guy until he bled.

Luckily, I check the coop often to make sure everyone is getting along, and found him bleeding. I don't like to separate chicks because the old group always ostracizes the new group when you put them together again, but I couldn't leave Runt out there with them until he was completely healed.

Also fortunate for Runt is just that morning I bought six little Americauna chicks, so I put him in with them. He was bigger, but shier than the new guys, so everyone got along great.

I am on pins and needles because after two weeks, I am testing the younger chicks with the older ones. Despite being the new kids on the block, the Americaunas have been feisty and one of them regularly fights back than allow himself to be picked on by the bigger chicks. I hope they settle down soon.

They won't be loose all day, just a few hours everyday until everyone gets used to one another.

My other chick on the injured list is a Buf
f Orpington. Whoever said blondes were dumb weren't talking about the Orpingtons. Of all the chicks, they have been the first to test the new yard, find food and water, and explore readily.

They are curious about everything and therein lies the problem. Yesterday morning when I came out to check on them, one of the Orpingtons got herself caught between the fence and barbed wire. I don't know how long she'd been out there, but she was sure glad to see me. I have since renamed her Wing-Nut.

You can tell in the picture that her little wing is hanging a bit, but I don't think it's broken. She is managing just fine despite the injury. Hopefully, none of the others will sense weakness in her and gang up on the poor bird. She's suffered enough.
The last picture is a close up of Wing-Nut. She doesn't look too bad considering she was trussed like chicken dinner for who knows how long.

It's always an adventure around here.

For more Chicken Talk go here.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Italian Lovers & Irishmen

One of my favorite trips was taken without Greg and I have regretted it ever since.

Back in 1984, all my other artist buddies were plotting trips to Italy, the grand mecca of Renaissance art. I had no such funds so I could only dream with green-eyed envy.

Then out of nowhere, one of my sisters announced that she wanted to take a trip to Italy and would I be interested in joining her.

It was a dream come true. With her and I splitting the bills it wouldn't be as expensive as if Greg and I went together. He gave me his blessing and I didn't wait for him to change his mind.

Trouble was...this is the one sibling who grates on my last nerve. LOL.
But this was a chance of a lifetime so I sucked it up.

We were (and are) galaxies apart in our likes, our attitudes and our goals. Little sister wanted to shop. She was single and she also wanted know.

Me, of loftier aspirations, only wanted to commune with Caravaggio, Michelangelo, Raphael and Masaccio. Those were the only men I wanted to explore.

So although we traveled together, we hardly ever saw each other for more than a few hours. Once we even split up. She went to Pompeii and I went back to Firenze (Florence).

I had quite a few mini adventures along the way. There was that Irishman who didn't want to take no for an answer, and a whole carload of Italian hunks who kept following me and my sister and insisted they give us a ride to the top of one of the seven hills.

I could really WALK back then, and while my sister was anxious to take them up on their offer, I was content to keep hoofing it. Besides, I didn't think Greg would approve.

They were persistent though and their car crawled all the way up the hill with them asking questions about the US. I told them I was from Texas and their eyes lit up with that deer in the headlights look.

My sister ended up with her own hunk, some guy by the name
Gigolo, or something like that. I can't remember what his name was, but to the family, he was Gigolo from thereafter.

What was really funny was when he came to pick her up on a date and I was lying in bed braless and in my old sweats. She screamed at me. "Get dressed. He can't see you like this."

I looked at her like she was insane. "He's not taking me out. He came here for you." Though gentleman that he was, he did offer to take us both out to the movies. I declined, much to my sister's relief.

The good thing about Italy is that I had very little trouble communicating with the locals. Spanish is very similar to Italian, and many of the natives spoke Spanish as a second language.

I've always wanted to go back to Italy with Greg, but he's never had much interest in seeing the old country, the birthplace of his grandparents.

But when I was in Florence I rubbed the snout of Il Porcellino, the bronze cast of a giant boar. Legend has it that if you rub its snout, you'll return to Florence.

I'm still waiting.

What place have you always remembered fondly?

Monday, April 19, 2010

So Many Names, So Few Coops

This is a picture of the back of the hen house and it shows the first brave chicks checking out the great outdoors.

Notice the two doorways. One is set lower than the other. The concrete floor is sloped so I can wash out the coop easily. (Greg thought of everything!)

I was hoping asking around for coop names would make my job easier, not harder.


Here are the names I've gathered from everyone who contributed.

Rooster Court


Chicken Court

Bantam Court

Cluckingham Palace

Counting Coop

Pecking Palace

Poultry In Motion

Taj Mahen

Coop de Ville

Cackle Corner

Chateau de Poulet

and of course, my entries

Pueblo de Pollo

Coop de Grâce
--removed from consideration

Crow & Cackle

I think I'm going to pick the top five I like and let Greg pick the winner. Do you guys have any favorites?

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Chicken Project

If I seemed a bit distracted the last few weeks, it's because of the Chicken Project.

I have been very late answering emails and comments. (Sorry, guys.) But the job is almost finished. All we need is a planter box, and a sign that will go up in tha
t nice bare spot in the front.

I'll do another post on the actual steps to the job, but I wanted to show you how the project looks as of today.

Whaddya think? Not bad for two old cripples. There are windows along either side of the building, and two chicken doors in the back. Two, because eventually we will separate the yard and coop by breed.

This was a more difficult job than the chicken coop/yard we built 20 years ago.

1. We're older--and less nimble.

2. We could only work for 6-8 days a month, which is when Greg was here.
3. We needed good weather.

There were a few things we wanted to do differently this go round. Since the coop/yard was near the house, it had to be 'pretty'. It has to last the rest of our lives. And it has to be both functional and efficient. It costs more, but it really is a very nice setup if I do say so myself.

I am not taking any of the credit for this baby. Greg did it all; the concept, the design, and the carpentry.

As usual, I provided the manual labor. I've m
entioned before that I'm fairly inept when it comes to things like this, but I take direction extremely well. I'm a good mule. I work hard and I work steady. If Greg doesn't need me, I go off and busy myself with a nearby project so he can call me when he needs me.

Such a good mule I am! LOL.

Like the last chicken yard, we built it as an aviary, fencing the top as well as the sides. We have way too many predators in our area--mainly hawks, coyotes, and raccoons. No point in feeding the local population. Let them eat someone else's chickens.

And would you believe, no sooner did we let the chicks into the yard, two big hawks did a fly-by. I think they were on a reconnaissance mission. I could see them squawking te
lemetry on little, bitty radios.

Niner-Niner, Red Tail One. Have spotted dinner on your six. It's a buffet!

Copy that, Hawkeye-Three. Reconnaissance has reported a perimeter shield. Stand by. New intel coming in.

Hawkeye-Three, infrared is detecting missiles at your four o'clock. Abort. Abort. Abort. They've locked onto your...


Hehehehe. Come after my chickens, will ya?

The yard is 16' x 20' with an 8' x 8' coop. It will have both electricity and running water. When the chicks reach adulthood, we'll segregate them by breed so we can sell pure breed chicks next year.

I actually bought 3 breeds. (I finally found my Americaunas, the Easter egg chickens). We'll separate them out next year.

Now comes the REALLY hard part. I have to think up a name for the chicken coop. We came up with all sorts of names. Only one clicked for me, but it has a negative connotation so I had to pass on it. I thought about calling it
Coop de Grâce, but if you know this French saying, (Coup de Grâce) it basically means 'blow of mercy'.

The other reason I nixed it is because everyone and his mother would question the spelling of
Grâce, thinking I meant Grace.

It's no fun being clever if I have to explain it.

There will be additional artwork on the coop--if I ever regain the use of my fingers. (Stretching fence and barbed wire is hard on fingers.) For now I will concentrate on the sign.

But what do we call this labor of love that has drawn blood, sweat, and more than a few choice cuss words when Greg and I failed to see eye to eye?
(I said I was a good mule. I didn't say I was a quiet one.)

Here are a few names we've thought of so far: Pueblo de Pollo, The Crow & Cackle, Eggcetera.

I can't make the sign until we decide on a name. It's gotta fit the place and it's gotta last a lifetime.

Any ideas?

So that's what we've been up to for the past month and a half. We've shed enough blood on this job to call it family, but I'm proud of it.

Copyright © 2010 Maria Zannini --

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Curse of the Guest Towels

I must be doing something wrong. No matter how hard I try, I cannot get guests to use the guest towels.

It's not like they're that fancy. They have a nice little border and one appliqued rose as decoration.

People have come out of the bathroom with wet hands, others swipe a big wad of kleenex or bathroom tissue rather than use the guest towels.

Come on, guys! I put them out there for you. I bought them special just for Y-O-U. They're not made of spun sugar, yanno.

My mother, who was here on an extended stay, searched high and low for some old, thin towels that I keep hidden in a linen cabinet, the ones we use when we bathe the dogs.

Me: "Ma, use the guest towels."

Mom: "Oh, no, hija (daughter). Those are too nice."

Somebody just shoot me.

Do you have trouble with guests not using your towels? What should I do--Go out and buy plain ones?

Please, if you come to my house, use my towels. I don't mind. Really.

Spanish lesson
Ref: hija - pronounced ee-ha
My mother usually calls her daughters this. Or 'mija', a shortened version of mi hija. Means: My daughter.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Reading Experiment

Recently, I picked up three books from my indie bookstore. Book A came highly recommended by a friend of mine.

Book B, I bought because I adore the author's blog and wanted to pay her back in a way that she would profit from my gratitude.

But Book C, is a book I heard about only briefly. It was the third book in a trilogy that made all the blog headlines and NYT bestseller list about three years ago. The author went on to write other books, but evidently they never stirred the fires as much as her first book.

I've always meant to pick up those books, but I could never remember her name once I was in the book store. As I was browsing this last time, I recalled the premise and asked the store owner if it was familiar to her. All we could find was the third book in the series.

Of the three authors I chose that day, I couldn't decide which book to try first, so as an experiment, I read the first six chapters of each book. Boy, was I surprised.

Of all three books, the only one I really wanted to return to was Book C.

To be honest, the writing wasn't as crisp and the world building wasn't as dense as the other two books. Technically, while it was a well-edited book, it wasn't one of those shining examples where you fall in love with the language.

But I loved the story. I didn't care that the author repeated certain words over and over again, or that the world building was scant even by
my standards. I didn't care that the characters could have been a little more fleshed out--though I blame this on the fact that I was reading the third book of a trilogy. My guess is her characters were better rounded in the first book.

Even though the other two books were by prolific and accomplished authors, I far preferred the offering of this other author. I loved the concept and the story.

That it wasn't as polished as the other two never made a bit of difference to my enjoyment. While writers constantly struggle on everything from beat to grammar, to world building, when it all comes down to it, it really is all about the story.

How many times have we heard snide remarks about Dan Brown or Stephanie Meyer's writing? Yet they went on to mega stardom because they swept their audience with their storytelling or intriguing characters.

Have you ever fallen in love with a book on story or characters alone? Writers: Do we worry
too much about the technical aspects?

I've read many technically sound books, but very few 'wrap me up in a blanket and let me read' books.

Tell me a story. As long as the editing doesn't jar me out of my read, I won't care that you didn't give me a blow by blow account of woodland fairies or the noises from a downtown office. Just let me fall in love with your characters' journey.

How about you?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Ajuga: Tough Ground Cover

Many eons ago I took a master gardener's course for Zone 9 (which is southeast Texas). I thoroughly enjoyed that course and learned a lot.

I think I might like to try it again for the north Texas climate. The biggest difference between southeast and north Texas is the rainfall. It never seems to stop raining on the coast. I was certain if I stayed there one more year I'd develop webbed fingers.

North Texas is dryer, a little cooler in the winter, but still as hot as it is further south. Some plants simply don't grow as well here, especially the acid loving plants like azaleas and some berries.

I can live without the azaleas, but I want my blueberries and blackberries, so I've been dusting the new plants with a little sulfur.

One plant that did very well when I transplanted it here is a little ground cover called ajuga. It grows wild on our property in SE Texas and I moved some last year to my front garden. Although it's spreading slowly, it is spreading tightly. My ajuga never got any bigger than about six inches in SE Texas, but it's growing a bit taller out in our new place.

Above is a picture of my patch of ajuga at my north Texas home. It is just now beginning to bloom.

Ajuga is a very hardy ground cover that can take a lot of traffic and it has the most beautiful blue flowers you will ever come across. It is originally from Europe and seems to do well from Zones 4 to 9. Some people say they can raise it in Zone 3, but they have to protect it.

It is terrific in rock gardens because it prevents the soil from washing away.

From what I understand all parts of the plant are poisonous if eaten, but the dogs have never been interested in it. Not even Thresher, aka Vishnu, the Destroyer of Worlds, aka Iko, the Scorpion King.

Considering Iko has devoured entire tree stumps, I am profoundly grateful he doesn't like ajuga.

Are there any special flowers or herbs that you like to see in your garden? I'd be grateful for some suggestions to add to my landscape. I'm specifically looking for taller perennials that will give me some color in my Zone 8 climate. What's worked well for you?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Magic and Technology

I don't know how I started following Marian Perera. One day, I looked up to discover that I had been consuming everything she wrote like it was popcorn. Marian is eloquent, perceptive, and well read. I almost always find something useful in her observations, and today is no exception.

Add to that, Marian debuts this month with her very first book,
Before the Storm.

Give her a warm welcome, everyone! Please make her feel at home.


Magic and Technology

As a genre, fantasy can be very versatile. If you like magic in a modern environment, that’s usually contemporary or urban fantasy. The flip side of that is science in a medieval world, which is steampunk and all its variations. This subgenre is popular now, and I enjoy writing in it, showing technological progress – with all its consequences – in fantasy worlds.

So I’ll discuss why that’s the case, and give a few examples of books which combine the fantastic with the scientific.

It creates conflict

It’s fun to put machines into societies which may not be quite ready for them but will have to brace for impact anyway.

Every part of a society is affected by innovation and technology. Rulers may choose to suppress or to encourage these – in the latter instance, that can lead to competition between scientists who may have rich and powerful rivals as patrons. Established religions will have to take scientific discoveries into account. Industries which used to run on physical labor may now find steam engines more efficient – but what will happen to the workers who have been replaced?

It creates contrast

I grew up reading fantasy novels like
The Lord of the Rings and Watership Down. The fresh and unspoiled countryside is very much a part of the setting in those novels. Progress destroys the rabbits’ original home, though, and ruins the Shire to the extent that only Galadriel’s gift can completely restore it.

While it’s usually safer these days not to demonize either magic or science, it’s interesting to contrast the two. Do people consider science safer because it operates according to natural laws, as opposed to magic? Or is magic, with its centuries of tradition and highly regulated Guilds, more respected compared to the bizarre new developments in alchemy – no, chemistry, as its practitioners prefer it to be called?

The old order changes, giving way to the new. Unless it fights back, or the two eventually settle down to an uneasy coexistence.

It acknowledges the modern

this article says, steampunk satisfies “a longing for machines that don’t suck”. Speculative fiction runs rampant with stories of machines which turn against humanity.

But technology and scientific advances, when used appropriately, improve the quality of life. And steampunk can be a nod to that. Several novels feature innovations in transportation – airships and zeppelins and hot-air balloons, as in Holly Lisle’s
The Secret Texts trilogy and Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass.

On the other hand, if you prefer medieval warfare taken to a completely new level, science can deliver. John Marco’s
The Jackal of Nar has kerosene cannons used in battle, and a scientist works with chemistry and microbiology in the Poison Kitchens of Alan Campbell’s Scar Night.

A good non-fiction book on this subject is
Science Goes to War, which hooked me from the moment it described how the Roman army used engineering to take the Hebrew fortress of Masada.

In summary, steampunk bridges the distance between 1500 and 2010 and is one of the most entertaining ways to make a fantasy world dark, realistic or just plain different. And there are no limits to how science can be used in such a story: one of my heroes is the medieval version of a clinical psychologist. He would probably be happier in 2010.

Marian Perera is the author of Before the Storm, a romantic fantasy where psychic magic and steam engines clash on the battlefield. When she’s not writing, she studies medical laboratory technology (one more year of college to go!).

She has a
website and a blog where she discusses writing and publication. Comments always welcome!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Smart As Last Year's X-Box

The woman who gave me birth will be here for a week or more, so my posts will be sporadic. But not to worry. Marian Perera is coming over to help me out this Wednesday. Be sure to visit. We're going to discuss magic and machines. Steampunk fans, I want you to come on out of the woodworks.

Appearances are deceiving.

My mother calls me the smart one in the family. (Yeah, I laugh too.) But she calls me smart only because when I was a kid--and even now--I ask a LOT of questions.

I do remember some of my outrageous questions. While my brothers and sisters were content to accept whatever our elders told us, I questioned everything. Got me thrown out of class once too.

Note to self:
Never debate the physical impossibility of a virgin birth with nuns.

My insatiable curiosity tends to keep me in trouble. Even Greg gets annoyed because I won't do things unless I understand the why, as well as the how. For a man who's used to ordering people about, it grates on his nerves.

I can't help it. I have to understand these things before I'll do them.
It's intrinsic to the way I learn.

I should tell you that I am in fact a complete idiot--especially when it comes to technical things like software, or hardware, or building things, or cooking, or gardening, or math, or...well, you get the picture. I have no natural talent other than a good sense of aesthetic value.

Some people are surprised at this admission because over the years, I've become expert in quite a few fields, but the simple truth is that it comes at a huge cost. I'm not complaining. That's just the way it is for me. I'm used to it.

Learning is ferociously difficult for me. I'm not dyslexic in the least, but I am definitely wired differently and it takes me twice as long as everybody else to learn a task. On the flip side, once I master something, I am really good at it. You'd think I'd been doing it all my life. Go figure.

I wonder sometimes if it has to do with being forced to be right-handed.
When I learn something it feels like I'm learning it twice, with the right side of my brain and then my left. Any lefties out there care to weigh in on that? Have you noticed anything similar?

My dear, sweet neighbor nearly had a frustration-induced coronary trying to teach me to crochet, until she realized I kept doing it backwards. So she taught me to do it left-handed and I picked it up right away. Huzzah!

Greg figured this out when he taught me to shoot. I kept closing the wrong eye. LOL.

I don't give up. I just keep ramming my head against that elephant until one of us collapses.

Now you know why I have to be nice to the people I deal with daily. They really put up with a lot. I am not an easy person to live with--although apparently, I am hugely entertaining.


Is it easy for you to learn new things? What would you say you do the very best?

Friday, April 2, 2010

Straight From The Horse's Mouth

I spent a GREAT day at an equine veterinary center the other day. There's a chapter in Apocalypse Rising where one of my main characters tames a very ill-mannered horse.

The scene came out as I planned and although I was happy with it, I wanted to make sure I got the feel of it right. Grey, the main character is so good with horses, I wanted to instill that sense of confidence and experience with the reader.

I'm touchy about scenes in cases where the author has a lot of expertise on a specific topic. I have to watch this when I write about dogs or homesteading. I can go overboard if you let me and I have to keep reminding myself it's not about the dog (or horse). It's about the story.

After visiting with the vets, their amazing associate, and the horses (of course), I felt I had the scene pretty close the first time. But with their help I think it reads even more intimately now.

This equine center is walking distance from my house, but I'm still gimpy, so I drove out there, notebook and camera in hand.

They were such nice people! They answered all my questions and I got up-close and personal with one of the horses where I could touch, smell and study the animal.

They let me examine the horse's mouth, her feet, her coat, and gave me some valuable tips about behavioral problems. I got to wander around to my heart's content, but I didn't want to wear out my welcome. They had patients to tend to and I didn't want to get in their way.

I am so glad I did this. It makes me feel I nailed Grey just the way I needed him. There's a lot to be said for authenticity.

*** Now, I want a horse.

I only said that so I can see Greg cringe. hehehe.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Just Ducky

Here's a better picture of the duck sprinkler I got for my birthday. (Feather in front did not come from said duck.)

I have a small garden area in front of the house for flowers and herbs, and this will fit in perfectly.

I have to admit, I love practical gifts. All the better if they are useful and quirky. It appeals to my weird sense of artsy propriety.

What kind of gifts do you like to receive?


Useless but fun?


Is there anything special you'd like someone to give you this year?

We'll make this a karmic blog post. You name it, and we'll see if karma will deliver.