"It all started when..."
Ok, this is a long one ...
a four-month-old bottled-up whine
(originally scheduled to air September 22, 2002!)
about a series of events which threw
me completely off my game for a while
and which ultimately led to the delay
in updates to this site.
Not that the
events of the last four months were
all bad; quite the contrary. But the
first month ... well, let's say it was
a month of surprises.
Set your wayback machines to August
2002 and let's take a look...
The Deadline Approaches.
Those that know me, know that I script my life around
a few "big events" each year --- personal highlights
like the Edge Christmas, technical highlights like the
Game Developer's Conference
or my trip to Japan, and of course fan highlights like Dragon*Con.
rolled closer and closer, I began to realize there was no way most
of the art, writing and site updates that I was working on could get
done ... at least not while I'm taking point on an urgent
project at work. So I was starting to figure out how to cut
my losses ... when I got a phone call.
Things Start to Get Complicated.
"Is this Anthony Francis?"
(guardedly) "Uh ... yes."
"This is Ann Crispin."
(light goes off) "Ah - from the Writer's
Ann Crispin's original claim to fame was as a first-generation
Star Trek novelist, but she became more widely known for
her campaign to protect aspiring authors from scam artists
... and, more recently, for the writing workshops she
hosts at each Dragon*Con. Ann's friendly but forthright style,
coupled with her extensive experience experience in writing and
advocacy, is rapidly making these workshops a fixture of
Dragon*Con ... but I didn't clue in to them until after registration
had already closed. However, I have an Eternal membership to the
con, so I wrote Ann about next year's workshop ... just as
she had a cancellation. So she offered me the open seat.
Wow. I was overjoyed to have the opportunity ... but now I
had FOUR projects to finish before Dragon*Con started: at work there
was my code for the NIBRS project, and for the con I had to complete
to the Library of Dresan
t shirts, help my friend LN put the finishing touches on my Green
Lantern costume for the costume contest ... AND get Ann a synopsis
and extract of my novel in time for her to read it. So I had to
really get into high gear ...
... and of course my body decides that THIS is a good time to
Attack of the Killer Bugs. At first it
was a hacking cough, sinus blockage and some fatigue that
knocked me off my feet at work ... no biggie, I just took a day off
and downed some vitamin C and went right back to work. But the bug
... just ... kept ... coming ... back. No sooner than I leave
work Friday the cough returns ... and I spent the whole weekend LN
needed a dressmaker's dummy for the costume basically curled up in
her window seat, coughing, trying to type the synopsis through a
haze of cough medicine and antihistamines.
But that was the weekend, and surely so rested I could then go
back to work and get my work project done before the con, yes? No.
The bug was at full force, a travelling sine wave of illness that
kept knocking me out two to three days out of every four. I lost
another day and a half at work, knocking work back at least a week,
then spent the whole writer's workshop in a fog trying desperately
to pay attention as poor Ann did her best to talk over my hacking
cough. I hosted a Dragon*Con party that same night ... and ended up
forcing several good friends to do the cooking for me because I was
afraid I'd end up coughing in their food and making them all
The Friendly Klingon. By the next day it was
clear ... the bug was winning. The turning point was a conversation
with a merchant in the Exhibit Hall: I became woozy ... excused
myself ... and somehow ended up on the other side of the building
asking a friendly Klingon for help finding the medical
facilities. The Dragon*Con folks came with their medical bags and
helped me to the command center, where I was diagnosed with
dehydration possibly induced by a case of the flu.
That ended my con wandering for the day, and for the rest of the
convention I practiced sleeping in, sitting down and drinking a hell
of a lot of water. During this haze I sat through a number of talks
on comics (because the room was right next to the command center),
and then got to go see the film Shaolin Soccer (because a
friend was available to drive me) which I highly recommend even
though it truly defies coherent description. Or perhaps that was the
medication. But I digress.
Attack of the Killer Loser. By the next evening,
however, I was at the crest of the sine wave and feeling good enough
to go to the costume contest, though not good enough to actually
enter. I had decided to go as the modern Green Lantern, Kyle
Rayner, and LN's first effort making a superhero costume turned
out great. Sure enough, no sooner had I walked into the convention
than someone said - "Hey! Hal Jordan!"
Now, Hal's the older, more famous Green Lantern, so I assumed the
guy simply made a mistake and said, "No, Kyle Rayner." But ... now,
think about this: A comic book fan ... at Dragon*Con ...
making a mistake?
Boy, was I naive.
The guy's face turned purple. "Kyle Rayner is a fag!" he
shouted. His drinking buddy joined the chorus. "Hal Jordan is
the ONLY Green Lantern!" Fortunately, I know the first rule of
martial arts: If there's a potential problem, DON'T BE
THERE, and simply kept walking. But that incensed this pair of
jokers, who started to follow.
"I'll kick your ass, man!"
(without pausing ...) "Take your best shot, kiddo."
"Come back here!"
(without changing pace ...) "I don't think so."
"You're a coward, man!"
(... I find myself on an escalator half a floor away).
As my drunken friends receded into the distance all that ran
through my mind was this: How lame is it when the guy in the
spandex superhero costume has to tell the guy in streetclothes
"Get a life! It's just a comic book!"
Then I thought: Only at Dragon*Con.
You May Already Be a Winner. Finally, Labor Day
arrives and the convention ends, and I collapse into blissful rest.
The last ten days were a blur of coughing, fatigue, viruses, and
antihistamines ... I remember everything but almost nothing at the
same time ... I blissfully drift off to sleep ... then suddenly I
wake up bolt upright.
What was that thing I received in the mail while I was
I stumble downstairs and tore through the
pile of mail. "Congratulations," the letter said. "You, yes YOU, have
been summoned for JURY
My first feeling was: "oh shit, didn't I
receive this a thousand years ago or something?" I was certain that
I'd actually missed the date of my summons, but no, that was just
the disease talking. It turns out the letter had just arrived
... postmarked just a few days earlier ... and only my haze of
illness made it seem like it had arrived centuries ago. I
wiped my brow, went back to bed, and didn't worry any more about it
- we still had two weeks to go, and the NIBRS
project was almost done,
Well, in theory ... but the bug wasn't done.
What Do You Mean, a Frelling Allergy?
First the cough came back, and within a few hours at work I was
stumbling back home - this time, with visions of Jim Henson dancing
through my head, I was FINALLY smart enough to make a DOCTOR's
The next day, I was dutifully poked and prodded by a doctor and
nurse, who hmmed and hawed and asked a raftful of questions. After
confirming I had no temperature, that I'd never had a temperature
during the whole damn thing, and that my cough had been coming and
going like the tides, the doctor pronounced his verdict: "A severe
allergic reaction to our unusually high ragweed count."
What the hell?
On at least two occasions during this carnival of fun I nearly
ended up in the hospital ... first when a friend became so concerned
by my cough that he started to call an ambulance, and then later
when the friendly Klingon called for the paramedics. What kind of
frelling allergy, my dear doctor, does that?
Calmly he explained, "If you had the flu ... you would have at
least some of the following five symptoms ... none of which you had.
And if you're *ahem* stressed out, your immune system is depressed
and yes, an allergy can knock you out. So take some of these once a
day ... and GO HOME AND TAKE A REST! Because it's good for you."
So I do it.
And the Shit Starts Falling. After a day or so,
the old bug gives up, or the new medicine kicks in, or ragweed
counts drop. Who knows - all I know is the cough leaves, my voice
returns, and my memories for each day no longer feel like they've
been run through a shuffling machine. Things actually start to look
Then the work project bogs down. A release candidate of the main
Police Central system breaks on my machine, and my code no longer
compiles - or when it does compile, it won't run on anyone else's
machine. And mysterious bugs begin to appear that no-one has seen
before. And then the VP of Technology starts to have the same
problems on other machines as well ... so the end date of the
project is now floating in the air, with no touchdown in sight
because the problem is still too much of an unknown. Not that
it's a big problem --- we just have four jurisdictions stalled
on their data submissions. If we screw this up it doesn'
t just mean we could lose those contracts - it means the state
agencies could get in trouble as well.
Now this isn't what I remember...
And then Jury Duty rolls around. Now, I wasn't too worried ...
in Georgia, jury duty is "one trial or one day" ... one day
sitting in a room waiting to be called for service on at most
one trial. So I trundled in to the courthouse downtown, actually
hoping that I'd get a short little trial lasting a day or two
as a nice break ... but when I got I noticed there were an awful
lot of people lined up for jury duty ... they didn't play the
usual orientation film ... and they weren't calling anybody up
and sending them to trials.
Finally they called the entire jury pool, easily hundreds of
people, and brought us down to the courtroom, where they informed
us we were potential jurors in a capital murder case that
might last for eight weeks or more.
A two month death penalty trial.
Oh, shit. I may be shanghaied into two months of
jury duty ... and that could get me lynched in two states as
well as the District of Columbia.
And I'm the perfect death penalty juror:
I believe in the death penalty (good for the prosecution)
but don't believe in applying simply because the state asks
for it (good for the defense). As I sat there, I thought about
the uncle I lost to murder: while I wanted the killer put
away, his crime (as it was described to me) appeared to be an
atypical action by a desperate man. Really, I thought to myself,
the death penalty should be reserved for heinous crimes likely
to be repeated - like those involving multiple victims killed
in multiple locations at multiple times.
Exactly like the case at hand.
Because of the incredible contention of the case, which
of course I was unlucky enough never to have heard of,
the judge, prosecution and defense had to agree on a
special procedure to select jurors. We would not be
sequestered, which was the only good news. To simplify
the voi dire process, we were asked to fill out a long
form quizzing us on our lives, our opinions, our
prior knowledge, and any potential connection to the case.
Then we were dismissed, with instructions to call a special
hotline every day to see if we were needed for the
Back at work, the reaction was mixed. My boss twitched and
reached for a smoke when I said "two month capital murder case".
Our sysadmin, an ex-law enforcement officer, said I'd never
serve given that I worked for a law enforcement software firm.
Our CEO contradicted that - he was called to serve on a murder
case himself, though not one as complex as this. And when
emailed the South Carolina crime reporting agency to alert them
to a potential call on my time, the programmer I worked with
claimed the exact same situation - he'd been called several
times and never asked to serve, but then later was asked to
serve on a complicated trial.
Wandering in a daze I proceeded in a daze for a
while. My health gradually improved. The project inched along.
Farscape got canceled. The project inched along. The court
allowed me a little leeway in my appearance for my voi dire for
a dental appointment. The project inched along. Then the day
rolled around ... and the project was still nowhere near
I found the jury room with little trouble and set up my laptop,
working to get the next batch of data to SLED asap. We
were called up and quizzed as a group by show of hands about
our relation to the case, our impartiality, and any hardships.
Then the judge called us back in small groups ... and after a
few minutes, finally gets to me.
I had decided not to sugarcoat it - quite frankly I'd like
to do my civic duty and serve on a lesser trial, but this
one would be a real problem. And despite our efforts to
work around it, here I was in front of the judge for my
voi dire with no end to the project in sight. So
I just played it straight.
"You listed a hardship. Explain."
"I work for a law enforcement software company in the middle of
crunch time on a major release, and am the principal developer
of a component which four jurisdictions need to meet their
data submission deadlines."
(skeptically) "Can't someonee else do your work?"
"Yes. Of the ten people at our company, there are three
line developers I could train in one to two weeks, and it
would take four to six weeks for them to get up to speed.
However, all of these employees are fully loaded with tasks,
so that could also cause further delays."
(skeptically) "Couldn't you hire someone?
"Yes. It will take four to six weeks to find someone capable
of assuming my role on this task, three to four weeks of
training on our procedures and my project, and four to six weeks
for them to get up to speed."
(less skeptically) "Can't you work nights or work with someone else to get it done?
"Yes. We are already doing that. We projected that this project
would be over in late July to early August. It's still going.
When we realized the date might run up against the trial, we
alerted all our jurisdictions and began a special push to get
things done. We expected that to be done two weeks ago but we're
still working on it with no idea of the exact completion date."
"And can't the jurisdictions wait?"
"Yes. They are waiting. They are stalled. Every day they wait
brings us closer to the end of the year deadline. Based on past
experience it can take up to four months to get a jurisdiction
up and running smoothly on data submission. Every day we delay
getting them this upgrade, we increase the risk they will miss
their date, which could cause ill will not just between us and
them but between them and the agencies that they report to.
I'm aware of the importance of the jury process as a civic duty,
as is everyone at my company. So we've taken what steps we can
to mitigate the risks of me serving on this trial. But despite
our efforts there is still a significant risk."
After this exchange I returned to the jury room and almost
immediately was called back out. I and another juror were
dismissed, and allowed to leave the courtroom. As I
walked out, I passed the defense table, and just as I
did so the defense attorney called out to me:
"How did you like the movie Artificial Intelligence?"
Dumbfounded, I paused, trying to parse what he said. Then I realized that
the defense attorneys - and the judge and prosecutor as well - had read
my bio, on which I listed my chosen profession.
(smiling) "I loved it. I saw it four times.""
Everyone laughed, and I walked out with a smile. As I did so,
I reflected that I didn't need to exaggerate the situation to get
out of jury duty: I was asked fair questions and told the truth,
and the judge made the right decision based on the circumstances.
Honesty. It's fan-tastic.
Is it over?
After that, things began to improve. The release was finally
completed, and we began the laborious process of getting all of
our jurisdictions up to speed again. I wrote 50,000 words
of a novel in just under a month, and have added another
20,000 words on top of that since then. And best of all,
I met a really cool girl and am rapidly falling head over
heels in love with her. But Farscape is still canceled.
I don't know if there's a point to this rant. So instead I'll
just sum it up:
- Allergies can put you in the hospital.
- The weird ones at Dragon*Con are not in costume.
- Honesty is the best policy
I'm done for now.
Hope you enjoyed listening to me whine.