Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Happiness Experiment - Week 3 Report

Michael Salsbury
Continuing on with the Happiness Experiment, in which I express sincere gratitude to someone each day (either here on the blog or in person), to see if Shawn Achor's referenced research decreases my pain levels and increases my happiness.

This week, pain levels on a "moving average" basis since the start of the experiment have gone from 5.1 to 5.4.  On a regular average basis for this week alone, they've been 6.28.  Compare this with my vacation week (the previous week), which was a 4.7.  

Happiness scores as measured by the Oxford Happiness Questionnaire have been a consistent 2.21 this week, which the test notes refer to as "somewhat unhappy."  My moving average over the last three weeks has been a consistent 2.3.

I think it's safe to say that expressions of gratitude aren't doing anything for my happiness level, which has been pretty flat since the start of this.  My pain levels showed an early decrease, but have gone back up to a higher level than the start.  I attribute this to a number of stresses I won't go into here, primarily at the office.  It does seem that there is a very strong correlation between pain levels and stress, which gratitude journaling apparently has no impact on.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Happiness Experiment - Week 2 Report

Michael Salsbury
For Week 2 of the experiment (January 10-16), I was on vacation in Curacao.

I continued the experiment there, with in-person expressions of gratitude to the staff at the resort where we stayed, when they did something unexpectedly kind or helpful.  The server who brought my dessert on my birthday asked the trumpet player to play for me and had the chef write "Happy Birthday" in Magic Shell chocolate on the plate... as one example.  I tipped her, of course, but also thanked her and let her know I appreciated her efforts and those of the others.

My pain level during the middle of that week dropped to a 3 out of 10, the lowest recorded level during the experiment to date.  This tells me that stress and being cooped up in the office seem to contribute to pain levels.  My pain levels during and after the return trip have been consistently high.

My happiness level, unfortunately, wasn't measured during the vacation.  I can tell you that I was very relaxed and comfortable there.  I suspect if I had taken the Oxford Happiness Questionnaire during the trip, it might have registered a little higher than normal.  The average level since the start of the experiment is 2.3 out of a possible 6, which is labeled "somewhat unhappy" by the test creators.

As I write this on January 21, the last few days' pain levels have been trending up.  The latest Happiness Questionnaire number is 2.21, lower than the to-date average of 2.3.  The expressions of gratitude don't seem to be doing anything for my happiness, though there is a possible correlation to pain levels.  Pain levels also appear to correlate to stress.  We'll see if this continues in the days and weeks to come.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Thank You, Don Ho

Michael Salsbury

Notepad++ Logo

From the title of this post, you'd be forgiven for thinking it's about the famous Hawaiian-born singer known for the song "Tiny Bubbles".  Although I've nothing against the late singer, this isn't about that Don Ho.

The Don Ho I'm thanking here is the software engineer who created the free (as in "free beer") source code editor and Notepad replacement for Windows called Notepad++.  That's its logo over there to the left.

In my full-time job, I'm constantly editing things.  One minute it's a DOS batch file.  The next it's a VBScript script, or an INI file, or Visual Basic source code, or a text file.  Notepad++ handles all that like a champ.  For files that contain code, it highlights the syntax and possible errors.  It has a solid find and replace feature.  It can "auto-complete" what I'm typing (though sometimes it gets confused and auto-completes errors into my code). It allows me to open several documents at once and tab between them.  It launches fast and works well.

I discovered Notepad++, oddly enough, actually doing my job.  One of my responsibilities is to keep an eye out for malware that gets past our antivirus system.  A tool I wrote compares the running programs on our fleet of about 2,000 PCs and compares the SHA hash (a kind of digital fingerprint) for the file against a database of known safe (or at least believed safe) programs and known malware (like the stuff used in the Sony hack).  It generates a report that I look over each day to see if anything in there warrants investigation.  For a while, I was catching about 20% of all the malware we saw at work with that tool.  After my team and others made some security improvements, the malware being missed by antivirus software has nearly vanished.

One of the early reports from the tool showed many of our staff using Notepad++ on their PCs. After verifying that these were actual copies of the real Notepad++ software, I worked to get everyone using the software on a company-installed and maintained (i.e., kept current) version.  In the process, I tested the software myself and found it very handy.  The source code editor I had been using, which cost the company quite a bit of money, was much more clunky as a casual editor.  (However, it has many other functions for debugging, testing, and compiling scripts that prevent Notepad++ from being a full replacement.)  I began using it a lot myself.

I'm very impressed with the development of Notepad++.  I've found it to be a solid, stable performer.  It has not yet crashed in all the time I've used it, despite giving it some pretty crazy code to work on. It amazes me that there are frequent updates (every couple of weeks, it seems) which address bugs and extend the feature set.   That costly product I mentioned earlier doesn't update often, and as an editor fails me every so often, screwing up the on-screen layout, changing how I've arranged various tabs, etc.  Notepad++ is a workhorse editor and does its job well.

So, a big thank you to Don Ho and the other Notepad++ contributors for essentially giving away your hard work for free.  Thank you for the obvious care you put into the quality of the product, and for the frequent updates that keep it humming along nicely.  I appreciate what you've accomplished and wish you the best.  You've saved me a lot of time and effort on the job, which has helped me spend more time away from the job (i.e., reduced the need for extra hours of effort to get the job done).  I appreciate what you've done and hope you'll continue doing it for years to come.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Thank You, Warren Norwood

Michael Salsbury
Continuing on with the Happiness Experiment, tonight I would like to take a moment thank another author whose work touched me and resonated with me.  That would be the late Warren C. Norwood.  (It's becoming very depressing to note how many of my favorite authors are dead... which kind of violates the point of this experiment.)

Warren Norwood was a Vietnam War veteran who wrote science fiction, taught, and played music.  He was a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, authoring some 14 novels. Of those, I read:

  • An Image of Voices
  • Fize of the Gabriel Ratchets
  • Flexing the Warp
  • Planet of Flowers
  • Midway Between
  • Polar Fleet
  • Final Command
I think I was too young to appreciate the last three, which chronicled an event Norwood called The Double-Spiral War.  I found it an interesting series, but it wasn't a favorite.

The other four books, which made up The Windhover Tapes series, still rank among my favorite books. There are many reasons why.  Foremost among these is the complexity of the tale, and how well that complexity hangs together.  The main character, Gerard Hopkins Manley (a take on the name of the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins) is a "contract diplomat" working for the "Fed" (or "Federation" - but not the one from Star Trek).  Manley has visions of a past that has been wiped from his mind by the Fed for reasons unknown.  Those memories show him married to an alien princess, sometimes at odds with a military leader and sometimes friends with him.  In his travels, he encounters a professor who's researching a mythical literary character called The Tenderfoot, which seems to exist on almost every inhabited world.  He encounters a planet populated by ghosts, gets caught in battles, and even falls in love and gets married.  

One very interesting part of the books to me is that they're told through a series of journal entries, sometimes written by Manley and sometimes by "Windy" (his ship, the Windhover).  Conveying a complicated story like this in the form of a diary couldn't have been a simple feat.

The first three books in the series tell the complex story line. The fourth book tells what happened to Manley during the years he can't remember, and may be even better than the other books.

Over the years, I've owned many copies of The Windhover Tapes.  Invariably, if I loan them to someone they never return.  I don't know if that's because the recipients don't get around to reading them (and thus don't return them) or because they love the books like I did and want to hold on to them. Sadly, they are not available in electronic form.

It's time I got around to the "gratitude" part of all this.  I'm grateful that Norwood put the time and effort into crafting The Windhover Tapes, and that he kept writing, as it will give me more of his work to read.  I would have loved to see him bring out more books in the series, but his passing in 2005 ensures that we'll never see another.  

Thank you for your hard work, and your books, Mr. Norwood.  I'm sorry I was never able to convey that to you when you were still with us.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Thank You, Douglas Adams

Michael Salsbury
The late Douglas Adams is probably best known for his radio plays and books entitled The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  In 2015, I took some time to study the late author's life, his influences, and of course his work.  Doing this was useful and enjoyable.

I learned that he and I were both influenced by the comedy of Monty Python.  As I learned more about Adams, I learned of his appreciation for P.G. Wodehouse and Robert Sheckley.  Having no familiarity with their work, I sought out several of their books and read them.  It was interesting to see their influence in Adams' work.  No, I'm not saying that he "stole" anything from them.  He didn't.  But it's easy to see echoes of their work in Adams' own.  This helped me better appreciate something I learned from Austin Kleon in his book Steal Like an Artist.  Namely, that every artist borrows ideas and techniques from those who came before, and builds on them.  Adams clearly learned from these two (and probably Python), but created something I think is better than they did.

Something else I learned about Adams was how much we had in common.  We both had technology in common, and (around the same time on the calendar) were fans of the Apple Macintosh.  (I later lost that fandom, but Adams retained it.)  We both enjoyed Monty Python.  Some of our musical taste was also very similar.  I suspect that if we had met in person before he died, we might have been friends.  Sadly, I'll never know.

Despite having never met or communicated with Adams, I am grateful to him for many things.  His Hitchhiker's works remain among my favorites today.  Each time I re-read them, I enjoy them all over again.  Now that I've begun taking my writing more seriously, I learn from them as well.  The last time I read through one of Adams' books, I began to see certain techniques he used to create unique and funny sentences.  For instance, Adams would embody inanimate objects with emotions or motivations, as in "The rain made itself heard against the glass."  (This implies that the rain wanted the character's attention and intentionally made noise against the window.)

I know that many times during Adams' career, he wondered if he could really do it, if he could ever really succeed as a writer.  He questioned himself and his abilities constantly, which I suspect almost every writer does.  I am grateful that he stuck with it and produced The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Last Chance to See, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, and his other works.  These have taught me a lot about writing humorous stories.  I thankful that he didn't give in to the self-doubt and get a job as a banker, a stockbroker, or something else.

Thank you, Douglas, for hanging in there and cranking out the work you did.  I only wish you'd been with us longer and been able to bring us much more.  You deserved a longer life and a chance to enjoy all your success.

Monday, January 4, 2016

The Happiness Experiment - Week 1 Report

Michael Salsbury
On December 28, I posted the first installment in this series.

Based on a talk by Shawn Achor, in which it is claimed that expressing gratitude daily for six weeks will increase a person's happiness and reduce their pain levels significantly, I've begun a habit of finding one person each day to whom I'm grateful in some way and sharing that gratitude with them.  When I have contact with the person, I do so directly.  When it's someone famous (whom I can't visit or call directly) or someone who's no longer with us, I express it here in the blog.

I'm measuring pain levels with the standard physician-style 0-10 level, with 0 being no pain and 10 being the highest level of pain I've experienced. Happiness is tracked using the Oxford Happiness Questionnaire.

Here are the results to date:

  • December 28, 2015:  OHQ Score 2.34, Max pain level 6
  • December 29, 2015 - January 3, 2016:  OHQ Score: 2.2 average, Max pain 5.4 average
Anecdotally, I'd say it's too soon to draw any conclusions.  The daily pain numbers were showing a decline until today when they spiked back up.  The happiness score increased on Deecember 29, but has been dropping since then.  Today's score was 2.17, down from 2.34 at the start.

Today's expression of gratitude wasn't recorded in the blog, but was a text message and verbal sharing with my brother-in-law from Pittsburgh.

The experiment now continues into week 2.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Thank You, Alfred Bester

Michael Salsbury
Continuing on with my effort to express my sincere gratitude to those people who have improved my world in some way, we come to the novelist Alfred Bester.

My gratitude for Mr. Bester begins with an appreciation of his written works that I've read to date, specifically The Computer Connection, The Stars My Destination, and The Demolished Man.  I found them all to be great books, but the one that really stands out for me is The Computer Connection.

Back in high school, which is now more than 30 years in the rear view mirror, I was very much into computers and science-fiction.  One of my best friends, and I know this will sound strange to many of you, was my high school librarian.  She deserves her own gratitude post, but that's off-topic today.  When she knew she could trust me, she steered me toward books in the library that she thought would interest or enlighten me in some way.  When she pointed me to The Computer Connection, she said something like "Don't say anything about what you read in that book."  She knew that in our relatively small community that any work that touched on religion but was anything less than praising of it could land the writer, reader, or possessor of that work into hot water.  Why would that matter with a work titled so innocuously as The Computer Connection?

The Computer Connection tells the story of a future group of people who have all been through a traumatic experience that should have killed them, but didn't.  The result of this experience is that a biological change has taken place in them such that they can no longer age or die.  As the only people around who essentially live forever, they've banded together.  They find themselves at odds with a newly-created supercomputer that has taken over the mind of a brilliant scientist (who, like them, is immortal), creating what is essentially a powerful and super-intelligent man who cannot be killed.  Still, you're probably wondering why this science-fiction plot would possibly draw the attention of those with a religious leaning, right?

Bear in mind that I'm not especially religious.  I'm probably more agnostic than anything else.  But to read a book in which one of the main characters is Jesus.   Yes, that one, from the bible.  He's seen smoking, drinking, and having relationships with women.  I remember feeling a cold chill and a shot of adrenalin run through me when I realized this.  I remember thinking things like "Is this legal?  Are you allowed to write books about religious figures like this?  If anyone finds out I read this, am I going to be in trouble?  This must be why the librarian told me to keep my mouth shut."  I did, too.  It was only after I was safely away at college, in another state, that I even mentioned reading the book or knowing what it was about. I felt like a member of some secret society.

As silly as it sounds in retrospect, this book expanded my mind and my worldview.  I realized that while a write might not choose to create a story featuring certain topics, people, or religious figures, there was nothing stopping them from doing so but their own sensibilities.  To Bester, including Jesus in his science-fiction story was perfectly acceptable.  To me, it seemed subversive and dangerous.  In many ways, it still does.

The book was an enjoyable read, but perhaps not the best book I ever read.  It's value to me, and the reason I'm grateful to Mr. Bester, is for its impact on my view of the world.  It allowed me to see that my instinctive view that there are some topics which are off-limits isn't quite true.  An author with the desire and courage to write about something can do so.  It might not make for a popular book, and maybe it would make the author unpopular in general, but it's not illegal to do it.  That was a shocking idea to a much younger version of me.  Thank you, Mr. Bester, for your novels and for showing me a larger world in which to write.

Thank You, Gene Roddenberry

Michael Salsbury
Yesterday, I thanked Joe Straczynski, the creator of Babylon 5.  Joe's work has been important to me, and continues to influence me.  Today, I'd like to thank the late Gene Roddenberry.

Gene Roddenberry created Star Trek. I've probably watched every episode of the show many times over the years.  I consider it one of my all-time television favorites.  The performances by the show's cast are a large part of the appeal of Star Trek for me, and although the special effects are poor by today's standards, they amazed me at the time.  But it's not so much the show itself that means so much to me.  The part that's always kept the show close to my heart was Gene's vision of the future.

Many say that Roddenberry's vision is not realistic.  Perhaps they're right.  Perhaps if we looked 300 years into our future, we'd still see religious intolerance, racism, greed, terrorism, corruption, and all the societal ills surrounding us today.  There's no way to know.  I believe Roddenberry wasn't saying "This is how the future will be."  I think his intent was to say "This is what the future could be like if we rise above our frailties, and here's what mankind could achieve, not just on Earth, but throughout the universe."  It's that hopefulness, that vision, which appeals to me.

This same kind of vision shows in Roddenberry's project The Questor Tapes, which I watched and enjoyed the first time without being aware of his involvement with it.  In this movie (which was intended to be a series pilot), the Questor android was intended to guide mankind and protect it from its own self-destruction.  The series presumably would have shown Questor helping to solve mankind's problems without us being aware he even existed.

I'd very much like for my writing to convey a similar hope for a better future for mankind, showing a world where we've risen above our past and built a much better world for ourselves.  It's in that spirit that I began worldbuilding a science-fiction universe called The Alliance of Sentient Lifeforms.  I don't yet have the writing skill to bring that universe to life as I envision it, but I continue to work toward that.  It's Gene's example in the original Star Trek that motivates me.  I don't want to see his vision of the future die because no one in Hollywood seems to believe in it anymore.

So, thank you, Gene.  You've given me a science-fiction universe to enjoy on television.  You've shown me a vision of the future that has enhanced and influenced my own.  I appreciate what you accomplished and respect you for staying true to your vision of the future.

Friday, January 1, 2016

My 2015 Reading List

Michael Salsbury
When I first read Austin Kleon's Steal Like an Artist, I realized the truth in his saying that your job as an artist or writer is to "collect good ideas" because those become the influences that help you produce your work.  Toward that end, I've been trying to read as much as I can in a variety of genres and areas of interest.  Below are the books I read in 2015 (links go to
  • Sand by Hugh Howey
    This is one of the best sci-fi novels I've read in a long time.  The setting and characters came to life for me in a way that they don't in many novels.  I look forward to reading more by Howey.
  • Have Spacesuit Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein
    I hadn't read anything by Heinlein in years, and this sounded like a good story.  It was.  I enjoyed how a simple thing like winning a spacesuit in a contest could change a person's life.
  • How to Make a Living as a Writer by James Scott Bell
    This is really a great book that every new or struggling writer should read.  It talks about what will make you successful as a writer, the essential elements of the writing business, developing your own system for writing, self-editing, and more.  I've paid a lot more than the price of this book for writing workshops that didn't deliver as much usable information.
  • Tell, Don't Show by James Lofquist
    An old saying in the writing community is that you should show, rather than tell, what's going on in your story.  Despite the title, Lofquist isn't actually suggesting you write bland text that lacks detail.  He's actually suggesting that you write a shorter sort-of discovery draft first, filling in the details you have and telling us the rest.  Once you've completed this draft, you examine its structure, think about how you can improve it, etc., then go back and "show" the reader the whole story.  The thinking here is that it's better to write a whole draft than a partial one, and better to delete a couple of "telling" sentences than a page of "showing" text you've spent hours writing.  It's an approach I want to try with my next story.
  • Outlining the Novel: Workbook by K.M. Weiland
    This book is about outlining a novel.  It begins with some brainstorming guidance and advice, then helps you craft those raw ideas into a story outline.  As with Lofquist's book, the idea is to get you to draft the story in a brief form.  This allows you to examine it more closely and see where it might need modification or improvement.  It's a lot easier to move a few lines around in an outline than to shuffle entire chapters and rewrite them.
  • The Frood: The Authorised and Very Official History of Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Jem Roberts
  • Dimension of Miracles by Robert Sheckley
  • My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
  • Psmith in the City by P.G. Wodehouse
  • Right Ho, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
    Following Austin Kleon's advice in Steal Like an Artist, I started digging into the late Douglas Adams and his work.  Then I started looking at those whose work influenced him, and people who influenced them... researching a sort of  "creative family tree" of writers.  Adams was a big fan of Wodehouse and Sheckley, and when you read these other authors you can see elements of their work in the books Adams wrote.
  • Stuck in the Middle by Larry Brooks
    If you've ever visualized and started a story, only to have it unravel or screech to a halt in the middle, this book can help.  Brooks explains why a story can run out of steam in the middle, and what to do to get it back on track again.
  • Writing into the Dark by Dean Wesley Smith
    Dean Wesley Smith is a prolific writer and a hard-working guy in general.  He's also one of a few authors who has been gracious enough to take time to answer writing questions I've emailed him.  He even gave me free access to some of his training videos.  One of the things I never quite understood in his advice is that he says he never does rewrites.  After reading this book, I understand what he meant by that - and it wasn't what I thought.  Dean starts out writing a draft of the story from beginning to end.  If the story stops working at some point, he flips backward to it until he reaches the point where he thinks it went off the rails, and starts again from there (saving the earlier stuff in case it becomes useful).  Once he reaches the end, he may correct mistakes and clean up little problems, but he doesn't actually rewrite the story.  He just fixes what he has to.
  • The Write Attitude by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
    This is a book about developing the right mental attitude to be a professional writer, including building habits, routines, and material.  It's part motivational, and part practical.
  • Accelerated Learning Techniques by Brian Tracy
    This book talks about the stages of effective learning, how to prepare your mind to begin learning something, and how to work quickly through a book while also building notes that will help you with the material later.
  • Perfecting Plot:  Charting the Hero's Journey by William Bernhardt
    This book provides advice on constructing a story using the Hero's Journey concept popularized by Christopher Vogler.
  • Pitfalls of Writing SF & Fantasy by Vonda N. McIntyre
    This is a collection of possible mistakes science fiction and fantasy writers can make, and how to avoid them.
  • (R)evolution by P.J. Manney
    This sci-fi story focuses on a young tech genius who invents the first working human brain implants that augment human memory, provide instant Internet access, etc.  This pits him against his own company, the government, and others.  It's a well-told story and I enjoyed reading it.
  • TED Talks Storytelling: 23 Storytelling Techniques from the Best TED Talks by Akash Karia
    To be honest, I didn't get a lot out of this book and can't say much more about it.
  • The Dead Key by D.M. Pulley
    Can a book about doing a structural diagram of an abandoned bank building really be interesting?  If it's The Dead Key, the answer is yes.  Pulley does a nice job weaving a past and present storyline together, telling a tale of corruption and its effect on the employees of a bank.
  • What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire by Daniel Bergner
    This book should probably be required reading for women, to perhaps help them understand themselves a little better, and for those who are in romantic relationships with women.  Based on scientific research, it discusses how what women believe they want and what they actually want can differ, as can what excites them vs. what they think excites them.  It also talks about why long-term monogamous relationships with women can become stagnant.  At times very graphic, it's a very interesting read.
  • Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet by John Bradshaw
    I'll have to be honest here.  I found this book to be pretty dull.  There's some good information in here for cat lovers, but it takes time to weed through it.
  • Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results by Stephen Guise
    One of the things holding my writing back is that I'm not in the habit of writing each day, or even each week.  I had some hope that this book would help me, but I find it way too easy and convenient to just not do even a mini-habit.  I'll probably give it another shot in the future, but it didn't really work for me.
  • Speed Brewing: Techniques and Recipes for Fast-Fermenting Beers, Ciders, Meads, and More by Mary Izett
    In addition to writing, I'm also a home brewer.  This book talks about ways to create fermented beverages faster and (usually) easier than a traditional 5-gallon batch of beer.  I'm actually trying some of this out.
  • Brew Like a Monk:  Trappist, Abbey, and Strong Belgian Ales and How to Brew Them by Stan Hieronymus
    Belgian beers are among my most favorite of all, and this book is a great reference to the history, traditions, ingredients, and methods used to make Trappist and Abbey beers.
  • Eat Bacon, Don't Jog by Grant Petersen
    The book basically advocates a low-carb, high-fat diet and short, intense bursts of exercise rather than alternatives.
  • Things to Come by Walter Koenig
    A graphic novel by Star Trek's Mr. Chekov.  
I also re-read the following books during 2015:
  • Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon
    In print, this book looks deceptively small and simple.  The truth is that it packs a lot of useful ideas and advice in a small space.  I re-read it periodically to remind myself what I need to be doing to improve my writing.  I highly recommend it to any writer, musician, or artist.
  • 2K to 10K by Rachel Aaron
    This book talks about how to prepare before you write, so that when you sit down to actually write a book you'll be able to fly through it.  It also provides suggestions and strategies for writing faster (and better) than ever before.
  • She Sat He Stood: What Do Your Characters Do While They Talk? by Ginger Hanson
    One reason you aren't seeing my novels and short stories on this site or on is that I know I've got several huge writing problems to work on.  One of the biggest is the "white room" issue - where you have characters talking back and forth with no mention of the setting, what those characters are doing, their facial expressions, etc.  This book was a big help, but I still haven't overcome the problem yet.
I'm happy to say that I read more books in 2015 than 2014, and that I read more fiction in 2015 than I did in 2014.  I'd like to tip the balance more toward fiction in 2016, and continue to increase the number of books read.

Thank You, Joe Straczynski!

Michael Salsbury
Continuing on with the Happiness Experiment, yesterday I expressed my sincere gratitude to a coworker who has helped me on many occasions.

Today, I'd like to thank J. Michael (Joe) Straczynski for all that he's done for me and for many others.  If you aren't familiar with Joe's name, you might recognize some of his work.  He has written episodes for many different television shows, including Murder, She Wrote and Walker, Texas Ranger among many others.  Joe may be best known for the science-fiction series Babylon 5.

I've had the pleasure of meeting Joe on at least three occasions at conventions.  He is an eloquent speaker, capable of commanding the attention and emotions of a crowd.  He has a great sense of humor, and doesn't seem to take himself too seriously.  I hope to have the opportunity to see him again in the future.

Although I've read a few unflattering things (but only a few!) about Joe over the years, the words of his own fictional character Jeffrey Sinclair guide my opinion of him:  "Ignore the propaganda.  Focus on what you see."  When I do that, I see a pretty decent guy who takes care of his friends, stands up for himself and what he believes in, and tries to do the right thing as he sees it.  It's hard not to be impressed by someone like that, especially in an environment like Hollywood where image, connections, and the almighty dollar reign supreme.  I'm sure he's not perfect; no one is.  I see a lot of greatness in the man and he remains someone I still look up to, 20 years after meeting him.

One of the things about Joe that impresses me is that he will walk away from a writing job (and its paycheck) when he believes that it's necessary.  He left Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future when the Mattel toy company demanded input into the show.  He left the writing team of Jake and the Fatman when two of his co-workers did, as an act of solidarity.  When MGM and Showtime pulled him in different directions on the Jeremiah series, he was prepared to leave it as well.  It's clear that he takes his artistic vision and personal ethics seriously, and won't allow them to be compromised for the sake of a paycheck.  You have to admire someone who can do that consistently. His example has shown me that it's possible to be creative and true to your vision without destroying your career.

I'm also grateful to Joe for Babylon 5 itself.  Ignoring the science-fiction aspects of the show, it is one of the best television series I've ever watched.  At a time when most shows "reset the universe" at the end of an episode, Babylon 5 told weekly stories that weaved a much larger tale.  The more you watched the show, the more clear it became that this wasn't your typical television series, and definitely not a typical science-fiction series.  We saw characters make bad choices and pay the price.  We saw characters descend into darkness, overcome their frailties, and much more.  It is a superb example of science-fiction writing and storytelling in general.  I learn something from Joe every time I re-watch an old episode.

Finally, I'm grateful to Joe Straczynski for his work on the book The Complete Book of Scriptwriting. Although parts of the book are no longer relevant due to changes in technology and business, the parts dealing with the craft of writing still hold a lot of value.  (I actually own two copies, one of which Joe's signed for me.)  I've read and re-read the book, always learning something.  I remember reading it before knowing that he was connected with Babylon 5.  While watching the series, I remember many times noticing him doing on the show something he recommended in the book.  It was refreshing to see him practice what he preached about scriptwriting.  Now that I think about it, I'm probably due for another re-read.

I differ from most men in that my heroes aren't sports stars, military leaders, or action movie heroes.  Mine tend to be writers, creative people, scientists, and entrepreneurs.  Joe Straczynski is definitely one my heroes.  I continue to support his work in the most meaningful way I can, with my enjoyment and (where appropriate) my wallet.  I wish him continued success, by his own standards and definition.

So thank you, Joe, for Babylon 5, for The Complete Book of Scriptwriting, and for your example.  You once said in my presence that you hoped that when you were gone, people would say about you "He told good stories."  You've earned that.  Babylon 5 itself is one of the great stories in science-fiction, and I haven't seen its equal since it went off the air.