Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Seeing the Elephant

Crossed an item off my life list today:

Rode the giant steampunk elephant. In France. On my birthday.

(video thanx to ralf)


Monday, October 26, 2009

First Observation

French airports are built with a steely Cartesian logic that is sometimes inaccessible to the Anglo-Saxon mind.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Ad Astra

Novel finished and delivered to editors in UK and US.

Bags packed for France. Flight in six hours.

I'll be gone for three weeks, and may not be able to check in during that time.

In the meantime, please buy many copies of This Is Not a Game. Thank you.

(Now if only I can find all that sleep I seem to have lost . . . )

Friday, October 23, 2009

Eric Idle Responds

Don't we all wish we could respond this way to our critics?

Well, now I think about it, we can, can't we?

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A Fine Phrenzy

I am preparing to leave this coming Sunday for Utopiales, Europe's largest SF con, where I am one of the guests of honor. After which I will spent a couple weeks wandering around France, basically kicking the tires and looking for cool stuff to write about. (A previous trip to France produced a Nebula-winning novella, so there's hope.)

While in France, I will eat about a pound of butter every day, washing it down with a couple bottles of wine and one of cognac. My mental and physical health can only improve on such a regime.

France is the country that Real Americans are supposed to hate, but I confess that I always have a wonderful time there. They've got a first-rate train system, health care that works, mass transit ditto, wonderful food chuck-full of locally-produced, gloriously flavorful ingredients, splendid beer and wine, enormous natural beauty, centuries of history, art, and architecture--- and all this and they only work 35 hours per week, with 3o paid days of vacation per year plus 10 national holidays! (One-quarter of American workers get no paid vacation at all.)

Of course, one in five French voters think it's okay to plonk down their ballots for the National Front, so it's hardly paradise.

And you know what else? We can get our swine flu shots over there! While the American system has been creaking and groaning and is only now producing limited amounts of vaccine, communist countries like France, Australia, and Japan have been immunizing their people for five whole months now!

When the swine flue kills all Americans, only the commies will survive! (And us, because we'll have had our shots.)

But not all is golden, not yet. Because I have to finish a novel before I go!

There are only two nights left! I have only a couple scenes to go!

Anyone want to bet either way?

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Net Neutrality is a Commie Conspiracy!

War hero John "a google" McCain is standing up for America yet again! He's trying to keep the government's evil hands off our tubes--- I mean, our Internets!

Yes, children--- John McCain has introduced a bill to ban Net Neutrality!

In this he has support from brave weeping patriot Glenn Beck, who has publically called net neutrality a "Marxist plot" aimed at controlling content on the Information Superhighway.

No! they tell us. We cannot have the evil Commies controlling the Internet! Instead, control must be placed in the hands of vast faceless corporations! (Who will act, as they always do, for the benefit of us all.)

In this they are following the line of the telcoms companies, who were upset that they lost control of the Internet when it was young, and who want to get their hands on its content, which they can then sell to the rest of us at a profit.

Net Neutrality, for those of you who haven't been paying attention, is pretty much what we have now. We can post anything we like, and others can view or download it (or not) as they please. No one can censor us, no one can charge money for our content (except us, if we feel like it), no one can decide that we are, say, a "premium channel" and that to download our content will cost extra.

As an Internet consumer, you can read, download, or otherwise consume anything you find on the Internet. Your local ISP charges you a fee for using their portal, but once you're on the Internet, where you go and what you look at is pretty much your business.

Net Neutrality as an FCC policy would essentially guarantee this state of affairs. This is the "government control of the Internet" that McCain and Beck oppose.

Those opposed to Net Neutrality would place all power in the hands of our ISPs. A lot of us get our Internet from, say, Comcast, or the local phone company. A lot of us don't have any choice in the matter. (If I want high-speed Internet here in rural New Mexico, Comcast is basically my only option, unless I want to shell out six hundred bucks for a satellite connection. The last time I asked Qwest whether they were going to ever provide the high-speed connection that they had illegally billed consumers $200 million for, they just laughed at me.)

Without Net Neutrality, Comcast doesn't have to let me have any part of the Internet that it doesn't like. If I want to check the ratings for Comcast's customer service (which are, by the way, wretched), I might not be able to find that web page--- or it might load very . . . very . . . slowly . . . or they might decide it's the equivalent of a "premium channel" and charge extra for it.

Or consider that Comcast is also in the business of providing television content. If I went to, say, to download a television program for free, Comcast could block that, because it competes with their own cable television business. Or, again, they could charge extra--- which would not go to the content creators, but directly into Comcast's pockets.

They could charge extra for videos, because that sucks up bandwidth. They could block politicians who speak in favor of Net Neutrality, or any other position they don't care for. DirecTV, which is owned by the same tycoon who owns the Fox networks, could offer Fox News for free, and decide you have to pay for other news channels. They could create their own search engine that will direct your searches to businesses who pay them a kickback, rather than to businesses that you might actually want.

This is the state of affaird which McCain and Beck, et al, find desirable.

So here's the question. Is McCain:

a) evil?

b) stupid?

c) senile?

Because I don't see another alternative here.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Left Fab 4 Dead

The huge success of Rock Band: the Beatles has produced yet another Fab Four crossover game!

What's more fun than blasting hordes of zombies in
Left 4 Dead? Blasting zombies with John, Paul, George, and Ringo, that's what!

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A Writer's Life

It turns out that F. Scott Fitzgerald's tax returns were never thrown out. An analysis by William J Quirk shows that Fitzgerald was not the irresponsible spendthrift of legend, but a very careful and reliable earner, who carefully documented his income and expenses. (Though, like all of us, he did sometimes wonder where the money went.)

Because our profession is, essentially, a gamble, success in the writing field tends to go to the smarter gamblers among us--- though of course it's possible for someone to succeed through dumb luck. Fitzgerald was a pretty smart gambler. He wrote very profitable short stories in order to supported his novels, few of which made much money (in my case I write novels to support my short story habit), but the upshot was that Fitzgerald had to juggle art and commerce in much the same way that all of us do.

And, of course, the tax returns are a glimpse into a style of life that exists now for only a very few.

What would Fitzgerald’s $24,000 annual income be worth today? It’s hard to say. Most economists, based on the Bureau of Labor’s Consumer Price Index, would multiply the amount by 12. That seems low. The CPI was designed in 1919, because prices had risen during World War I, to provide an index for cost-of-living adjustments for workers’ wages. The CPI today indexes all goods and services purchased by a middle-class consumer—which is not what we’re after. If you used Manhattan townhouses or beachfront property in the Hamptons as a basis for analysis, the multiplier would be astronomical. Perhaps a more reasonable measure for a high-income person would be the luxury car. In 1920, you could buy a Packard Single 6 for $2,975, which is probably the equivalent today of a Mercedes S550 costing $90,000, which suggests a multiple of about 30. If, to avoid exchange-rate issues, you used Cadillacs as the measure, it would be 20 times—$2,400 in 1925 and $48,000 today. The current dollar, based on that measure, is worth five cents compared to that of Calvin Coolidge’s day.

If we accept a 20-times measure, the modern equivalent of Fitzgerald’s annual income would be roughly $500,000. But a person earning $500,000 today does not live as well as Fitzgerald did. First, Fitzgerald’s income was almost tax free (5.5 percent effective rate), while today’s taxpayer making $500,000 would probably pay 40 percent in income and Social Security taxes. Second, various social changes have reduced the availability of servants—Fitzgerald had many—and has made having them so expensive that only the very wealthy can afford them. During the 1920s and 1930s, an upper-middle-class family generally had servants.

Fitzgerald, from the beginning, was recognized as a major American writer. During the Hollywood years, he was never paid less than $1,000 a week. Warner Bros., in the 1940s, paid William Faulkner $300 a week. From June 1937 to December 1938, Fitzgerald earned $85,000 at mgm—more than $1,100 per week . . .

Fitzgerald’s annual income was remarkably consistent, although some years were better (1938, $58,783) and some worse (1931, $9,765). But most years were pretty close to $24,000. Despite his high income, he was not able to save or, as he said, “amass capital.” Fitzgerald’s only income came from his writing. Zelda brought no capital into the marriage, and he had none. Zelda became ill in 1929 when they were both very young—she 29, and he 33. In 1930–31, a 15-month stay for Zelda in a sanatorium on Lake Geneva cost $13,000. Zelda stayed ill the rest of Fitzgerald’s life. He felt obliged to provide the best care, but because of doctor and sanatorium bills, he lost hope of controlling his finances. Friends advised Fitzgerald to economize on Zelda’s medical expenses. He wrote to Max Perkins, his legendary editor at Scribner, on October 16, 1936: “Such stray ideas as sending my daughter to a public school, putting my wife in a public insane asylum, have been proposed to me by intimate friends, but it would break something in me that would shatter the very delicate pencil end of a point of view.”

In 1936, he inherited $22,975 from his mother, but by that time his finances were lost past recall. When he died in December 1940, his estate was solvent but modest—around $35,000, mostly from an insurance policy. The tax appraisers considered the copyrights worthless. Today, even multiplying Fitzgerald’s estate by 30, it would not require an estate tax return.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Wizard Rap

Harry Potter vs. Voldemort in a Wizard Rap Battle!


Sunday, October 18, 2009

This Just In: Solar System Tied Up With Ribbon!

Y'know, if you were watching Trek, and Mr. Spock turned to the captain and said, "There's a ribbon of mysterious energy surrounding the solar system," you'd just groan and mutter something about the series' cheezy made-up science.
Except it turns out there really is a ribbon of mysterious energy surrounding the solar system.
Next, we'll discover how to make dilithium.
For years, researchers have known that the solar system is surrounded by a vast bubble of magnetism. Called the "heliosphere," it springs from the sun and extends far beyond the orbit of Pluto, providing a first line of defense against cosmic rays and interstellar clouds that try to enter our local space. Although the heliosphere is huge and literally fills the sky, it emits no light and no one has actually seen it.

Until now.

NASA's IBEX (Interstellar Boundary Explorer) spacecraft has made the first all-sky maps of the heliosphere and the results have taken researchers by surprise. The maps are bisected by a bright, winding ribbon of unknown origin:
"This is a shocking new result," says IBEX principal investigator Dave McComas of the Southwest Research Institute. "We had no idea this ribbon existed--or what has created it. Our previous ideas about the outer heliosphere are going to have to be revised."
. . . One important clue: The ribbon runs perpendicular to the direction of the galactic magnetic field just outside the heliosphere, as shown in the illustration at right.

"That cannot be a coincidence," says McComas. But what does it mean? No one knows. "We're missing some fundamental aspect of the interaction between the heliosphere and the rest of the galaxy. Theorists are working like crazy to figure this out."

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

New Trends in Fiction

Since I know you have all spent countless hours worrying about the next trend in paranormal romance, I thought I'd let author Maggie Stiefvater tell you:

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Re View

I revisited my teen years recently by viewing Ken Russell's Women in Love (1969) and Bernardo Bertolucci's The Conformist (1970). In my youth I saw both of these movies multiple times, which might just possibly have to do with the fact that both these films have a lot to do with sex.

Both these films were clearly of their time, created in a period in which barriers were not merely falling, but being blasted into oblivion by dedicated saboteurs carrying plastique on their backs through the sewers. Women in Love was the first theatrical release that featured full frontal male nudity, a fact that impressed some of my women friends as much as Glenda Jackson's breasts impressed me.

Even given their vintage, these films hold up remarkably well. Though they're both filled with the sorts of questions people were asking in the late Sixties, but they both have a story to tell, and it's the story that pulls the viewer through.

I noticed this time that both films are stylistically post-Godard. Godard had done his job of deconstructing cinema, and both Ken Russell and Bertolucci were left with trying to make sense of the bits and pieces left lying around. Each in his own way, they both did a pretty good job.

Among the things that haven't survived from my original viewings is the sorts of questions I was asking of the films. As a teenager I was frankly bewildered by the human beings that surrounded me, and one of the things I wanted from cinema was an explanation of why humans do what they do. Now, with forty years' more experience, I just see these characters working away at their s0lutions to life, and I just think, Oh. That.

The Conformist is about an Italian professor named Clerici (Jean-Louis Trintignant) who becomes a Fascist spy for Mussolini because, as a child, he killed the man who was trying to molest him. That motivation was a big What the hell . . . ? for me even as a teenager, but I was willing to cut the film some slack because of my own ignorance of human behavior. Now I'm older, and I'm less willing to make the leap of faith that the film wants me to take. I don't know why defending yourself against a paedophile would make you a Nazi. I just don't see the connection.

Be that as it may, Clerici views himself as an outsider, and feels he needs camouflage. To give himself a kind of normality, he marries a brainless but sensual bourgeoise, then goes off on a secret mission-cum-honeymoon in Paris to set up for assassination an anti-fascist professor who had formerly been one of his mentors. Once there, he finds himself attracted to the professor's wife (the gorgeous Dominique Sanda), who is in turn attracted to Mrs. Clerici.

The Paris interlude, filmed in luscious color by Vittorio Storaro, is utterly seductive, all warm colors and beautiful vistas. The scenes in Fascist Italy are stark and drained of color, and are mostly filmed against the brutalist architecture of Rome's model Fascist suburb, EUR.

The violent climax to the Paris section is wonderfully, horrifically done. And the final scene, when Clerici comes completely unraveled on the night of Mussolini's overthrow, is just brilliant.

What fails in the film are the human motivations. On this recent viewing, I kept asking myself, Why is he behaving this way? Why is she sleeping with him? Why is he waving that gun around? Why is he so moved when he meets the prostitute? What the hell is he after? The film provided no answers. Trintignant's acting style, with its sudden grand gestures and abrupt switches in mood and tempo, suggest that he was as bewildered by his character as I was, and was determined to exaggerate the character's contradictions at every turn. Or maybe that was Bertolucci's idea of direction.

In retrospect I think I was seduced not so much by Bertolucci, but by his cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. The film was just so freakin' beautiful that I was swept up in it whether I understood it or not.

Women in Love has survived into the present century rather better. The characters are a good deal more comprehensible: We have two sisters, the conventional schoolmarm Ursula (Jennie Linden) and her artistic sib Gudrun (Glenda Jackson), who is named after a Viking lady who was about as good at family life as, say, Medea. Ursula gets involved with a school inspector named Rupert (Alan Bates), and Gudrun finds herself pursued by Gerald Crich (Oliver Reed), a mine owner. I kept wondering if his name was a contraction of creepy rich.

Ursula wants a man to love who will love her exclusively, whereas Rupert vaguely wants a sort of vaguely polyamorous, polysexual lifestyle in which everyone sort of vaguely loves everybody, preferably in a big naked heap in front of a roaring fireplace. Gudrun, like her namesake, is a kind of natural destructive force, spontaneous but not caring much about anyone, and Gerald is obsessed by her in a possessive, unhealthy way. He's an extremely rich stalker.

Ursula and Gudrun each lose their virginity rather unpleasantly on separate nights of extreme urgency, in which kindling cohabits with death. The rest of the movie constitutes their revenge on their partners.

Ursula keeps pointing out to Rupert that, insofar as he admits that he loves her, she should be quite enough for him, and it's useless to go yearning after others. Gudrun keeps goading Gerald into one violent jealous outburst after another, and it becomes clear that one or both of them is going off to a bad, nasty death.

And all the while they talk. Rupert keeps babbling about spontaneity and naturalness and his vision of free love and how men should love each other as well as women, and Gerald keeps pointing out that he's just not built that way. Ursula smothers Rupert in monogamy. Gerald follows Gudrun on his knees while shaking his fist at her. And Gudrun, who is the only natural person in the story, does whatever the hell she wants. Usually it's dangerous.

The film does a good job of pointing out that these stances are only possible because these people are privileged. All but Gerald are middle class, not rich, but they've got enough money to explore life's possibilities, and the proletariat around them do not. Russell keeps reminding about this by showing us scenes of Gudrun and Ursula walking through packs of soot-blackened miners while prattling about their relationships, along with occasional shots of limbless First World War veterans begging in the streets. Class is clearly an aspect of what's happening here.

Whole swatches of dialog from DH Lawrence's novel are thrown whole into the film. Nowadays that would be rather brave thing to do, but back then movies were expected to mean something. Even so, the novel is an invisible subtext running through the film--- there are gaps, sort of, in the movie that I expect can be filled in by the book. (I haven't read the novel is decades, either, so I could be wrong.)

The film fails when Ken Russell is trying to do something shocking or provocative, because forty years on we're no longer shocked or provoked. It's all overstaged and overwrought, with annoying, blaring violins telling us that something dramatic and important is happening. (That said, it's all fairly restrained for Russell.)

I quite enjoyed my brief visit to adolescence, though I'm glad I'm no longer that young and that bewildered. I don't think I ever learned much about human beings from the cinema, I did that by trying to be one, and (usually) failing. Still, you've got to give credit to these films for actually daring to search for meaning, something the current cinema, with all its merits, is too small to do.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Marketing for Publishers

It's marketing for publishers in the age of cutbacks. [Thanks to Janice Gelb]

Let me introduce myself. My name is Gineen Klein, and I’ve been brought on as an intern to replace the promotion department here at Propensity Books. First, let me say that I absolutely love “Clancy the Doofus Beagle: A Love Story” and have some excellent ideas for promotion. . . .

I’ve attached a list of celebrities we think would be great to blurb your book, so find out their numbers and call them up. Be sure to do all this by Monday, because Sales Conference starts Tuesday. We come back Friday and then immediately on Saturday (!) all of editorial (Janet, plus probably Michelle, her assistant) and I go to the Frankfurt Book Fair for a week. During that time the office will be closed, although to help cover the costs of the Germany trip it will actually be sublet to the John Lindsay Elementary School P.T.A. as a rehearsal space for this year’s fund-raiser production of “The Music Man.” I’m told that this was one of the things that Jason didn’t understand and which contributed to his “condition.”

Once we get back from Frankfurt, we’d like to see you on morning talk shows like the “Today” show and “The View,” so please get yourself booked on them and keep us “in the loop.” If I’m not here—which I won’t be, since after the book fair I go on vacation for two weeks—just tell Jenni, my assistant, when she gets back from jury duty.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Space Fab

So here's the plan. NASA sends an "electron beam freeform fabrication" unit up onto the Space Station. Then, when the aging station needs a part, the fab just . . . prints it.
While the EBF3 equipment tested on the ground is fairly large and heavy, a smaller version was created and successfully test flown on a NASA jet that is used to provide researchers with brief periods of weightlessness. The next step is to fly a demonstration of the hardware on the International Space Station, Taminger said.

Future lunar base crews could use EBF3 to manufacture spare parts as needed, rather than rely on a supply of parts launched from Earth. Astronauts might be able to mine feed stock from the lunar soil, or even recycle used landing craft stages by melting them.

But the immediate and greatest potential for the process is in the aviation industry where major structural segments of an airliner, or casings for a jet engine, could be manufactured for about $1,000 per pound less than conventional means, Taminger said.

Environmental savings also are made possible by deploying EBF3, she added.

I need one of these to build me a new house.

Seriously, can you imagine what it would do to the housing market if all you needed to build a house was a set of plans, a 3-D printer, and a stock of raw material?

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Hardening of the Arteries

The National Security Agency seems to have won its turf war with the Department of Homeland Security over control of the nation's cyber security efforts.

Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander is the director of the National Security Agency, the largest intelligence agency in the government, and with little public fanfare he has been setting up the central nervous system in the government's new campaign to defend cyberspace. The agency historically has not been a front-line guardian of civilian government networks, much less the systems that run privately owned electrical plants, dams and financial systems. But that is changing. Recently, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said NSA will provide DHS with "technical assistance" as it carries out its statutory mission to defend civilian networks and coordinate private sector protection.

Homeland Security, with its much smaller and less experienced cyber staff, will depend on Alexander and his crew for the tools, expertise and resources to do the job. "That is the structure of the cyber policy plan that the president announced," Napolitano recently told Wired magazine's Danger Room blog.

Meanwhile, what of the "Cyber Czar" that was supposed to be a part of the administration's plan? The President can't find anyone to take the job, coming as it does with awesome responsibilities and no power whatsoever. (At least Bush found someone to be his Czar, though s'far as I can tell the man didn't actually accomplish anything.)

Despite one government inititive or another, little or nothing has actually been done on the cyber security front in the last twenty years or so. Nothing may continue to be accomplished, but if it's the super-secretive NSA that is doing nothing, at least we won't find out about it.

Meanwhile, the arteries are turning sclerotic again in the intelligence community. The Director of National Intelligence has ordered the shutdown of two online tools used to share intelligence between agencies and civilians.

uGov, an e-mail platform that could be used by analysts throughout the intelligence community, was “one of its earliest efforts at cross-agency collaboration,” Marc Ambinder over at The Atlantic notes. uGov “will be shut down because of security concerns, government officials said.”

(Instead of acting to improve security on this platform, they're just making it impossible for analysts from one agency to consult with analysts from another agency. Brilliant!)

[This] follows reports that another popular analytic platform called “Bridge,” which allows analysts with security clearances to collaborate with people outside the government who have relevant expertise but no clearances, is being killed.

As Michael Tanji put it:

The importance of things like uGov and BRIDGE cannot be understated. New analysts who use tools like Chirp (the IC’s version of Twitter) and Intellipedia are always surprised to hear me talk about how back in the day, if you wanted to collaborate with your peers in another agency, you had to run a deception operation against your own boss. Working with anyone outside your agency was considered disloyal. Working with someone outside the community just wasn’t done (at least not at the functional level in any meaningful way). uGov gave functionality and (more importantly) legitimacy to the idea of working together, whether driven by your own initiative or real-world events . . .

Looking after your agency’s parochial interests is still the fastest and easiest way to get ahead. Buying monster technology solutions from the usual suspects - usually to the detriment of the mission - is easier than going lightweight and cheap (if not free). Working on “joint” projects is still something relegated to ‘those who can be spared’ or those intrepid few who accept that collaboration means disobeying orders.

The most common catastrophic intelligence failures--- Pearl Harbor and 9/11 among them--- were enhanced (if not actually caused) by a failure of agencies to share intelligence. After a brave few years of successful experimentation, the intelligence arteries are hardening again. I hope it doesn't take another catastrophe to wake the government up to the fact that the Group Mind is superior to the Closed Mind.

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The Prize

It's probably a little late to chime in on the Nobel Prize thing, but what the hell. I had a busy weekend that kept me from posting, but at least I had time for mature consideration.
I'm sure I was as surprised as anyone else. "This is, at best, premature," I thought. I voted for the guy, I have no reason to actively dislike him (yet), but I did think it was a little odd to give a Peace Prize to someone who's fighting two wars. (He inherited them both, but still . . . ) And I thought, "Hey, they could have waited until he filled at least one of his campaign promises."
And then I checked out the article on Common Misperceptions About the Nobel Peace Prize, which states as follows:
Myth: The prize is awarded to recognize efforts for peace, human rights and democracy only after they have proven successful.

More often, the prize is awarded to encourage those who receive it to see the effort through, sometimes at critical moments.
So it's given in hopes of encouraging people, which is why people like Aung San Suu Kyi won even though Burma doesn't have democracy yet, and why Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan won even though peace didn't come to Northern Ireland for another twenty-odd years, and why the Dalai Lama won even though Tibet is far from free.
And then I thought, Look, this isn't about giving Obama hope. It's about giving hope to the rest of the world. Because the rest of the world needs a place to look for their own hope and inspiration.
And now, once again, it's us. This is the biggest compliment I can imagine for our nation.
The least we can do is say "Thank you, we'll try to live up to your expectations."
Of course, that's not what everyone said.
Mr. Limbaugh made his famous comment about how "something has happened here that we all agree with the Taliban and Iran about." (Though the Taliban's own press release unaccountably failed to mention Mr. L. )
Most despicable was the Fox news reporter who wondered aloud if Obama had deliberately delayed sending troops to Afghanistan in order to clinch the prize. I mean, what kind of foul little shit would actually think something like that? (I'll tell you. Someone who would conspire to compromise soldiers' security in order to win an award, that's who.)
Michael Steele, the RNC head, merely thought it a opportunity to raise money. "The Democrats and their international leftist allies want America made subservient to the agenda of global redistribution and control,” Steele wrote. “And truly patriotic Americans like you and our Republican Party are the only thing standing in their way.”
In other words, it's all a conspiracy between the White House and an international cabal of Commies! Someone should tell Mr. Steele that the Cold War ended nearly twenty years ago, and that we won.
(Or, in other words, stop yammering about socialism already, you witless gump. You'd have to be retarded to think that the US is going to turn socialist, unless Wall Street demands it, which of course they did. Mr. Bush socialized Wall Street's debts [and let them keep their profits], but don't worry, we'll never socialize health care, because that would be bad for our moral character. Or something.)
This on top of the conservatives cheering when the US lost the Olympics. As Bill Maher said the other night, "It's not any more fun to hate America if conservatives are gonna do it."

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Friday, October 09, 2009


Here's the preliminary cover for the British mass-market edition of This Is Not a Game. There'll be some tweaking between now and the final version, but it's mainly in place.
The binary code actually spells out This Is Not a Game. How cool is that?


Thursday, October 08, 2009

Taos Toolbox 2010

Taos Toolbox, a master class in writing science fiction and fantasy, will take place June 6-19, 2010, in Taos Ski Valley. I will teach alongside Nancy Kress, and with special lecturer Carrie Vaughn.

More details here.


Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Shroud II: the Deliverance

An Italian scientist has succeeded in duplicating the Shroud of Turin, which he says exposes the Shroud as a fake.

Garlaschelli reproduced the full-sized shroud using materials and techniques that were available in the middle ages.

They placed a linen sheet flat over a volunteer and then rubbed it with a pigment containing traces of acid. A mask was used for the face.

The pigment was then artificially aged by heating the cloth in an oven and washing it, a process which removed it from the surface but left a fuzzy, half-tone image similar to that on the Shroud. He believes the pigment on the original Shroud faded naturally over the centuries.

They then added blood stains, burn holes, scorches and water stains to achieve the final effect . . .

Garlaschelli expects people to contest his findings.

"If they don't want to believe carbon dating done by some of the world's best laboratories they certainly won't believe me," he said.

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Reviews Too Late: In Bruges

Imagine a gangster film in which nothing happens. That's where I thought I was for the first half of this movie, in a film about what gangsters are like when they're on vacation and not being gangsters.
Not that this is a bad thing. The first half of In Bruges is the best part. Nothing happens in very interesting ways.
Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Ray (Colin Farrel) are a couple Irish hit men who are told to hide on the Continent following an assassination, and who end up in the beautiful medieval city of Bruges during the Christmas season. Ken loves the place, Ray hates it.
With nothing to do, they wander over the town, bickering, reminiscing, and encountering the locals. An American film is shooting in the town, featuring a drug-hungry dwarf played by the excellent Jordan Prentice. ("Bruges," Ray mutters, "even midgets have to take drugs to stick it.") On the set Ray meets an attractive woman named Chloe (Clémence Poésy, who I last saw as Fleur in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), and the two strike up a relationship that turns out to swing the movie in a totally unanticipated direction.
The film develops a more conventional shape when trouble comes to town, in the form of gang boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes). But first Harry has to get a gun from the local dealer. ("An Uzi? I'm not from South Central Los Angeles. I didn't come here to shoot twenty black ten-year-olds in a drive-by. I want a normal gun for a normal person.") Harry is a pretty unconventional gang boss, insofar as he's obsessed by honor: he'd call his enemies to the dueling ground if he could. (This was the part of the film that I found the least convincing. There's little point in being a gang boss if you don't have an actual gang to do your killing for you.)
The final shootout is nothing you haven't seen before, but it's informed by all the unconventional action in the first hour, so it's a little more than an ordinary shoot-out, if a little less than I'd hoped.
In Bruges is beautifully constructed, with no scenes out of place and no moment gone to waste. Writer/director Martin McDonagh did a brilliant job. You could use this film to teach structure in a film school. It's that well put together.
In Bruges is very funny, but the humor is utterly black, a postcard from a picture-perfect fairy-tail medieval town where hope no longer exists. If you're up for an unconventional genre film with a savagely violent finish, then this may be your cup of Irish Breakfast.
For me, I thought the film was worth it for the Belgian skinhead alone.

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Free Spaces

The first seven chapters of Implied Spaces are now available for free on the Baen webscription site. If you don't have your own copy yet, you might want to give them a read.

For the following eighteen chapters, however, you still have to buy the book.


Monday, October 05, 2009

Resting Place

Here I am at my parents' final resting place.
"Resting" being an understatement, since their activities may also include flying, swirling, scudding, and fertilizing giant fir trees.
My mom passed away a little over a year ago, and my father twelve years back. His ashes have since resided in a kind of shrine I built to him atop a bookshelf. My mother's wish was that her ashes be scattered alongside my dad's in the New Mexico mountains.
Lately I've had the feeling that it was about time we got around to fulfilling her wishes in this matter.
Saturday was a perfect warm autumn day: Kathy and I headed for the mountains along with our friend Pat, who was skwunched in the back of my two-seater. I had put my parents in a knapsack for the trip.
I don't want to say exactly where I went, lest I trigger the indignation of some civil servant, but we moved along a mountain trail till we came to a ledge with a terrific view. There was a lot of dust in the air, so we probably couldn't see more than twenty miles: but on a clear day you could easily see fifty miles or more. There was a gusty wind blowing, but there weren't any of those annoying updrafts that could have blown my parents' remains back into my face.
I had brought my folks' wedding picture along, dated in my mother's hand: 6-4-1946. I placed the photo where it would have a view of the proceedings, then poured the ashes out into a single pile. We said whatever words we felt appropriate. (For myself, I told my parents that they'd done a good job.)
There were hugs. We ate cookies, got back in the car, and descended a switchback road back into the valley of life.

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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Who Ya Gonna Call?

It's the trailer for Ghostbusters (1954), starring Bob Hope, Fred MacMurray, and Dean Martin.

[thanks to David Boop}


Nero's Movable Feast

A few years back, when we were in Rome, we visited the Domus Aurea, the Golden House built by the Emperor Nero during the last years of his reign. This fabulous 300-room palace was the centerpiece of Nero's entertainment empire--- walls were plated with fabulous marbles, or ivory, or frescos. A large part of the palace was plated with gold. Sliding panels in the ceilings could open to shower guests with flowers, perfume, or costly presents. Outside, in the gardens, was a 100-foot-tall plinth on which stood a colossal bronze statue of Nero himself. The palace was used 0nly for entertainment--- there were no sleeping rooms.
On being taken for a tour of the palace, Nero is said to have remarked, "Now at last I can live like a human being!" (By that time there were revolts brewing in the provinces and he had only a few months to live, whether as a human being or not.)

The emperor Vespasian, a practical military man who didn't think much of this kind of extravagance, later built public baths atop the palace, and built the Colosseum in the gardens. (It's named after the Colossus of Nero, the huge statue right next to the stadium.)

But the Golden House was never actually demolished. It's still there, its costly gold and marble facade stripped away, but otherwise quite intact, under the Esquiline Hill.

When Kathy and I visited, the Golden House had been opened for the first time in decades. We wandered through the mazelike structure, admiring the architecture and the frescos, which themselves have an interesting history.

The Romans were experts at art depicting nature, and had discovered the laws of perspective (though they didn't use perspective much). In the middle ages, well diggers broke into the Golden House and saw the frescos left behind when the palace was abandoned. No one connected the underground structure with Nero, and it was just called "the Grotto."

Italian artists were lowered into the structure to study the art, and began to copy the style of the frescos they found there. The style was called "grotesque," meaning "from the Grotto," and helped to fuel the artistic revival of the Renaissance. One artist went so far as to wear a toga when painting.
(The top picture above is from the Domus Aurea. The picture below features grotesque art from the 18th Century.)
Among the glories Nero placed in his palace was supposed to be a revolving dining hall, with a starscape painted above, that revolved in time with the revolution of the earth. This was one of those legendary wonders that everyone assumed did not actually exist.
Until. They. Found. It.
Archaeologists have uncovered the round dining room, 50 feet across, which rested on a four-meter-wide pillar worked by "four spherical mechanisms" (ball bearings?) that were presumably powered by water.
"This cannot be compared to anything that we know of in ancient Roman architecture . . .
"The heart of every activity in ancient Rome was the banquet, together with some form of entertainment. Nero was like the sun, and people were revolving around the emperor."
The ancients were, y'know, smart. They could build cool and clever stuff. Here's yet another story of how they were underestimated by us rational modern types.

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The Brew That is True

From Candas Jane Dorsey, it's Satchmo doing a duet with Danny Kaye (who holds up his end with remarkable verve).

I detect the hand of Sylvia Fine in the lyrics.

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