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Posted by /u/ryzonup

Did anybody else in the sculpture park LIC HS area hear 2 very distinct loud noises last night? sounded like very loud gunshots or small canons. Woke both my wife and I up and sent the dog into a panic.

There were no sirens or any commotion. Just wondering.

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Apr. 27th, 2017 01:18 am
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Posted by Mary Anne Mohanraj

New game Lanterns is fun. You nominally are competing to create the most beautiful lantern display before the harvest festival, gathering honor points, though mostly it’s a logic game about color / pattern matching. The illustrations are lovely. Age 8+. That’s Kavi doing her wicked smile face on purpose, after spending quite some time waffling over which card she could place to cause mommy the most pain.

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Posted by brainwane

This weekend, April 28-30, people coming to Penguicon in Southfield, Michigan can catch a number of sessions of interest to Geek Feminism readers.

Coraline Ada Ehmke is one of the Guests of Honor (her Penguicon schedule). Ehmke “is a speaker, writer, open source advocate and technologist with over 20 years of experience in developing apps for the web. She works diligently to promote diversity and inclusivity in open source and the tech industry.” She and others are participating in a Women in Tech panel and Q&A on Saturday.

Perhaps I’ll see you at the con! Feel free to comment if you’re going to be there and mention any parties or sessions you’re particularly looking forward to.

Places that buy used clothes

Apr. 26th, 2017 08:43 pm
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Posted by /u/KatzsvsLangers

Hey guys, I am short on cash and have extra clothes that I don't need. Was wondering if there were any stores that buy used clothing? Normally I would donate, but I could really use the money. Thanks!

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How fake are nature documentaries?

Apr. 26th, 2017 08:48 pm
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Posted by Jason Kottke

When you’re watching a nature documentary, you notice it right away: there’s something odd about the sound effects. They seem a little too…Hollywood. When Vox did their series on how the BBC made Planet Earth II, they didn’t mention the sound:

I hope the third program is on sound, which has been bugging me while watching Planet Earth II. I could be wrong, but they seem to be using extensive foley effects for the sounds the animals make — not their cries necessarily, but the sounds they make as they move. Once you notice, it feels deceptive.

Several other people noticed and complained, causing the BBC to explain that getting real sounds in many cases was impossible. Audio producer Matt North adds some context:

Whilst I’m no wildlife expert, it’s fairly straightforward to conclude that such an unpredictable and uncontrollable subject as wildlife would have prompted the need to often shoot on long lenses, thus making it almost physically impossible for a sound recordist to obtain ‘realistic’ recordings that would match the treatment and emotive style of the programme. Combine this with the shooting climate, as well as the need for frequent communication between crew just to capture the necessary shots that will cut well in the edit suite and you have a recipe for failure in regards to obtaining useable sound. Therefore, it’s not only impractical but virtually impossible to capture the ‘real’ sound that some of these disgruntled viewers may be protesting for.

As Simon Cade shows in the video above, sound is only one of the ways in which nature documentaries use editing to “fake” things. Is it manipulation? Or good storytelling? And what’s the difference between the two anyway? A silent security feed of a Walmart parking lot is not a documentary but The Thin Blue Line, with its many dramatizations and Philip Glass score, is a great documentary.

Tags: audio   Matt North   Planet Earth   Simon Cade   video

Olight i3E flashlight

Apr. 26th, 2017 08:27 pm
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Posted by mark

The Olight i3E is a tiny flashlight, meant for a keychain. It is similar to the Streamlight Nano (which I have also owned), so I will compare it to that.


– It takes a single AAA battery, which you are likely to have in your closet already. It can also take AAA size rechargeable NiMH batteries, like the storied Panasonic Eneloops. (It will not take lithium batteries.) The Nano takes weird LR-41 button batteries, which you likely have to order.

– Nonetheless, it is tiny, at about 2.3 inches long. (The Nano is about 1.5 inches long. – It produces far more light than the Nano. The regular versions produce 90 lumens, and the Silver and Copper versions produce 120 lumens. The Streamlight Nano produces 10 lumens.

– (Like the Nano,) it has only two settings: On and Off.

– (Like the Nano,) the switch is just a head that you rotate. But unlike the Nano, the i3E shows no tendency to unscrew itself and thereby disassemble itself in your pocket. The Nano is notorious for dropping the head and batteries somewhere without your noticing, leaving only the rear case attached to your keychain. The usual remedy was a few turns of Teflon plumber’s tape.

– It has an actual TIR (Total Internal Reflection) lens, a combination reflector and lens which together provides a nice, narrow beam pattern, with a very bright hot spot and usable light in a cone around it. The lens also protects the LED from dust and wear. The Nano looks like it could have a reflector, but it really has a bare LED with its molded on lens. Accordingly, its throw pattern is less focused, and can throw glare in your eyes.

– It is relatively cheap, at only $13 or so, although the Nano is about $9.

Disadvantages: – It only has one setting, on or off. It doesn’t have a low or high setting. Olight has similar lights with hi/lo/medium settings, but they are bigger and more expensive.

– The twist switch (as such) is a little awkward for signaling SOS or other Morse code messages.

– It is more expensive than the Nano, though it is cheaper than most other LED flashlights.

Purchasing notes: I got the silver version for the slight bump in output (from 90 to 120 lumens.) The finish is silvery PVD, and after a few weeks, it has some scratches, but otherwise seems to be holding up. I expect the functional parts of it, like the LED, the case, etc. to last forever.

So. Not the absolute smallest or cheapest, but surprisingly bright, relatively cheap, with well-designed optics (and it actually has optics.)

-- Karl Chwe

Olight 90 Lumens AAA Flashlight 120 Lumens ($14) / International Amazon link

Available from Amazon

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Posted by Jason Kottke

Hello! Jason Kottke here. If you’re a regular reader of this RSS feed, please consider supporting my efforts on kottke.org by becoming a member today. The revenue from memberships is critical to keeping one of the best independent websites running at its full capacity. There are several membership options to choose from; you can check them out here or read about why I’m doing this here.

And if you’re already a member, thank you! You are the best.

Pirate Utopia by Bruce Sterling

Apr. 26th, 2017 07:00 am
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Posted by Benjamin Gabriel

In the opening chapter of Pirate Utopia, Lorenzo Secondari goes to the cinema with his pirates. Secondari—an undead übermensch, pirate engineer, and future Minister of Vengeance Weapons for the Regency of Carnaro—is accompanied by the owner of his torpedo factory, the Communist platonic love interest and Fiume native Blanka Piffer. These two are, if the materials at the end of the novella are to be believed (and they seem by all means to be accurate), just about the only two characters in this tale of the proto-fascist/anarchist state of Fiume/Carnaro that are not themselves real people.

Before reading Pirate Utopia, I was completely unfamiliar with the history of the Regency of Carnaro (aka Fiume), and there is something to be said about how that affected my enjoyment of Bruce Sterling's latest Italian adventure. With no knowledge of the historical import, the political pillars of the novella—and I should say clearly that, like most of Sterling's recent fiction, it is the politics that are primarily of interest here—were much more malleable. Rather than seeing this as a treatise or a partisan attack, I was able to see in it something I could work with: if you're looking for a simple positive or negative recommendation (and to avoid spoilers), the only thing you might otherwise need is the knowledge that Pirate Utopia is the best of Bruce Sterling's recent Italian work (including Black Swan and The Parthenopean Scalpel [both 2010]). The short version of the history to which Pirate Utopia offers an alternative, though, is this: in 1919, poet and war hero Gabriele D'Annunzio occupied a small Balkan city called Fiume after the League of Nations gave it to Yugoslavia, intending to annex it for Italy. He instead ended up creating a cobbled-together state that reveled in aesthetic and anarchist practices, as well as becoming a hotbed for fascism—most notably by introducing Mussolini to the Roman Salute with which Adolf Hitler would go on to be associated.

The basic premise of Pirate Utopia is to tell that story with a dieselpunk twist. It begins at the cinema, where Secondari falls briefly in love with the actress of the film and then exits directly into a demonstration of Marxists calling for the heads of his pirates. A fit of lucid rage and a dud grenade lobbed into their tank later, he has run the Marxists off and is driving their tank back to the factory—where he plans on engineering new, Futurist flying torpedoes. In Sterling's timeline, Fiume doesn't crumble in a year but instead flourishes, and the only major difference is a near-deaf and wholly driven engineer dedicated to the aesthetic of Futurism.

The routing of the Marxists at the cinema finds a parallel at the novella's end, after many political twists and turns. At a show by Harry Houdini, magician and Secret Serviceman, at which the Italian King's cousin, the Duke of Aosta, is in attendance, Secondari is addressed by Houdini's assistant, Robert Howard, and his PR representative, H. P. Lovecraft. With Italian royalty lending old-world prestige and the Secret Service lending new, Fiume is being ushered into global geopolitics rather than being a notable outlier. And Secondari gets his reward as well: Lovecraft and Houdini and Howard also extend to him an invitation to work together on a new project in Manhattan. The invitation is proffered partially because, as Howard puts it, they admire Fiume: "'Especially what you did about the Communists,' said Bob Howard. 'We aim to do that ourselves'" (p. 99). Pirate Utopia is, in other words, quite literally a book about the birth of fascism, bookended by anti-Communist sentiments, and differentiated from history only by the successful machinations of a self-proclaimed übermensch.

Pirate Utopia finds publication at a strange moment in history, both politically and aesthetically. The former correlations are perhaps obvious: the global wave of populist revolt that followed the 2008 economic crisis has broken, and once again the jetsam of fascism is more and more rapidly being revealed. Trump and Brexit have become the bellwethers, but they have only taken over for the Golden Dawn and many others. Now is perhaps the worst possible time to release a novella that uncritically replicates the ideology of the Historical Man in a way that could easily be read as an apologia for the historical moment we may well have cycled back into. But simply stating that is meaningless moralizing. It is our concurrent strange aesthetic moment that complicates and crystallizes Pirate Utopia.

In The Last Days of New Paris (2016), China Miéville focuses on Paris only a couple of decades after the events by which Pirate Utopia is inspired. Though released nearly concurrently and by two very different writers, New Paris could be read as a sort of sequel to Pirate Utopia. Where Sterling's characters are obsessed with Futurist aesthetics and their goal of realizing that set of artistic principles in the world, Miéville's characters live in the aftermath of the very literal realization of the Surrealist aesthetic in the occupied French city. Miéville's Parisian landscape is full of the products of the Surrealist technique of exquisite corpse, of art by Breton and Man Ray and Max Ernst, and militant members of the Resistance fighting the Nazi occupation. Since Miéville's moment is concerned with Nazis, Futurism isn't exactly prevalent; instead, his fascists are mostly concerned with the occult and demon-summoning, at least until they reveal their final gambit. Throughout The Last Days of New Paris, there is a mystery regarding the term Fall Rot. When it is finally resolved at the novella's climactic moment, it is a perfect realization of the fascist aesthetic.

In New Paris, this is a literal realization. Fall Rot in Sterling's novella would be the atomic bomb dropped on the city from Lang's Metropolis; in Miéville's, it is a self-portrait of the Führer, featureless and effacing the world with identical pseudo-suburban, lifeless homes. The day is (partially) won only by the aesthetic of the unconscious interpolating itself into that artistic superego, destroying both in the process.

It is notable enough that two major writers of the fantastic turned to alternates of roughly the same period of history at the same time, albeit from very different perspectives and places. Both triangulate the rise of fascism, a primary aesthetic movement, and a lone man moving the needle of history, in one way or another. Another piece of fiction in 2016 also involved a city, a history, and its politics, and might help to cast into relief the differences in the two previous.

Friends at the Table is an Actual Play podcast. What this means is that it is a recording of friends playing a tabletop roleplaying game together; in the season of Friends at the Table we are discussing, the system is Blades in the Dark, but Dungeons & Dragons is the most recognizable name. The season in question, Marielda, is a sort of prequel to the show's first season, a post-post-apocalyptic high fantasy romp; in Marielda, the players build up a city (using a different system called The Quiet Year) and then explore it as a group of underground knowledge merchants.

As a city, Marielda is notable for a thing known in the fiction as Reconfiguration: each night the city changes, sometimes imperceptibly, sometimes radically. This isn't (just) Fantastical Divinity; the city contains a Bureau of Reconfiguration, where the decisions of how the city will magically rearrange are presumably decided, or at the very least bureaucratically discussed. In one of the final capers of this interstitial season, the players attempt to rob a university library of a particular text; outside, a protest co-opted by radicalized factory workers (the Black Slacks) rages. Because the season is an interlude, the podcasters don't get into the implications of an ever-changing city on the tactics of protest, but the simple juxtaposition is very much a way of leading the question.

Of these three cities—each defined by war, each fantastical—the only one that doesn't resort in any way to the Historical Man is Marielda. This is a function of the form, to some extent: it is hard to have a single protagonist when five people are collaborating on a story in real time, no matter how hard anyone tries. But even accounting for that, the way that each of these three texts privileges the city makes for its own triangulation: how they engage their politics, how they represent the politics that aren't theirs, and what the place of those politics in this particular moment do, are all the more clear.


Pirate Utopia, in light of The Last Days of New Paris and Friends at the Table's Marielda, can look especially dire. Where Miéville made every formal and aesthetic and political decision to villainize Nazis, Sterling is ambivalent; where Friends at the Table deconstructs the ideologies of fascism in its very form, Sterling clings to them. And the author's history provides no real alibi. From cyberpunk to steampunk to slipstream, from design fiction writer and Wired blogger to wandering futurist, Sterling's Midas touch is to turn all he touches into markets. Sometimes that means erasing the recent history of women's writing, other times advocating for what amounts (in John Clute's words) to "commercial piggybacking." None of this is to say that he hasn't done admirable work as well, especially around taking seriously climate change in fiction. Even as a writer whose material actions against which I often take umbrage, he remains a storyteller who is invested in taking the political elements of his work seriously and crafting them into something both entertaining and thoughtful.

With that in mind, the pleasure of Pirate Utopia is in discovering the story of a formative, fucked-up political moment, no matter where the author might find himself in it. Sterling does also put a bullet in Hitler's chest, and a couple in Mussolini's junk, and he does create Frau Piffer and her incredible, utopian factory full of liberated women with Anarcho-Syndicalist ideals. The uncharitable reading, however, is that this is all just a disquisition on horseshoe theory; it is the kind of book that has the protagonist discourse on an engineering solution to the material destruction of the native capitalists only to have him refer to it as his having "offered you a final solution!" (p. 48)

There is, though, a charitable reading: Pirate Utopia develops a proto-fascist moment that isn't Nazi Germany at a time when fascism needs more honest appraisals that cover fascism in its totality rather than simply repeat what is known, and which manages to make the anarchist and Communist aspects of that revolution as appealing as the fascist ones.

For every moment where Secondari is praised for chasing off Marxists, Pirate Utopia reveals the magnetic appeal of struggling against the ruling class. Secondari's self-description as an übermensch is never in service of his disidentification with his working-class identity, and neither is it an attempt at cathexis. He simply works toward a world in which the bourgeoisie is usurped as a class, whether through his “engineering solutions” or simply by doing the work that creates a world where they become obsolete.

In the beginning this work takes the shape of resurrecting a torpedo factory that has been turned into a soup kitchen, as well as personally leading pirate raids for money and materials. By the end of the novel, Secondari is seeing the new state devolve: the once-inspirational D'Annunzio is reduced to the pawn of an Italian noble, his own love for his platonic mistress's daughter causing him to feel for things other than the (Futurist) future. Even in an alternate history structured according to the principles of the übermensch, the ultimate fate of Fiume (like and unlike Nazi Germany, and twentieth-century fascism in general) is its absorption back into the capitalist mode of production.

Indeed, and just like the real-world antecedent, what inspires about Pirate Utopia is the moments of collective work, of the life of the city, and of the failures of the fantasy of the Historic Man. Like the dogs lost in the reconfiguration of Marielda or the small solidarities among the living surrealism of Miéville's New Paris, everything about the living Futurism of Fiume must ultimately melt away, revealing that the only real way forward—into the future—is to build one that capitalism cannot absorb.

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Posted by /u/eraserh

Hi! In September my wife and I will be looking for childcare for our daughter, who will be 9 months old. Can anyone recommend in-home daycare or a nanny share in Astoria that is flexible and affordable?

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Posted by Jason Kottke

Studio Ghibli has been making incredible animated movies since 1985. This video traces the history and the work of the studio and its principal director Hayao Miyazaki from his pre-Ghibli work (including Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind) all the way up to Miyazaki’s recent unretirement & involvement in Boro the Caterpillar.

The name Ghibli was given by Hayao Miyazaki from the Italian noun “ghibli”, based on the Libyan-Arabic name for the hot desert wind of that country, the idea being the studio would “blow a new wind through the anime industry”. It also refers to an Italian aircraft, the Caproni Ca.309 Ghibli.

I still remember seeing Princess Mononoke in the theater in 1999 (having no previous knowledge of Ghibli or Miyazaki) and being completely blown away by it. Made me a fan for life. (via film school rejects)

Tags: animation   Hayao Miyazaki   movies   Princess Mononoke   Studio Ghibli   video

Delany starting-point recommendations

Apr. 26th, 2017 06:56 pm
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Posted by Jed

In the past couple years, there've been about three times when I've had occasion to suggest starting points for reading Samuel R. “Chip” Delany's work. So I thought it was time I wrote up my thoughts and posted them.

But my recommendation varies depending on what you like and what you're interested in. So I'll break this up into sections.

But in case you're in a hurry, I'll start by saying that the short version of my recommendation is: Start with the short-story collection Aye, and Gomorrah: And Other Stories, which includes most of my favorites of his stories.

(This entry is sort of a draft; I may update/modify it sometime in the next couple days.)

Short Stories

If you don't like short stories, then you might as well skip down to the next section. But some of Chip's short stories are among my favorite stories, and among my favorite works of his, so this is where I'm focusing.

His most famous stories are probably “Aye, and Gomorrah...” (1967)—a short piece about people who have a fetish for spacers; groundbreaking at the time for its handling of sexuality—and “Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones” (1968), which on the surface is about a con artist and a street singer and the ways that information passes through a society, among other things, but also I've heard a variety of people cite it as their first introduction to BDSM, in a sort of “Wow, there are people like me!” kind of way. My own tastes run to the vanilla, so that wasn't a factor for me; but even aside from that, it's a good story, and an influential one, and it has one of the great Delany-story titles. (My other favorite of his titles being “We, in Some Strange Power's Employ, Move on a Rigorous Line,” although that's not among my favorites of his stories.)

(I was going to link to the archive.org copies of a couple of his stories that were published in Sci Fiction, but it turns out those copies are mysteriously missing their dashes and some other characters, which makes them hard to read. So I'm not providing those links after all. But it also turns out that one of them was reprinted in Strange Horizons, so I did link to that one.)

Also well-known and lovely: “Corona” (1967), about a spaceport worker and a young genius telepath and the power of music. Lesser-known but also lovely: “Prismatica” (1977), a fairy tale that's explicitly an homage to Thurber, presumably specifically to The Thirteen Clocks.

So where can you find these stories? Well, most of my favorites of his were originally collected in a book called Driftglass, but that's long out of print. Several of the same stories also appeared in a collection called Distant Stars, which also included the compelling short novel “Empire Star” (with fascinating four-segment illustrations) and “Prismatica.” But that too is long out of print. Fortunately, Vintage came out with a collection in 2003 called Aye, and Gomorrah: And Other Stories, which includes everything from Driftglass plus a few other stories, including “Prismatica”; the only thing it's missing from Distant Stars is “Empire Star.”

(...The Vintage book may actually be titled Aye, and Gomorrah: Stories; the cover and the title page disagree.)

So my strong recommendation for an intro to Delany is to buy and read the Vintage collection. Unfortunately, it appears to be available only in print (in trade paperback), not in electronic form. But it's a nicely attractive edition, and goes well with the Vintage editions of some of his other books.

But I know most people prefer novels over short stories. If that's true of you, then possibly none of the above recommendations will be of any use. In which case, read on!

Early science fiction novels and novellas

If you want to start with some of the novels that vaulted Delany to the forefront of the field in the 1960s and 1970s, here are some possible starting points:

Empire Star (1966)
As noted above, an intriguing and compelling short novel, about a young man named Comet Jo coming of age in an interstellar culture. As Wikipedia says, “the story has several layered loops of events which run back upon themselves—and the concepts, layering, and ordering of the events are as important as the story itself.”
Babel-17 (1966)
I recently heard an sf editor say that this was the only good starting point for reading Delany. I disagree, but I would say it's not a bad starting point, as long as you don't mind it taking the strong Sapir-Whorf Hypotheses for granted. Which is to say, you have to be willing to accept, or at least suspend disbelief about, the idea that language determines thought.
The Star Pit (1967)
Here's some of what I wrote in my notes to myself when I read (or maybe re-read) this a year ago: “it's mostly about life, and wanderlust, and feeling trapped, and the ways people can be cruel to each other, and love, and other stuff like that. Pretty good overall. Nowhere near Delany's best, but worth reading.” It also has a minor poly sidelight. I wouldn't necessarily recommend it as a starting point, but it wouldn't be a terrible one.
Nova (1968)
I read this long ago and haven't yet revisited it, so my memories are vague at this point, but I recall thinking of it as a solid and excellent science fiction novel that felt to me less experimental than a lot of Delany's other work. Judith Merrill wrote (according to Wikipedia): “Here are (at least some of) the ways you can read Nova: As fast-action far-flung interstellar adventure; as archetypal mystical/mythical allegory (in which the Tarot and the Grail both figure prominently); as modern myth told in the SF idiom...”
Trouble on Triton (1976)
A novel set in a more-or-less-minarchist human society on Neptune's moon Triton. The protagonist, Bron, is not a very sympathetic character, which led me to not especially like the book when I first read it; on the other hand, some parts of the book (such as the street-theatre scenes) stuck with me. And reading Sherryl Vint's 2002 essay “Both/And: Science Fiction and the Question of Changing Gender” (which includes major spoilers for both Trouble on Triton and John Varley's Steel Beach) gave me a lot more sympathy to what Delany is doing in this book. Side note: Wikipedia says that this is set in the same universe as “Time Considered...”

I'm leaving out several other early short novels (The Jewels of Aptor, The Ballad of Beta-2, the Fall of the Towers trilogy, The Einstein Intersection), not because they're not worth reading but because I don't think they'd make good starting points.

A difficult masterpiece

Dhalgren (1975) is an 800-page tour de force of experimental literary speculative fiction. It's definitely worth reading, but I kinda suspect it would not make a good starting point, unless you're coming from a background of loving experimental literary sf and long novels that include a lot of discussion of being a writer.

(I mean “masterpiece” in the sense of a work that signals a transition from the journeyman stage of a career into the master stage; I don't mean to suggest that it's his one and only Best Work.)

Sword and sorcery and semiotics

From 1979 through 1987, Chip wrote a series of stories and novels set in a world called Nevèrÿon. In addition to being sword-and-sorcery stories, they're also explicitly about literary-criticism theory, and culture, and race, and real-world history, and the development of science, and gender, and BDSM, and AIDS, and all sorts of other stuff. I'm currently (slowly) reading the Nevèrÿon series, but I kind of feel like it's not the best starting point for reading Delany. But if you like sword-and-sorcery mixed with philosophy, it could be.


Chip has written two book-length autobiographies/memoirs:

Heavenly Breakfast (1979)
I read or re-read this recently, and found it not only one of my favorite books of the year in which I read it, but also an excellent example of how to write a memoir, and especially how to explicitly note that there are things you're not saying. Interestingly, it manages to be an entire (short) book about Delany's youth in NYC without ever explicitly mentioning that he's gay.
Motion of Light in Water (1988)
A more detailed and later autobiography, but I haven't read it yet, so I can't judge it as a starting point.

Other nonfiction

Chip has written lots of nonfiction, including a lot of literary-criticism essays. I wouldn't normally suggest nonfiction as a starting point for a writer who I normally think of as primarily a fiction writer, but if you're into nonfiction, either of these two books could be good starting points, in very different ways:

The Jewel-Hinged Jaw (1977)
A volume of essays about reading and writing science fiction. Lots of good stuff here; some of these pieces did a lot to shape the way I think about sf. Although I have an unfortunate tendency to misremember and misquote bits of them.
Times Square Red/Times Square Blue (1999)
A pair of long essays about Times Square in particular and cities in general. One is about porn theatres and Chip's sexual interactions in them; the other is about the ways in which cities bring people together across class boundaries. Both are excellent and thought-provoking.

Later novels

In this post, I seem to be shifting back and forth between recommending starting points per se, and mentioning other works. So I feel like I should mention that Chip has written other novels, more recent than most of the abovementioned ones, such as Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1984), They Fly at Çiron (1993, though some of it was written a couple decades earlier), and Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders (2012). But I'm not recommending these as starting points.


Chip has also written a couple of novels that I would classify as pornography. (No value judgment intended in that term.) One, The Mad Man (1994), is also literary fiction about gay men engaging in sexual activities that might or might not result in HIV infection; I found it worth reading, but here again unless this is a special interest of yours it may not be the best starting point.

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Posted by Jason Kottke

John McCool suspected that a scientific journal called the Urology & Nephrology Open Access Journal was essentially a pay-to-publish journal with a flimsy peer-review process. So he wrote a paper based on a bogus medical condition made up for an episode of Seinfeld and submitted it to them.

This was inspired by the classic 1991 episode “The Parking Garage,” where the gang can’t find their car in a mall parking garage. Eventually, Jerry has to urinate; he goes against a garage wall and gets busted by a security guard; and he tries to get out of it by claiming that he suffers from a disease called “uromycitisis” and could die if he doesn’t relieve himself whenever and wherever he needs to.

I went all out. I wrote it as Dr. Martin van Nostrand, Kramer’s physician alter ego, and coauthored by Jay Reimenschneider (Kramer’s friend who eats horse meat) and Leonard “Len” Nicodemo (another of Kramer’s friends, who once had gout). I included fake references to articles written by the likes of Costanza GL, Pennypacker HE, and Peterman J. I created a fake institution where the authors worked: the Arthur Vandelay Urological Research Institute. In the Acknowledgements section, I thanked people such as Tor Eckman, the bizarre holistic healer from “The Heart Attack” episode, giving him a “Doctor of Holistic Medicine (HMD)” degree.

The Arthur Vandelay Urological Research Institute!! That’s some top-shelf trolling right there. If you read the full paper, you’ll also see references to Steinbrenner and Lloyd Braun. Of course the journal accepted and published it:

The journal was excited to receive this “quality” and “very interesting” case report. A mere 33 minutes after receiving it, a representative notified “Dr. van Nostrand” that it had been sent out for peer review (a process the journal’s website touts as “rigorous”). Three days later, reviewer comments were returned to me, and I was asked to make a few minor changes, including adding lab test results from when the patient was in the emergency room. I made these up, too, and promptly resubmitted the revised case report. Soon after, it was officially accepted for publication.

The publication eventually figured out it had been pranked and had a quick back-and-forth with McCool about it.

Tags: John McCool   science   Seinfeld   TV

Maker Update #31

Apr. 26th, 2017 03:34 pm
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Posted by mark

This week on Maker Update: an autonomous beach-roving art bot, Kickstarter wants your ideas, a project that makes kits for other projects, GUIs for Raspberry Pi, stipple ceramics, and I’ll show you why digital calipers are cool. Show notes here.


-- Donald Bell

6 Inch LCD Digital Caliper with Extra Battery and Case ($16)

Available from Amazon

Author Interview: Tabitha Lord

Apr. 26th, 2017 03:50 pm
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Posted by Wendy Van Camp

Author Tabitha Lord is a woman who wears many hats. Not only is she a science fiction author, but she is also a senior editor for Book Club Babble and working on a non-fiction collection of stories connected with an awareness campaign for children with pediatric cancer.

Let me take a moment to introduce myself. I currently live in Rhode Island, a few towns away from where I grew up. I’m married, have four great kids, two spoiled cats, and lovable lab mix. My degree is in Classics from College of the Holy Cross, and I taught Latin for years at the Meadowbrook Waldorf School. Yes, I’m a dinosaur! I also worked in the admissions office there for over a decade before turning my attention to full-time writing. It’s worth noting that I didn’t publish my first novel until after I turned forty, so for anyone thinking of a career change, it’s never too late!

When and why did you begin writing?

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I loved to write stories as a child. In fact, when I was sorting through some of my grandma’s things after she passed, I came across a whole collection of poetry and stories I’d written. It was very sweet. In my professional life I’ve written some ad copy, blog posts, and done some editing for school publications, but I had very little time or energy for creative writing.

When my children got older and the dynamics of my family shifted, I began to consider changing careers. While I pondered what was next for me professionally I took on a yearlong writing project at work thinking it would give me the change of pace I needed. Turns out it was one of the most satisfying things I’d ever done in my career. Since I was in the habit of writing every day for work, I challenged myself to write creatively every day as well. Lo and behold, when the report was finished a year later, so was my first manuscript.

Can you share a little about your current book with us?

I’ve been asked to describe my book in ten words. Here’s what I came up with: Science fiction meets romance meets survival fiction meets military thriller!

What inspired you to write this book?

Thoughts for my stories come to me in different ways. Sometimes it’s a character that appears in my head, fully formed – personality, career, physical appearance, and name – ready for me to create a story around. Other times, there’s an interesting scene that builds up in my imagination over time. Or sometimes there’s a theme or idea I want to explore.

With Horizon, I had two distinct parts of a story floating in my head. The first was the opening crash sequence. It was more basic at the time of its inception – just a pilot who crash lands on a planet, and a young woman, in some kind of trouble, who saves his life.

The second part was more complex. I was playing with the idea of what would happen if one segment of an already small isolated population evolved differently, either naturally or by design, from the other. What if some had gifts that enabled them to imagine a different kind of future for themselves and their world? What if they were empathic and could sense each other’s emotions and thoughts? What if some of them could heal with their mind? How would the unchanged people feel about their neighbors? It created such an interesting premise I knew I had to find a way to make it into a story.

Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

There’s a big chunk of survival fiction in the first part of Horizon. Caeli is living alone in the wilderness, fending for herself, and living off the land. I grew up in a rural neighborhood until I was twelve years old and spent most of my playtime outdoors, in the woods, exploring and climbing trees. I distinctly remember the smell of pine, the quiet in the forest after the first snow, the taste of wild blueberries. I tried to call on my own childhood memories to give Caeli’s experience authenticity. And as an adult, I’ve had a few adventures that influenced this particular aspect of the story! Over the years, I’ve accompanied students on several class trips. We’ve hiked the rain forests in Costa Rica, paddled dozens of nautical miles in the open ocean off the coast of Maine, and camped in the mountains of West Virginia. I have actually tended a cooking fire, carved utensils, found edible plants, bathed in the ocean, and slept outdoors.

I’m also a medical school dropout! But my experience in medical school, and for years as an EMT, I think gives Caeli some authority as a healer. And when I wasn’t sure about a particular treatment, I’d call my brother-in-law, who did finish medical school and is a practicing physician!

What authors or books most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?

This is a tough one. I love genre fiction and my shelves are filled with everything from horror, to military thrillers, to historical romance. I also appreciate good literary fiction with characters I remember long after I turn the last page. I just enjoy a good story, no matter the genre or style!

Some of my all-time favorites include The Stand by Stephen King. To me this is the ultimate apocalypse story, full of disquieting horror. Harry Potter is at the top of the list. Such incredible world building and rich characters! Outlander is fabulous. Diana Gabaldon’s dialogue is beautiful, and the relationship between Jamie and Claire is so complex and lovely. Recently I read, and loved, The Goldfinch. Literary fiction at its best! The Snow Child also really stayed with me after I finished reading. As I write this, I am staring at my library shelves and thinking, how can I leave off Barbara Kingsolver or Isabel Allende! Or my favorite Steinbeck novel East of Eden! I learn something different from each of these writers, but mostly I’m just incredibly grateful for the pleasure of reading their work. If someone asks me this question next week, I’ll probably have an entirely different list.

Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?

The immensely talented Steven Meyer-Rassow did both the cover art and interior design for Horizon. I wanted to collaborate with someone whose style and artistry resonated with my own. Every single image of Steven’s that I could find was stunning, and when we discussed my project, I knew he really understood my vision. One of the things we talked about initially was the fact that Horizon would be a trilogy, and we’d like to “brand” the series somehow. So in addition to amazing cover artwork, Steve created a title treatment that will carry through and give all the future Horizon books a cohesive look.

Another thing we discussed was that while Horizon firmly belongs on the shelf with other sci-fi novels, it definitely crosses genres. The cover, therefore, needed to have wide appeal. It needed to be intriguing and eye-catching enough for non-sci-fi readers to pick it up, yet stylistically still fit in with its main genre.

Do you have any advice for new writers?

Oh, for sure! First, finish something. A bad draft is better than no draft. Second, keep writing even when you feel stuck. Good habits will help you work through the blocks. But if I had to pick the most important thing for new writers it would be this: a first draft is nowhere near the finished product. This was shocking to me as a first-time novelist – although it shouldn’t have been! I knew edits were going to happen, but I had no idea how much work they would be. If I had to estimate, I would say that writing the first draft was only about one-third of the work. Editing and working through the business side of publishing made up the other two-thirds. What’s fun though, or at least what’s satisfying about the post-first-draft phase, is transforming the story from a rambling, exhaustive, stream of consciousness manuscript, to a work that has structure, flow, and even some artistry. I’ve learned so much about the craft of writing through editing.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

The most important thing for me, as a writer, is to tell a good story. I write because I have to get these stories out of my head and onto the paper, but I also write for my readers and fans. I hope people fall in love with my characters and lose themselves in the plot. I hope they’re transported to different worlds. I hope they open my book and time flies away. This is what I want when I read, and I hope I can provide that experience for my fans!

Tabitha Lord
North Kingstown, RI



Cover Artist: Steven Meyer-Rassow
Publisher: Wise Ink


Yglesias on Obama

Apr. 26th, 2017 02:42 pm
[syndicated profile] crooked_timber_feed

Posted by Henry

Matthew Yglesias’s piece sharply criticizing Obama for taking a $400,000 speaker fee to talk at a conference organized by Cantor Fitzgerald is getting a lot of pushback. I find this a little startling – while I disagree with MY’s defense of centrism, the underlying argument – that there is something sleazy about former officials going on the speaker’s circuit for astronomical fees – seems so obviously right as to scarcely merit further discussion, let alone vigorous disagreement.

I’ve seen three counter-arguments being made. First – that Yglesias and others making this case are being implicitly racist by holding Obama to a higher standard than other politicians. Personally, I’ll happily stipulate to holding Obama to a higher standard than other politicians, but it isn’t because he is black. Instead, it’s because Obama seemed to plausibly be better than most other politicians on personal ethics. That’s not to say that I agreed with his foreign policy, or attitude to the financial sector, or many other things he did, but I wouldn’t have expected him to look to cash in, especially as he doesn’t seem to be hurting for money. Obviously, I was wrong.

Second – that there isn’t any real difference between Obama’s giving speeches for a lot of money, and Obama getting a fat book contract, since both are responses to the market. This, again, is not convincing. Tony Blair is catering to a market too – a rather smaller market of murderous kleptocrats who want their reputations burnished through association with a prominent Western politician. The key question is not whether it is a market transaction, but what is being sold, and whom it is being sold to. In my eyes, there is a sharp difference between selling the flattery of your company to the rich and powerful, and selling a book manuscript that is plausibly of real interest to a lot of ordinary people. The former requires you to shape your public persona in very different ways than the latter.

Third – that everyone does it so why shouldn’t the Obamas. Yglesias deals with this pretty well out of the box:

Indeed, to not take the money might be a problem for someone in Obama’s position. It would set a precedent.

Obama would be suggesting that for an economically comfortable high-ranking former government official to be out there doing paid speaking gigs would be corrupt, sleazy, or both. He’d be looking down his nose at the other corrupt, sleazy former high-ranking government officials and making enemies.

Which is exactly why he should have turned down the gig.

Just so. The claim that ‘everyone does it’ is not an excuse or defense. It’s a statement of the problem.

I do think that MY’s piece can be criticized (more precisely, with a very slight change in rhetorical emphasis, it points in the opposite direction than the one Yglesias wants it to point in). MY states the objections that progressive centrism (or, as we’ve talked about it here in the past, left neo-liberalism) is subject to:

The political right is supposed to be pro-business as a matter of ideological commitment. The progressive center is supposed to be empirically minded, challenging business interests where appropriate but granting them free rein at other times.

This approach has a lot of political and substantive merits. But it is invariably subject to the objection: really?

Did you really avoid breaking up the big banks because you thought it would undermine financial stability, or were you on the take? Did you really think a fracking ban would be bad for the environment, or were you on the take? One man’s sophisticated and pragmatic approach to public policy can be the other man’s grab bag of corrupt opportunism.

He then goes on to say why this means that Obama needs to adopt a higher standard of behavior:

Leaders who sincerely care about the fate of the progressive center as a nationally and globally viable political movement need to push back against this perception by behaving with a higher degree of personal integrity than their rivals — not by accepting the logic that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.


Obama should take seriously the message it sends to those young people if he decides to make a career out of buckraking. He knows that Hillary Clinton isn’t popular with the youth cohort the way he is. And he knows that populists on both the left and the right want to make a sweeping ideological critique of all center-left politics, not just a narrow personal one of Clinton. Does Obama want them to win that battle and carry the day with the message that mainstream politics is just a moneymaking hustle?

Of course, it’s just one speech. Nothing is irrevocable about one speech. But money doesn’t get any easier to turn down with time, any more than rebuking friends and colleagues gets easier. To make his post-presidency a success, Obama should give this money to some good cause and then swear off these gigs entirely.

But what does Obama’s willingness to take the money in the first place say about progressive centrism, if we stipulate (as I think MY would likely agree) that Obama is probably as good as progressive centrists are likely to get? The left neoliberal hit against standard liberal-to-left politics in the 1980s was that it fostered sleazy interest groups and tacit or not-so-tacit mutual backscratching between these interest groups and politicians. If the very best alternative that left neoliberalism has to offer is another, and arguably worse version of this (Wall Street firms, unlike unions, don’t even have the need to pretend to have the interests of ordinary people at heart), then its raison d’etre is pretty well exploded.

More succinctly – MY wants Obama to behave better, because otherwise political centrism will start to look like a hustle. But if someone like Obama is not behaving better, doesn’t that imply that the hustle theory has legs?

Anyone mind lending me a power drill?

Apr. 26th, 2017 02:31 pm
[syndicated profile] astoriareddit_feed

Posted by /u/GandalfTheGaaay


I'm moving soon but I no longer have a power drill in my possession! I only need it to take apart my bed, which would take maybe 30 or so minutes. I can pay you for the time or something, just let me know what you think is fair! :>

submitted by /u/GandalfTheGaaay
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Accepted Place to Post Fliers

Apr. 26th, 2017 01:52 pm
[syndicated profile] astoriareddit_feed

Posted by /u/MoMisteries

I'm a high school math teacher. Over the Summer, for some supplementary income, I'm planning on holding tutoring sessions for the Algebra 1 Regents exam. It's a little early, but I like to plan and prepare long in advance of things.

Where is there an accepted place to post fliers advertising tutoring or whatever? I live in Astoria, but I do not teach in Astoria, so I'm not sure I could post them up/hand them out at local high schools. I also, don't want to post them in places where they'd just be glorified hanging trash. In an effort to go with the flow of order, I'd like to know if there were accepted common places to post/leave these types of fliers.

Thank you!

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