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Fun stuff

More on my commute

I was asked for more data on my morning commute.

Walking to work earlier, not reading:
36 minutes
3896 steps
15 floors (e.g., 150 feet of vertical climb)

Walking home yesterday while reading:
36 minutes
3846 steps
7 floors

Walking to work today while reading:
38 minutes
4200 steps
17 floors

The weather was pleasant all three times: neither hot nor wet. I followed roughly the same route each time.

Very preliminary conclusions:

  • Reading doesn’t affect my pace markedly. (Motivation does, but I have no data to support that yet.)
  • I do not in fact walk uphill to work both ways, no matter what it feels like.
  • Today was the first day that I remembered to hit the record button at the door, rather than across the street. That might account for the 300 steps.

I will need to keep recording my commute. Now I’m curious how much of the variability is due to the FitBit, and how much is due to me. Also, science requires that I remember to push the record button in the same place; I will have to work on that.

Fifty years

This set of photos from fifty years ago is amazing. 1962 is both not that long ago and incredibly far away.

It’s a wonder that anyone is brave or conceited enough to even try to write science fiction.


Although I’m still not convinced the sarcastic fringehead isn’t really an evil Muppet.

The morning commute

My morning commute:

3896 steps.
36 minutes.
150 feet of vertical climb.

Why yes, I got a FitBit, can you tell?

I haven’t managed to convince it of my stride length, despite multiple attempts: the 3896 steps should be just under 2 miles, but the FitBit is convinced that it’s 2.33 miles. The step count seems to be quite accurate, although it doesn’t record short, slow steps very well (like walking around in the studio setting things up, for instance). The vertical climb estimate is interesting (expressed as flights of stairs): State College has lots of hills.

I walk between 65,000 and 70,000 steps a week, or 32-35 miles. Pretty good, I think. That morning commute and its evening companion contribute most of it. I climb about 150-170 floors a week, between the hills and my upstairs office.

My most active day in the three weeks I’ve had the gizmo has been 15,000 steps and 50 stairs.

Data: I like it.

Science Paper Art

I saw Lisa Nilsson’s anatomical paper art on NewScientist this morning.

It’s gorgeous, and precisely hits my sweet spot linking scientific accuracy, beauty, and clever use of materials to mimic form.

Two things

One makes me happy.

President Obama and Nichelle Nichols

One makes me think, hard.


SO MANY good things are coming out in March, or have appeared in the last couple of weeks. Here are a few of the things I’ve been looking forward to for ages. That’s what they mean by March Madness, right?

Books, lots of books. First a couple that came out in February:

Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed. I heard Saladin read from this at World Fantasy in Columbus, and have been waiting impatiently ever since. Fantasy set in somewhere other than northern Europe, with a protagonist who isn’t young and sexy? So refreshing.

Then there’s Arctic Rising by Tobias Buckell. Toby and I have had various friendly online arguments about all sorts of things, and I’ve promised him a review of the science in his new novel. There should be more books with global warming in them. I also roped Toby into inaugurating the Science in My Fiction guest post irregular series.

Two books I’m interested in come out today, so you should buy them right now and make the authors happy and successful.

I’ve heard amazing things about The Drowning Girl, by Caitlin Kiernan. Kiernan writes dense, dark, complicated stories with unreliable narrators. Not easy reads in a number of ways, but worth the effort. The author and some talented artists put together a lovely, haunting trailer for the novel.

Seanan McGuire’s new book Discount Armageddon comes out today, starting a new series for her. Biology and magic: sounds like my kind of thing. I like her zombie novels (written as Mira Grant) better than her urban fantasy; I’m hoping this new series melds the things I like best about both.

Later this month Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear arrives. This is another fantasy novel with an unconventional setting. I had the opportunity to read an ARC, and I highly recommend this one. I’m a serious fan of Bear’s prose (top-notch sentences) and themes–the Promethean Age books are some of my favorite fantasy novels ever–and I enjoyed this tremendously.

And then there’s music. Whisperado’s website is badly in need of an update, since it doesn’t even mention their new album I’m Not the Road. Since you’ve probably never heard of the band, here’s a taste.

Long-time favorite of mine, The Magnetic Fields, have a new album out today, Love at the Bottom of the Sea, their first in several years. I’m enthralled by this video from it (though it’s not entirely work-safe).

What is it about March 6? Today has been a fabulous if somewhat expensive day. And I don’t have time to read any of them! I’m utterly swamped at work, so I hope these suggestions will keep you busy until mid-April or so when I expect to re-emerge. Of course, then I’ll have to spend some time buried under a pile of novels.


My workload roughly doubled in the past week, from its already-high state to something approaching insane. Deadlines moved, cancelled activities resurfaced, new projects fell from the sky. It’s all good, but blogging will be rare to nonexistent until mid-April, as will fiction writing, and pretty much anything that isn’t work.

Except Sunday evenings – that’s writers group time, and I intend to keep that up. After a day spent editing grant proposals and book chapters, I didn’t have much brainpower left for anything major, so I solicited ideas on twitter. The usual suspects contributed, and here’s the result.

The stone pillar loomed over the town square. Today only a trio of pigeons occupied its flat top, their inevitable leavings sinking down through cracks in the stone. The pigeons had no use for the stairs spiraling up its sides, carved from the same block of granite as the pillar they encircled, their centers eroded by centuries of footsteps. Grooves around the edges of the steps, worn and faded, showed which parts the apprentice wielded the laser cutter on. The overslip lessened as the stairs ascended, until at the top the work of master and student stonecutter were indistinguishable.

Clouds scudded across the azure sky, trailing blotches of shadow across the square. Nothing moved except the sliding light and darkness. Even the feral cat that haunted the square dozed on a window ledge, having given up on pigeons for the time being.
The windows surrounding the square opened into house and guildhall and kirk, but all were blank. No faces looked out, no blurred motion appeared through the glass. One of the windows at the corner of the square had shattered, shards littering the ground beneath it, the jagged bits covered in dust and pollen.

Whatever force had broken the window came from the inside.

Once the square had been full of noise and movement and music far into the night. The three men and one woman who stood on the plinth watched over the barely-controlled chaos. Traveling vacuum cleaner salesmen–their products guaranteed to suck–vied with peddlers of cut-rate powders and potions for everything from healing broken bones to loosening stiff muscles, and the bars fronting the square did brisk business in gin martinis, or whatever drinks were currently fashionable. Glowing chartreuse cocktails had been a brilliant if short-lived sensation.

The entertainers had been the main attraction: jugglers of iridescent fire, dancers in antigrav bubbles, courtesans of all genders garbed in modes from eighteenth century high court to the finest nanofabrics. After sunset the square glowed with gemlike light limning the forms of the participants, trailing from the walls, puddling on the ground, flowing in luminescent rivulets and runnels around the plinth, but never touching its black silhouette.
As the sun moved toward the west, the shadow of the plinth extended across the square, touching the base and then the top of the building on the far side before merging with the shadows of dusk. No light glimmered anywhere. The cat had vanished with the sun. The pigeons had flown to their roost long before sunset.

Even the people had fled from the shadow of the plinth, but not before blood soaked into the stone where the light had refused to flow.


@fadeaccompli plinths

@ChiaLynn Pieces of glass

@qitou vacuum cleaners, gin martinis, muscle relaxants.

@marjorie73 18th century harlot

My week

Looks rather like this.

So far nothing is on fire, but it’s only a matter of time.

Under the Moons

Machines have always been easy to fool.

People too, but if enough people look hard enough, eventually someone will notice. Usually they’re declared insane and locked up, though. The Mars base was nearly eight years old before anyone noticed the forest, and nine by the time anyone else believed her.

After that it was obvious.

The canals, the forests and plains and seas: all around us, enclosed in the tiny ring of red dirt that we’d been circling endlessly, and our rovers before us, convinced we were seeing a whole world.

It was only a matter of time before someone spotted a thoat.

It was rather nice not to have to wear space suits all the time. Mars was a lot warmer than we’d thought, and the atmosphere was a whole lot more accommodating. I hear they’re going to send a crew to Venus to see what it really looks like. Jungles, I’m betting, but I’m not planning on leaving Mars any time soon.

We got a tiny mass ration for personal goods. Most people brought special foods, or some little luxuries. I brought a sword. Single edged, lightly curved, sharp enough to cut between raindrops. Oh yes, we had rain too, enough to keep the canals flowing. A couple of guys were building kayaks in their spare time. The sword belonged to my umpty-great grandfather, according to family legend, part of the Mongol armies of the twelfth century. It was really meant for use on horseback, but I practiced forms with it every day, kept it sharp and clean and oiled. I swung it. The blade whistled through a precise arc, stopped dead at an exact point.

I’d never used it on a living being. Once I practiced on straw-filled dummies, but there was no straw on Mars. Or actually, there probably was, we just hadn’t found it yet. I twisted the blade, admired the way the reflections of the double moons slid across the steel, catching on each slight ridge. Once I’d daydreamed of riding across the endless plains on my smart and faithful mare, falcon on her perch, sword sheathed at my side and bow slung along the saddle. Then I daydreamed of visiting Mars. Studying science, engineering, calculus, earning a doctoral degree and undertaking NASA training, waiting and more waiting: that’s the daydream I worked toward, though every day the sword and I exercised together.

Now I dreamed of riding thoat-back across the plains of Mars, with the Barsoomian equivalent of a falcon circling overhead. Deja Thoris might be too much to ask, but it was my daydream so I could have whoever I wanted.

I toweled my sweat away. It had been a warm day for Terra, let alone Mars, and hadn’t yet cooled off, though the sun was below the horizon. I’d be chilled if I stayed out much longer, damp and no longer working hard.

Akiko met me inside the airlock, a vital necessity on an airless planet. We no longer bothered to seal it, but it was still the main accessway. “Susan,” she said, falling in next to me when I didn’t stop, “I was getting worried. You were out so late.”

When I married her, Akiko and I had both just finished grad school, were both entirely focused on getting into NASA, still a boy’s club, and onto the Mars team. As much as anything, we’d fallen together because nobody else understood our obsession. Everyone else I’d dated had drifted away before too long, uninterested in a partner who worked most of the time, and talked about Mars incessantly for the rest.

Shared obsession might not have been the strongest foundation for a marriage ever, but it worked for them. Until the illusions were broken, anyway. Akiko was entirely unable to cope with Mars-as-it-was. She wouldn’t go outside, and fretted incessantly when I spent time outside the walls, something I did more and more often.

I loved the smell of the breeze, the volatiles that reminded me of creosotebush after a rain, the flowers opening in the long Martian spring. I was a geophysicist, but only because that was the specialty most likely to get me onto the team. If things were different, I would have been a botanist. But who knew we’d need botanists on Mars? My childhood of tramping around in the fields and forests, then looking up my finds, had catapulted me into the leading botanical expert on the whole planet, even though I’d discarded plants entirely once the Mars bug bit me.

Akiko didn’t understand that either. She’d never done anything in her life that wasn’t focused on her one goal, even marrying me. My sword practice had always perplexed her, but she understood the necessity for exercise so she left it alone. This, though: studying plants that shouldn’t even exist. She couldn’t handle it. She’d been drinking more and more. I could smell beer on her breath even now.

I pulled away as she clutched at my arm. Tomorrow I’d try again. I’d go out with my sword and drill in the field under the light of two tiny moons, a few essentials tucked in my pockets just in case.

Tomorrow my thoat would appear, or the tomorrow after that.

This is a Friday flash, only on Sunday. As always, I asked for ideas on twitter, wrote the story in one fell swoop, then posted it here completely unedited.

Tonight’s contributors:
@fadeaccompli – the romance of the second moon
@soundym – beer, marriage, awkward conversation
@quasigeo – falconry, calculus, a 12th c. Mongol sword

The general consensus was that it should be science fantasy in space.