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One more shot

And a cheap one it is. The Camping rapture people, they’re just too easy. Now Harold Camping says that the Rapture did happen, we just didn’t notice. And the world will be ending on October 21, thank you very much.

But one of the associated websites still says May 21, with a cute little count-down of the months and days: now sitting idly at 0 Months, 0 Days. Awwww. This screenshot was taken today.

And look, the book has been pened! That is the past tense of the plural of “penis,” obviously, so the sign that you’ve been Raptured is that your dick falls off. You wouldn’t be using it in Heaven anyway, right? Making the discarded body parts into books seems a bit much though.

I wonder if they still have free bumper stickers.


On to more interesting material.

The secret of procrastination revealed by Fake Science. Now if only they post the solution.

NASA has officially given up on Spirit, the Mars rover that made it seven years instead of 90 days. A triumph of science and engineering; now let’s do it again.

For all the stupid things that people do, we can do some awesome ones too.

As always, XKCD puts it best.


XKCD Spirit

Or maybe not

So yeah, I’ve spent some time the past week making fun of Camping and his rapture predictions, and linking to people who did likewise. And I’ll even continue that by linking some possible explanations for the lack of mystical occurrences.

I’d especially like to make you all aware that Eric won one internet yesterday, with his explanation of how a Richter scale works. I must have missed class the day we talked about flagariaoptomicopons.

But all humor aside, there were serious consequences to Camping’s campaign. I don’t know whether he believed his own predictions or not, but he was convincing enough that plenty of other people believed it. Many of those folks sent him their life savings, confident that the world was ending and they would no longer need money, or they quit their jobs to spread the word. But now it’s May 22, what are they going to do? Camping isn’t going to give their money back.

Worse than that: there have been reports of people killing their children and/or themselves so they wouldn’t be left behind. And I don’t think there’s any way to hold Camping liable, for the deaths or the money. Those people were presumably mentally ill, and may have been set off by something else eventually, but Camping was what actually did set them off.

And it’s just going to happen again, next year and the year after and the year after.

Zombies and a reading list

If you're    ready for a zombie apocalypse, then you're ready for any emergency.    emergency.cdc.gov

This is a clever marketing ploy: CDC disaster preparedness has gotten more discussion today that in the past few months, I’d guess. And you know, it is rather important to be prepared for the zombie apocalypse. Also flood, tornado, earthquake and fire.

And the rapture, since it is happening Saturday. The rest of us may need to have some supplies laid up.

Once you’ve got your canned goods and drinking water (and flamethrowers!) safely stashed away, you’ll need something to do. I’ve got you covered there too: the 2011 Hugo nominees have been announced, and once again there’s a Hugo voter’s packet available, containing most or all of the nominated works.

For reasons I don’t understand, the link to the login page is not on the packet description page. You need a userid and PIN to log in, so why not publish the link. But they didn’t, so I won’t either. The packet page does have an email address to contact for more information.

Edit: I was just ahead of the game, apparently. The login link has now been posted. If you are a member, you can get a packet here. You’ll need your userid and PIN.

And how do you get this bounty of first-rate SFF? You become a member. It’s online, it’s quick, and Worldcon membership entitles you to not only read the packet, but also vote for the best and nominate next year. What a deal! It’s kind of pricy: supporting membership is $50. But how else could you participate in deciding what the best SFF of the year is?

And yes, there are zombies among the nominations.

You can tell from the lack of posting that I’m swamped. This working-for-a-living thing, you know. I got a pile of things submitted, and all were promptly rejected. Dammit. I’m not too bothered, actually. I’ve been writing and submitting scientific journal articles for a long time, and fiction rejections are so much friendlier. Really.

I finished the first draft of my novel in progress quite some time ago. I intentionally set it down for a while, but I didn’t intend for it to sit this long. Oops. I’m really intimidated by the amount of work still to do, and a bit scared to read the whole thing and see concretely how much revision, rewriting, addition it needs. So there it sits.

Last week I figured out the two major things that were missing, things that had been bothering me about the background and structure. I hope that knowing the missing bits will help me settle into the revision process. It gives me a starting place: reread the whole thing with an eye to where those two story-things need to be worked into the existing structure.

Having an entry point is a major part of the struggle on any project of this size.

But notice how I said “the two major things” up there, like I won’t find many more as I work through it. Heh.

So long, Sarah Jane

So many of my friends are science fiction fans, and so many of us grew up on Doctor Who. It’s no surprise that so many of us were surprised and saddened to hear that Lis Sladen died yesterday.

Sarah Jane, that is.

Today the reminiscences and memorials to a beloved actress appear.

Tom Baker writes of his time with her (Tom Baker is my Doctor, but I also have a great fondness for him as Puddleglum the Marshwiggle).

Dork Tower was just about perfect.

Oh Amazon…

There was the one where you not only removed the e-book of 1984 from the store, but sucked it off of people’s Kindles without telling them.

There was the one where you classified gay- and lesbian-themed books, including YA and health books, as “Adult”, thus removing them from lists and rankings. (This was later claimed as a glitch.)

And now this. As part of a dispute between Amazon and Macmillan about pricing, you pulled all Macmillan books (including Tor), in both electronic and paper editions, from Amazon’s sale listings – generously leaving the affiliates. This has had interesting effects on your stock prices, but could be catastrophic for the authors involved, especially those with book releases this week. And that’s what pisses me off. Corporations negotiate pricing all the time, but they don’t normally shit all over the artists so directly. Amazon threw a childish temper tantrum, and the authors are the ones really paying, though they have absolutely no control over pricing or formats.

As John Scalzi suggests, go buy a book or three – Macmillan titles, from somewhere not Amazon. Not that you could – Amazon pulled them all on Friday night, and still haven’t put them back.

Scott Westerfeld put together an excellent overview of the dispute accessible to those not familiar with the publishing business. Other good and detailed articles: Toby Buckell, Charlie Stross, John Scalzi.

Jay Lake skewers what is to date Amazon’s only comment on the debate.

There’s a lot more out there, but much of it is by people who appear to be ignorant of the details of the debate and the way publishing works (hint: most authors aren’t rich, and neither are they interested in screwing their readers). I’m firmly on the side of the authors on this one, and I hope that the larger debate on ebook format, pricing, availability shakes down in a way that allows the authors to make a living, and the readers to get reasonably priced (and DRM-free!) texts.

But for now, go buy books!

Edit: Must add: Hal Duncan’s always-unique take on matters.

wrong

Pride

Last month a new group, The Outer Alliance, formed to support gender diversity in science fiction and fantasy. The final straw was some idiotic and blatantly prejudiced writing, but there is a lot of more subtle prejudice out there too. For decades, SF particularly has been the province of straight white men, and not necessarily welcoming of anyone outside that mold. The culture is improving, but that change comes largely through the work of groups like this, made up of people who speak out for what they know is important.

The mission statement of the group:

As a member of the Outer Alliance, I advocate for queer speculative fiction and those who create, publish and support it, whatever their sexual orientation and gender identity. I make sure this is reflected in my actions and my work.

I signed up because I support this mission statement, and because I wanted to sit quietly in the virtual corner and listen. I wasn’t going to post anything today, the Outer Alliance Pride Day. I’m not yet a published fiction author, and I’m in a long-term heterosexual relationship. What could I possibly say?

But that’s wrong. I can say that I support Outer Alliance, and all attempts to increase diversity and the acceptance of diversity in speculative fiction, in both authorship and the fiction itself. I can point out that “not like me” is a really stupid reason to despise or denigrate a person or a work of fiction. I can make a greater effort to purchase and read and discuss works of fiction by authors of all sorts. I can make a greater effort to include more diverse characters and themes in my own work. And then I can do those things.

And finally, I can include this most excellent video, lifted from Cheryl Morgan (and not safe for work, except maybe with headphones):

A contradictory nation

Science, politics… all the fun all at once.

Among the 30 OEDC countries, the United States is number one in health expenditures, but 28 in infant mortality, and 24 in overall life expectancies. We also work the most hours per week, and are the third richest country. But then, we are obese, and don’t get enough sleep. (No time to do anything but work? How do you suppose that contributes to the life expectancy stats?) The full report is here.

Whatever it is we’ve been doing, it isn’t working, and it will continue to not work. We need to fix any number of things. The most urgent place to start is with universal health care. How can anyone read that we are 28th in infant mortality (better than only Mexico and Turkey) and not support access to medical care, and especially preventative care?

Speaking of medical care, here are two important swine-flu links: one and two. Though if you only listen to mainstream news media, you might like three better.


Completely changing the subject, Neil Gaiman provides the best commentary ever on the recent complaints about GRR Martin’s delays in writing the next “Song of Ice and Fire Book”. Let me quote:

“George R.R. Martin is not your bitch.”

Thank you, Neil. (I adore this man. From afar, and very politely.) (I would like to read GRRM’s book, but c’mon people. Go read something else while you wait!)


New technology, new milestones: the first Twitter from Earth orbit! (My favorite is still the Car Talk caller who was on board the space shuttle at the time. I even heard that one when it first aired.)

(I have 66 Twitter followers at this moment, and have made 1,112 updates. Is that good or bad, do you suppose?)


And finally, my latest musical obsession for you to enjoy.

A linking we will go…

Catch-up on a few things I’ve collected:

The business of writing essays for other people. For them to learn from, of course: no one would actually turn these in under a false name. Right? Right.

Citizen science: how interested amateurs can contribute to scientific understanding. Think of it as distributed science – a whole bunch of people doing a little bit can add up to big payoffs. The National Phenology Networkand Project Budburst are tracking the growth stages of particular species of plants, and could use your help.

CPSC guide to the new standards for lead in children’s items discussed here previously.

What’s a heuristic, anyway? And why call your blog such a weird word? Here’s one explanation, from Steve Pavlina, nicely tied into some suggestions for productivity. This is more or less what I had in mind when I titled the blog.

Think of the children

Poorly-thought out legislation could lead to unforeseen consequences. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act is intended to protect children by mandating the testing of toys and other children’s products for lead. Good idea, right? But the law is vaguely-worded, and as written requires the testing of books for lead as well. This expensive and destructive testing could have serious implications for bookstores and libraries. Alternatives to testing include banning children under 12 from libraries to keep them safe.

A statement from the Consumer Product Safety Commission is available here (PDF), and states: “However, a book intended or designed primarily for children would need to meet the new lead content limit of 600 ppm and subsequently 300 ppm established by the CPSIA.” and “The analysis above is equally applicable to educational magazines, posters, bookmarks and other such products that are printed on cardboard or paper and have no play value.”

This site has more information and a contact number at the CPSC.

Edit: But wait… it gets worse.

Edit 2: Statement from the American Library Association.