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July 16, 2008

Trinity
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 06:31 PM * 160 comments

The sixteenth of July, 1945, fell on a Monday.

That was sixty-three years ago today. And sixty-three years ago today, with the Trinity test at Alamogordo, New Mexico, the nuclear age began.

Alamogordo means “Fat Cottonwood” in Spanish. (See also: Los Alamos, the Alamo.) The place lies along the Jornada del Muerto (the Trail of the Dead—so called because it runs 100 miles without any available water). It was chosen for its remoteness, so that a nuclear weapon of unknown strength (Enrico Fermi was taking bets on whether it would set the atmosphere on fire) could be detonated without attracting attention.

It was observed anyway, but quickly explained away.

The Socorro Chieftain:

An explosives magazine at the Alamogordo air base blew up on Monday morning, and the flash, sound and shock was seen, heard and felt in Socorro, more than 100 miles away….

The explosion, as we now know, created a nest of giant ants that terrorized Los Angeles, a giant octopus that terrorized San Francisco, and a giant lizard that destroyed most of metropolitan Tokyo. A giant tarantula had also been reported although, like the initial bomb blast, the government has denied its existence.

Comments on Trinity:
#1 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 06:46 PM:

Anyone got any references for the setting the atmosphere on fire? I want to know the original reasoning, but can't seem to find anything more than assertions that they were afraid a chain reaction of some sort will be set up.

#2 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 06:54 PM:

My guess is that Fermi was making a Physicist joke, and picking up some easy drink money (if he won, he kept the cash; if he lost -- the atmosphere had burned and he wouldn't have to pay up).

#3 ::: Tom S. ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 07:07 PM:

Guthrie @ #1: Apparently it was Edward Teller who first suggested that possibility -- the idea was that the temperature in the fireball was high enough, in theory, to fuse atmospheric nitrogen, which could in turn set off hydrogen-hydrogen fusion in the oceans. They quickly worked out that the reaction was not actually energetic to cause this reaction to run-away.

#4 ::: Edward Oleander ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 07:09 PM:

***BOOM!***

#5 ::: Andrew T ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 07:14 PM:

Guthrie @ #1: Here's an unverified reference:

Groueff, Stephane. Manhattan Project: The Untold Story of the Making of the Atomic Bomb. Boston: Little, 1967. Page 352.

That is, I found an article that mentions the Fermi anecdote, and cites Groueff. But I haven't read the book myself, so I don't know how useful it might be.

#6 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 07:24 PM:

Freeman Dyson concluded his arms control book Weapons and Hope with a chapter called "Tragedy is Not Our Business." He suggests that a requirement for things to get better, or adversity to be faced, is to get over the lure of tragedy and fatalism.

When I compare the likely results of an atomic war with the scary peak oil stories, I feel like telling the groupies to tout the latter to get a goddamn grip.

#7 ::: Emily ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 07:29 PM:

@Andrew T

The book you're citing is one of the standard references on the US nuclear program. It's fairly decent, and largely based on primary sources. It's been years since I read it, so I can't recall whether there was a cite supporting the Fermi story. (as I've gotten older, I've gotten ever so much nastier about reading the end notes and foot notes looking for primary source citations)

Since the book is quite old, there probably has been some material declassified that affects it.

#8 ::: Tom S. ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 07:38 PM:

The Teller origin of the possibility, and the calculations by Hans Bethe and others that disproved it, are reported in Richard Rhode's Making of the Atomic Bomb, which quotes from the immediate post-war technical history (Manhattan District Project, Project Y, The Los Alamos Project, by David Hawkins, 1947.)

#9 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 07:42 PM:

Recently declassified documents have revealed that the giant tarantula was in fact created by an experimental growth serum.

Also, rumor has it the thing was destroyed by Clint Eastwood.

#10 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 07:56 PM:

I heard you could survive one of those things by hiding in a sufficiently old refrigerator.

#11 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 08:01 PM:

they had a harder time explaining why a magazine explosion was visible to a blind girl in a passing train.

#12 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 08:20 PM:

ok, snopes mostly debunks that story. sigh ...

http://www.snopes.com/science/atombomb.asp

#13 ::: Edward Oleander ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 08:42 PM:

The theory behind the "blind girl" story may have some support. Many soldiers who were stationed near atomic blast tests (six miles in trenches) have reported "seeing" the bones in their arms as they held their arms in front of their faces at the time of the blast.

Fast forward 50 years. During head scans, there are many accounts (myself among them) of patients being able to "see" the plane of energy dissecting the eyes as the scan progresses down the head. It was totally weird...

Those two examples use different types of radiation, but it shows that there is a good chance that someone unable to detect visible spectrum radiation/light images might still be detecting something that the brain can register and interpret...

#14 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 08:47 PM:

FYI: The Lee who posted #11-12 is not me.

#15 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 08:52 PM:

Trinity: Onions, bell peppers and celery.

#16 ::: Tony Zbaraschuk ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 09:23 PM:

Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

And the Truce of the Mushroom Cloud, which has kept peace among the Great Powers for longer than any previous time in world history (unless I'm wrong about the duration of one of the Rome-Persia truces).

#17 ::: George E Martin ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 09:46 PM:

For what it is worth. Jim says "Trinity test at Alamogordo". The Trinity test site itself is closer to Socorro NM (Jim mentions the newspaper) than Alamogordo. A wikipedia reference gives the Trinity site as 35 miles southeast of Socorro.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trinity_test

Local lore has it that residents of San Antonio NM, just south of Socorro, were told the day before that something very special would be happening the next day

George

#18 ::: Carol ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 09:46 PM:

#10 ::: Michael Roberts

I heard you could survive one of those things by hiding in a sufficiently old refrigerator.

Yeah, but after surviving, wouldn't you suffocate? And if you took the door off beforehand, the blast would get you.

I don't think getting into an old fridge would work.

#19 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 09:46 PM:

Edward @ 13

I've heard that people in dark rooms can pick up flashes as particles go through their eyes -cosmic rays? Not sure how true it is, but retinas are designed to pick up photons, which are pretty small also.

#21 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 10:05 PM:

Another possible explanation for the blind girl: infrared. The snopes article pooh-poohs the idea that the atom bomb could "produce a kind of light even the blind can see", but also quotes one account saying the blind girl "felt" the blast.

Infrared travels at the same speed as visible light so it would have been perceived at the same time as the flash. (Some of the other explanations advanced by snopes - a blast of air, a sudden change in air pressure, shaking or swerving of the car - wouldn't have been simultaneous with the flash perceived by the sighted driver and passengers of the same car; they would have traveled only at the speed of sound, and at 50 miles distance, speed-of-sound effects would take minutes to arrive.)

Snopes also points out that she may have been only mostly blind, and retained the capability to distinguish darkness from bright light.

#22 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 10:10 PM:

The blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki left shadows of human beings incised on walls where the now incinerated human beings had sat or stood. I don't know if similar shadows were left at Trinity. The Exploratorium, the amazing interactive science museum in San Francisco, had and may still have an experiment which allowed participants to imprint their own shadows on a blank wall, thus demonstrating this effect of thermal radiation.

#23 ::: A.J. ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 10:21 PM:

I've heard that people in dark rooms can pick up flashes as particles go through their eyes -cosmic rays? Not sure how true it is, but retinas are designed to pick up photons, which are pretty small also.

This is sorta true. Cosmic rays, if they interact with the vitreous humor instead of just passing through it, can leave a trail of excited particles in their wake. These particles then de-excite by emitting photons, which the retina picks up.

I don't think this happens on the ground very often -- there just aren't enough cosmic rays down here -- but it does happen outside the atmosphere. It was apparently a nuisance for the Apollo astronauts, having flashes while they were trying to sleep. I suppose it could also happen near a nuclear blast, but I'd think that the effect would be completely swamped by all the visible radiation coming from the explosion.

#24 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 10:32 PM:

I heard you could survive one of those things by hiding in a sufficiently old refrigerator.

I heard there's one available a rocket sled away from hangar 18.

#25 ::: Carol ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 11:07 PM:

Helen Keller was completely blind after her childhood illness. After some years, for cosmetic reasons, her eyeballs were removed and she wore glass prostheses. As I remember, she reported losing being able to sense proximity. She certainly lost something.

Ved Mehta wrote a series of autobiographical stories for The New Yorker that mentioned this awareness, stating that as a totally blind child, he rode his bicycle around his neighborhood streets in India. He reported not only pedaling between the obvious walls, but avoiding vehicles and pedestrians.

There seems to be some kind of stimulation of the retina, if it's present.

#26 ::: Emily H. ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 11:18 PM:

The scenes in Ellen Klages's "The Green Glass Sea" depicting the Trinity test and its aftermath are beautiful and chilling. It's YA, and it's not science fiction - except in the sense that it is fiction about science - but I recommend it highly.

#28 ::: Dom ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 02:29 AM:

There is an interesting neurological phenomenon called blindsight.

Back in college I lived near a guide dog training facility. One day at the bus stop, a blind lady with a dog asked me to let her know when the #31 bus pulled up.

While we made small talk, the #7 arrived; just then she mentioned that the #7 bus line didn't quite pass her destination. Odd coincidence, I thought. The #13 was next, and she suddenly mentioned that bus line, too. We ran out of things to talk about, but when the #17 bus stopped by, she mumbled something to herself about seventeen.

Thinking that she might have been a partially sighted guide-dog trainer, I asked whether she could see the numbers on the buses. She glared at me for the stupid question, so I let her know when the #31 showed up and never saw her (or the dog) again.

#29 ::: mike shupp ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 02:40 AM:

Well, in 1945, the US government DID want to destroy Tokyo. Creating a giant amphibian to handle the task probably wasn't what Truman and the Manhattan Project scientists originally intended, but whatever works....

Ain't science grand!

#30 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 02:42 AM:

Tony Zbaraschuk @ 18

Since they couldn't fight with each other, they fought proxy wars, with other people doing the dying: the Congo, Vietnam, various civil wars in South and Central America and North Africa, the Greek Civil War, etc. Never fear, the world did not lack for wars.

#31 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 02:47 AM:

And let's not forget all the mutant and mutating humans: fifty-foot tall women and shrinking men*, and teen-agers with wings and killing stares who form gangs and ride their motorcycles into ... well, no, the ones on the bikes weren't radioactive, just bored.

* I sense a barely-concealed Mid=Century gynophobia here.

#32 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 03:16 AM:

Have you noticed how the nuclear horror genre was so rarely about destroying the world, or even civilisation. Apart from On The Beach I can't bring anything that final to mind.

But now it seems quite in order for stoeytellers to threaten the entire universe, and a lot of it is rooted in the supernatural. Magic or Religion are the threats.

It's only a matter of time before some Arab terrorists get hold of a copy of the Necronomicon, and prepare a bioweapon attack on America which will act as a Great Sacrifice to awaken Great Cthulhu.

Cynthis Rothrock ought to be in the movie somewhere.

#33 ::: Zak ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 03:25 AM:

Some years back I visited the Trinity site.

It's an interesting little tour to do if you're in the area, you've got all day and don't mind being stuck in a car caravan for several hours.

The ranch house where the bomb was developed was more interesting in many ways than the site of the detonation.

In the picture I linked to you can see the little stone monument next to the blobs of steel and fused stone where the device was detonated. It's a bit hard to pick out in a photograph, but when you're there the ground dips down in an enormous, obvious crater.

There were bits of trinitite still on the ground, but it was mostly rabbit shit. There were lots and lots of rabbits there.

Normal sized rabbits. Well, maybe a little bit big. The ants were the regular non-giant variety though.

#34 ::: Mark Temporis ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 04:48 AM:

Dave @ 32: Check out Charlie Stross' "A Colder War", "Atrocity Archives", and "Jennifer Morgue" for a cold-war style take on the Mad Arab.

The scenario you mention takes up part of "Jennifer Morgue".

#35 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 06:49 AM:

There was a giant Gila monster created by the
A-bomb tests too. Don't forget that one.

BTW, Godzilla was created by Pacific A-bomb testing, not the Nevada/New Mexico ones that created the giant spiders/ants/Gila monsters.

And Tokyo was already destroyed by LeMay's B-29's and their firebombs; I was always amazed at how fast those industrious Japanese could rebuild their city just in time for that big lizard to smash it all up again.

#36 ::: Mike McHugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 07:41 AM:

Dave @ 32: I don't know about anything as completely final as On The Beach, but I've certainly read lots where civilisation was destroyed. This Is The Way The World Ends, Down To A Sunless Sea, and does anyone else remember the Firebrats series? For a more complete list, there's Paul Brians' Nuclear Holocausts: Atomic War in Fiction.

#37 ::: Tim Kyger ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 08:20 AM:

July 16th, to try to redeem the date a little bit, is also the launch date for Apollo 11.

#38 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 09:11 AM:

#19, #23 -

I'd always assumed that those kinds of flashes were just random nerve firings of some kind that happen all the time. We don't normally notice them because the purposeful firings drown them out. Interesting to discover that there's another cause!

#25, Carol -

Both of those stories are amazingly cool.

#39 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 09:24 AM:

Tim Kyger #37: My younger brother and his younger daughter both arranged to be born on 16 July. Yesterday, she turned exactly a quarter of his age.

#40 ::: Carol ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 09:34 AM:

#32 ::: Dave Bell

Have you noticed how the nuclear horror genre was so rarely about destroying the world, or even civilisation. Apart from On The Beach I can't bring anything that final to mind.

Having recently sent the film version of OtB I immediately thought of "Dr. Strangelove". Then I realized you were talking about the written horror genre.

#41 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 09:51 AM:

The Jornada del Muerto (a shortcut away from the Rio Grande on the trail between Las Cruces and Socorro) is on the other side of the San Andreas Mountains from Alamogordo.

#42 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 10:16 AM:

#32 Dave Bell:

How about the Martian Chronicles? Earth was destroyed via nuclear war in that one.

#43 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 10:22 AM:

Dom @ 28, maybe the woman with the guide dog had just memorized the bus schedule in greater detail than you had?

#44 ::: mary ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 11:10 AM:

Chris @21: "Infrared travels at the same speed as visible light so it would have been perceived at the same time as the flash. (Some of the other explanations advanced by snopes - a blast of air, a sudden change in air pressure, shaking or swerving of the car - wouldn't have been simultaneous with the flash perceived by the sighted driver and passengers of the same car; they would have traveled only at the speed of sound, and at 50 miles distance, speed-of-sound effects would take minutes to arrive.)"

Correct but not quite: The visible (and infrared) light arrives first, yes, but the initial blast is a shock wave, which travels slower than light but faster than the speed of sound.

#45 ::: colin roald ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 11:25 AM:

I believe it's been established that the big angry lizard was a creation of the Hiroshima and/or Nagasaki blasts, not Trinity.

#46 ::: Mark Reed ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 12:04 PM:

Uhm, nuclear end-of-the-world stories? _Alas,_Babylon_ anyone?

#47 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 12:30 PM:

Re #22
an experiment which allowed participants to imprint their own shadows on a blank wall, thus demonstrating this effect of thermal radiation

But could they do it more than once?

#48 ::: A.J. ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 12:31 PM:

Uhm, nuclear end-of-the-world stories? _Alas,_Babylon_ anyone?

Also, _Planet of the Apes_.

#49 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 12:42 PM:

19, 23, 38: It is known that rods are activated by photons, so some of the flashes are photon-activation. Others are caused by shadows across the retina, by overstimulation of the rods/cones (i.e., caffeine), and rarely by damage to the retina. In fact, if you ever have a shower of flashes (or "sparks") across your eyesight, it may signal a detachment -- this is an ophthalmic emergency and must be treated immediately to preserve your eyesight. In particular, sparks associated with any dimming of eyesight ("curtain across your vision") or blurring of vision. Again, this is an ophthalmic emergency and requires immediate attention -- call your doctor and get to an ophthalmologist ASAP.

Occasional single flashes or dark spots floating around ("floaters") are related to the vitreous shrinking away from the retina and are not a sign of retinal detachment.

#50 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 12:45 PM:

Sarah @ 47, the Boston Museum of Science had a shadow-imprinter thing about twenty years ago (I don't know if it still does).

I thought it was a little creepy, but the boy I was dating then went through a whole series of poses, so, yes, it's repeatable.

#51 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 12:45 PM:

Sarah @ 47, the Boston Museum of Science had a shadow-imprinter thing about twenty years ago (I don't know if it still does).

I thought it was a little creepy, but the boy I was dating then went through a whole series of poses, so, yes, it's repeatable.

#52 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 12:47 PM:

Thanks everyone. I do actually have Richard Rhodes book "The making of the atomic bomb", but couldn't find anything useful in it about my question.

#53 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 01:04 PM:

Rikibeth @ 50, the MIT Museum had such a demo the last time I went there (four years ago now). The wall was painted in something mildly photosensitive and a strong strobe fixed your shadow; it faded over several seconds. Very repeatable, and also fun. Jumping up in the air when the strobe went off was favorite.

#54 ::: Brenda ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 01:35 PM:

Dom
"There is an interesting neurological phenomenon called blindsight."

Also a book by Peter Watts, Pub by Tor.

"Who you do send to meet the alien
when the alien doesn't want to meet?

You send a linguist with multiple personalities carved surgically into her brain. You send
a biologist so radically interfaced with machinery that he sees x-rays and tastes ultra-
sound, so compromised by grafts and splices he no longer feels his own flesh..."

A little too hard SF for my tastes. Could have used a bit more character development and less science wankery. For the most part I find hard SF and science in general to be very boring. People are interesting, science is not.

#55 ::: Cowboy Diva ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 01:47 PM:

A strobe wall can also be found at the Magic House in St. Louis.

and yes, I also think Alas Babylon is a good example of the post-nuclear holocaust genre.

#56 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 02:00 PM:

The explosion, as we now know, created a nest of giant ants that terrorized Los Angeles, a giant octopus that terrorized San Francisco, and a giant lizard that destroyed most of metropolitan Tokyo. A giant tarantula had also been reported

It also spawned movies such Roger Corman's Teenage Caveman. And it got Klaatu and Gort to come pay us a visit.

#57 ::: Scott ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 02:27 PM:

There's another strobe-wall room at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle. The "oooEEEOOO" warble it makes before setting off the strobe is burned into my brain more than the images.

#58 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 03:08 PM:

#53

Considering that "Doc" Edgerton who was the person responsible for strobes spent essentially the entirety of his adult life at MIT, a strobe wall at the MIT museum is very appropriate.

#59 ::: Chris W ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 03:12 PM:

Guthrie:
"Thanks everyone. I do actually have Richard Rhodes book "The making of the atomic bomb", but couldn't find anything useful in it about my question."

I'm actually in the middle of reading that book and, remembering that incident, I did some sleuthing in the index.

The story is told in chapter 13, pages 418-9 in my edition. It took place in July of '43, when Oppenheimer et al were first considering the possibility of thermonuclear weapons. Edward Teller, who had first proposed the idea pointed out that deuterium wasn't the only nucleus that could fuse, and that theoretically a nuclear device might ignite the nitrogen in the air or the hydrogen in the oceans the way that a fire spreads through fuel.

Shortly afterwards, though, calculations by Hans Bethe and Arthur Compton showed that this could only happen at temperatures two orders of magnitude greater than those generated by even thermonuclear devices.

#60 ::: mjfgates ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 03:58 PM:

Alas, Babylon counts as almost the opposite of a nuclear-holocaust story. The bombs fall, there's panic.. but Florida is still habitable, few if any people actually die from things like fallout, and within a couple of years some central authority is doing well enough send aid packages via helicopter.

The other real nuclear holocaust story I can remember was a young adult book called Z for Zachariah. Good book when I was twelve, I wonder what I'd think of it now.

#61 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 05:52 PM:

Chris, you are right.
And the funny thing is that what got me wondering about it was it being used by an online aqaintance as an example of the uncertainties and unknowns of science. In reality, it turns out to be no such thing, as is usually the case with this persons rhetorical assertions.

#62 ::: Phil Palmer ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 06:25 PM:

I was taught by my chemistry teacher that the reaction feared by the Manhattan project was the chemical oxidation of nitrogen one, the same as the one which happens during lightning strikes. He cited it as an example of a reaction that has a high activation energy requirement but which then generates enough heat to continue. Or rather, doesn't seem to in this case.

He may have been talking nonsense on purpose; I am now wise to the pedagogical trick of using hyperbole to nail an idea into the recipient's skull. Apparently it's more effective than just saying you need to heat things to cook them.

#63 ::: Trip the Space Parasite ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 07:54 PM:

Re*: Brenda @ #54:

A little while back, it finally occurred to me that Blindsight is Lovecraftian horror updated for the 21st century: Humans aren't equipped to deal with the universe outside their little bubble of liquid water and right angles; nothing out there cares in the least about them, except perhaps as a minor annoyance to be swatted; and enabling someone to deal with the wider universe at all makes them abhuman.

*For a suitably small value of "re:".

#64 ::: Brenda ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 10:24 PM:

Blindsight is Lovecraftian horror updated for the 21st century

Sure, it's just that all the science wonkery prevents him from telling a story. Genre fiction leaves me cold. Mystery, SciFi, horror, romance, these are just ways of not confronting and dealing with people as they are, with the human condition as it is. Genre fiction is really then, reactionary and a kind of hysteria.

#65 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 10:37 PM:

Brenda @ 64: wait, WHAT?

Were you somehow not aware that one of our blog hosts is an editor for Tor Books, and that MANY of the participants here are fans (or WRITERS) of genre fiction?

I suspect you won't find a very receptive audience for that argument here.

#66 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 10:39 PM:

Rikibeth @ 65: I think Brenda might be gently tugging our lower limbs.

#67 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 10:40 PM:

Mystery, SciFi, horror, romance, these are just ways of not confronting and dealing with people as they are, with the human condition as it is.

Oh, crsp.
That's just plain wrong.
Genre is all about people.
What you're giving us is the mainstream literary-critic view of the world: genre isn't Serious Literature, and is Beneath Notice.

#68 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 10:45 PM:

John @ 66: and I fell for it. Would that I were a Morris dancer, so I could just say "try the other one, it's got bells on."

#69 ::: Chris W ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 10:55 PM:

Brenda @ 64
Wow, I'm sort of shocked to see someone on this site express the sentiment that genre fiction, defined broadly, is reactionary hysteria. Not that there's anything wrong with the position, I'm just sort of gobsmacked to see it expressed here. Sort of like seeing a post on slashdot arguing that we should all get rid of our computers and go back to living a simpler life.

And I think it's clear that the best scifi/fantasy is every bit as good as "non-genre" fiction. (I say "the best of" because Sturgeon's Law, as always, obtains.)

To draw a parallel with the science you find so uninteresting, there's only so much you can learn about anything, whether it's a fundamental particle or the nature of the human condition, from passive observation. You can only observe things in a test tube for so long before you have to start smashing them together at relativistic velocities to learn more.

That's what Sci Fi excels at. It's not about portraying humanity exactly as it is, it's about asking "How would things be different if we changed this?" And a good work, like a good experiment, chooses its changes in such a way that the result illuminates us in ways which no ordinary scenario could.

#70 ::: Chris W ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2008, 10:59 PM:

Oh, dear, of course.

An excellent performance, incidentally. The thought crossed my mind, but it seemed so earnest and yet so wrong-headed at the same time. It just made me want to spring into action because there was Someone Wrong On The Internet!

#71 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 12:01 AM:

Paula Lieberman (#58): Appropriately, that strobe wall is right in the middle of the permanent exhibit of "Doc" Edgerton's work.

That exhibit includes one piece in particular which is singularly on topic for this ML thread: a photo of an atomic bomb explosion.

#72 ::: Brenda ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 12:54 AM:

I suspect you won't find a very receptive audience for that argument here.

It's just a preference, a matter of taste. Some people don't like broccoli. I find hard SF extremely boring. Other than that forget I said anything, it's not important.

I'm sort of shocked to see someone on this site express...

I'm shocked to see the dawn of the nuclear age discussed as if it were a geeky gee-whizz science fair exhibit.

#73 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 07:41 AM:

72: I find hard SF extremely boring.

Brenda, achree, I've just clicked on your "view all by" and as far as I can see the only time you have ever made a comment that wasn't insulting, bitter or downright trollish was your first-ever ML comment, which was a suggestion that one could substitute Grand Marnier for rum in a recipe.

Don't let the shuttle bay door impact your stern thruster array as you deploy.

#74 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 10:03 AM:

Brenda -

Or talk about cooking. A lot of us like talking about cooking, particularly creative substitutions.

Tell us about anything you do well and enjoy. Please.

As another Carol surfaced recently, I'm using my last name again.

#75 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 10:08 AM:

ajay, now I'm curious: I know that "machree" is actually mo chridh, "my heart" -- what's the "a" in "achree," then?

#76 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 10:51 AM:

75: "achree" is an Anglicised spelling of "a'chridh", roughly "O heart" - "heart" in the vocative, to use Grammar Speak.

Also, Carol Kimball's suggestion is much better than mine; thanks.

#77 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 10:53 AM:

Brenda 72: It's just a preference, a matter of taste. Some people don't like broccoli. I find hard SF extremely boring. Other than that forget I said anything, it's not important.

You know what? I have a preference too. I have a preference for not reading comments by ill-tempered ignorant wankers who come in here and try to start fights over and over.

I wish I could forget you'd said anything. Ever. It would help if you never said anything again.

Watch that door, it swings shut on you.

(Note of possible interest: I've denounced some hard SF for insufficient character development. But "People are interesting; science is not" is so mindbogglingly stupid a thing to say that I couldn't find any polite response when I first saw it. People have nothing to do with science? There's no science that deals with people? Scientists aren't people? I now have stupid all over me.)

#78 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 10:59 AM:

*hands Xopher a spray bottle of Stupid-B-Gone and a towel*

#79 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 11:09 AM:

#72
You mean it wasn't geeky?

You really ought to read their biographies and autobiographies. Bethe and Feynmann, in particular, were known for their jokes.

#80 ::: Pete Darby ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 11:26 AM:

I'm shocked to see the dawn of the nuclear age discussed as if it were a geeky gee-whizz science fair exhibit.

Firstly, well, that's about as ungenerous an interpretation of what's going on here as you could find.

Secondly, I know, if only, if only there was somehow, some way, to stop us making you read this thread.

Bad us. We must work on this.

#81 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 11:34 AM:

Rikibeth 78: *cleans up* Wow, where'd you get this? Do they sell Troll-B-Gone?

Pete 80: Now we'll see if humorless trolls are impervious to sarcasm too.

#82 ::: Trip the Space Parasite ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 11:40 AM:

Re: some bozo @ #63:

Everyone, sorry for feeding the troll. My desire to share my insight (paltry as it may be) momentarily overcame my good sense. I'll go back to gibbering quietly in the corner now.

#83 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 11:43 AM:

Trip, that was a good insight and worth making; I'm a fan of both Watts and Lovecraft ("You don't smile very much, do you?" said the girl I took out to dinner last night) but I never made the connection. Well said.

#84 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 11:44 AM:

Trip, it wasn't 100% clear that she was an outright troll until after your comment. But since I've been feeding her too, I guess you should take my comment with a grain of salt!

#85 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 11:47 AM:

Brenda@72: I'm shocked to see the dawn of the nuclear age discussed as if it were a geeky gee-whizz science fair exhibit.

You mean there's a certified proper way to discuss the subject? Or do you merely believe that serious subjects must invariably be discussed in a serious, if not downright somber, manner? If the latter, then

a) you need to take another look at the name of this blog, and consider the implications of the wordplay inherent therein, and

b) you really, really don't want to read this thread.

#86 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 11:53 AM:

Debra, I don't think humorless trolls get wordplay either.

#87 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 12:29 PM:

I'm shocked to see the dawn of the nuclear age discussed as if it were a geeky gee-whizz science fair exhibit.

Taking this seriously for just one moment, I'll say that the first nuclear explosion is an important historical event, a science experiment at least as gee-whizzy as the next, a terrible weapon, a notable technical development, and the most important strategic, political and maybe moral change in of the twentieth century, and that while discussing one of these aspects, I may be neglecting the others, but I'm not denying them. Rather than criticising those who choose to look at one aspect, if there's something you thinks more important or interesting on one of these (or maybe one I've forgotten - that would be interesting) lines about Trinity, you might do better to address it directly.

(I note that in addition to what I've said above, nuclear explosions may be horrifically destructive, but I don't see that as a reason not to use them for a music video for example as, after all, they look really quite extraordinary.)

#88 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 12:31 PM:

I'm really impressed by Trip's observation about Blindsight, and it's actually made me retroactively like that book more than I originally did. Thanks!

And you didn't feed the troll. She devours everything in sight, whether it's thrown to her or not. This is my last-ever mention of her, after which I will be ignoring her forever. I think we'd all be happier if we all did the same, because all efforts to engage with her have failed. If she is a person, and not an Eliza program as Greg theorized, then she's a very bad person.

#89 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 01:36 PM:

Two atomic holocaust novels that really affected me were Philip Wylie's "Triumph" and Mordecai Roshwald's "Level 7."

"Level 7" depicted the progressive advance of radiation sickness in a command shelter(?) that memory has made non-unlike the ones that were described in "Dr. Strangelove."

At the end of "Triumph," the last twelve Americans (possibly the only survivors in the entire Northern Hemisphere) are rescued by an Australian expedition. The book ends: "And when they were gone, the place had no name." /chill

I read a lot of novels in that vein back then (a lot were published, and I read anything that seemed even remotely in-genre). In retrospect they were definitely a bit Lovecraftian. Charlie Stross has explored this connection to excellent effect.

#90 ::: Trip the Space Parasite ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 01:51 PM:

Glyphs cannot express my gladness at not having to suck out my own brain in expiation!

ajay @ #83, ethan @ #88: Thanks!

I'm not sure whether it would be cooler for Watts to have had that in mind when writing, or for it to be the natural result of serious consideration of the ideas.

Xopher @ #84: I have never seen a comment from you that was not already perfectly seasoned.

#91 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 02:14 PM:

Trip 90: Hee, hee! I just became your friend for life! (Even though to be honest that probably means you haven't read many of my posts...since I've popped off some real bzzzzt! kinds of nonsense from time to time.)

#92 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 02:19 PM:

I'm shocked to see the dawn of the nuclear age discussed as if it were a geeky gee-whizz science fair exhibit.

I wonder if Hannah-Barbera ever released a DVD boxed set of the cartoon Atom Ant.

#93 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 02:46 PM:

Trip, I definitely think it's cooler if Watts didn't intend it at all. But that's probably becuase I'm a much bigger Lovecfart fan than a Watts fan.

#94 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 02:46 PM:

I don't know how I missed that typo, but I'm kind of glad I did.

#95 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 05:16 PM:

Xopher @ 86

Well, we could always switch to swordplay. You only have to add an "s". A horse's will do.

#97 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 05:32 PM:

ethan @ 88

WIZARD OF ELIZA: "No, no, my dear, I'm not a bad person. I'm just a very bad program;."

#98 ::: Trip the Space Parasite ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 05:45 PM:

Xopher @ #91: Actually I've been lurking off and on for years. I've seen you retract comments for the underlying ingredients, but that's different. (Is my metaphor supposed to be creaking like that?)

ethan @ #93: I think I agree. And at the moment I'm also a bigger Lovecraft fan than Watts fan, but that may be because I haven't read anything else of Watts's. I have at least one more of his books somewhere in my TBR pile, but I've been putting it off because after Blindsight, his writing scares me.

As often happens, James Nicoll put it well: "recommended for those with a surfeit of will to live".

Come to think of it, I have that reaction to Kij Johnson's writing too. I read her first book, the one with foxes, and found it very good, but when I try to pick up the second one, I cringe at the knowledge of the oncoming, inescapable doom.

#99 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 05:45 PM:

ethan @ 94... Didn't he write The Bumwich Horror?

#100 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 05:54 PM:

Bruce 95: I wonder if Brenda has six fingers on her right hand.

#101 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 05:55 PM:

Trip, I know you've been around for a while. Not like this is the first time I've noticed you. I was expressing humility.

#102 ::: Brenda ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 06:37 PM:

ethan
she's a very bad person
No, I'm not a bad person, not even in real life. I'm just a pissed off person. Making Light crossed a line and published personal info about me. How would you like it if I published your personal info just because we got into an argument ethan? I suspect you wouldn't like it one bit. I suspect you would harbor some resentment. You might even seek whatever sort of revenge you could. But would that make you a bad person? No.

So thanks a lot Making Light. You didn't make any light here. Your smug self-centered elitism fills me with disgust at everything you stand for. You are no different than your enemy on the right. Take off the mask and it's the same monster underneath.

#103 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 06:55 PM:

What personal info, Brenda? When did this happen? Is that why you keep coming back to pick fights?

I still think you're a jackass, mind. But I didn't know about this alleged publication of your personal information.

#104 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 07:02 PM:

Stefan @ 6:

Along similar lines, the Montreal Gazette recently had an article about Pete Seeger, who was doing a concert in the city. The article talked about his music and various aspects of his history and politics. The pull quote, which startled me on the front page of the Arts section, was "I'm not as pessimistic as I was after Hiroshima."

#105 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 07:03 PM:

Making Light crossed a line and published personal info about me.

When? Where?

#106 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 07:10 PM:

xopher,

she first showed up as "noen" in, i believe, the handwashing thread? i know that she entered that one with a blanket insult, anyway, & was outed (probably on that thread, although i may be misremembering) by someone wanting to stop her trolling.

many bystanders thought the outing (full name, some medical history) was uncalled for. brenda, at the time, didn't seem to take offense, & engaged in a much calmer manner throughout the thread.

but i guess it's been admitted, now, that calming down & engaging in a limited (limited politeness, limited sense) manner after being called on her insults is all part of her strategy of vengeance. i guess cause she can use up more of people's time & emotional energy by sometimes pretending to be merely socially inept.

#107 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 07:14 PM:

jim,

it was a commenter, not an author. & like i said, many people jumped on the outer pretty quick, saying it was inappropriately intrusive (i should just look it up, but i'm really really really supposed to be working). but i guess the sin is still attached to the whole blog.

#108 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 07:15 PM:

I remember that incident. I certainly thought that publication of personal data was uncalled for, and I believe I said so at the time.

Taking "revenge" by coming back and being obnoxious to the whole community, including those of us who were angered by the "outing" though...that's just pathetic.

I guess feeling sorry for her is better for my soul than being angry at her. But she needs help.

#109 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 07:33 PM:

Brenda, if you find that you're encountering hostility everywhere you go:

http://www.despair.com/dysfunction.html

#110 ::: Joe McMahon ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 07:37 PM:

Xopher@100: I had six fingers on my left hand at birth. No bones in the extra one though, so they removed it by the expedient of tying a string around it, tight enough to cut off the circulation - and waited for it to fall off.

Still have six toes on my right foot, though.

#111 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 07:39 PM:

Friendly me: http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/009470.html#219707

Fade Manley objects to the outing: http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/009470.html#219710

Me agreeing and saying the post should be deleted: http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/009470.html#219716

Brenda admitting that the publication was what sobered her up and led to her apology: http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/009470.html#219716

Me saying I was writing her an email encouraging her to come back, but then she did: http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/009470.html#219716

Patrick explicitly welcoming Brenda to ML: http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/009470.html#219739

JKRichard saying s/he doesn't mind the outing posts being removed: http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/009470.html#219743

They were ROT-13'd, but they're still there. Everyone, including JKRichard, agreed it was not the right thing to do, and everyone was friendly to Brenda after her initial apology.

#112 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 07:43 PM:

OK, I posted a comment briefly reviewing some key points in that thread, and it's being held for review, since it was URL-laden.

Upshot: The personal information was ROT-13'd but not actually removed.

Actually I don't think the sudden politeness was a tactic in preparation of the revenge plot; I think "noen's" initial hostility back in October, and Brenda's now, are part of the same emotional trouble of hers.

I feel really bad for her now.

#113 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 08:40 PM:

Noen -- Brenda -- why are you over here, picking fights with the Making Light community? That comment of yours about genre fiction can't have been anything but deliberate provocation.

I've never understood why you got into that argument about soap in the handwashing thread, either. The people who really knew their stuff kept explaining that soap doesn't kill bacteria, and you kept insisting against all reason and evidence that it did. The distinction between an antibacterial and a surfactant is not something I'd have thought you cared about.

I don't know why you feel you need to have a fight, but whatever the reason, it's not right to use these people to scratch your itch. Also, and here I'm speaking for the record, J. K. Richard did not post identifying personal information about you. He posted trivia that made it clear that he knew who you were, but he left out the core information that had led him to that trivia.

His comment was subsequently encrypted in ROT-13. It has now been unpublished, with no prejudice to J. K. Richard: not because it's dangerously revealing, but so it can't be misrepresented again in the future.

If you need help, just say so. The way you've been going about it does not work.

#114 ::: J.K.Richard ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 09:17 PM:

As a former nuclear mechanical operator I hereby entitle the Hosts, Denizens, and Moderators of Making Light to hereby discuss the dawning of the nuclear age as if it were a geeky gee-whiz science fair exhibit.

While I might further apologize seeing as my behavior in October adding fuel to the already flaming troll... I think it's best to understand that this behavior isn't isolated to ML alone. A simple Google reveals her trollish behavior throughout the internet as either noen or Brenda/Brenda Von Ahsen.

Ms Von Ahsen please, find a more productive hobby. "You're damaging my calm." If you would like help my inbox is a click away. I understand living with mental health issues and disabilities and perhpas I can offer some relevant advice to living peaceably and functionably.

...and Teresa @112, you may prejudice me if you like. I'm often a PITA (but never intentionally).

And my reasons for posting said trivia (however many months ago) was to make a clear example that you can't run around the internet starting flamewars assuming impunity. I have little tolerance or respect for people who believe they can lob hate-grenades because they're protected behind their phosphor generator. There was absolutely nothing posted that hadn't been made available to the public by the End User.

But I digress, there is no spoon.

#115 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 09:17 PM:

Just speaking for myself, I think it's a major exaggeration to say on account of someone's apparent trolling, that they are "a very bad person". That may have been intended as tongue-in-cheek hyperbole on Ethan's part, but to me at least there's a big gap between unpleasant-and-disruptive on the one hand and very-bad or evil on the other. Also, as long as I'm preaching goodness and light, let's remember the distinction between the action and the actor.

Musing a bit more, I think the friction with the rest of the .Net's mores is slowly taking a toll on the regulars.

I've seen some nice people get rather flamey here lately when perceiving a threat, real or apparent. When that trend goes too far, and regulars suddenly start perceiving each other as threats to the peace, an online community can explode and implode in less time than you'd believe possible, with people hurting for years over it. I've seen it happen. I have no desire to see it again.

Next time anybody is feeling tempted to circle the wagons or escalate, please take a deep breath first.

Brenda, noen, whichever name you'd prefer to go by - what's going on? You seem to be an interesting person, and I've seen you be an interesting participant both here and on Boing-Boing. Here, though, it seems like you came in to this thread with a chip on your shoulder, but addressed it obliquely rather than directly. That's a wild guess, and I'd prefer not to make guesses about what's going on, so what is the situation?

#116 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 09:42 PM:

Clifton Royston @ 114: I've noticed it, too, and you're giving very good advice.

Damn you for stealing my gig! Damn you, Clifton Royston!

Oh, wait...

#117 ::: MCZ ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 09:47 PM:

If Brenda is pissed off with Making Light, why does she keep returning here?

If someone bounds in here and shits on the floor, why would it be surprising that the regulars would be curious as to where the troll came from?

How is information "private" if it has already been made available on the Web by the troll herself?

#118 ::: J.K.Richard ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 10:04 PM:

MCZ it wasn't the fact that information on people is readily available on the internet...it was the manner I presented it. One commenter referred to it as 'gestapo-like' tactics if I recall correctly, and in fairness it was a bit gestapo-ish.

For some people who are more than 'average' in their computer usage and Google-fu it's not uncanny or inconceivable that you can reconstruct a person's life with a few well worded queries ... for those not so acquainted with the digital-age ...it can come off to be rather threatening.

It is what it is.

The second issue was me 'acting in defense' of ML because several of the regulars (whom throughout the years have become friends in other parts of the webosphere) were verabally attacked. I have a strong sense of 'tribe' and reacted out of anger. (Also, I can't remember what I had for lunch yesterday...so keep that in mind as I'm recalling this...)

Most of the folks here on ML are quite capable of defending themselves verbally and certainly don't need this Young Turk stepping in to 'defend' them.

I learn, I move on...

#119 ::: MCZ ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 10:30 PM:

J.K. Richard:

Few things move me to post in this or any other forum, but a perceived attack on Making Light and its regulars is most likely to bring me out in "repel boarders!" mode.

For this reason, and the fact that I was seriously annoyed with B's behaviour in the Handwashing thread, I didn't see much of a problem with what you did at the time.

I agree that most of the posters can defend themselves without any problem, but sometimes I feel that it's only fair to offer an additional pitchfork, however blunt it may be. :)

#120 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 10:07 AM:

Making Light's community defenses are a joy to behold, but we could could sometimes stand to take a cortico-thalamic pause while we see whether the thing that's set off our "repel boarders" reaction is a person thrashing haplessly in the water, or a wandering Channel swimmer.

#121 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 10:39 AM:

I don't know what to do if Brenda comes back. I have a lot more sympathy for her now than I did before we figured out who she was, but she's still going to be ill-tempered and hostile.

What do we do?

#122 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 11:18 AM:

Rikibeth @#65:

one of our blog hosts is an editor for Tor Books

Two, actually. :)

#123 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 11:29 AM:

Xopher @#120:

I note with interest that in Noen/Brenda's second-ever post (also in the handwashing thread), in which she spews quite a bit of unrestrained emotion, she also recommends a site about dialectical behavior therapy for borderline personality disorder.

DBT can be fantastically effective for emotional balance & control, but you have to actually do it. Going online and shouting at strangers isn't one of the healthy outlets the method usually suggests. Not that she has BPD, of course, or practices DBT, of course. But it's interesting that she tossed it out there in her second-ever post.

Anyway, I think the thing to do if she comes back is the same as anyone else who comes looking for trouble: Do not feed, tell a mod, and hope she works through whatever her difficulties are.

#124 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 12:09 PM:

OK. But I'm feeling really bad for saying this to her:

You know what? I have a preference too. I have a preference for not reading comments by ill-tempered ignorant wankers who come in here and try to start fights over and over.
I wish I could forget you'd said anything. Ever. It would help if you never said anything again.
Feedback please. Am I just a guilt-junkie? Now that I know how troubled Brenda is, and what she was mad about, I feel like I punched a small child.

#125 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 12:16 PM:

Xopher, I might feel guilty, if we hadn't spent quite a bit of time trying to get her to understand why we reacted to her like that. We assumed she was real, and she didn't want to engage with us at all, even when we were tossing lures.

#126 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 12:49 PM:

A lot of her hostility seems to be coming from her reaction to what she perceives as academic elitism here. (That might explain her very first comments to Jim Macdonald.) But... participants here range from high-school dropouts to people who've spent most of their lives in academia or the equivalent, and I don't think it's possible to tell who's who without a score card. The only one here who's down on Brenda for her academic credentials, or lack of them, is herself. People have disagreed with her because she's been wrong, and we neither knew nor cared where she learned her misinformation.

#127 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 01:21 PM:

Trip --

And you've just done a good job of explaining the other thing I loathed about Blindsight!

(The first thing was the usual issue with portrayals of very smart people, something which for my purposes almost always fails. It was exacerbated by the narrator's role as a process wonk; I do that professionally, and, well.)

#128 ::: MCZ ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 01:33 PM:

Xopher: If my memory doesn't play me false, Brenda originally showed up here with a bunch of other stirrers as the result of a BoingBoing moderation dispute.

I think your strongly-expressed opinion was not unjustified, given that she was offered chance after chance over a long period of time.

#129 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 01:34 PM:

#119 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden
...a person thrashing haplessly in the water...

(more cross-posting)

This woman is not able to recognize the life preservers many of us have been floating in her direction. If she's (still) drowning, Jim would remind us that the first rule is not to let anyone take you down with them.

#130 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 06:50 PM:

Mary Dell @ 121: My error! I thought Our Hostess was mostly doing the moderation stuff now, and not as much at Tor, but I freely admit to not knowing all the details.

#131 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 09:54 PM:

Rikibeth @#129: I think she's part time? I recall Patrick saying that nobody ever gets to stop being an editor at Tor. I believe she edited Jhegaala, anyway. Not that you should know that, I just didn't want her to be left out...particularly since crazy lady's vitriol is directed at her, too! :)

#132 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 10:20 PM:

Xopher @#123:

Feedback please. Am I just a guilt-junkie?

No, I think you're a very nice guy with a hot temper. "Nice guy" includes having a deep spiritual commitment to being kind to people, to respecting their situations, and having a lot of empathy for people with challenges. "Hot temper" includes posessing gifts of articulation and snark, being extremely protective of your friends, and also being quick to defend your own emotional wellbeing.

So what happens is, someone comes along acting like (or sounding like) a jerk, and you react with temper, and sometimes smack them with articulation and/or snark. No problem. You're not cruel, just direct and sometimes confrontational, although that's usually couched in terms that invite the poster to say "well, that's just YOU" and move on. On the occasions when you misjudge someone, you apologize, and you really mean it, because you're a very nice guy.

On the occasions they DO deserve it, however, you still feel bad, because once you cool off your sense of empathy and your desire for the happiness of all beings kick in. So you end up with "poster's remorse."

I've had this same problem, plus my default anger level is set too high anyway, so I've found ways to slow down my trigger to prevent it. Reading someone's posting history and/or googling them is a good one. (Sometimes this results in a meaner post than otherwise, if the person turns out to be a real ass).

#133 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2008, 12:27 AM:

Xopher @ 123

I agree with Mary Dell. I think you are a really nice guy who's protective of his friends and his community. But don't feel guilty for reacting to a troll, no matter how much you may pity or sympathize with her. If I weren't running so far behind on these threads, I might have been rather nasty myself when she admitted she was deliberately griefing us.

#134 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2008, 12:48 AM:

*blushes*

Thanks. Everyone. Just...thanks.

#135 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2008, 11:22 AM:

Despite my own tendency to fly off the handle now and then, threads with much rancorous discussion bring out the wimp in me: I cringe and start skimming. (Ditto the "philosophical discussion" threads when the number of angels on some pin's head or other come into question.) Now you know why I never had anything to do with my high school or college debate societies!

But abi, your remarks here have been a joy to read. Thank you.

#136 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2008, 05:29 PM:

"...I'm shocked to see the dawn of the nuclear age discussed as if it were a geeky gee-whizz science fair exhibit..."

Except that the actual mechanics involved in developing the process and the procedures to induce the detonation *are* very "geeky" and certainly "Gee-Wizz" is an apt description on the evolution of the implosion trigger used.

Yes, a fission or fusion weapon is a terrible device in operation and affect, but it still has a certain devastating beauty for all it's horror.

#137 ::: JKRichard ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2008, 11:02 PM:

...or CraigR some of the more useful things such as power generation and atom smashing and plasma field generators etc etc...

There was good that came out of weapons development. There continues to be good derived from early atomic technologies.

(Which was enhanced from alien technology taken from the Roswell, NM crash. Of course.)

#138 ::: Trip the Space Parasite ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 03:00 PM:

Graydon @ #126: Which, the uncaring universe unsuited to humanity, or the inescapable doom that comes to those who practice brain augmentation?

I certainly hope neither of those is actually the case, but doom can make for good fiction.

#139 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 03:19 PM:

Abi --

Doom can make for good fiction, but Lovecraft (and apparently Blindsight hit the same switch for me) isn't really about doom, as such.

Doom responds to striving; you probably can't escape it but you can affect its workings.

Lovecraftian horror is about how you're a bug! you don't even make an interesting sound when you're squashed! there is no scale of concern upon which this isn't true! bug! squash! madness!

I'm not fond of this view; I think it's seriously in error, even considered as a philosophical position.

Yes, the universe is way, way, way larger than any human scope of concern; also way smaller and way more complicated. This doesn't mean there isn't a scale and context in which human striving is meaningful; it's just not universal.

Brain augmentation, grrr. Humans are primarily extelligent, not intelligent, and so the extent to which any of us have a brain is a function of how good the brain augmentation mechanisms of our birth circumstances happened to be combined with how good the available mechanisms are in our present material culture.

The idea that more direct technological means to these ends will always work is risible, but the idea that it will always fail it pretty darn risible, too.

#140 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 03:31 PM:

Gah!
138 should of course be addressed to Trip, not Abi.

Please excuse this unfortunate event; the neuron employed was not in service.

#141 ::: abi finds that she has been possessed by a space parasite ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 04:05 PM:

Please continue to address the parasite directly. Pay no heed to the host body. All services proceeding as normally.

#142 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 04:08 PM:

Bloody space parasites...always catch all the good ones before we can get to 'em...

Er...was that out loud?

#143 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 04:17 PM:

And now that a space parasite has access to its host's abiveld, Earth is doooooooooomed!!!

#144 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 04:20 PM:

...which should make for good fiction.

#145 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 04:33 PM:

No one would have believed in the dawn of the 21th Century that human affairs were being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than Man's. Yet, across the gulf of space on the planet Mars, intellects vast and cool and unsypathetic regarded our Earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely joined their plans against us.

Meanwhile, in Amsterdam...

#146 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 05:35 PM:

I saw a mouse!

#147 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 05:42 PM:

'Canticle for Leibowitz' is surely the definitive 'after the nuclear holocaust novel' and

SPOILER WARNING (well not quite, because there's no way to prevent someone reading down the thread).

ok I cannot explain what is poignant about the novel without discussing the last scene.

But even thinking about the last scene brings a tear to my eye.

#148 ::: Trip the Space Parasite ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 06:25 PM:

Graydon @ #138, abi @ #139, et al:

Curses! They're on to me! Maybe I can distract them by wondering how one could quantify extelligence vs intelligence enough to say humans have more of one than the other. Which would language count as?

Whether an advanced intelligence is a failure or success depends on what your goals for it are, of course. In some genres, you just shouldn't bother to put "plays well with wild-type humans" in the specs.

I think the tension between the Lovecraftian horror outlook, in which humans don't matter, and the outlook of the (presumably human) reader, who does care about humans, is an important element of the genre. Either too much or too little immersiveness relaxes the tension, leading on the one tentacle to existential despair and on the other to morbid humor.

#149 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 07:22 PM:

Trip --

If you want me to quantify intelligence, first you're going to have to define it. :)

My position is that there is no such thing as intelligence; it's one of those Platonic Solids Enlightenment delusions brought on by central-ideal-thing models of the universe.

What we do have is a bunch of exapted tricks; it's not easy to make neural circuitry evolved for evading leopards and impressing our fellow primates
do calculus, but it will stretch that far. It won't stretch arbitrarily, though; there are lots of things people are effectively useless at. (Reasoning probabilistically. n-state logics. thinking about more than five things at once, and 12 is right out.)

Extelligence, well, yeah, language counts; it's difficult to learn something if you can't talk to your fellows, and I'd argue impossible if all you ever get to do with the language faculty is talk to yourself. (Although humans raised in isolation don't turn into humans. They turn into dead. We're dependent on the social system around us to turn into people, it's not something we can do on our own.)

It starts with language and demonstration; a little work, and you can learn anything anybody in your clan knows and thinks it is appropriate to teach you.

Then you get writing, and, hey, you can learn from people you've never met; you can even learn from dead people. But you have to be able to find what you want to know, and that's hard. (Grim spectre of graph theory and edge weight selection goes here.)

So, hey, indexes, and universities, and formal courses of instruction, and cross-references and concordances and eventually search engines; "My ignorance is infinite but Google knows everything."

No one's got any smarter, in some ur-sense involving evading leopards; we've all got worse at that, due to lack of practice and the general dearth of leopard-dogging stories involved in our upbringing, but we've also not improved the wetware. It's all social mechanisms.

We're not eusocial; we are social though, and this is really important, because social animals construct each other through culture, and humans produce a vastness of culture, and timeshare creativity thereby. Good tricks spread.

In the specific case of the Lovecraft, I have this aggressive response to stress; I once came disturbingly close to sending a former sweetie into convulsions by pointing out that I lacked an inner child, since I got an inner sergeant-major instead. "If axes and sword aren't working, try setting it on fire." So the intended tension between the vast elder horror—in which I do not believe, because there would be evidence in the geological record—and the suddenly meaningless human existence—in which I also do not believe, because the distorted-angel mental model of mankind didn't stick to my head—more or less won't happen.

Doom, doom can work; "I was married to Njall while still young" is a damn powerful line for a reason. So is the lament for Eorl. But the tension lacks both end points in my case, and the attempt at postulating either tends to run into 'one does as one can' and come to nothing.

#150 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2008, 10:00 AM:

Dave Bell:

Where?

#151 ::: Trip the Space Parasite ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2008, 01:42 PM:

Graydon @ #149:

I am reminded of some Greg Egan book (Schild's Ladder, perhaps) where one of the characters is dissing the idea of the singularity, since by definition there isn't a better kind of thinking than general intelligence. "Well, perhaps," I said to the book, "But what does that have to do with humans?" (Not to mention that quantity has a quality all its own.)

If there is such a thing as general intelligence (truly general, not whatever it is that fans of IQ tests think they're measuring), I have no idea what it would be like. Evading leopards is all specialized tricks (model vertebrate behavior, operate vertebrate body in 1G field, etc).

What's the line from Lem? "'Humans are entities like the Atlantic and the Pacific,' said the AI. 'I am an entity like water.'"?

I'm not sure whether your being unaffected by Lovecraftian horror indicates that your SAN is 100, or 0. :)

#152 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2008, 04:13 PM:

Serge @ 145

No one would have believed in the dawn of the 21th Century that human affairs were being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than Man's.

Woman's?

#153 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2008, 04:21 PM:

Graydon @ 149

There comes a point, I think, where extelligence and intelligence become a lot more integrated, and strange things happen.

What could you do with a neural interface that allowed you to hold 100 things in short-term memory at once? 1,000? A billion?

Suppose you could store your memory, sense impressions, thoughts, emotions, and all, and recall every second of it precisely, as opposed to the standard issue memory that can't even get right what you had for breakfast this morning half the time? (If the "you" in that sentence offends you, replace it with "I"; I'll take the rap).

A lot of the enhancements that have been suggested would result in post-humanity are merely restatements of things we already do in the context of language and other time-binding technologies, but some things would be qualitatively different.

#154 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2008, 04:41 PM:

Peter Watts's web site is entertaining, and I was especially amused to see that he quoted James Nicoll as a prominently featured blurb: "Whenever I find my will to live becoming too strong, I read Peter Watts."

#155 ::: Trip the Space Parasite ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2008, 06:53 PM:

Bruce Cohen @ #153:

Larger working memory was exactly what I was thinking about when I wrote my earlier comment about quantity having a quality all its own.

It sounds minor, but actual perfect recall would be a huge change. Even if it only worked for declarative memory, would human minds be able to survive without being able to consign their past errors to a river in Egypt?

Being able to consider one's history as a unified whole would be interesting, but there would have to be some mechanism to prioritize more recent memories or learning wouldn't work.

On a slightly different tangent, one of the stories about the singularity that I quite like is Michael Swanwick's "Slow Life". Ab zragny nhtzragngvba erdhverq, whfg vqrnf sebz bhgfvqr gur navzny xvatqbz. V fhccbfr gung pvepyrf onpx gb Ybirpensg, va n jnl, ohg va gur fgbel vg jnf cerfragrq nf cnvashy naq qnatrebhf, abg qbbzrq.


#156 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2008, 01:17 AM:

Trip

A lot of the problems you're describing are exactly those that happen now in old age: older memories become prioritized, and people tend to live more in the past than in the present.

As for consigning past errors, <shudder>,that's a major problem for some people, for instance those with ADD and some obsessive disorders*. Their memory is sometimes (especially in childhood, I believe) tuned to remember embarrassing and humiliating events and emotions best. Very often makes for an avoidant personality: shy, cautious, tentative, sometimes highly-focused and badly-socialized**. Now imagine what an inappropriately-tuned memory enhancement might do to that tendency.

* ADD here; personal experience speaking.
** Your classic nerd behavior.

#157 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2008, 11:09 AM:

My Mom (who is 82 going on 83) does sometimes lie awake at night, revisiting old irritants and glooms. So I guess I'm lucky to remember old facts far better than old feelings, even if the recent episodic memory is no great shakes, either -- sometimes a cause for embarrassment. ("Did we watch this movie on TV just last month? Gee, I forgot!")

As people have been saying on that other thread, computers and emails can be a handy substitute for good recall. And when I review books, I take notes!

#158 ::: Trip the Space Parasite ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2008, 01:33 PM:

Bruce Cohen @ #156:

I resemble that remark!

A well-designed memory enhancement would be configurable, but that might not be much comfort to the test subjects early adopters.

#159 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2008, 04:02 PM:

152: OK, who spilled the beans? We've got a man here who's alerting the entire intertubes!

#160 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2008, 08:02 PM:

I, for one, welcome our female overladies...

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