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May 31, 2002
Crunchy politics
Posted by Teresa at 02:42 PM *

Emmet O’Brien has commended to my attention the Yasser Arafat cheese-flavored corn chips now being sold in Egypt:

Shopkeepers say the Arafat chips, named Abu Ammar — the Palestinian leader’s nom de guerre — are considerably outselling another new brand, The Hero, which hit store shelves earlier this month. The packaging for that brand pictures a schoolboy holding a stone in his right hand and books in the other as he confronts an Israeli tank.

“There’s no one who doesn’t love Abu Ammar,” said Iman Mohammed Darwish, a 12-year-old girl. “I like the taste, and I want to help the Palestinians.”

“I sell at least three boxes (150 bags) of Abu Ammar daily,” said Fatma Abdel-Ghani, a shopkeeper in the Cairo suburb of Thakanat Al-Maadi as she carefully placed boxes of Abu Ammar above those containing The Hero and other brands of chips.

I just want to say that if I found a manuscript in the slush pile that had as many weird-but-logical things going on in it as I can read in the news in any given month, you can bet I’d sit up and take notice of it.

May 29, 2002
Fires of the spirit, and other special effects
Posted by Teresa at 04:37 PM *

Normally, “fun” and “interesting” are the last words you’d use to describe a company that sells educational materials for Sunday School teachers, but it’s clear that Pick-Me Products is heavily invested in both those concepts.

I’m fairly amazed. The underlying message of traditional Sunday School lessons is, “You’re supposed to find this interesting — and if you were a good child, you would.” (Alternate translation: “Greetings, Captive Audience!”) Whereas on Pick-Me’s opening page there’s a crawl line announcing that the radio-controlled blimp is now available. Doubtless they have suggestions for lesson plans that will make good use of the blimp, much like the highly scientific rationale for NASA’s recent water balloon experiments.

I’m particularly smitten with the Fire Bible:

Open this authentic looking “bible” and watch the looks of amazement as flames begin to rise from the pages as you recite the scripture for the day. “Bible” comes with a battery operated ignition system, you supply the batteries and lighter fluid. Only $44.95.
And they’ve definitely got the right sell line on the now-almost-common anatomically realistic brain and heart Jello molds: “Gross! Icky! And they will remember the lesson forever.” Which is true, especially if you follow their suggestions for using them. It would never have occurred to me to embed gummi worms in a Jello brain, but like a true daughter of Deseret I find the idea charming, and intend to try it someday.

All clear for now
Posted by Patrick at 04:08 PM *

The problems seem to have been resolved. You can go back to using the old URL. No, the new old URL. No, the other new old URL.

A message from PNH
Posted by Patrick at 11:28 AM *

Our host appears to be having nameserver problems. For the duration, the stable way to reach our weblogs will be to go to:

http://64.247.33.2/~pnh/makinglight/

and

http://64.247.33.2/~pnh/electrolite/

Of course, if you can’t get here in the first place, you can’t get this information; but it’s possible you’re reaching us now because your provider has our DNS info cached, which won’t necessarily continue to be the case. So you might want to temporarily bookmark those alternatives.

In addition, it looks like the style sheet for our comments doesn’t reliably load under the circumstances, so while you can (maybe) read comments, it seems unlikely you can post any. I trust our new hosting outfit will be all over these problems in the very near future.

Mr. Bush outdoes himself
Posted by Teresa at 10:40 AM *

I wouldn’t have believed this story, but it’s in CNN’s own transcription of the Crossfire that aired on May 28th, and the person who said it was James Carville, who is nobody’s fool:

CARVILLE: Now it’s time for a look at those unusual, interesting, and downright shocking stories that you might not find anywhere but in our CROSSFIRE news alert. In case you think we Democrats are too tough on George Bush, I assure you, we usually have good reasons. Listen to this. The German magazine, “Der Spiegel” reports that during last week’s European summit, Mr. Bush asked Brazil’s president, “Do you have blacks, too?” “Der Spiegel” says National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice had to quickly explain that Brazil probably has a larger black population than the U.S., and perhaps the largest black population outside of Africa.

If the question is open, I want to put up a picture of Pele. He’s the man on the right, and perhaps the most famous Brazilian of all time, at one time the most famous human on the planet. He sure looks black to me. Well, maybe he’s been in the sun too long. Mr. President, I don’t know.

The rest of the world knows that man is a laughingstock. It’s embarrassing. (And Lydy, thanks for the link.)

KEQEIO
Posted by Teresa at 09:58 AM *

If you get e-mail with “KEQEIO” as its subject line, delete without opening. New virus, says Erik Olson.

May 23, 2002
Literary Diggers
Posted by Teresa at 06:10 AM *

Vox populi, vox dei would be a good motto for fanfiction.net: all categories descriptive, and no holds barred. This is a snapshot of their section for stories based on books, in order of popularity. I can’t claim to understand what the difference is between Harry Potter fan fiction and Harry Potter author fics, but with those numbers it hardly matters.

Start with the real heavy hitters:

Harry Potter, 35520
Lord of the Rings, 7416
Animorphs, 2818
Tamora Pierce, 1853
Harry Potter Author Fics, 1253
Redwall, 532
L. J. Smith, 435
The Bible, 419
The Phantom of the Opera, 343
Vampire Hunter, 333
Fairy Tales (trad.), 284
Dragonlance, 207
Les Miserables, 188
Mercedes Lackey, 188
The Wheel of Time (Robert Jordan), 183
His Dark Materials, 182
Shakespeare, 170
Forgotten Realms, 146
In The Forests of the Night, 116
Sherlock Holmes, 109
Discworld (Terry Pratchett), 107
The Outsiders (S. E. Hinton), 97
The Babysitters Club, 92
Everworld, 88
Peter Pan, 83
Lord of the Flies (William Golding), 75
Ella Enchanted, 70
The Princess Diaries, 70
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, 68
Good Omens, 67
Stephen King, 57
Young Jedi Knights, 57
The Giver, 53
Homer, 53
Enchanted Forest, 51
Is that eclectic, or what? Note that Homer, Shakespeare, the Bible, and traditional fairy tales are still hanging in there, which should surprise no one. And neener-neener, mainstream.

On now to the comfortable midlist, solid commercial fiction plus a few exceptions:

V. C. Andrews, 47
L. M. Montgomery, 45
To Kill a Mockingbird, 44
The Dark is Rising Sequence, 43
Greek Mythology, 43
Orson Scott Card, 43
Fearless, 42
Jedi Apprentice, 42
Broken Sky, 39
David Eddings, 39
Young Wizards, 37
Sweet Valley High/Twins, 34
Artemis Fowl, 29
Sweep, 29
Sword of Truth (Terry Goodkind) 29
Daughters of the Moon, 28
Romance of the Three Kingdoms, 26
Xanth (Piers Anthony), 26
Dinotopia, 25
Nineteen Eighty-Four (Orwell), 25
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, 24
Watership Down, 24
The Dark Jewels Trilogy, 21
Michael Crichton, 20
Remnants, 20
C. S. Lewis, 19
Dune, 19
The Black Stallion, 18
Mediator, 18
Starshield, 18
Jane Austen, 17
Poppy Z. Brite, 17
H. G. Wells, 15
Goosebumps, 14
Replica, 14
Terry Brooks, 14
Alexandre Dumas, 13
Marion Zimmer Bradley, 13
Tom Clancy, 13
The Diary of Anne Frank, 12
Robin McKinley, 12
The Vampire Chronicles, 12
William Gibson, 12
Diadem, 11
Dalemark Quartet, 10
Firebringer Trilogy, 10
Neverwhere, 10
The Series Of Unfortunate Events, 10
And finish, at the alluvial plain of single-digit numbers, with works that compelled no one’s participation, but nevertheless took someone’s fancy:
K-PAX, 9
Robin Hood (trad.), 9
The Clan of the Cave Bear, 8
Amber series (Roger Zelazny), 7
Charles Dickens, 7
Hardy Boys, 7
Star Trek: New Frontier, 7
Earth’s Children, 6
Melanie Rawn, 6
The Nightmare Room, 6
Tuck Everlasting, 6
The Unicorn Chronicles, 6
Ann Rinaldi, 5
Dragaera novels (Steven Brust), 5
Foundation (Isaac Asimov), 5
Unicorns of Balinor, 5
Ravenloft, 4
Robert Asprin, 4
Diana Gabaldon, 3
Good Night Mr Tom, 3
The Hidden World, 3
The Incarnations of Immortality, 3
Johnny Tremain, 3
Little House on the Prairie, 3
Louis Lamour, 3
Miles Vorkosigan (Lois Bujold), 3
Sherwood Smith, 3
Spooksville, 3
Westmark, 3
Breaking Rank, 2
The Crystal Cave (Mary Stewart), 2
Deltora Quest, 2
Earthsea Trilogy (Le Guin), 2
Friday (Robert A. Heinlein), 2
The Witch of Blackbird Pond, 2
The Books of the Kingdoms, 1
The Crucible (Arthur Miller), 1
Dandelion Wine (Ray Bradbury, 1
The English Patient, 1
Gormenghast, 1
King Arthur (in rhyming couplets), 1
Midnight’s Children (Salman Rushdie), 1
Montana, 1948, 1
Obernewtyn (Isobelle Carmody), 1
The Pigman (Paul Zindel), 1
Regeneration, 1
Summer of the Monkeys, 1
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, 1
Conclusions? Draw your own. I can’t muster the effrontery to lay interpretation upon this antheap of literary populism.

Canonicity is only a notion. Most of the confusion on this point can be traced to the literary convention that decrees that reference books, primary- and secondary-school textbooks, and discussions of the canon shall be made to sound like the word from Mount Olympus, if not Mount Sinai. But they are all mutable; and in academia the literary canon is less a list carved in stone than a trampled battlefield where a perpetual bunfight rages.

Works and authors continue to be read because we interact with them, make use of them, learn about the world from them, and remember them at moments of need. The Cader Books compilation of Bestseller Lists, 1900-1995, is humbling reading for an editor: so many briefly eminent books, so few still read or remembered. But if you go through and note the titles that do still get read, just about all of them would make good starting points for fan fiction.

May 21, 2002
God loves everyone. He has no taste.
Posted by Teresa at 11:46 PM *

I am informed — by Janet Lafler, among others — that The Brick Testament site’s Lego reenactments of Bible stories are a put-on. That’s fine. No problem. What got to me was when Jim Meadows chimed in with “No serious evangelical would put a Sunday-school-like Bible site together this way.”

Hold it right there, buckaroo. In a world in which I can get Bible stories reenacted by Pokemon critters, 3-D pictures, excessively cute stuffies, fish puppets, about a zillion different felt-board figures, dancing born-agains, amusing comics, creepy comics, two dozen full-length videos featuring animated vegetables, and Bart Simpson, I was supposed to balk at Legos?

Furthermore, if there’s a single point that’s made absolutely clear by the study of art history, it’s that the Gifts of the Holy Spirit don’t reliably include good artistic taste or narrative judgement. I could show you some religious websites that are beyond parody, yet perfectly sincere. Alternately, I could make the same point by sending you to Gadgets for God, a regular feature of the Ship of Fools website. (Check out the Biblical Plaguedomes in the “New Gadgets” section.)

Just go look.
Posted by Teresa at 07:42 PM *

There’s nothing I can add to the lead story in this week’s Onion, but they haven’t made me gasp out loud like that since their September 26, 2001 issue. Go and see.

Who is Edgar Harris?
Posted by Teresa at 11:18 AM *

I doubt his claim that he’s the former Sports Editor at Science Fiction Age. He’s been around for a while. He knows a bit about comics, less about about the computer industry, and seems to be familiar with Texas. He knows more about genre movies than I do. On the other hand, he knows squat about fandom, and makes the kind of lame, self-important jokes you get from pros and industry people who think “fans” = “random jerks who bug me at conventions”. (In fandom, we call those people “jerks”, and avoid them, which leaves them with nothing to do but spend their time bugging pros.)

But he definitely knows the professional SF world. Try his “Bridge Publications Announces ‘Fanfic Writers of the Future’ Line” — or, even better, his “SFWA changes entry criteria for membership”:

“The basic requirements for SFWA membership previously required that a writer have three short stories or one full-length fiction book or a dramatic script appear through professional paying markets,” said Caroline Crawford, SFWA spokeswoman. “However, over the late Eighties and early Nineties, we found the organization flooded with members who received their accreditation through sales to the Writers of the Future or Pulphouse magazine, and although they never managed to get published again, they had lifetime membership so long as they paid their membership dues. Since we find ourselves flooded with members who do nothing more than put ‘Member, SFWA’ on their letterhead and throw tantrums if they don’t get guest badges at local conventions, besides voting in SFWA elections against any provisions to remove members unpublished in a decade or more, we had to go to further extremes to enliven the organization and clear out the dead wood.” Those “further extremes” consist of talent competitions completely unrelated to writing.

“Simply put,” said Ms. Crawford, “any current or incipient member of SFWA must be able to impersonate a cartoon character to the satisfaction of an independently selected jury. No exceptions.”

The better you know SFWA, the funnier that gets.

Edgar Harris knows the industry, both trade books and magazines, and his viewpoint is editorial; see “Tina Brown to Take Over Editorship of Asimov’s” and “St. Martins Starts ‘World’s Worst Science Fiction Imprint’ With First Hardcover Printing of Eye of Argon”. His editorial POV, and the fact that he’s not true mainstream (they’d never say “Literary SF Publishers”), are both evident in “Literary SF Publishers Announce ‘International Slushpile Bonfire Day’”:

“We’re burning everything,” said Pablo Redondo, the organizer of the event and the only editor willing to appear on television. “All of the manuscripts with no merit other than the tag ‘Member, SFWA”’ on the cover page. The manuscripts where the author didn’t bother to read the submission guidelines and dumped off the copy to a magazine that doesn’t buy that sort of fiction, or doesn’t buy fiction at all. The manuscripts where the author already registered the story for a copyright ‘to keep editors from stealing their work’. The Wesley / Worf slash fanfiction sent in ‘just in case we had an interest.’ The manuscripts sent in on toilet paper or on Hello Kitty note paper, and the manuscripts sent with death threats against any editor who plans to reject it, and the 3000-page ‘sequels’ to popular books written because the author didn’t like how the original ended. We’re making a big pile in the middle of Times Square, and every editor with a slush pile is invited to pitch in.”
So who is Edgar Harris? I don’t know, and if anyone else does they’re not talking to me. Speculations I’ve heard are on the level of “Gordon van Gelder and possibly Bryan Cholfin collaborating with someone from Texas,” which sounds like someone’s guess.

I don’t think it’s Greg Cox or Kim Kindya; they’d have made funnier jokes about media fandom, and there’d have been a column about vampire fiction. Paul Stevens? Don’t know. Ellen Datlow? Ditto. John Klima and Jim Minz are busy. So’s John Ordover. And if it were Keith DeCandido, he’d have confessed by now.

May 20, 2002
Brilliant Sri Lankan novelists, go home
Posted by Teresa at 09:24 PM *

“Brilliant Sri Lankan novelists, go home” by John Bloom is not actually that staple of unabashed Philistinism, the rant about highfalutin’ literature. Rather, it’s a rant about which books get reviewed, and how the reviewers describe them; and I’m not going to pretend I didn’t laugh when I read it:

The movie critic seems perfectly capable of praising Spiderman without thinking that it somehow demeans his critical reputation and makes him unfit for reviewing the next Merchant-Ivory saga about old ladies in India.

(…)

[Y]ou can forget entirely the guys at the next level, the the mid-list mystery and thriller authors who sometimes have one book out of ten reviewed by a major newspaper.

Instead, what have we got in the book review sections? Sri Lankan coming-of-age novels. Slice-of-life multi-generational family sagas about the Idaho back country. Painfully personal memoirs about single motherhood. Last week I read a review of a book called Notes from the Hyena’s Belly: An Ethiopian Boyhood by Nega Mezlekia. It had everything a book review editor wants — exotic to the point of obscurity, internationalist, multicultural (by virtue of the translation), with the promise of making us all Better People by condescending to understand the agonies of a Third World situation that we don’t really know diddly squat about.

But is it a GOOD STORY? You’ll NEVER FIND OUT by reading The New York Times Book Review, the Washington Post Book World, or any of the other Sunday supplements. Some of the reviews don’t even bother to DESCRIBE the book, much less tell us why we would want to read it in the first place. Instead they go on about “new voices in East African fiction.” My question is, “I don’t really care that much about East African fiction. It’s not high on my list of priorities. Will I like this book IN SPITE OF THAT?”

(…)

The strangest term the reviewers use is “unassuming prose.” They say it in a GOOD way, as though the BEST prose is unassuming. So how come they never review a book with ASSUMING prose? I don’t like my books unassuming. I want them to ASSUME something. I want the prose standing on its head like a Chinese acrobat and doing back flips.

(…)

A book of “literary snapshots” means nothing happens.

“A lyrical small-town reminiscence” means nothing happens.

“Full of wry insight” means nothing happens.

A “rumination,” a “pastiche,” a “twinkling little jewel of a novel,” “a quiet catharsis,” “a journey through memory” or a “poetic elegy” all mean NOTHING EVER HAPPENS.

(…)

Anything called a “three-generation family saga” will have a scene in which the bastard child of a ruthless entrepreneur is delivered by a midwife in a slave cabin.

Thank you, Dr. Doyle.

May 19, 2002
The greatest footage since the LOX barbecue and the exploding whale
Posted by Teresa at 04:17 AM *

This is so cool that I can’t believe it’s a NASA site. The page’s headline gets straight to the point: Did you ever wonder what it would be like to pop a water balloon in space?

Well, of course.

They’ve got footage of utterly captivating water-balloon-popping experiments in the Vomit Comet. Dye and soda straws come into it too. They even make it sound legitimately scientific:

The tests were conducted in part to develop the ability to rapidly deploy large liquid drops by rupturing an enclosing membrane. As can be seen from the experiment footage, the initial rupture process is nearly ideal, but the finite size of the balloon material eventually ejects a spray from the drop surface. Then, when the balloon material leaves the drop entirely, it causes a large deformation of the drop (blob) which oscillates throughout the remainder of the test. Calculations suggest that such oscillations will continue for hours before the drop eventually becomes spherical.
Uh-huh, yeah. Do the one again with the raspberry-colored blob. (Thanks once more to Erik Olson.)

May 18, 2002
Research problems
Posted by Teresa at 09:54 AM *

Everyone knows the story about the six blind men and the elephant.

A less-well-known story concerns six blind elephants who investigate a man. The elephants rapidly arrive at a consensus: Men are flat and squishy.

May 17, 2002
What is it about Legos?
Posted by Teresa at 10:27 AM *

Another goodie I heard about from Erik Olson:

The Brick Testament is a series of episodes from the Bible done in Legos. Some are twenty or thirty panels long, with word balloons for the dialogue.

Most are charming — it’s hard to not be cute when you’re a Lego — but the two last episodes in his New Testament section struck me as dubious at best. One is an extended version of “Wives, be subject to your husbands,” leading up to a happy Lego vision of a man in a recliner watching TV while his aproned wife brings him a drink. (Clearly, the site’s creator hasn’t considered the implications of 2 Kings 21:13.) The guy does get some fun out of “The head of every man is Christ / The head of woman is man / The head of Christ is God,” swapping around Lego heads and bodies by way of illustration.

The other episode that I thought was in questionable taste was his “Instructions to slaves” section. If I had as many Legos as he obviously has, I’d have illustrated those passages with something other than brown-skinned Legos in loincloths working in a Lego cotton field, overseen by a whip-wielding white-skinned Lego that looks like a 19th C. European.

Come to think of it, I wouldn’t have picked those passages to illustrate at all. “The Errors of the Corinthians” would have been much more fun.

May 15, 2002
Spaceport spaceport spaceport spaceport spaceport! (I just like the word.)
Posted by Teresa at 10:54 PM *

Eye candy for space junkies, and quicker to load than you’d think: a page devoted to great high-res satellite pictures of Kennedy Space Center, in all its bits and parts. (Thank you, Erik Olson.)

And yes, I already know there are people who don’t think the Vehicle Assembly Building is Inherently Cool. I accept their existence. I just don’t understand them.

May 14, 2002
Rolling your own tampons
Posted by Teresa at 09:26 AM *

Please forgive the indelicacy; I was recently surprised to find out how many women don’t know this trick.

Take a single sheet from a roll of paper towels, preferably uncolored. It will probably be about eleven inches square.

Fold it in half, between and parallel to the perforated edges. Fold it again, the long way, into thirds — ideally, so that the third that is bordered by the initial fold is on the outside, and the third that is bordered by the doubled edge is on the inside. You should now have a strip that’s eleven inches long and a bit less than two inches wide.

If you require a string, and you have string, here’s where it comes in. Take a piece of string that’s twice the length of the tampon plus desired tail, wrap it over the strip’s short axis, and tie it so it forms a loose loop. Pull the tails to one side.

Now fold the strip along its shorter axis, but not quite in half. Bring one short edge over to within about two inches of the other short edge. The strip is now about six and a half inches long. If you’re using string, the half on the in-folded side should lie in the fold.

Folding in the same direction as last time, take the edge formed by the fold you just made, and fold over the thicker side of the strip about an inch and a half in from the edge.

You should now have a strip a bit under two inches wide and about four and a half inches long. If you’ve done the last three folds correctly, it’ll be six sheets thick at one end and twenty-four sheets thick at the other. I find this makes the rolling easier and tidier, but it’s not strictly necessary. Once you’d folded the towel lengthwise into halves then thirds, you could just start rolling from one short end to the other; but the strip tends to splay and distort as you roll it. The third and fourth rounds of folding stabilize it a bit.

Starting from the thick edge, roll the strip into a snug but not impenetrably tight cylinder. Use in the normal fashion. It won’t be quite as absorptive as the commercial variety, but it’s a good deal cheaper and can be improvised at need.

In a pinch, you can do this trick with a length of toilet paper folded lengthwise, but I find the finished product comes out a little too long, and the paper has a tendency to shred and pill a bit in use: not ideal, but heaven knows it’s better than getting caught short.

There are two reasons to avoid tinted or printed paper towels. One is that the dye can’t be good for you. The other is that the towels aren’t always dyefast. It’s hard enough to get out the usual sort of stains, but fugitive dye stains from colored paper towels can get you some really funny looks from your dry cleaner.

Mapping
Posted by Teresa at 12:15 AM *

This is a project for someone who has a few skills I lack.

Most weblogs keep a list of other weblogs they think are swell. I think someone ought to write a script that’ll collect up the lists and generate a map of who links to whom, perhaps representing particular blogs as larger or smaller depending on number of links from other blogs.

It would be more complicated, perhaps impossible, to write a script that would figure out who quotes whom, and how often, and at what length; but if the data could be collected and represented in some useful and easily-grasped graphical fashion, how interesting it would be!

May 13, 2002
The Slumbering Lungfish
Posted by Teresa at 11:57 PM *

I’m not perfectly sure what The Slumbering Lungfish is — it describes itself as a “Dybbuk Hostel and All-Night Boulangerie” — but my best guess is that it’s Lore Fitzgerald Sjf6berg’s weblog. (LFJ is of course 80-90% of the reason to read The Brunching Shuttlecocks.) (Thank you, Kevin Maroney.)

May 12, 2002
Foiled and embossed again
Posted by Teresa at 11:29 PM *

Don’t ask me how it is I wound up reading a collection of Irish curses, but I loved this one.

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