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March 31, 2011
Big world
Posted by Patrick at 12:44 AM * 22 comments

Onetime Barnes & Noble children’s fiction buyer Joe Monti—later a good editor, now an excellent literary agent—remembers the intricacies of how he used his position at the largest bookseller in the English-speaking world to get the work of Diana Wynne Jones back in print in the US.

Among other things, it’s a useful reminder that book publishing consists of more than the endless theater of Dear Sir Or Madam, Will You Read My Book. There are all kinds of people in the chain who are neither editors nor writers, and what they care about and do matters a great deal. Learn the details.

Remembrances of Diana Wynne Jones: Emma Bull. Farah Mendlesohn. Christopher Priest. Neil Gaiman. We liked her a lot. Farewell.

March 29, 2011
Whither Dorchester?
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 01:15 PM * 61 comments

Dorchester Publishing: Leisure Books; Love Spell Books. They call themselves “the oldest independent mass-market publisher in America,” (founded 1971). Great editors. Great distribution. Really strong in paranormal and futuristic romances. One of the last markets for horror and westerns. Advances and royalties a bit on the low side, maybe, but they sold a lot of books. And they had some star talent: Stephen King published The Colorado Kid through their Hard Case Crime imprint.

Nice people. Really professional.

Then: 2008. Rumors start spreading that Dorchester is deferring royalty payments until 2009. Advances are rumored to be not only small, but … late.

2009. Rumors that Dorchester isn’t answering phone calls or emails from its authors. Some haven’t been able to get through to their editors in months. Rumors that Dorchester is planning to start e-publishing.

January, 2010. News. Dorchester has sold some of its backlist—and some of its frontlist—to Avon. Assorted Cassandras notice that the authors who are being sold to Avon coincidentally are the NYT best-sellers and authors with major agents. Small groups of the remaining Dorchester authors begin to gather and mutter among themselves. There’s talk that checks from Dorchester’s magazine-publishing arm (the Trues; True Romance et al.) are bouncing.

February, 2010: Dorchester announces its “Publisher’s Pledge”:

“Publisher’s Pledge is a reaffirmation of the business model Dorchester has always prided itself on,” stated Brooke Borneman, Director of Sales and Marketing. “Our strength has been identifying emerging voices and trends in the industry rather than chasing bestsellers. Our intent is to reestablish ourselves in the market as the publisher authors and agents turn to first to introduce new talent. Dorchester has proven countless times—through our innovative marketing, tireless dedication and willingness to take chances—that we are uniquely qualified for this special and vital niche. This program represents our commitment—our pledge, if you will—to everyone in the book publishing community.”

Launching in April 2010, the Publisher’s Pledge program will be supported by online and national print advertising; bookstore mailings; press release and ARC campaigns to media, reviewers, bloggers, retailers, libraries and consumers; lead features in bookseller, library and consumer e-newsletters; consumer contests and buzz campaigns through social networking sites; and a money-back guarantee for readers.

Authors are not reassured.

July, 2010: Rumor is that all editor appointments, workshops, and spotlights on Dorchester at the RWA conference have been canceled: Dorchester Dis-invited from RWA

August, 2010: Authors are stunned to get an email saying that, effective 01 September 2010, Dorchester will cease mass market publication in favor of e-books and digital printing.

Dear Authors & Agents,

Given the many changes in the publishing industry over the last several years, Dorchester has made the decision to more tightly focus its distribution models so that we may fully capitalize on the most profitable emerging technologies.

Starting with September titles, we will be moving from mass-market to trade paperback format. This will delay new releases roughly 6-8 months, but it will also open many new and more efficient sales channels.

And we’re pleased to say all titles will be available in ebook format as originally scheduled. The substantial growth we’ve seen in the digital market in such a short period—combined with the decline of the mass-market business—convinced us that we needed to fully focus our resources in this segment sooner rather than later.

Inventory for backlist titles is currently in the process of transition to a new warehouse from which all reorders will continue to be fulfilled.

Dorchester has always been known as a company ahead of the curve and willing to take risks. As bookstores are allocating the bulk of their capital to the digital business, it only makes sense that we do the same. Everyone keeps hearing that the industry has to change if it’s going to survive. We’re excited to be at the forefront of that change and will continue to keep you posted on further developments.

E-book enthusiasts are jubilant; their predictions of the future of publishing are coming true! Dorchester is leading the revolution! Others are not so sure. Some authors whose books were rejected by Dorchester wipe their brows and talk about “dodging a bullet.”

Publishers Weekly picks up the story: Dorchester Drops Mass Market Publishing for E-Book/POD Model

The big news from the PW article, hidden in a subordinate paragraph: Dorchester has fired its sales force.

Authors, still huddled in corners, begin to wonder aloud whether “leading the revolution” might be a euphemism for “circling the drain.” Smart Bitches, Trashy Books speculates: Dorchester Does Digital, Authors Do What?

The Wall Street Journal is confused, but tries valiantly to figure out publishing.

Some authors, Mr. Prebich conceded, may be unhappy if their titles are available only via e-books and print-on-demand, but he said that so far the response has “been receptive to what we’re doing.”

Hold that thought.

A couple of days later, at PW: Confusion, Backtracking at Dorchester After ‘All Digital’ Headlines

Is Dorchester going all digital? Leah Hultenschmidt, editorial director at the publisher, said headlines from last week that emphasized the company’s move away from mass market paperback to a largely e-book program miscontrued the situation. “It’s true Dorchester is going digital, but only for the next six months,” Hultenschmidt explained. Her comment comes after Dorchester said late last week that it would be dropping its mass market publishing program, releasing all its titles in e-book format and publishing select books via print-on-demand.
Confusion, yes, as company spokespersons directly contradict one another.

Still later in August, authors learn that Dorchester hasn’t just fired its sales force. They’ve let all-but-one of the editors go. And there’s More Bad News From Leisure:

Worse, from what I’ve been told, the company is apparently not filling orders to vendors, bookstores or authors. I’ve seen this personally over the last week. In the past, authors could call the warehouse and order a box of their books to take along to conventions, etc. Last week, the warehouse staff was informed that no orders were to be shipped — not to bookstores. Not to distributors. And not to authors or other vendors. Insiders tell me three different reasons were given for this, including that the company “was switching warehouses” and “was taking inventory.”

Authors start to talk about dead-pools, and the words “six months” are frequently heard. Some of the optimists give them a year. Authors Speak on the Dorchester Shakeup.

The next day, authors learn that, the very same week Dorchester announced they were going all-digital, they’d let their digital director go: Don’t Have To Tell You What This Portends

The slapping sound you hear is authors face-palming. Some of the authors who gave Dorchester a year try to change their bets.

September, 2010: The September releases are announced, all of them “out of stock.” But there’s no hint of where or how to get e-versions of those titles. Rumors fly that “All Dorchester-Leisure titles are being returned by Borders, B&N, etc. Horror, romance, western, ALL TITLES. ” Author Brian Keene mentions this; he also says:

The other big news I announced at Horrorfind is that I’ve reached an agreement with Leisure Books/Dorchester Publishing for the return of my back-list (The Rising, City of the Dead, The Conqueror Worms, Ghoul, Dead Sea, Dark Hollow, Ghost Walk, Castaways, Urban Gothic, Darkness of the Edge of Town and A Gathering of Crows). Print rights reverted back to me today. Digital rights will revert back to me on December 31st. What this means for you, the reader, is that all of those books will be disappearing from your local bookstore very soon. The publisher can sell off their remaining stock, but can’t print more copies. So if you’ve been waiting to purchase one, you’d better do it soon.
Pay attention to the “digital rights.” They’ll be important soon.

Still in September rumor says that, up in Canada, older Dorchester titles are all “unavailable” on Chapters’ website. New Dorchester titles are reportedly not even listed. Some authors report getting reversion letters on their books. Some are stilled owed thousands in back-royalties with no indication when, or if, they’ll be paid.

E-book versions of at least some Dorchester titles are available. Including some titles that have reverted. Authors can’t get ahold of Dorchester to ask what’s up. Others, more experienced in e-books, say that in the e-publishing world reputation is everything, and is Dorchester aware of that fact?

By the end of September, Dorchester is giving away free e-books at B&N — including books to which they allegedly don’t own the digital rights. Some True magazine authors are reportedly being told that their lack of payment is their own fault, for failing to send invoices.

October, 2010: Authors who had submitted manuscripts three or more years before start getting rejection slips. Authors speculate that this means someone is emptying out the filing cabinets at the office. Over at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books: Tales of the WTF: Dorchester Reverts Rights, But Continues To Sell Digital Books

…I thought the Dorchester drama was, for the most part, over - until I received an email in my inbox from author Jana DeLeon.

DeLeon received the rights to her work from Dorchester on 15 September 2010. She even sent me a PDF of the rights reversion in case I doubted her story. She hasn’t been paid, nor has she received royalty statements in months, but now she has a bigger problem.

Over a month later, her digital books are still on sale pretty much everywhere. (Please note: links to books on sale ahoy. I’m going to do something horrible and ask you NOT to buy them. Please. Do not buy them. I have no faith that DeLeon or any Dorchester author I link to would ever see a dime.)

Her books, including “Showdown in Mudbug,” are online at Amazon.com, and there’s a paper copy available, too. Barnes & Noble also has her books for sale for the Nook, and independent retailer All Romance also has them listed for sale.

Why? Short answer: Dorchester, despite being contacted by DeLeon and her agent, Kristin Nelson, hasn’t stopped their digital distributor from selling them.

SFWA sends out an alert to members about Dorchester’s unauthorized ebook sales. The story hits Publisher’s Lunch.

MWA alerts its members as well:

Dear MWA Member:

The National Board of Mystery Writers of America voted unanimously on October 6, 2010 to remove Dorchester Publishing from our list of Approved Publishers, effective immediately, primarily because the company no longer meets two of our key criteria.

First, the initial print run by the publisher for a book-length work of fiction or nonfiction must be at least 500 copies and must be widely available in brick-and-mortar stores (not “special order” titles). In other words, print-on-demand publishers and Internet-only publishers do not qualify.

Second, the publisher must not wrongfully withhold or delay royalty payments to authors. We have been hearing an unusually high number of reports from our members of unpaid advances and withheld royalties on their Dorchester books.

Dorchester titles will no longer be eligible for Edgar® Award consideration nor will its authors be eligible for Active Status membership for any books published after October 6, 2010. The board made it clear to Dorchester that it is welcome to re-apply once these problems have been cleared up.

November, 2010: PW reports Dorchester Hires New CEO; Sets New Plan:

After rumors surfaced over the weekend that Dorchester CEO John Prebich had left the struggling publisher, PW has confirmed that Prebich is indeed out and a new CEO has been named in Robert Anthony. Anthony, who was most recently CFO and CEO at Backe Marketing, is, per a statement from the house this morning, going to “revitalize” Dorchester, which has been under fire for not paying some of its authors and changing its plans, after announcing it was moving to an all-digital list.

No one quoted in last August’s PW articles still works at Dorchester. Anthony seems to have a marketing, rather than publishing, background.

Buried in the PW story: “Also, previously unavailable backlist titles from Dorchester will now be available online at www.dorchesterpub.com.” No one wonders at that moment why the backlist titles were unavailable.

In the middle of the night, Thanksgiving weekend, Dorchester authors get an email. It includes this paragraph:

Things you should know:

. If your rights have reverted, Dorchester is still able to sell these books. A caveat of our reversion notice allows for sales of all pre-existing stock. Be assured that we are not going back to press on any of these books in order to sell them at a discount.

What no one thinks to ask at the time is exactly what a “pre-existing stock” of an ebook might be.

Subscribers to the Trues get this notice from their distributor:

The publisher of True Story and the other True titles has informed us there will be a delay in printing their December 2010 Issue. This will cause the magazine to be delivered up to 4 weeks late; however, you will still receive the full term of your subscription.
The following magazines will be affected:
True Story
True Romance
True Confessions
True Love

We apologize for the inconvenience.

True Story, 91 years old, reportedly has 250,000 paid subscribers.

December 2010: SFWA puts Dorchester on probation.

January 2011: Some of Dorchester’s magazines are up for sale.

February, 2011: The Trues are up for sale.

March 23, 2011: Dorchester announces a contest:

Dorchester is building its upcoming pub list, and along with all the great new genre fiction filling the pipeline, we’ll be releasing the best of our backlist in e-book format. But we need your help!

Be part of the process and help us select which backlist titles will be released! Send us between 10 and 20 titles that you want to see in E-book and be entered to win $25 worth of e-books from the Dorchester Web site!

Perhaps your favorite series is missing a few titles. Or your favorite author’s early works were published before e-books were even a possibility. No matter the reason, if you’re looking for a Dorchester title in e-book format and it’s not yet available, let us know. We want to hear from you, the reader, and make our upcoming list of releases the best it can be!

Exactly how they’re going to get the electronic rights for books that came out before e-books were even a possibility isn’t specified.

Some Dorchester/Leisure authors are less-than-thrilled: Stand Up And Fight.

Howdy -

I think this is a GREAT idea! But do you know what would be an even BETTER idea? If you gave back the rights to all the authors who have been waiting patiently while you guys screw around! If you do that, I’ll be a happy customer.

And the note from Dorchester got some folks thinking, and looking around at the web. They didn’t like what they saw. Various people comment on Dorchester’s Facebook page; the comments are deleted on an hourly basis.

March 24, 2011: Do you remember Brian Keene, who was going to get his digital rights reverted in December?

Dorchester wrote an email to Brian: “They asked me to ‘make a post’ stating that this wasn’t their fault and that they are ‘trying to rectify the situation’ because ‘people have been trolling the Dorchester Facebook page and posting angry notes.’ That they view their customers’ legitimate concerns as ‘trolling’ is quite telling.”

Dorchester is still selling his works even though they’ve reverted the rights. He writes a post, but it probably wasn’t what Dorchester wanted. He offers a recap (with links), and calls for a boycott of Dorchester.

Other writers pick up the call, and add their own personal testimony.

March 25, 2011: Guess What Dorchester? “It’s On” Author Stacy Dittrich wants the pirated ebooks taken down:

I will fight this to the finish at all costs, and the rest of the books will be available again and out of the hands of this corporate thief. Right now, I am using my contacts to secure an attorney who will happily file a class action suit against Dorchester publishing. I am also checking contacts at several law enforcement agencies to see if criminal charges are possible as well. Interested Dorchester authors contact me at info@stacydittrich.com so I can start compiling a list for the class action. I truly hope authors from all publishing houses publicly throw their support behind the Dorchester authors and sign Brian Keene’s petition. No writer should ever have to endure this type of treatment from a publisher.

Stacy notes that her one-day sales of a book that she put up in e-format herself, are greater than two years’ reported sales from Dorchester. She suspects shenanigans.

March 26, 2011: Jana DeLeon, the Dorchester author mentioned above who managed to get the e-book versions of her titles taken down last autumn because Dorchester didn’t own the digital rights, notes that her titles are back as mobile-phone apps—from Dorchester.

Today: Publishers Weekly runs Dorchester Promises to Do Right by Authors

Given Dorchester’s financial struggles last year and issues about non-payment to authors, [Dorchester CEO Bob] Anthony and [senior editor Chris] Keeslar said they understood there is skepticism about the company, but insisted that the publisher is committed to solving the problem with Keene and treating all authors fairly. Dorchester will pass along all money to Keene on e-books that were sold after rights reverted. “We’ll get him [Keene] everything that is owed to him” Keeslar said.

HWA has reportedly dis-invited Dorchester from the annual Bram Stoker Awards.

And that is where things apparently stand: Dorchester seems to be selling e-books to which they do not have the rights, and pocketing the cash. Where it will end…remains to be seen.

Here’s Dorchester-Leisure on Twitter, for those who want to see the latest.

March 28, 2011
Sauvons le Grand Hamster d’Alsace
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:26 AM * 101 comments

The on-going story of the disappearance of the Giant Hamster of Alsace: Once numbered in the thousands, these ferocious hamsters are on the verge of extinction in France; driven down by urban sprawl and agricultural monoculture.

The story is that the European Union is threatening to fine France for failing to protect the last wild population of hamsters in western Europe.

They’re called “grand” hamsters because they’re around a foot long (the size of a small rabbit or large guinea pig). They seem to fill the groundhog’s ecological niche.

March 27, 2011
Babylon 5: A Voice in the Wilderness
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 04:22 PM *

(Crossposted from Noise2Signal, where comments are enabled.)

Live with a man forty years. Share his house, his meals. Speak on every subject. Then tie him up, and hold him over the volcano’s edge. And on that day, you will finally meet the man.
Xian Yu, as quoted in Firefly

With this double episode, we are finally back to the big plot, back to dialog that resonates with deeper meaning and wider implications, back to characters who are allowed to change and events whose effects extend beyond the closing credits. It’s been a while coming, after the brief, vertiginous glimpse in Signs and Portents faded back into Freak of the Week episodes. But from this point on, the balance between one-offs and pieces of the story arc shifts. This is when the show wakes up, stretches, and gets good.

The plot-triggering event is a series of seismic disturbances on the planet below Babylon 5. Like most quakes, it is notable not only for its immediate violence, but also for the subtle, permanent shift it makes in the landscape around it. Things happen when worlds shake. People show their true natures, and are changed by the revelations around them and inside themselves1.

The other early event of the story, which will have its own long-term implications, is the outbreak of revolution on the Mars Colony. The Free Mars movement strikes suddenly, rebelling against the Earth-controlled provisional government. We’ve only had hints of the tension there before, and even now it has very little impact on the station as a whole. But it’s Garibaldi’s own personal earthquake, shaking him out of his habitual ways of dealing with the past.

(This is a particularly interesting set of storylines to consider right now, by the way. We’ve just had an earthquake leading to a risk of nuclear disaster2, we’re seeing popular uprisings in distant countries, and the faction that wants to bomb everything it can’t control is calling on the com channel again. One almost wonders if certain world leaders have had a recent visit from a mysterious stranger who wants to know what they want. But I digress.)

Noise2Signal
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 04:13 PM * 23 comments

It’s with great pride, and a certain amount of trepidation, that I announce that I’ve just started a blog of my own: http://noise2sig.nl, heretofore to be referred to as Noise2Signal, or perhaps just N2S.

Now, it may seem odd to you that I’ve done this, when there’s a perfectly good blog right here where I do a heck of a lot of writing. On off days, it seems kinda odd to me, too. But I’m kind of like a teenager grown restless in her parents’ house. It’s been time, for a while now, to have my own place, where I can put my posters up and play my music real loud.

No, seriously. The real reason I’ve created the place is that I’m doing a bunch of writing—the Babylon 5 rewatch series—that isn’t a really good fit for Making Light, in content or in format. And I’ve got more such stuff planned. I want to put it somewhere I own, where it’s visibly mine and in a structure I’ve set up to hold that kind of serial posting. So although I’m putting the writeups for the rest of Season 1 on Making Light, I’m hosting comments to them over on N2S. And from Season 2 onward, the Bab 5 posts will be entirely over there. I’ll mention it here when they go up, though of course N2S is fully equipped with RSS feeds and everything.

I may, of course, write other stuff as well. I’m looking at getting some guest posters and, in time, other bloggers. I suspect N2S will end up with its own distinct voice, and that the things I do will fall more and more naturally into the two camps.

One thing it’s important to emphasize: I am not leaving Making Light. Really really not.

I just need someplace of my own too, is all.

Come on by. Have a look around. Make some comments so it feels lived-in.

March 25, 2011
Triangle Shirtwaist
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:35 AM * 80 comments

Today is the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.

The story is familiar, and has been covered well many places. We all know how at quitting time, Saturday March the 25th, 1911, a fire started on the 8th floor of the Asch Building (29 Washington Place in Greenwich Village, now known as the Brown Building and part of NYU). We know that nearly a hundred and fifty workers, mostly women and children, died in the fire, either of burns or falls.

We know that some of the exit doors were chained shut by management. We know that the fire escape was only 17½ inches wide and tore away from the wall. We have heard how the rooms were overcrowded and filled with flammable materials. We have heard of the heroism and the horror.

But perhaps less well-known is that the Triangle Shirtwaist Company had successfully resisted unionization of its workers two years before.

One of the people on the sidewalk who witnessed the fire was Frances Perkins.

In less than 20 minutes, 146 people, mostly Italian and Jewish immigrant women and girls, were dead. The last six victims were officially identified just a few weeks ago. Triangle outraged the public and offered a grisly example of how powerless workers were without collective bargaining, because unionized garment workers received better pay and had safer conditions. And it galvanized Frances Perkins.

Twenty-two years later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed her secretary of labor, the first woman to serve as a Cabinet secretary. During her 12-year tenure, she directed the formulation and implementation of the Social Security Act, one of the most important pieces of social legislation in our history. Among other extraordinary accomplishments, she helped create unemployment insurance, the minimum wage, and the legislation that guarantees the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively. She also established the department’s Labor Standards Bureau, a precursor to what is now the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Perkins clearly had the Triangle victims in mind as she weaved the nation’s social safety net.

Now, as collective bargaining rights are being destroyed by executive fiat all across America, it is well to remember what those rights cost, and what losing them may well cost again.

Step outside today at 4:45pm and ring a bell in memory of those lessons we should never forget.

March 20, 2011
Remembering Mike Glicksohn
Posted by Patrick at 10:49 AM * 17 comments

The news of Mike Glicksohn’s death at 64 leaves me reflective and a little shaken. In 1975-76, when I was a teenager in Toronto science-fiction fandom hanging around with a bunch of other young fans, Mike was the reigning local BNF, the guy with world-famous SF-author friends and a Hugo award and parties he didn’t invite us to. He was cordial on the occasions when we would cross paths, and occasionally we would even wind up in the same carload of fans headed for some Midwestern convention, but by and large he had his set of older and more accomplished friends and he kept to them. He published a beautifully-produced personal fanzine, Xenium, but none of us rated receiving it. Perhaps predictably, we resented him more than a little bit.

Looking back, of course, it’s striking how few years separated our lives and fannish careers. Mike got into fandom in the late sixties and he and his first wife Susan Wood published their Hugo-winning fanzine Energumen from 1970 to 1973. I got into fandom in 1975 and at the time Mike seemed like an absolute fannish institution, someone who’d been around forever. Of course, part of that is the time-distortion inherent in being 16.

Later Teresa and I got to know Mike a little better. Oddly, one of the things leading to this was that in early 1980 or so, we started getting to know Susan Wood, who had separated from Mike after the Energumen years and relocated across Canada, winding up in Vancouver just a year or two before we moved to Seattle. Susan was a remarkable individual, compelling in the way that very smart people can be when they’re stuck in overdrive and visibly beginning to burn out. In November of that year, we were very distressed (and, horribly, not surprised) to hear that Susan had abruptly died. But before her death she and Mike, who had remained on friendly terms following their split, had planned a final issue of Energumen. Mike pressed forward with the project, and wound up including a piece by me. A very silly one, slighty rewritten and expanded from its original first-draft appearance in a forgettable FAPAzine, but it meant quite a bit to me to unexpectedly wind up part of that distinguished fanzine’s history.

In 1983-84, Teresa and I spent eight months in Toronto between our years in Seattle and our move to New York City. Mike and his second wife Susan (yes, he married two Susans) were gracious to us on several occasions; I particularly remember a hilarious dinner with them at their house near High Park. And in the years since we were always friendly on the rare occasions when we would cross paths. (Sometimes literally. Some days after the 1987 Worldcon in Brighton, I was peering at the menu outside a pub on London’s Villiers Street, when I suddenly heard Mike’s voice about half a block away saying, “See, I told you Embankment was the right place to get out, because you immediately see all the classic sights of London, like Big Ben, and the Thames, and Patrick Nielsen Hayden.”) After we won TAFF in 1985, Mike was a good source of advice and lore about British fandom as we prepared for our trip, and a helpful speaker-to-all-factions as we spent the next couple of years working to bind up TAFF’s wounds while, as is the tradition, adminstering the next two elections.

In 2005 I wound up seated next to Mike on a hallway floor outside a late-night room party at Confusion, having a longish conversation with him about some of the things touched on here—the time-distortion of youth, how people who seem vastly older when you’re 16 seem like they’re close to the same age as you when you’re 46, and the whole fannish dynamic of insurgent generations later settling into tolerant amusement at the newer insurgencies. (See British fandom, passim). I don’t recall when I heard that he was fighting cancer, but this past November Teresa and I were editor guests at SFConTario, a new SF convention in Toronto. Mike and Susan showed up on Friday night and hung out with us a little at opening ceremonies. We assumed we’d see more of him later in the weekend, but (as our fellow SFConTario GoH Geri Sullivan details) evidently his health issues didn’t permit it. This served as a strong hint that he wasn’t doing well.

I’m sorry that my suspicions were correct. He was a good guy. I’m sorry that my initial relationship to him was really with a version of him that I made up in my head. I’m glad we both lived long enough to actually relate as human beings.

Babylon 5: Legacies
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 09:17 AM * 180 comments

The Rule about Movies:
1. It has to have at least two women in it
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something besides a man
The Bechdel Test

Watching Babylon 5, I frequently find myself thinking about that thing that appeared in the internet’s strobe-light consciousness last November: the real lack of overlap between the shows Democrats follow and the ones Republicans do. For me, Bab 5 is an early example of that divide. Its themes and values make it a thoroughly liberal, progressive show, despite its glancing resemblance to more conservative milSF.

We’ve already had an “organized labor is good” episode (By Any Means Necessary) and an “authoritarians are bad” one (Eyes). This one, though less overt than those two, is in the same category for me. It focuses on a marked area of difference between the left and the right: the roles that women play in society, and the value and validity of different, gender-linked, forms of conflict management.

March 19, 2011
Open thread 155
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 06:05 PM *

When signaling “three” with her hands, my daughter holds up her thumb, index finger, and middle finger. Her pinky and ring fingers stay down. My son holds his index finger down with his thumb, leaving the pinky, ring and middle fingers to make up the number. My husband and I both use our thumbs to keep our little fingers down, showing the index, middle, and ring fingers.

I do not know how we have ended up with this difference in the household.

In an unrelated, but thematically similar matter, who here considers “socks” to be a sub-category of “underwear”† and who considers them separate, parallel classes of garment? It has been a matter of Much Contention in this family in the past.


† obRedHotChiliPeppers aside

back to Open thread 154

Fuller Moon
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 09:16 AM *

Tonight’s full moon is going to be the biggest and brightest since 1993. Unless there’s cloud cover.

Q: What do you get when you divide the circumference of green cheese by its diameter?
A: Moon pi.

Q: If the moon were a light bulb, how many aerospace engineers would it take to change it?
A: None. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to change a light bulb.

Q: How does the man in the moon get a haircut?
A: Eclipse it ‘imself.

ObSF:

March 17, 2011
Tea Eggs
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 04:01 PM * 85 comments

Tea Eggs are apparently a popular savory in China. I ran into these things at Boskone, whilst manning the Viable Paradise Sunday Brunch. They look interesting, and they taste pretty darned good. So, the other day, we tried making them.

There are all kinds of recipes around on the web for ‘em. Here’s what we wound up doing, based on what we had in the house:

  • Half-dozen eggs
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon five-spice powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper corns
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 2 teabags (black tea)

Soft boil the eggs. (In a saucepan just big enough to hold them, cover the eggs with cold water. Bring to a boil. Allow to boil for three minutes.)

Remove the eggs from the boiling water with a slotted spoon. Put the eggs in a bowl of cold water.

While the eggs are cooling, add remainder of the ingredients to the hot water in the pan. Heat the liquid.

After the eggs are cool, crack the shells all over but do not peel. You want ‘em spider-webbed with cracks.

Replace the now-cracked eggs to the pan. Simmer covered for an hour. Make sure the liquid covers the eggs. Then transfer to a ceramic container in the refrigerator and allow to marinate for two hours. (Some folks apparently marinate ‘em overnight.)

Drain and serve.


Cooking with Light (recipe index)

March 16, 2011
Sea Stories
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 07:37 AM * 90 comments

I will now do my impression of the tedious folks who hang around the VFW talking about the exciting days of their youth. This is from my Navy days.

No shit, guys, there I was assigned to USS Hawkins (DD-873), my first berth as an officer. I wrote this song (to the tune of “The Wreck of the Anna Maria” by Ryan’s Fancy, on their album Dark Island).

Forty-eight hours on a rusty old FRAM
How my throat seemed to long for a beer
I’ll be glad to see land and once more lay my hand
On the auto I left on the pier.

From Philly’s pier two we went laden
With cockroaches, dopers, and rinks.
And I hope that we may get back into the bay
Before the whole lot of us sinks.

There’s trouble aloft with the Forty
There’s sludge in the old coffee urn
The DRT’s broke, the machine’s got no Coke,
And the spring bearing’s starting to burn.

Our ship was an antique destroyer
She’ll go out a-cruising no more
But still you can bet when you shave with Gillette
You’re seeing the Hawkins once more.

Forty-eight hours on a rusty old FRAM
How my throat seemed to long for a beer
I’ll be glad to see land and once more lay my hand
On the auto I left on the pier.

March 15, 2011
Department of “Say What?!?
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 09:35 AM * 50 comments

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No, really.

March 14, 2011
Why Borders Cratered
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 01:55 PM * 161 comments

Many have asked.

Here’s an answer, at Quora.com:

Failure to build efficient systems and processes … To provide one example, a lower ranked title that sells out in a B&N will be replenished from a central warehouse within 2-3 days. The same process could take up to 16 weeks for Borders.

That’s just one part of item five in a six-item list, all of which are interesting, make sense, and could serve as a Lesson To All.

The list starts with “Failure to adequately address the internet sales channel and the subsequent ebook market,” and ends with “Branding failure.” Detail and examples provided. Well thought out, well presented. The whole entry makes fascinating reading.

March 12, 2011
Babylon 5: Eyes
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 11:52 AM * 59 comments

Ostensibly, this is a “story arc” episode, where the consequences of past choices come back to haunt the crew of Babylon 5.  Having sent Bester about his business in Mind War, reinterpreted the Rush Act in By Any Means Necessary, and—as Garibaldi says—rewritten the rulebook repeatedly in recent episodes, Sinclair has powerful enemies looking for revenge.  This is when they try to take it, in the form of that kind of grubby political assassination that disguises itself as a routine enquiry.

Multiple threads from previous episodes all come together in the plot.  The investigator, Ari Ben Zayn, turns out to subscribe to the same theory of secret Minbari allegiance that Knight One and Knight Two did in And the Sky Full of Stars.  Sinclair is questioned about the Raghesh 3 incident from Midnight on the Firing Line, the Deathwalker affair, and the sabotage in Survivors as well as the way he ended the strike in By Any Means Necessary.  It looks like all the chickens are coming home to roost.

But I wasn’t impressed with this episode in that context.  It’s not so much that the attempt to unseat Sinclair fails.  The real problem is that there are no new threads leading forward into the next conflict.  None of the recurring characters changes, in position or in personality, because of the events that occur.  Everyone is right where they were when the action started.  The command crew keep their positions. EarthGov remains divided about Babylon 5 and the aliens. Bester still lurks in the shadows.  Life goes on.

Having said that, I think this episode did have a number of thematic and character-related aspects that are worth dwelling on.

March 11, 2011
Earthquake, tsunami hit Japan
Posted by Avram Grumer at 03:12 AM * 268 comments

Big earthquake in Japan, 8.9 magnitude, followed by a massive tsunami. Here’s a Google News link, but most of you will be seeing this several hours from now, and will’ve already heard the latest in the morning news. You’ll know more then than I do now.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center is issuing tsunami warnings for various regions around the Pacific. Nothing yet for the west coast of the mainland US, but they’re predicting the tsunami to hit Hawaii a bit before 3 AM HST (around 9 AM New York time, I think), and various other countries at various times. (Australia, New Zealand, Guam, Taiwan, Indonesia, Mexico, Chile, Peru, and others.) If you’re up now, check the news and get to high ground.

Update: Y’know the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center I mentioned above? Our primary source for information about tsunami risks? A division of the National Weather Service, which warns us all about hurricanes, tornados, and similar oncoming catastrophes? The Republicans in the House of Representatives voted to cut its funding. Because they’re willing to sacrifice any number of lives on the altar of never raising a rich person’s taxes, ever.

March 10, 2011
Radical Islam
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 04:30 PM * 40 comments

I read:

A congressional panel looking into the radicalization of Muslim Americans convened Thursday to hear testimony, some emotional, from proponents of stronger action to limit the threat of homegrown terrorism as well as critics opposed to sweeping stereotypes.

Despite strong criticism from Muslim Americans and accusations of a McCarthyist revival, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King, R-New York, defended the controversial hearing as neither “radical or un-American.”

That’s Peter “I Lurve teh IRA” King.

I tell you what, if I were a Muslim American, this set of hearings would go a long, long way toward radicalizing me.

March 06, 2011
Sounding off from Wisconsin
Posted by Teresa at 04:03 PM * 115 comments

Patrick and I mainly know Kurt Griesemer from Minneapolis SF convention music circles, but he’s a Wisconsin public employee. He’s written a song and made a video, both of which are titled That Ain’t Right:

Went down to the capitol today
Cause I heard some people say
It was filling up with dangerous Union thugs
Radicals and greedy bastards
Lazy teachers holding placards
Trying to get all the money they could grub.

So I got myself to Madison;
It was quite a sight I’ll tell you son
People in the streets all wearing red
Shouting slogans and singing songs
Holding hands and walking along
Protesting what the governor had said.

See he claims we’re in crisis and we can’t afford to wait
It’s time for you workers to sacrifice
In the meantime don’t you worry—the government’s in a hurry
To sell itself to Koch at any price.*

Kurt’s the blond guy with the guitar. The little kid on his shoulders is his daughter. The rest of the people in the photos are those scary union agitators (i.e., peaceable public employees) the right’s been lying about non-stop since this thing began.

Full lyrics and credits for the song plus a link to a free MP3 download are available on Kurt’s Live Journal.

Feel free. Pass it on.

March 04, 2011
Ash Wednesday
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 06:00 PM * 168 comments

Lake View School, Collinwood, Ohio

It’s Wednesday, March the 4th, 1908. The imposing brick edifice we’re looking at across Collamer Avenue in Collinwood, Ohio, is the Lake View School. That’s the front of the building, the east face.

Although the school is just kindergarten through sixth grade, some of the students are teenagers; up to fifteen years old. Nine teachers, all unmarried ladies, are on hand. We’ll learn their names in a bit.

Collinwood Teachers Group Photo Lake View School Floor Plan
Lake View School Basement First Grade Lake View School

The population of Collinwood has been growing rapidly. Lake View School was built in 1901. In 1906 the school was expanded from four rooms to eight. This year the third-floor auditorium/gymnasium has been converted to a classroom.

Here is the floor plan for first floor (the second floor is similar). East, the front of the building, is to the top of the plan. What is a teachers’ room on the left (the north) on the first floor is the library on the second.

And here is the floor plan for the basement. I beg your indulgence; why I am showing you this will be clear in a moment.

This is Miss Pearl Lynn’s first grade. They’re in the southwest corner on the first floor (the lower right on the floor plan).

Today, around 350 students are in the nine rooms. Look! It’s nine thirty in the morning.

And in an hour nearly half of the students will be dead, because we’re at the scene of the worst school fire in American history. More people will die here today than at either the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire or the Hartford Circus Fire.

March 02, 2011
Dutch lessons
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 04:00 PM * 192 comments

I was getting ready to go to work this morning, choosing whether to be impolitic in the red pashmina* or more neutral in the purple one. And Fiona’s conversation suddenly turned wildly incomprehensible.

The red one, that’s anger, and fighting back. If the one you’re wearing now is blue, that’s walking backwards and being quiet. And you could pretend that this orange one is yellow. Then it would be talking about things.

Alex chimed in.

Yellow is the only way that both of you win. Red means you both lose, and blue is win-lose.

I’ve been a parent long enough to know that children only seem to talk in koans. There’s usually underlying sense there, if you can only find the pattern.

It turns out that it’s part of their school’s social skills program, de vreedzame school†. One of the modules is about different responses to aggression. “Red” is meeting it with your own aggression. “Blue” is retreating in the face of it. And “yellow” is talking things out. The kids have been role-playing the different approaches, learning techniques to turn conflict into dialog. It’s a valued skill, here.

I’ve seen this stuff in action, too. A couple of weeks ago, Alex was late coming out of the school building at the end of the day. So I went in to fish him out. He was standing by the coat rack outside of his classroom, looking vexed. I came up to him and started to ask him what was up when J, one of his classmates, walked over.

Addressing me civilly, he explained that Alex and D, another boy in the class, had had a quarrel, and they needed to make it up. I could see D sitting on a windowsill down the hall, hunched up and sulky. When I nodded that it was OK, J steered Alex over to D. I eavesdropped as he did a very graceful job of mediating between them, not so much about the foundation of their disagreement (I never found out what it was) as about the subsequent emotions. He explained their feelings to each other, persuaded them to apologize to one another, admit to being friends, and shake hands.

Now, J is clearly an extraordinary kid. He’s a couple of years too young to be one of the school’s official peer mediators, but he’s got a real aptitude for moderation. However, he’s obviously been trained how to use that talent, and his classmates have been taught to respect and value the role he played.

Frankly, I’m envious. It’s not a perfect environment; there is still teasing and bad behavior. Kids are kids. But I’d love to have been given lessons in conflict resolution in primary school.


* I wear them draped over my shoulders most of the day. But the red one is special: I tell people I redye it occasionally in the blood of careless developers. However, considering that we had to roll back a priority implementation yesterday, and the fault is about even between dev and QA, it seemed like a bad time to wear the red one.
† the peaceful school

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