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February 28, 2003
Further gods
Posted by Teresa at 11:18 PM *

In the late 1970s, Jack Kirby was asked to design the film version of Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light. A theme park based on the book and movie was also in the works. He duly produced a series of finished drawings. Unfortunately, the project hit some kind of snag later on and was abandoned.

Art prints of Kirby’s drawings are now being offered for sale. They’re a strange version of the novel, with as much Kirby in them as there is Zelazny; but Kirby’s sympathy and enthusiasm for his material is clear. Try the Royal Chambers of Brahma; or the Hand of Shiva and the Raga Wheel Vortex, which combine to form what he called the Planetary Control Room. It’s all way, way Kirby.

Posted by Teresa at 03:33 PM *

Can’t explain; giggling too hard. Just go read it. (via Patrick, who got it from Erik)

February 27, 2003
Some of my recent theories
Posted by Teresa at 10:30 AM *

1. Folly is fractal. The closer you look at it, the more of it there is. (See below.)

2. All those dismal buildings that look like featureless boxes are not specimens of modern architecture per se. They’re our selfless gift to future generations. We’ve undertaken to provide the boring parts of the core buildings. Our children and grandchildren are the ones who will get to enjoy the finished buildings, after they’ve added decorative surface treatments and humanizing ground-level structures to suit their own tastes and needs.

3. Over the years I’ve seen way too many people—aspiring authors, e-publishing entrepreneurs, other wanna-bes—who not only don’t understand how the publishing industry works, but who are unaware that they don’t understand it, and who resist all attempts at enlightment.

My theory is that this invincible ignorance is a function of the ease with which one can construct a model of how publishing ought to work. This model will be simple and logical. It may even be elegant. Unfortunately, the way publishing actually works is so unintuitive that entry-level newbies need six months to a year of immersion training before they start to have a reliable grasp of it. Trade publishing is neither simple nor elegant. Its only virtue is that most of the time it works.

Anyway, it’s that seductively logical model that keeps people from assimilating the fact that they don’t understand how the industry works.

(This is either a digression or illustration: The trade publishing universe has a constantly shifting population of production and editorial freelancers. Some are between in-house jobs, or combine freelancing work with part-time in-house work; others are career freelancers. Basically, they’re an available pool of talented and experienced labor: editorial ronin.

Now: Remember all those e-publishing and POD startups that flourished during the dotcom boom? Hundreds of millions of dollars in startup capital, heaps of employees, painful-to-recall announcements about how they were going to remake publishing? Most of ‘em now worth about as much as a burnt-out match?

Unless you want to count a couple of former editorial assistants, office juniors, who wound up working at Simon & Schuster Interactive (which is stretching things on both counts), I know of no one with any industry experience who was hired or even approached by any of the dotcom-boom publishing startups.)

4. I’m neither a millennialist nor a dispensationalist, I consider the pretribulational rapture a deviationist non-scriptural novelty, and I have no time for vulgar conspiracy theory; but has anyone noticed that George Bush is only a few criteria short of qualifying as the Antichrist?

Posted by Teresa at 01:07 AM *

“Charnockite: A Deep and Meaningful Granitoid Rock,” it says. This is part of Turnstone Geological Services’ rock of the month series. So far I’ve liked the Stibnite best.

I am a complete sucker for people who love their work.

Posted by Teresa at 12:54 AM *

I have decided that true folly is fractal: the closer you look at it, the greater the depth and extent you find. Consider this story of a couple of guys who crashed a party. (Thank you, Erik Olson.)

February 26, 2003
Pictures of the real world
Posted by Teresa at 10:10 PM *

A truly excellent fluoroapophyllite. A cluster of rhombohedral rhodocrosite crystals stacked in rosettes, with bitty flecks of Pyrite. Barite with chalcopyrite.

A kick-ass cristate Saguaro. A cristate Solisia pectinata. (A non-cristate Solisia pectinata, to give you some idea.)

And a Norwegian driver has been hit by a 770-pound flying moose. There’s no photo of this event, but really, you wouldn’t want one; moose infallibly void their bowels during collisions.

February 23, 2003
Ten bazillion massed dots, blots, and dabs against the war
Posted by Teresa at 05:10 PM *

The Hyperreal Media Archive, which normally archives media-related material about “the history of electronic music, rave culture and their related memes,” has compiled a photo archive from around the world of mass protests against the proposed war with Iraq. The cumulative effect is stunning.

Some of the protesters have turned out in wickedly cold weather, or in pouring rain, or in unlikely venues: Tel Aviv, Ramallah, Capetown, Johannesburg, Houston, Austin. They’ve turned out in areas that aren’t exactly hotbeds of habitual anti-Americanism: Taiwan, Dublin, Toronto, Ottawa, Glasgow, Prague. Wellington. Every major city in Australia, for pete’s sake. Antarctica, for pete’s sake twice over.

I don’t think I’ve ever before seen photos of a protest against American foreign policy in Thessaloniki. For that matter, I don’t think I’ve ever seen photos of one in Las Vegas.

Where I know the culture well enough to judge, the people I can see aren’t a bunch of non-registered non-voting protest junkies. Look at Raleigh, Detroit, Sacramento: sober middle-class and blue-collar citizens.

You know what else is weird? We’re seeing mass protests before the war has even started yet. That’s unprecedented.

The truly amazing photos are from countries that are supposedly our allies. You’ve got to figure there’s a disconnect between the citizens and their governments when the really mega demos were in nominally pro-war-on-Iraq countries. The Italian protests were massive. The march in London was the biggest in British history, which is saying something. And it’s estimated that between the various protests in Spain—Madrid, Barcelona, Andalusia—something like ten percent of the adult voting population took part in the protest marches. I would have said that’s impossible, but apparently it happened.

The United States is militarily the most powerful country on earth, but we’re not more powerful than the rest of the world put together. And as a far better man than George Bush once said, you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

February 19, 2003
Checking in
Posted by Patrick at 11:48 AM *

Patrick here. Teresa sends apologies for her continued absence. She’ll be back from Arizona at the end of the week. Slightly longer explanation here.

February 10, 2003
True passion
Posted by Teresa at 07:23 PM *

David Verkade, of Dave’s Nursery in Pompton Lakes, NJ, is passionate about his work. Gotta like a thing like that.

Debris field
Posted by Teresa at 07:08 PM *

Love the Drake has put together a radar loop of NOAA’s images of the shuttle debris coming down.

This is good. I’ve wanted something like this, for certain values of “want.” The site’s following the story in detail, so you may want to check out the rest of its coverage. (via boingboing)

The Museum of Foreign Groceries
Posted by Teresa at 06:25 PM *

As you know, Bob, Patrick is on a mission from God to sample every kind of weird potato chip in the world. The Foreign Groceries Museum has piqued his curiosity with its displays of Calbee Red Pepper and Mustard Chips and Calbee Kim Chee Chips. If any of you happen to run into them at a grocery this side of the International Date Line, please let us know.

(The rest of the Foreign Groceries Museum is interesting too, but I can’t figure out what Habitant French Canadian Pea Soup is doing there. That stuff can’t be foreign; I have two cans of it in my pantry.) (via Geeklog)

Electoral skulduggery in New Hampshire
Posted by Teresa at 05:01 PM *

The New Hampshire Union Leader, a newspaper even Ann Coulter couldn’t call the liberal media, says:

Manchester police have alerted the U.S. Justice Department to an Election Day operation allegedly ordered by a Republican telemarketing dealer that jammed get-out-the-vote phone banks operated by the city’s firefighters union and the state Democratic Party.

Lt. Fred Roach of the city’s detective bureau said this week Idaho-based telemarketing firm Milo Enterprises was hired by GOP Marketplace of Alexandria, Va., to make repeated hang-up calls to a group of New Hampshire phone banks on Nov. 5.

What’s this country coming to, that the GOP is hiring their dirty tricks done, rather than doing the job themselves?

There’ll be laughter and tears over Tia Mariers…
Posted by Teresa at 01:14 PM *

New Scientist is happy to announce that they’re baffled by a phenomenon reported by one of their readers:


One of the recommended ways of drinking the liqueur Tia Maria is to sip it through a thin layer of cream. If the cream is poured onto the surface of the drink, to a depth of about 2 millimetres, and left to stand for about two minutes, the surface begins to break up into a number of toroidal cells. These cells develop a rapid circulation pattern which continues even if some of the Tia Maria is sipped through the cream. How and why do these cells develop and what is the energy source? (Geoffrey Sherlock, Amersham Buckinghamshire)


This is a truly astonishing effect for which not a single reader has produced an explanation. “Rapid circulation pattern” does not do justice to the series of eruptions that convulse the surface of the cream as the liqueur bursts through from beneath…

A lively discussion follows, but as far as I know there’s still no answer to the question. A bottle of Tia Maria is offered as a prize.

The title of this post is an excuse to quote from “The St. Stephen’s Day Murders” by Elvis Costello—

There’ll be laughter and tears over Tia Marias,
Mixed up with that drink made from girders…
—a song I admire (in part) for its distinctly local rhymes and content. There’s no other connection; it’s just for fun. (via the Viridian list)

February 06, 2003
Dubious art
Posted by Teresa at 10:44 PM *

I only know I found them. I don’t know why. I surely wasn’t looking for them.

William Blake’s cat.
Van Dyck’s cat.
Renoir’s cats.
King Lear’s cat.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s cat.
Queen Anne of Brittany with patron cats.
William Holman Hunt’s cat.
Addendum: The cat links inspired Dave Bell to pass on the Viking Kittens. They’re not art. In truth, I’m not sure what they are.

Exasperate, exacerbate
Posted by Teresa at 04:50 PM *

Peter Schmies’s Word Classification Test is a new one on me. You’re given 200 pairs of words and asked to judge whether the meanings of the two words in each set are the opposite or the same. It’s entertainingly tough; fuliginous, brilliant was one of the easier ones. (via Erik Olson)

February 03, 2003
Dept. of regrettable errors
Posted by Teresa at 05:00 PM *

From Erik Olson, a CNN blooper from day before yesterday.

The patron saint of the internet
Posted by Teresa at 12:19 AM * 46 comments

Priscilla Olson and Laura Mixon both sent me a CNN story about how some Italian Catholics have started a drive to get a patron saint named for the internet, and are taking votes at an online site. More about that site later; here’s the story:

(CNN) — Fed up with hackers, a flood of spam and lousy connections, Italian Roman Catholics have launched a search for a patron saint of the Internet. And they hope their online poll will yield a holy Web protector by Easter.

Will it be Archangel Gabriel, whom the Bible credits with bringing Mary the news that she’d give birth to Jesus? Or Saint Isadore of Seville, who wrote the world’s first encyclopedia? Or perhaps Saint Clare of Assisi, a nun believed to have seen visions on a wall?

So far, about 5,000 visitors are casting their votes daily …

I pooh-poohed the story at first because as far as I knew, they’d already settled on a patron saint for the internet: Saint Isidore of Seville (560-636), a most excellent choice.

Saint Isidore was the Bishop of Seville during a time of great change, when the old structures of the world were passing away and new ones were evolving to take their place. He was the most learned man of his time, a polyglot who spoke Latin, Greek, and Hebrew (though the language in which he wrote was in the process of turning into Spanish), who both founded schools himself, and exhorted others to do the same.

Saint Isidore never had to be told to RTFM.

As one who argues long and hard in a newsgroup, he fought against the errors of the Arian and Acephalic heresies. Like a sysop coping with an online world in which it’s always September, he strove to civilize and enlighten the incursive Goths, a barbarous people who held learning in contempt. Like a blogger, he concentrated not on producing independent works of his own, but on usefully directing his readers to the works of others and putting them into context, with many references and quotations along the way.

And as one who compiles an FAQ—or indeed, in the spirit of the internet itself—he set himself to write the Etymologiae, which gathered, systematized, and condensed all the learning of his time. It has been called the first encyclopedia—unnecessarily so, in my opinion. The Etymologiae was the most commonly used school textbook of the Middle Ages, and was still so popular during the Renaissance that it went through ten editions between 1470 and 1529. (Thus it was that Isidore’s tripartite world map became the first map printed in Europe, in 1472.)

Friends, is this not a fine saint for the internet? Sancte Isidore, ora pro nobis! Here are some additional links:

The entry on St. Isidore from the Catholic Encyclopedia
Another site about Saint Isidore, including a prayer to say before logging on.
A somewhat livelier page from the (Pisky) Diocese of South Florida, with a humorous poem, and a photoshopped picture of St. Isidore with a laptop.
The inscrutable Virtual Order of Saint Isidore of Seville.
Cheesy but fervent vernacular art depicting St. Isidore, a sure sign that there’s genuine devotion going on out there.
Send someone a St. Isidore greeting card!
(By the way, that vernacular image of St. Isidore comes from a favorite site of mine, Matthew Brooks’ Art for the Catholic Restoration. It features a gallery of Brooks’ unusually vigorous religious paintings. I’ve been studying the saints for a long time now, but some of these are beyond my interpretive skills. This one, for instance, is surely not “St. Theotonius becomes Emperor of Dragaera.” It only looks like it is. The Dream of St. John Bosco is something of a tour de force. But you should look at the rest of them. I’m particularly fond of his St. Michael the Archangel, which owes more to Frank Frazetta’s Conan than it does to Raphael.

But I digress.)

Let’s go back to that CNN story. Apparently the recommendation of St. Isidore hasn’t been finalized; thus the campaign.

The Archangel Gabriel and St. Clare of Assisi are undoubtedly very wonderful, but they’re just not as appropriate. St. Clare is (among other things) the patron saint of television. This is because late in her life, whenever she was too ill to get out of bed and attend Mass, an image of the service would miraculously be projected on the wall of her cell. This makes her a good patron saint for many-to-one communication systems.

I can’t say a bad word about the Archangel Gabriel; he’s the patron saint of publishers, book distributors, and news agents. (Their feast day is the Feast of the Annunciation. It’s only logical.) But really, he’s a patron saint for one-to-many communications systems.

And as for that Italian voting site—well, hmmmf. They don’t even list Isidore of Seville. Here’s their list:

Sant’Alfonso de’ Liguori (St. Alphonsus Liguori)
Santa Chiara (St. Clare)
San Gabriele (Gabriel Archangel)
Ven. Giacomo Alberione
San Giovanni Bosco (St. John (or Don) Bosco)
San Massimiliano Kolbe (Maximilian Kolbe)
Gabriel and St. Clare we’ve already discussed. Of the remaining list, note that all but one are Italians (as was St. Clare). I figure the other, Maximilian Kolbe, is on the list because he’s a newish saint and they’re still trying to pin down what he’s patron saint of.

Alphonsus Liguori is a conservative 18th C. saint, founder of the Redemptorist order, and patron of confessors, final perseverance, theologians, and vocations. What this has to do with the internet is beyond me.

The Venerable Giacomo Alberione is a very conservative figure, and again has no perceptible relevance to the internet. He founded the Society of Saint Paul (1914), the Daughters of Saint Paul (1915), the Sisters Disciples of the Divine Master (1924), and the Sisters of Jesus Good Shepherd (1936), so maybe they’re all voting for him in hope it’ll help him get canonized.

St. John Bosco is the patron saint of editors, and he shouldn’t be. (More on this in a moment.) On the other hand, it’s hard to dislike a saint who, when he decided that his vocation was to work with children, went and studied juggling, acrobatics, and sleight-of-hand magic so he could hold their attention. (That unexpected practicality is something you find in a lot of saints. It’s one of the things I like about them.) Again, his career has no detectable relevance to the internet. But since he founded the Salesians of Don Bosco (1859), the Daughters of Mary, Help of Christians (1872), and the Union of Cooperator Salesians (1875), it could be that he’s got his own voting bloc too. It’s still a bad idea. St. John Bosco is supposed to be the saint-protector of Catholic youth, especially Catholic boys. You’ve got to figure the guy’s busy just now.

Gotta be Saint Isidore of Seville.

On the mis-assignment of patron saints for writers and editors: It used to be that the faithful decided which saint to pray to on specific issues in much the same way they now find a new dentist: “Try so-and-so, I hear he’s good for that.” Along the way a few odd things happened, like St. Erasmus, a.k.a. St. Elmo, picking up the intestinal disorders/abdominal pain account. Almost nothing is known of his life, other than that he existed; but an early story about him preaching to sailors was illustrated with a picture that happened to have a windlass in it. Landlubbers mistook the windlass for the method of his martyrdom, and figured those were his guts getting wound up on it. They accordingly figured he’d know a thing or two about abdominal distress.

Saint Margaret of Antioch is a wholly dubious—she was denounced as apocryphal clear back in the Fifth Century—but perfectly unkillable saint. Like Saint George, she had a run-in with a dragon; but where he killed his in good knightly fashion, she was swallowed up by hers. But Margaret was armed with a crucifix and perfect faith, and blew up her dragon from the inside; wherefore she is invoked by women in labor.

I very nearly digress.

Thus the vox populi method of assigning patron saints, which can be detected in books of saints’ lives by the phrase “traditionally associated with—”. These days, patron saints are officially appointed by the church. It’s not as much fun, and (in my opinion) mistakes still get made. This is where the patron saints of writers and editors come in.

Saints John the Apostle and Paul the Apostle are traditionally associated with all the book-related trades, most likely because Paul is normally shown holding a book, and John is normally shown writing one. Writers are also listed in the grab-bag of patronage assignments of St. Lucy of Syracuse; and if I had to make a guess at the connection, it’d be because St. Lucy is invoked for problems with eyesight.

But those are just the traditional associations. As of the twentieth century, the official patron saint of editors is St. Francis de Sales, and the official patron saint of writers is St. John Bosco. When you read their lives, you just can’t see the connection. Forgive me for thinking that both assignments have a lot more to do with the influence of the large, well-organized, and vastly energetic order of the Salesians of Don Bosco.

It’s absurd. The obvious saint for editors is that awful old crank St. Jerome, who spent 30 years revising and editing what is now know as the Vulgate edition of the Bible. It’s still in use. He’s also noted for having taken much longer on the editing than was originally anticipated, and for quarreling at one time or another with most of the prominent figures in the church.

The obvious saints for writers are St. Teresa of Avila, whose writing life was frequently vexed by straying manuscripts, inexplicable rejections, misreadings by those who should either have known better or kept their mouths shut, and all the other misadventures that afflict writers once the words are on paper. St. John of the Cross, in a heroic act of composition under trying conditions, wrote The Dark Night of the Soul in his head during the nine months of his imprisonment in the tiny, fetid guest latrine of a medieval friary in Toledo.

There is no official saint of copyeditors, but I know exactly who it should be: Saint Columba. If you’ve ever dealt with the tribe, you’ll recognize the true voice of the copyeditor speaking here. This is from Adamnan’s Life of St. Columba, Chapter XVII, “Of the Vowel I”:

One day Baithene came to the saint and said, “I want some one of the brethren to look over with me and correct the psalter which I have written.” Hearing this, the saint said, “Why give us this trouble without any cause? In that psalter of thine, of which thou speakest, there is not one superfluous letter to be found, nor is any wanting except the one vowel I.” And accordingly, when the whole psalter was read over, what the saint had said was found to be true.

February 01, 2003
“An online quiz you actually need to know about,”
Posted by Teresa at 11:05 PM *

read the subject line of a letter from Scraps DeSelby; then added, in the letter proper, “I think this is the first one I regret not thinking of myself: Which Poetry Form Are You?

I’m thus spared wondering whether Scraps wrote that quiz, since otherwise I would surely have suspected it. The questions are elegantly inscrutable, and the fortunes they tell are even more so. You might, for instance, be told that you’re a triolet:

If they told you I’m mad, then they lied.
I’m odd, but it isn’t compulsive.
I’m the triolet, bursting with pride;
If they told you I’m mad, then they lied.
No, it isn’t obsessive. Now hide
All the spoons or I might get convulsive.
If they told you I’m mad then they lied.
I’m odd, but it isn’t compulsive.
Or even a clerihew:
I, as a clerihew,
Tend to be merry; too
Merry, it might, perhaps, by some, be claimed;
But I’m sure that these people are wrong, and need to be grievously maimed.
But if you’re Patrick, you get told you’re heroic couplets:
I am heroic couplets; most precise
And fond of order. Planned and structured. Nice.
I know, of course, just what I want; I know,
As well, what I will do to make it so.
This doesn’t mean that I attempt to shun
Excitement, entertainment, pleasure, fun;
But they must keep their place, like all the rest;
They might be good, but ordered life is best.
It remains only to learn what poetic form Scraps proved to be. (And how is your dear old dog, Variable Foot?)

Bad news
Posted by Teresa at 09:47 AM *

Breaking news. We’ve lost another space shuttle, the Columbia. It broke up on reentry. Reports from Texas say it looked like it came down in three pieces, and that there was a loud crash.

I don’t want to turn on the television. This hurts.

More, 10:28

They were 200,000 feet up, doing about 12,500 miles an hour, when it happened.

Video footage of the shuttle passing over Dallas clearly shows it broken into three fragments.

More reports of fireballs and loud booms from (roughly) northeastern Texas. Reports are coming in from (incomplete list) Huntington, Palestine, New Boston, and Jasper and Moffett counties. That takes in a lot of territory.

Two links, via Electrolite:

A constantly updated summary of what we know so far, from Spaceflight Now.

NOAA radar picked up the debris track, terrible and clear, coming down in a WNW line just south of Shreveport.

Overall sense of comments I’m seeing:
1. Shock.
2. No, of course there weren’t any survivors.
3. No, of course it wasn’t terrorism.
4. More shock.
Initial reports say there was an incident at the start of the mission—a bit of debris came loose and plonked into the heat shielding on one of the Columbia’s wings. At the time, it was thought that the damage didn’t warrant aborting the mission.

Note: It has not yet been determined that that damage caused the crash. It may or may not be possible to determine exactly what caused the crash. We’ll undoubtedly hear a lot more about this.

The Columbia was our oldest shuttle, in service since 1981.

John M. Ford, posting to the comments thread here:
John M. Ford
February 1, 2003 11:05 AM:

I am following this on NASA TV, and the language has a surreal detachment, even by the usual standard; this is a “contingency during descent.” “All information and data relevant to the descent is being secured by flight controllers.”

The screen shows Mission Control in Houston; people are in small clusters, two or three or four, there are graphs (unidentifiable from here) on the big screens. There’s no sound, but there rarely is. Every five minutes or so, the messages are repeated.

“Any debris related to the shuttle’s contingency should be avoided, due to the toxic nature of propellants.”

There’s one man in a gray sweatshirt who goes offstage left periodically, returns with a pile of papers, has a long discussion with two people at consoles, goes off again. The mood is visible in the way people walk, how they put papers on desks, what they do with their hands while they talk. Someone has just passed through carrying a backpack, slowing to watch the screens, but not stopping on his way somewhere else; what were his last ninety minutes like?

“Further information will be released as it becomes available.”

The oddest quality may be that, unlike the typical “breaking story,” the crisis is now over. There are no survivors, not at Mach 17. There is no suspense. There is nothing significant to report and it is very unlikely that there will be for a long time, after the planetary skid mark is swept up and the bits sieved for meaning, all the video images scrutinized for the dark spot, the scar shadow, that might be a sign.

Already I miss Richard Feynman.

Tim Kyger, posting a comment to the thread on this story in Electrolite:
Tim Kyger
February 1, 2003 11:10 AM:

One other thought. Two words: Space Station.

There are three humans waiting on board *Alpha* for a ride home. Yes, they’ve got a lifeboat attached; a Soyuz. But they’ve been in free fall for about four to five months now (I forget the exact figure). The rentry g-load for a Soyuz is gonna be 8 to 9 gees (versus the peak 1.5 g load during a Shuttle landing — Story Musgrave stood UP during the entire rentry of his last Shuttle mission). I worry about their ability to get back without a lot of injury.

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