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April 30, 2009
The eternal cycle of hamsters
Posted by Teresa at 01:30 PM * 100 comments

If hamsters lived longer, they’d be just about perfect.

I’m sorry to report that the hamster once introduced to Making light as young Hiro Frumentius grew old in hamster years, and departed this world a couple of days after we returned from Europe. He died of what looked like a stroke. As Jim and Abi and others have observed, he waited until we got home.

Many thanks to Velma Bowen for keeping an eye on him while we were gone. It was a great kindness.

Hiro is now the subject of a narrative photo set on Flickr, with cameo appearances by Jim Macdonald, Debra Doyle, Elise Matthesen, and Patrick’s bedroom slippers. I’ve also put up much smaller photo sets for our previous hamsters, Porco Bruno and Arthur, the Hamster of Consolation.

There’s a photo set as well for our newbie hamster: Agnes Margaret, a.k.a. Aggie Maggie. Both are tiny but expected to grow.

Most evident characteristic so far: Aggie’s a finger-biter. We’re trying to teach her not to do that. What’s odd is that she bites when she’s apparently calm and comfortable, like a human making an offhand remark. If you don’t scream and jerk your hand away, she goes on being calm and cheerful while you bleed all over everything.

What else? She’s athletic, and runs all night in her wheel. She climbs the walls of her cage when she’s wheedling snacks, and stuffs the goodies in her mouth one-handed while hanging from the bars by her other hand. So far, she’s eaten a quantity of hamster chow equal to several times her original volume, and is visibly larger than she was when we first got her. She’s a sound sleeper. For about half an hour after she wakes up, she takes frequent pauses to yawn, and stretches like a Slinky. She builds elaborate nests for such a young hamster. Her tail’s a bit longer than the average hamster’s. And she has mobile and expressive ears.

April 28, 2009
Swine flu and information hygiene
Posted by Teresa at 01:45 PM * 163 comments

Kragen Javier Sitaker has written a lucid and pertinent essay, How False Rumors Can Cost Lives, about the current flood of rumor, misinformation, and speculation about swine flu:

We are facing a flu outbreak. It seems most likely that it started at an overcrowded pig farm in Veracruz. I estimate it has about a 40% chance of going pandemic, a 59% chance of fizzling like SARS, and a 1% chance of something else entirely. It’s in a critical stage right now; in the next month or so, it could go either way.

… If the pandemic is possible but not inevitable, it won’t be stopped by individual action. It can only be done by entire countries, united, acting rapidly to take preventive measures: wearing facemasks, washing hands, not shaking hands, using alcohol hand sanitizer gel, social distancing, soldiers going on leave instead of living in barracks, administration of antiviral drugs like Tamiflu to those in affected areas, quarantining travelers and the sick, and so on. Maybe it will turn out that experimental use of OX40-Ig or something stops the damn thing from drowning you in your own plasma.

In the US, there is a system in place for taking such decisive united action on issues of public health. It depends on the government: the CDC, the PHS, FEMA, the TSA, and so on. They have to decide what to do; there’s no system in place for democratic deliberation about these issues. But once they make their choice, they can’t implement it without the trust of the population.

Of course, if it happens that the government agencies are corrupt and unconcerned with public welfare—especially if they were actually complicit in creating the problem, as they were in New Orleans after Katrina—there is no hope for such decisive action.

Suppose, though, that the agencies actually do try to take effective action. Suppose that, unlike in 1976, their action is necessary and sufficient to keep this damn thing from taking off. But suppose there are a bunch of hoaxes floating around. Hoaxes that claim, say, that the virus was created in government laboratories and then released—on no factual basis, with no plausible theory of motivation, and no plausible explanation of how such a thing was possible.

If people believe such hoaxes, the agencies will find themselves unable to act—paralyzed by the distrust of the public.

And the hoax will kill millions, or tens of millions, of people.

The author then does a very creditable job of explaining how to judge the reliability of an online source. He begins:
So when you’re sending around something you read about the flu, please, stop and think. Don’t forward wildly speculative ideas about government conspiracies to your friends or to the world. When someone proposes an idea, think about whether it makes sense.
He gives a list of suggested questions to ask about a source, using as his example a wildly irresponsible article by Paul Joseph Watson: Medical Director: Swine Flu Was “Cultured In A Laboratory”. It appeared at—a site which, as Jim would put it, frequently wanders into the Tinfoil Hat Mountains, gets trapped by snow, and eats its own dead.

As usual, I recommend you read “False Rumors” in its entirety.

I’ve been seeing some strange reactions—elsewhere not on Making Light—from people who apparently want to deny that it’s possible to have general, reasoned, public discussions of emotionally charged current events. I don’t know what their problem is, but they are wrong, and I defy them.

We are reasonable human beings. We can seek out reliable information, and have useful, reasonable conversations about issues that matter to us. So what if we’re not all experts on every possible subject? We can help each other understand. If it’s not our turn to be the expert this time, it may be our turn next week; and a good discussion makes everyone smarter.

Finally, a quote from my own Tips for an apocalypse, published July 07, 2005:

2. Beware of rumors. People will be desperately trying to pull together a picture of the situation. They’ll grasp at scraps of information, theorize light-years beyond the data, inflate the importance of trifles, and find connections where none exist. By all means, keep your head up and your ear to the ground. Good information is priceless. But if there’s ever a moment to look skeptically at unsourced information, this is it. … 3. Brace yourself: the idiots are coming. Over the next few weeks, you’re going to get hit with a spate of false alarms. It’s because everyone’s on edge, which means false alarms will produce exaggerated responses. Some sh*t-for-brains types find that amusing. If you stay calm, they’ll die down faster. … 4. Hang in there. Take care of yourselves.

April 26, 2009
Flu Redux
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 10:30 PM * 280 comments

What with headlines reading “U.S. prepares for possible swine flu epidemic as global cases rise” and “Swine Flu Confirmed in New York Students,” it’s time to talk about the disease a little more.

We’ve addressed flu before:

Why is “How To Wash Your Hands” a flu post? Because hand washing is the #1 public health measure you can take. Here’s the full list:

  1. Wash your hands
  2. Cover your mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze
  3. Stay home when you’re sick
  4. Avoid touching your mouth, nose, or eyes with your hands
  5. Avoid close contact with sick people
  6. Exercise, get lots of rest, eat nutritious food, and drink plenty of water

The #1 public health measure the authorities can take is close the schools.

The CDC have put up a page about Taking Care of Yourself: What to Do if You Get Sick with Flu; another page about Taking Care of a Sick Person in Your Home; and a What’s New on the Swine Flu updates page.

The CDC also has a big thing about Emergency Preparedness Kits. It’s a good starting point. A far better list is posted at Filling A Much-Needed Void.

If you want a crystal ball, I recommend The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John M. Barry. It also has a great deal of fascinating history of nineteenth and early-twentieth century medicine, and the men and women who pretty much created medicine as we know it.

Now let’s talk a little more about influenza.

The flu is a funny bug. As you know, Bob, it’s a virus, and a virus isn’t really alive. A virus is just a strand of nucleic material in a capsule or shell. It needs to find a living cell. It injects its nucleic material into the cell, and the cell (taken over by pirates, as it were) gets to work making lots more viruses.

I discussed the immune system in Why We Immunize, but I’m going to go over it a bit more here.

You must know that proteins have shapes, and those shapes are how you can tell one protein from another. Your cells are covered with protein, viruses have protein capsules, it’s all protein on the molecular level.

Your immune system (when it’s working right) recognizes self and non-self. It protects the self and attacks the non-self. It does this in a couple of ways. First, you have generalized reaction. When cells are distressed, they release cytokines, and those switch on a kind of white cell called the NK-cell. NK stands for Natural Killer (no, I’m not making this up). The NK cells find anything they don’t recognize, and, using specialized proteins, destroy it. When you’ve got an infection, those are the first things that come on line.

The next thing to arrive are the antibodies. These are specialized cells that are keyed to find one specific protein—the foreign invader protein—and destroy it. Before your body can produce antibodies, it has to have been exposed to the antigens (which is what you call non-self proteins), and be sensitized.

Meanwhile, your body is releasing enzymes, hormones, peptides, and other chemicals that act as messengers to produce various effects. Fevers, swelling, sweating, headache … all enzymes. The aching in your bones that you feel is the marrow pumping out white cells to fight the infection.

Once your body has successfully fought off an invader, the antibodies remain. If they ever again encounter proteins of the same shape, they’ll be on ‘em fast. The infection won’t have a chance to start.

Now, your influenza virus is a simple one. It doesn’t even have DNA in it. It has strands of RNA in its center. RNA mutates pretty fast. But here’s the really tricky part about the flu: it has a sneaky way of getting past the immune system, even if you’ve had the flu before. The shell or capsule that surrounds that RNA is made of two proteins, hemagglutinin and neuramidinase. Hemagglutinin and neuramidinase can move like the tiles in a sliding-block puzzle, presenting different protein shapes to your antibodies. Hemagglutinin and neuramidinase are the H and N that you see when people talk about Influenza H5N1 or H1N1 or H3N2 or what-may-have-you. There are fifteen known types of hemagglutinin and nine known types of neuramidinase, and they have subtypes below that. Those two substances keep moving around, so that antibodies don’t recognize them. This is called “antigen drift.”

It only gets better after this.

Viruses have the ability to pick up useful traits not just by means of mutation, but by grabbing them from other microbes directly—even across species lines. Flu, moreover, doesn’t have a single strand of RNA inside it—it has unconnected strands. So if two viruses infect the same cell at the same time, the RNA can play mix-n-match, take virulence from one virus and infectivity from another, and come up with something both infective and virulent. (That’s what happens when a swine flu or an avian flu gets loose: Someone has both human influenza and swine or bird influenza at the same time, the two viruses enter the same cell at the same time, and what comes out shares the worst features of both.)

As I keep saying, flu is as simple as drool. It only has eight genes in its genome. Those genes insert themselves into the living cell’s genes, and start producing viruses. In about ten hours, the infected cell explodes and releases somewhere between 100,000 and one million brand-new viruses into the body; and, through coughing and sneezing, into the world. RNA doesn’t have a checksum. And when you have unconnected strands of RNA, you have a high probability of mutation. So all of those million new viruses won’t be exact copies of the original. We’re seeing mutation on steroids, figuratively speaking. Pretty much every possible combination will be present. That means that influenza strains can adapt rapidly to different drugs, to different environments, to different species.

Other RNA viruses include measles and HIV. They’re both nasty. But HIV is very hard to catch, and measles never changes its protein shape so having once had it (or vaccination) lends permanent immunity.

Once influenza starts cooking, you have a lot of virus in your body. And this is where the swine flu gets not just miserable but rapidly lethal. Remember those cytokines, the chemicals released by cells-in-trouble that cry havoc and let loose the Natural Killer cells? Get enough cytokines going, and you’ve got two kinds of trouble. First, those NK white cells they activate are fairly large. In order for them to get to the scene of the infection, the capillaries have to be weakened so that the NK cells can pass through their walls. This also allows fluids to pass through. Your body starts dumping fluids through the capillaries and into your lungs. The ultimate effect is viral pneumonia. If it’s bad enough, you drown.

Second, NKs are very nonspecific. Their basic programming consists of “Something’s not right. Kill it.” That capillary process I just described reads a “damage” to Natural Killer cells, so they start attacking those tissues. Then they call for more help, and cells that weren’t even attacked by the virus get devastated. This feedback loop is called a “cytokine storm.” Effectively, it’s the body necrotizing itself. Once that process starts, stopping it is very tough indeed. That’s what killed so many people in 1919, particularly young, strong people with well-developed immune systems: that influenza attack was so strong that their own immune responses killed them. In some cases, the process could be measured in hours from first symptom to last. Far more, better, actual information in this post in the comment section from Nix.

You don’t need to have everyone sick in order to have a pandemic. Just having 15-40% infected will do nicely. The only question is what the mortality rate among those 15-40% is going to look like.

The next couple of weeks could get interesting. And it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.

I am not a physician. I can neither diagnose nor prescribe. I am really not a microbiologist, virologist, epidemiologist, or immunologist. These posts are presented for entertainment purposes only. Nothing here is meant to be advice for your particular condition or situation.

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Flu Redux by James D. Macdonald is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

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Index to Medical Posts

A redacted recipe for sangria
Posted by Teresa at 09:10 PM *

Once upon a time, Jim Macdonald gave me his sangria recipe, and behold, it was good. Then I lost it, and I’ve never been able to persuade him to give it to me again.* This year, as sangria season approached, I pulled a maneuver I’ve used to arrive at other recipes that exist in multiple versions: I collected a bunch of vouched-for sangria recipes, discarded the outliers, and redacted what remained. Oddly enough, the results are very like what I remember of Jim’s recipe:

one 750 ml. bottle of robust, inexpensive red wine
one orange
one lemon
one lime (or an extra orange)
1/4 C. sugar
1/2 C. brandy

Optional additions: Up to one cup of additional orange juice, to taste. Some amount of an orange liqueur like Cointreau or Triple Sec, which you should add along with the brandy. Some amount of club soda, if you want it dilute and fizzy.

How to: Put the wine in the refrigerator. Muddle the fruit with the sugar. Add the brandy, mix well, and let it macerate in the fridge for 2-8 hours. To serve, add the wine, stir well, stir again before pouring, and serve over ice. If you don’t have time to let it macerate, serve it very cold and use lots of ice.

If anyone’s interested, the recipes whose genetic material went into that are’s Basic Sangria, Zeke “Easier to Keel the second time” S.’s “official recipe from our spanish cookbook”, Lisa on’s Classic Spanish Sangria, and Adam Ried’s recipe for The Best Sangria, originally published in Cook’s Illustrated, as quoted by Grace on the Cooking Light forum.

What are outliers that got excluded? Sangria is an old, straightforward recipe, so the list of anathemas pretty much has to start with turning it into an alcoholic fruit cocktail. This excludes pears, pomegranate seeds, maraschino cherries, kiwi fruit, a cup of fresh basil leaves, and/or a can of Dole Pineapple Chunks. You may add a sliced peach or two or a handful of cherries when they’re in season, but that’s about it.

The same goes for the liquid versions of that heresy, especially the cheap drink mixes added to stretch the number of servings: canned pineapple juice, canned apricot nectar, Country Time powdered drink mix, frozen cranberry juice concentrate, frozen pink lemonade concentrate, artificial peach-flavored anything, 7-Up, and Hawaiian Punch.

I excluded whole cloves and whole cinnamon sticks. There may be some authentically indigenous versions of sangria that include them, but by my lights they’re something that snuck in from mulled wine. I have a similar objection to gin, grenadine, and tonic water: they are not a commutative property of semi-tropical cocktails containing citrus. Finally, sour-apple schnapps and coconut-flavored rum are Right Out, for reasons I don’t want to explain as it would involve having to think about them.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t add whatever you want. I’m just saying it’s your look-out if you do.

[Recipe Index]

April 25, 2009
Green chile pork stew with potatoes
Posted by Teresa at 08:00 AM *

Patrick has now suggested several times that I document this one, so here goes.

Several pieces of boneless pork, cut into little cubes
1-2 onions, chopped
1/2 C. almonds
a 12-oz. bottle of Trader José’s Salsa Verde*
1 large fresh tomatillo, or several smaller ones
4-8 red potatoes, depending on their size
1 bottle Smuttynose Old Brown Dog Ale**
a little dab of habanero oil or some harissa
optionally, a dollop of butter
Greek yogurt
Fry the onions until they start to caramelize and turn gooey. Meanwhile, blanch, peel, and lightly chop your almonds. Remove onions from the pan. Brown the pork and chopped almonds together over a fairly hot fire. Do this in a couple of batches if necessary.

Put the onions back in, add the salsa verde and half the beer, and simmer for fifteen or twenty minutes. Chop up your tomatillo, cut the potatoes into chunks, and add both to the pan along with the rest of the beer. Continue simmering until you can’t stand to not eat it. Don’t cook it dry.

Shortly before serving, put in a dab of habanero oil and/or harissa, and correct the seasoning. If it’s too fat-free, a little butter will help. Dish out into bowls and top with a dollop of Greek yogurt. Nota bene: In the later stages, this has to be stirred every five or ten minutes or it will stick.


*Quantity is approximate. IMO, Herdez Salsa Verde is better, and Hatch’s Green Chile Enchilada Sauce isn’t quite as good; but Trader José’s Salsa Verde was what I had.

**Or the nearest equivalent brew in the medium-dark malty/nutty/umami range that’s light on the hops.

[Recipe Index]

April 23, 2009
“From then on a bubble of hope grew inside me until it burst and left me almost speechless when my book came last and I had won”
Posted by Patrick at 04:28 PM * 32 comments

Blogger, journalist, Mike Ford admirer, and occasional Making Light contributor Andrew Brown has won the Orwell Prize for his book Fishing in Utopia.

In the fluorosphere, of course, Brown is well-remembered for having inadvertently inspired Mike’s “Against Entropy” sonnet, the last line of which now adorns our masthead.

At any rate, congratulations!

April 22, 2009
Another One Bites the Dust
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 01:10 PM * 37 comments

It is with great joy that I report that Leann Murphy of the Desert Rose Literary Agency has been arrested by the Tom Green County, Texas, Sheriff’s office and charged with Theft by Deception, a felony.

Leann hasn’t yet been convicted, and so must be presumed innocent. (Though she was convicted of theft by checks back in 1997.) Given her record, if she’s found guilty, I expect she’ll do time.

More about Leann, her scam agency, and her arrest at Writer Beware.

A thread at Absolute Write dating back to February, 2005, and running through today, features appearances by her happy and true-believing clients.

What did Leann have to say about those sites and threads discussing her?

Beware of websites that insult, slander, or defame agents/agencies. Such websites are affiliated with agent association(s) and have a definite agenda. After all, can one expect that such websites truly care for any given person enough to spend their entire time, energy, and money in the pursuit of “protecting” you? These hosts, through the website(s) sponsored by such association(s) almost always do this to destroy independent agents/agencies. One indication of this is the fact that one such group has come up with what they call the “20 worst literary agents”, a list that is included on many of this groups’ websites. Of note is the fact that every single agent on the list is an independent agent, some of whom have been successful agents for 20-30+ years. There is not a single agent listed who is a member of the association associated with these individuals and their websites. Please be wary of these “hate” sites.

Hate sites? Yeah! Scam agents just hate it when we talk about them.

On 30 October, 2006, I got a personal note (nor was I alone in getting one) from someone who called him/herself “FantasyCoder,” and who I presume was Leann Murphy herself.

Here’s the text of that note:

you all are insane haha
Hello. I saw your post about IILAA…..and I just want to ask by which evidence do you and your friends on that website favor the idea of a scam?
I do know there are scams out there-people who take money and do not do their jobs……then again there are some writers who just plain….suck. They suck and they cannot handle disappointment or rejection so they turn their feelings outwards towards places who have made people like me successful.
I am not about hate…but I do wish to know why people try to attack others in such ways that are considered hateful.
IILAA is not Desert Rose…it is an organization which includes Desert Rose….I know…I have checked…I was skeptical too…..and as a published writer with Desert Rose, I will have to defend them in saying that I have never had a problem with them. It did cost a bit to get things going, but I do not expect ANYONE to work for me for free which is the essence of all those who post such hateful text…..I dont understand why people believe that they can get things for free… costs money to make money. The only ones I see making money are those who do and those who try-not those who complain that a scam is occurring which they cannot identify. This is also the mark of a mentally ill person. Sites such as the one I got your info. from seem to draw the attention of the mentally ill…..
I do not understand why sites such as the one you post on clone themselves all over the internet and act as if they know not about one another…..if anyone is involved in cyber-terrorism, scams or fraud-it is those websites who do those things. Having watched for a while now, I DO know that absolutewrite, writers beware, sfwa, and a few others are in fact run by the same people. It is called search engine bombing…and what it does is allows people to saturate the search engines with their content- until they search engine finds out-and bans them Some of us have connections that can make that happen at no cost. It is just a matter of code
Yes this can be done….
I am keeping my identity secret for now because I do not wish to waste my time reading or sifting through the mounds of hate email I may recieve as a result of expressing my opinion. God knows that sort of thing is not allowed on the kinds of websites that you post. Are you sure they are not run by Islam?

I feel I may be wasting my time writing this and sending it out to eveyr single person I can find…maybe I am……..just watch who you are in company with…there are people out there who are REAL scammers- and those like Victoria who are so good at scamming that they lead others to follow….trust me… I know all about her I would stay as far away from her and her organizations as I could if you dont want to end up in jail with her someday.
Have a great weekend!

I had an excellent weekend, and I’m about to have a better one. Infinitely better than the weekend (and all the weekends to come) that Leann’s facing.

Leann now joins the happy group that includes (but is not limited to) Dorothy Deering, Martha Ivery, George and Janet Kay Titsworth, and Melanie Mills.

I’m sure there are more to come.

April 21, 2009
Nighttime in the computer lab
Posted by Teresa at 10:50 PM * 57 comments

You know those early black and white cartoons where the contents of a store or kitchen or museum come alive at night and perform musical numbers? bd594 on YouTube has made a video that’s just like that, only it’s a bunch of old electronic gear doing Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”, and they’re actually playing it.

The lineup of performers is:

HP ScanJet 3C, vocals
Atari 800XL, piano/organ
Texas Instruments TI-99/4a, lead guitar
8-inch Floppy Disk Drive, bass
3.5-inch Hard Drive, gong
In my distant youth, working late nights at Orange Julius, I used to sing harmony with the hot dog cooker (it could sing anything that had an unvarying ground note), but this is lightyears better.

“But this is good!” “Well, then, it’s not SF.”
Posted by Patrick at 08:18 AM * 327 comments

From the New York Times obit for J. G. Ballard:

“His fabulistic style led people to review his work as science fiction,” said Robert Weil, Mr. Ballard’s American editor at Norton. “But that’s like calling Brave New World science fiction, or 1984.”
It just never gets old, does it?

April 20, 2009
“Trust me, Mr. President. I can take it.”
Posted by Patrick at 10:34 PM *

It’s been far too long since this blog ran a quote from the great Charles P. Pierce. Here he is, last Friday, on Eric Alterman’s blog, now hosted by the Nation:

I have now lived through three major episodes in my life where the political elite have told me quite plainly that neither I nor my fellow citizens are sufficiently mature to suffer the public prosecution of major crimes committed within my government. The first was when Gerry Ford told me I wasn’t strong enough to handle the sight of Richard Nixon in the dock. Dick Cheney looked at this episode and determined that the only thing Nixon did wrong was get caught. The second time was when the entire government went into spasm over the crimes of the Iran-Contra gang and I was told that I wasn’t strong enough to see Ronald Reagan impeached or his men packed off to Danbury. Dick Cheney looked at this and determined that the only thing Reagan and his men did wrong was get caught and, by then, Cheney had decided that even that wasn’t really so very wrong and everybody should shut up. Now, Barack Obama, who won election by telling the country and its people that they were great because of all they’d done for him, has told me that I am not strong enough to handle the prosecution of pale and vicious bureaucrats, many of them acting at the behest of Dick Cheney, who decided that the only thing he was doing wrong was nothing at all, who have broken the law, disgraced their oaths, and manifestly belong in a one-room suite at the Hague. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I’m sick and goddamn tired of being told that, as a citizen, I am too fragile to bear the horrible burden of watching public criminals pay for their crimes and that, as a political entity, my fellow citizens and I are delicate flowers encased in candy-glass who must be kept away from the sight of men in fine suits weeping as they are ripped from the arms of their families and sent off to penal institutions manifestly more kind than those in which they arranged to get their rocks off vicariously while driving other men mad.

Hey, Mr. President. Put these barbarians on trial and watch me. I’ll be the guy out in front of the courtroom with a lawn chair, some sandwiches, and a cooler of fine beer. I’ll be the guy who hires the brass band to serenade these criminal bastards on their way off to the big house. I’ll be the one who shows up at every one of their probation hearings with a copy of the Constitution, the way crime victims show up at the parole board when their attacker comes up for release. I’ll declare a national holiday—Victory Over Torture Day—and lead the parade right up whatever gated street it is that Cheney lives on these days. Trust me, Mr. President. I can take it.

Clean Freak Confessions
Posted by Teresa at 02:11 PM *

Clean Freak Confessions is one of those Federated Media “conversational marketing” things—which, for the record, I don’t mind a bit when they’re done well. Advertising and sponsorship we have with us always. Given a choice between a bunch of conventional ads for Hoover vacuum cleaners, and Hoover openly sponsoring an interesting temporary site, I’ll take the interesting temporary site every time.

In this case, what they’ve got are six bloggers—Ree Drummond of The Pioneer Woman, Heather Armstrong of Dooce, Amy Corbett Storch of Amalah, Rachel Hobson of Craftzine, Jim and Wood of Sweet Juniper, and Kristen Chase and Liz Gumbinner of CoolMomPicks—to collectively write “a celebration of personal cleaning experiences,” plus helpful tips.

I liked Liz Gumbinner’s tale of dropping a one-liter bottle of olive oil on her kitchen floor, and how kitty litter saved the day. One of her commenters said:

“Wow—cat litter used to clean? That is a great tip—I wonder what else it could clean?”
I succumbed to temptation, and posted:
I can tell you what else kitty litter is good for, if you’ll forgive my telling a somewhat gruesome story.

A friend of mine who lives alone had a bad attack of shellfish poisoning. He barely managed to stagger into his tiny, cramped first-floor bathroom before he collapsed on the floor, voiding convulsively from all orifices. “A little while later my vision went black and I figured I was dying,” he told me, “so after that I got a lot calmer.”

Some while later the attack passed and his vision returned, so he crawled into the shower. That took care of one cleanup problem, but the rest of that horrendous mess was still there, and his bathroom was a pretzel-puzzle at the best of times.

What he used to clean it up: a giant-size bag of clumping kitty litter, plus a shop-vac. Lacking a shop-vac, a shovel followed by a broom and dustpan would do. The bathroom surfaces still had to be scrubbed afterward, but that was relatively trivial.

Hey, you can’t deny that for those who need it, it’s a truly useful cleaning tip. (Slacktivist knows it too. Not for the faint-hearted.)

Addendum: Miconian’s take on it.

Wide Area Computing
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 09:40 AM *

Y’all remember SETI@Home, right? That’s a project that’s been going on for years: people using their home computers as part of a large distributed project to search for signs of intelligence in the radio signals received at Arecibo. The government won’t fund it (and we can all understand why), but there’s no reason that others might not be interested.

The way SETI@Home worked was you installed a screen saver on your computer. It would download raw data, and process it while you weren’t using your machine, then upload the job and get more data. Meanwhile, it put some pretty graphics on screen.

Well, this grew, and eventually SETI@Home moved to a new location with new software. This is pretty, and now there are more projects (just in case you think that SETI is a waste of time).

What we have now is Berkley open infrastructure for network computing (BOINC). It’s still a screen saver (not that screens need much saving these days), and it still uses idle time on your CPU to create a huge virtual CPU for really big computing projects. More than that, you can have multiple projects, and it’ll cycle among ‘em. (You can also join teams and do other stuff. I’m on one of the SFF Net teams for SETI, and I joined the Navy team for another project.)

Let’s see: what projects do I have running here?

  • SETI@Home. The classic. Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence.
  • Einstein@Home Searchs for spinning neutron stars (pulsars) using data from the LIGO gravitational wave detector.
  • Rosetta@Home. As you know, Bob, proteins have shapes, and the shapes determine what they do. One chemical formula can have many shapes. Rosetta is trying to determine the 3-dimensional shapes of proteins in research that may ultimately lead to finding cures for some major human diseases.
  • This one is to produce predictions of the Earth’s climate up to 2080 and to test the accuracy of climate models.

Some other projects.

BOINC System requirements. (Versions available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.)

“Regression toward a phony mean”
Posted by Patrick at 08:11 AM *

NYU media guy Jay Rosen has an excellent post about the “he said, she said” formula that yields news stories in which reality-based assertions from one person or group are “balanced” by shameless lies or fantasy from another. Press critics and bloggers have been criticising this sort of thing for a while—think “Scientists, White House Disagree on Shape of Earth”—but Rosen goes beyond establishing its intellectual hollowness; he also talks about why it happens, how it’s a readily-available “solution to quandaries common on the reporting trail.” But all I wanted to do here (other than urge you to read Rosen’s post) was reproduce an amazing paragraph he quotes, from See How They Run, a book by one-time Washington Post reporter Paul Taylor about the 1988 election.

Sometimes I worry that my squeamishness about making sharp judgments, pro or con, makes me unfit for the slam-bang world of daily journalism. Other times I conclude that it makes me ideally suited for newspapering—certainly for the rigors and conventions of modern ‘objective’ journalism. For I can dispose of my dilemmas by writing stories straight down the middle. I can search for the halfway point between the best and the worst that might be said about someone (or some policy or idea) and write my story in that fair-minded place. By aiming for the golden mean, I probably land near the best approximation of truth more often than if I were guided by any other set of compasses—partisan, ideological, pyschological, whatever…Yes, I am seeking truth. But I’m also seeking refuge. I’m taking a pass on the toughest calls I face.
It’s unclear whether Taylor realizes, implicitly or otherwise, how this rhetorical posture makes him the willing servant of whichever powerful person or organization decides to stake out a completely crazy position—say, that the United States military should be directed to undertake a project aimed at blowing up the moon. Or, even nuttier, that the most urgent priority of the Federal government during an economic collapse should be cutting taxes and reducing spending. That doesn’t matter, because all by itself, that paragraph clarifies something I’ve always wondered about—the internal dialogue of the reporters who write this kind of thing, how they manage to live with themselves and pretend they’re doing something useful. They’re not tools of players more powerful than they are, they’re judicious analysts “aiming for the golden mean”! Well, actually they are tools. But it helps explain their durable self-regard.

April 19, 2009
Wrong About Everything
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 07:21 PM * 196 comments

From CNN: Ex-CIA chief: Obama risks national security

No, General Hayden, it’s you who risked American national security.

WASHINGTON (CNN) — A former head of the CIA slammed President Obama on Sunday for releasing four Bush-era memos, saying the new president has compromised national security.

Former CIA chief Michael Hayden said Sunday it is wrong to make interrogation methods public.

Michael Hayden, who served as former President Bush’s last CIA director from 2006 to 2009, said releasing the memos outlining terror interrogation methods emboldened terrorist groups such as al Qaeda.

“What we have described for our enemies in the midst of a war are the outer limits that any American would ever go to in terms of interrogating an al Qaeda terrorist. That’s very valuable information,” Hayden said during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.”

“By taking [certain] techniques off the table, we have made it more difficult — in a whole host of circumstances I can imagine — for CIA officers to defend the nation.”

Al Qaeda was quite bold enough already. Those “techniques” were never on the table to start with. By using those “techniques” Hayden brought America into disrepute, compromised our moral stature, and helped al Qaeda recruiting. And for what? For nothing. Useful intelligence is not and cannot be gained through torture. And make no mistake: What he is defending is torture, plain and simple.

Send this man before an international tribunal to defend his actions.

A Dangerous Time of Year
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:13 AM * 45 comments

April 18, 2009
A parable of editors
Posted by Teresa at 11:00 PM *

It’s a central narrative of Britain’s Got Talent: the shy, podgy little contestant comes out on stage and says they want to sing professionally; that they believe it’s what they were made to do. The audience titters cynically: Yeah, right. The judges don’t quite roll their eyes. “Go on, then,” they say. “Let’s hear it.” The contestant takes a deep breath and —

ZOMG, it’s Paul Potts singing “Nessun Dorma”. It’s thirteen-year-old Andrew Johnston singing “Pie Jesu”. Most recently, it’s Susan Boyle, singing “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables. When they open their mouths, what comes out is the real thing: rich, powerful, self-assured music.

And the crowd goes wild! Amanda Holden’s jaw drops. Simon Cowell freezes in place. Piers Morgan goes from looking like a side-figure in “The Calling of Matthew” to an adoringly hopeful “Nativity with Donor”. The audience is transformed. People gape in amazement. Old ladies weep openly into their handkerchiefs. One person stands up, then another, and suddenly the whole audience is on its feet, cheering.

This is exactly what it’s like to be an editor.

Yes, you get cynical, because you see one submission after another that says “Read this, it’s great!” Only it’s not great, it’s anything but great, it’s passable at best; and the passable ones are a tiny fraction of the many, many, many submissions you see. Then one year you open yetanotherenvelope, and ZOMFG it’s the real thing!!! Overcome with joy, you fall over backward and wave your arms and legs in the air in that wholly ravished “Do with me what you will” kind of way. OMG OMG OMG it’s Maureen McHugh, it’s Stephan Zielinski, it’s Jo Walton, it’s wonder beyond reckoning. It’s the real thing. It’s what you live for.

The audience of Britain’s Got Talent reacts as they do because they’re human. So do editors.

(The above is translated and expanded from a rant Patrick ranted earlier this evening. He spoke it first, but I recognize its central truth as one I also know. So does every other editor I work with; and all the good agents, too.)

“Hold the newsreader’s nose squarely, waiter, or friendly milk will countermand my trousers.”
Posted by Patrick at 09:33 PM *

Probability being what it is, the chances are great that there exists more than one Making Light reader who:

(1) follows the wildly popular Twitter feed of Stephen Fry, and

(2) has never seen The Greatest Fry-And-Laurie Sketch In The History Of All Great Things Ever.

Making Light: we live to serve.

(Thanks to Soren de Selby for introducing us to Fry & Laurie, and Cogitamus for reminding us of this particular bit.)

April 17, 2009
Torture Memos
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 07:53 AM *

Over at Digby’s Hullabaloo we read:

In reading the Bybee torture memo, you see that he refers constantly to the “professionals” and the medical personnel who oversaw the interrogations. He uses the fact that American military personnel who had undergone SERE training had suffered little lasting damage due to their training in these techniques. (No metion of the logical conclusion that American military personnel knew that the people who were inflicting the torture were only doing it for demonstration purposes and therefore had a completely different psychological reaction.)

Digby is just guessing in that last parenthetical.

As it happens, many years ago when I worked for Uncle Sam, I underwent that training myself. Two things sustained me during that interesting time: a) The sure knowledge that it would be of limited duration (I knew the exact date the school would end), and b) the fact that I was valuable government property assured me that I wouldn’t actually be genuinely hurt.

April 16, 2009
Workshop on Martha’s Vineyard
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 07:17 PM * 15 comments

No, it is not too late to apply to this year’s Viable Paradise Writers’ Workshop, held every autumn on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.

Submissions close June 30, 2009.

What is VP? It’s a one-week intensive workshop, featuring a lot of one-on-one and hands-on with the instructors (every one of ‘em working professional writers and/or editors). It’s been going for better than a dozen years. Our students make sales.

Viable Paradise numbers Patrick and Teresa (and me) among its instructors. See us do our party tricks! It also features Shakespeare, beer, jellyfish, and a lot of reading and writing.

So, remember that deadline. June 30. Apply today; beat the rush.

Posted by Patrick at 09:44 AM * 47 comments

That would be Teresa and me both. Down with the bug we’ve trying to fight off for days.

Apologies for many unanswered emails, unreturned phone calls, etc. We’ll return to the living as soon as we can.

(Yes, Whisperado will play tomorrow night at Banjo Jim’s—9 PM, 9th Street and Avenue C—even if its lead guitarist has to be heavily medicated. Yes, yes, rock-&-roll cliché, yes.)

April 15, 2009
Unmarked marriage
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 03:39 PM * 196 comments

So let’s recap, shall we?

It appears that Amazon, the 500 pound gorilla of the online bookselling (and, increasingly, book-searching) world, had a bunch of its stock involving GLBT characters and situations1 classified in a way that made it easy to identify. It was, in other words, marked, unlike the content that related exclusively to heterosexuals.

As a result, it was possible to take a single (probably mistaken2) action that affected all of that content. Other content, marked for other reasons, was affected as well.

Of course, this was only books, and there are plenty of other places online (or, even better, in meatspace) to search for and buy books that address the entire range of human experience. It would be different, wouldn’t it, if an entity with a monopoly could remove an entire class of marked…stuff…with no alternative supplier?

Given the above, you can probably see why I prefer marriage equality to civil unions3.

(The third alternative, not letting gays in on one of the biggest, craziest and most challenging adventures of my life, not giving myself and my straight married peers the chance to learn from their struggles and their joys? Not blooming likely, thanks.)

  1. AKA books that don’t pretend everyone is straight
  2. Still the most likely explanation, based on my experience in IT
  3. However much I appreciate the latter.

April 14, 2009
Help Wanted: Wolfman
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:25 AM * 17 comments

There’s a steady paycheck in it.

There’s this place called Clark’s Trading Post in Lincoln, New Hampshire. They’re open Memorial Day through Columbus Day with all kinds of Fun Touristy Things To Do, starting with watching the trained bears (we make our own fun up here). They’ve got a fun house. They’ve got a wood-fired narrow-gauge live-steam railroad you can ride. Off through the woods.

In those woods lives the Wolfman, who rides around in an old car, shakes his fist at the train, and generally capers about. He’s an interpretive actor with a bushy beard and long hair, dressed in pelts … and the old Wolfman is retiring (health reasons) after fifteen years. The job of being a Stereotypical New Hampshire Eccentric is now open.

Pay’s twelve bucks an hour, forty-eight hours a week, outdoors in all weather, late spring through early autumn. There’s an open casting call this coming Saturday (April 18th) at the Lin-Wood School in Lincoln. Ten a.m. to two p.m.

Wolfman video.

Picture. Picture. Picture. Picture.

April 13, 2009
Amazon’s very bad day
Posted by Patrick at 08:46 AM *

I went away for an afternoon of band practice (1), and when I got back, my Twitter stream had exploded over the matter now hashtagged as “#amazonfail”. Briefly, if you were also out: It appears that, fairly recently, Amazon removed a large number of books from its sales rankings, which means they no longer show up as results in searches for anything other than their specific titles or authors. The books thus affected have been primarily (although not entirely) works with significant GLBT content; as a result, as thousands of people have now pointed out, Heather Has Two Mommies and The Well of Loneliness are now categorized as “adult”, removed from Amazon’s sales rankings, and thus invisible to subject-based search—but The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, American Psycho, and Mein Kampf are ranked normally and visible to all kinds of search. Compounding matters, queries to Amazon have been met with boilerplate customer-service-style answers professing an Amazon policy, hitherto not widely known, of deliberately unranking material deemed to be “adult.” As LJer “tehdely” (2) summarized what followed:

Some people have wondered if this reveals a culture of homophobia at Amazon, or whether the timing has something to do with the recent legalizations of same-sex marriage in Iowa and Vermont. My own guess would be that it has nothing to do with homophobia and everything to do with the fragility of large organizations. I’d bet lunch that the sequence of events, in its simplest form, went something like this:

(1) Sometime in the middle-distance past—maybe a couple of months ago, maybe a year, it doesn’t matter—somebody decided that it would be a good idea to make sure that works of straight-out pornography (or, for that matter, sex toys) didn’t inadvertently show up as the top result for innocuous search queries. (The many ways that this could happen are left as an exercise for Making Light’s commentariat.) A policy was promulgated that “adult” items would be removed from the sales rankings and thus rendered invisible to general search.

(2) Sometime more recently, an entirely different group of people were given the task of deciding what things for sale on Amazon should be tagged “adult,” but in the journey from one department to another, and from one level of the hierarchy to another, the directive mutated from “let’s discreetly unrank the really raunchy stuff” to “we’d better be careful to put an ‘adult’ tag on anything that could imaginably offend anyone.” Indeed, as Teresa pointed out, it’s entirely possible that someone used a canned list of “adult” titles supplied from outside, something analogous to the lists of URLs sold by “net nanny” outfits, which would account for the newly-unranked status of works like Lady Chatterley’s Lover. (As one net commenter observed, “What is this, 1928?”)

If you don’t think this kind of clusterfark is entirely possible, you probably haven’t worked in a large organization. I don’t mean any of this as special pleading on Amazon’s behalf (although, full disclosure, obviously they’re one of Tor’s largest customers, so you may dismiss my views if you so desire). I just find it implausible that Amazon would want to alienate GLBT readers and their friends, who form an enormous and valuable segment of both their customer base and (surely) their own organization. Indeed, I suspect that dozens of Amazon executives and PR professionals will be having hurried meetings in Seattle this Monday morning, and that consumption of antacids at those meetings will be at an all-time high.

None of which means that anyone shouldn’t be mad at Amazon, or that Amazon shouldn’t be embarrassed. Rather, it means that this is how the world works. A great deal of racism, homophobia, etc., happens not because anyone particularly wants to be racist or homophobic, but because the ground has been tilted that way by arrangements made long ago and if you’re not constantly on the lookout it’s easiest to roll downhill.

(1) By the way, if you were planning to see us at Banjo Jim’s this Friday—and do so, it’s a nice venue!—please note that the time I’d previously announced as 7 PM is in fact 9 PM.

(2) Note that tehdely has a theory of what actually happened which is different from my own but (to my mind) also plausible. Their whole post on the subject is worth reading.

UPDATE: From Simon Bisson, some well-informed observations about how this may be “an artifact of architecture and development practices.”

UPDATE: Commenter Bryant (see comment #73) debunks an LJ post claiming credit for gaming Amazon, and goes on to make some very sensible remarks about Twitter, heuristics, and reputation.

UPDATE: Soft Skull publisher Richard Eoin Nash begins by observing that Amazon arguably has some particular obligations to GLBT people, having been the direct cause of the destruction of their community centers over the last ten years. Stronger words follow.

April 11, 2009
The secret fighting style of ACORN
Posted by Teresa at 08:13 PM * 70 comments

I swear on my honor, Google Ads just served me the ad circled in red on that screenshot. I was chatting with Jim about Twilight when it happened:

TNH: Nice. It’ll take out an APC.
JDM: They’re really lovely. Marble-like skin probably won’t slow ‘em down.
TNH: Jim, you’ve got to see the Google ad I’m being served on that page.
JDM: ?
TNH: Defend Yourself 24 / 7
Master Crippling Self Defense Moves Used by Obama’s Goons & Special Ops

JDM: Oh, goodness.
That is to say, the Secret Fighting Style of ACORN?

I told Patrick about it too. He professed to believe it, saying, “The ‘crippling self-defense moves’ is American Liberalism all over.”

Since Obama is the legitimately elected POTUS, the “goons and special ops” the ad refers to must be U.S. law enforcement and military personnel, so it may technically be telling the truth about the techniques the site teaches. I nevertheless doubt it’s possible to make fun of as much as it deserves.

April 09, 2009
Open thread 122
Posted by Teresa at 08:48 AM *

Plato on Writing

If men learn this, it will implant forgetfulness in their souls; they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks. What you have discovered is a recipe not for memory, but for reminder. And it is no true wisdom that you offer your disciples, but only its semblance, for by telling them of many things without teaching them you will make them seem to know much, while for the most part they know nothing, and as men filled, not with wisdom, but with the conceit of wisdom, they will be a burden to their fellows.

Plato—Phaedrus 275a-b (Quote swiped from Medievalist, a.k.a. Lisa Spangenberg.)

April 08, 2009
Berlusconi opens mouth, emits sound
Posted by Teresa at 06:43 PM * 58 comments

From the Guardian:

The Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, today sparked controversy when he said the 17,000 people made homeless by Monday’s earthquake should think of themselves as being on a “camping weekend”.
Words fail me. Pity they didn’t fail him first.

“Osiris! What has happened to your nose?”
Posted by Patrick at 06:33 PM * 69 comments

We’re home.

April 07, 2009
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 07:29 PM *

It happened a month ago. Apparently a group of agents designated Thursday, the 5th of March, as official Queryfail day. Throughout the day they’d Twitter those little 140-character descriptions of the worst queries they read (either that day, or had ever gotten in their careers).

From The Swivet:

Today is #Queryfail Day on Twitter, the first of what will probably become a monthly or semi-monthly experience. What is #Queryfail Day, you ask? * rubs hands together gleefully * A group of online agents, book editors and periodicals acquisition editors are posting about their queries in real time. The idea is to educate people about what exactly it is in a query that made us stop reading and say “Not for me.” We’re being very careful not to include personal identifiers of any kind. The idea isn’t to mock or be intentionally cruel, but to educate.

Word got out, as will happen when you make a public announcement. MediaBistro picked it up.

FinePrint Literary Management agent Colleen Lindsay kicked off Query Fail Day on Twitter this morning, inviting agents and editors from around the Twitter-sphere to contribute 140-word memories of the worst queries they ever received—rocketing up the list of popular topics on the microblogging website.

And so they did. (HTML, RTF)

Why is #Queryfail popular right now?

Agents explain to authors how NOT to pitch a book. Everyone’s an author. Ergo, #Queryfail rocks.

By close of business, QueryFail had started to morph into QueryFlail. From JacketFlap:

Originally I had reposted many of the QueryFail examples here. But after hearing from several writers who were upset by the event, I have removed the specific entries. Instead, I’ll focus on what I learned by following QueryFail.

I apologize to those writers who felt disrespected. My intention in reposting was to share what I thought was good information. I still think it’s good information. But if you know me personally, you know I’m an empathetic soul and I don’t wish to cause another writer distress. Frankly, we’re distressed enough.

So onto what I learned, sans examples…

The summary sounds remarkably like Teresa’s venerable Slushkiller.
1. Failure to follow directions is an automatic rejection.

Agents receive hundreds of queries a week. Their submission guidelines help them work efficiently. If you don’t follow those guidelines, it takes more time to read and respond to your query. The easiest solution is therefore not to bother….

I just gotta ask, though, and meaning no disrespect to any author living or dead or wholly coincidental, what are guys thinking when they send a pair of panties to a female agent along with their manuscript? Do male agents occasionally get a manuscript packed with a new pair of boxers?

By the following Monday a full-fledged flap was in progress.

Query Fail Day Debated

Last week, literary agents blogged about failed queries on Twitter—generating a query fail feed, an agent fail thread, a GalleyCat post, and an emotional debate. Curtis Brown agent Nathan Bransford decided not to participate, declaring “positivity week” on his blog instead.

To what should have been no one’s surprise, authors who found out about it got upset. Variously described as a “brouhaha”, we hear, for example, the widely-published “anonymous” say,

Were my plot or premise to be published on Twitter or anywhere else without my permission, I would sue the poster for intellectual property theft, and probably win. Even if it were held up in a good light. The ideas are sacred to me, they are worth $$$$ and shall not be used for any purpose without my permission.

Now that person has a point, of sorts. I’ve never approved of the “It Came From The Slush Pile” panels at cons. When I submit a work, either the editor can buy it, or not. If you didn’t buy it you can’t use it. If someone wants to buy public-mockery rights, well, talk to my agent. I’m sure y’all can work something out. On the other hand, a 140-character snark likely doesn’t contain any of the original words, and neither titles nor ideas can by copyrighted. What can be copyrighted is exact words in an exact order. (Even if their exact words were used, I bet fair use would cover ‘em.) “Probably win” though? More like “certainly lose, if it ever got that far.”

So, tacky, perhaps.

Educational, though.

The story grew legs long enough that The Guardian noticed, nor were they too squeamish to post examples. Their story leads off with, “There are some hurt feelings in online ego-space this week….” And so indeed there were.

By the end of the week we were seeing stories like The Queryfail Trainwreck:

One of the most interesting things about social media is watching ideas form and take-off in real time. Unfortunately, sometimes those ideas run off the rails as quickly as they form.

Take the queryfail exercise on Twitter for example. Many of the agents on Twitter, under the leadership of Colleen Lindsay, participate in this day in which agents review queries in their slush pile and offer feedback. The names of the writers sending the queries remain anonymous.

Amid stories of authors planning to boycott the agents who took part in the first Queryfail, a second Queryfail is apparently being planned for the end of this month.

See also: AgentFail, WriterFail.

As of yesterday, The Guardian was still on the case:

The literary Twitter wars: writers hit back at agents

It was bound to happen - the only surprise is that it’s taken a whole month. Writers were angry and wounded by March’s “Queryfail” on Twitter, which saw a group of agents tweeting about the worst submissions they’ve received from would-be published authors (“My credentials for writing this book include: A divine mandate to speak the word of God”). So when agent Jessica Faust decided to give writers a forum for their fury, asking for examples of agents failing authors, she was greeted with an outpouring of bile from hundreds of writers that went on for days.

O brave new sciencefictional world! Robert Burns has gotten his wish:

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us
An foolish notion….

Or maybe not.

Bonfire of the Vanities
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 06:41 PM * 17 comments

After having bought iUniverse (once associated with Barnes & Noble) and Xlibris (once owned by the same guys who own Random House), Author Solutions Inc (parent of POD/vanity press AuthorHouse) continues its march to the sea, buying Canadian POD/vanity publisher Trafford.

AuthorSolutions boasts that they published one out of every twenty titles in America. I’d be willing to bet my royalty check against yours, though, that they aren’t getting one out of every twenty book sales.

Yog’s Law. Learn it, live it, love it.

April 05, 2009
Earthquake in central Italy
Posted by Patrick at 11:45 PM *

Well, that was interesting. We woke up just past 3:30 AM. “Is that you shaking the bed?” I said. “It is absolutely not me,” said Teresa. Then all the car alarms in our Rome neighborhood went off.

We knew pretty immediately that it had been an earthquake, which is kind of an alarming thing when you’re in a city built entirely out of bricks, stone, and concrete. We managed to get back to sleep, but now it’s two hours later, I’m awake at half past five, and according to reports now coming in it was a 6.3, centered about 50 miles to the east-northeast. Initial reports are focusing on the town of l’Aquila, where there are evidently collapsed buildings and reports of fatalities. Holy cats.

More: Shakemap, population exposure chart, and historic seismicity map.

We were just in the countryside of central Italy the day before yesterday—not near l’Aquila, but more to the north-northeast, in the Sabine Hills—and while it’s easy to say that all of those ancient stone buildings have survived a lot of shaking, not every structure is ancient or, for that matter, well-built. It’s easy to imagine a California-level temblor causing non-trivial damage—as, indeed, some have done in living memory.

April 02, 2009
Through the velvet leaves
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 06:21 PM * 52 comments

[Queen] Elizabeth [I] appears chiefly to have affected embroidered and velvet bindings, if we may judge from the remains of her library, and from the account of the books, which Paul Hentzner, a native of Brandenburg, saw at Whitehall, when travelling in this country, in August, 1598. These books, he tells us, in his Itinerarium, were all bound in velvet of different colours, although chiefly red, with clasps of gold and silver; some having pearls and precious stones set in their bindings…
The Binding of Books, by Herbert P Horne, Chapter 8

Queen Elizabeth’s velvet library is well known in bookbinding circles, almost as well known as the history of binding in human skin1, but it’s rarely mentioned outside of them. The few examples we have left are quite spectacular2 indeed3.

Why did one of the most learned and literate of rulers in European history favor such a fragile binding material? Unlike leather-bound books, which wear the better for being read, velvet will become crushed and grubby with handling. Was it a subtle version of “math is hard”, letting rivals underrate the woman with the pretty library? Did the sheer tactile pleasure of holding the books override practicality? No one knows.

And what will be the velvet bindings of our day? (I vote for glued-spine hardcover books, myself).

  1. about which another time
  2. scroll down to the second item
  3. has her emblem but is not attested as her possession

Smaller type (our default)
Larger type
Even larger type, with serifs

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Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.