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August 29, 2011
Updated Light
Posted by Teresa at 08:35 PM * 16 comments

Patrick has Opined that in cases where I’ve gone on updating a post long after it went public, I ought to periodically mention that there’s new material in it.

I hereby confess that I’ve been collecting additional dreadful phrases in Dreadful Phrases since May 2006, and keeping track of BBC Hamsters since January 2007.

August 26, 2011
Hurricane Irene info and updates
Posted by Teresa at 02:34 PM * 318 comments

Because I’m tired of scattering it on Twitter. My fellow bloggers should feel free to collect info from the comment thread and other threads, and repost it tidily in the main entry here.

General rules of thumb:

The problem: (1.) Water doesn’t compress. (2.) Most of NYC is at the narrow end of a funnel-shaped harbor, and most of the remainder is on a glorified sand bar with no elevation to speak of. (3.) It is physically impossible to evacuate everyone at risk in this region. (4.) The Northeast doesn’t get seriously destructive hurricanes very often, but it does get them, and this is going to be one of them.

When preparing for Irene, bear in mind that “storm is over” doesn’t mean “back to normal.” Plan for infrastructure recovery time.

Helping others makes emergencies less stressful.

Let your loved ones know you’re okay.

Be prudent. Don’t add yourself to the list of problems.

Read Jim’s posts on emergency preparedness.

If you need something useful to do: Collect names & status reports from people caught up in the emergency. Swap your lists with others who are doing the same. Make your info available to the general public, and relay it via helpers outside the affected area. Pass this on.

Meteorology and Geography:

The highest water may come around 8 pm Saturday and 8 am Sunday, when we’ll have the highest tides of the month.

Weather Underground says (you’re going to hear that phrase a lot): because this is such a big storm, and is moving so slowly, you should calculate surge heights and other risks as though it were one full category worse than its official classification.

Weather Underground continues to assign a 20% probability that the surge will overtop NYC’s floodwalls and inundate the underground rail systems.

A fine-gauge rendering of Long Island’s geographical elevations, in case you were inclined to doubt the official surge zone maps.

Greater NYC-area status reports and resources:

NYC mass transit will shut down at noon tomorrow. Governor Cuomo has also announced that several of NYC’s bridges, including the GWB, the Triboro, the Throgs Neck, and the Whitestone, will be closed in the event of sustained winds over 60 mph.

NYC storm surge flood zone map.
Long Island storm surge flood zone map.

Mayor Bloomberg has issued a mandatory evacuation order for NYC’s Zone A. Buses throughout New York City are now free. In Zone A, subway and train service is also free.

If you’re in Weehawken, Hoboken, or Bayonne, consider yourself to be in Zone A. Please seriously rethink any plans to shelter in place.

Battery Park City, time to bail. (Sorry about that, BPC peeps. You hit the jackpot twice running.)

Other Local Reports:

South Shore, Nassau County

Edgewater/North Bergen, NJ, River Road

Emergency Preparedness:

Remove window-mounted air conditioners for the duration. (Note: Opinions on this differ.)

If your local Home Depot runs out of sandbags, buy their inexpensive bagged sand/concrete mixture instead — in Brooklyn, it’s $2.98 a bag. Bonus: free paving stones afterward! (But see Mike Fitzgerald anecdote below.)

A follow-up scoop of clumping kitty litter will make a field-expedient toilet (i.e., a big plastic bucket) much more tolerable.

See the Hurricane Lantern entry and thread.

Projects and amusements

Consider emulating Steve C’s response to Hurricane Ike by taking before-and-after shots of your neighborhood.

Kate Messner has issued an invitation to writers and illustrators to join her “Created in the Path of Irene” project:

Many of us are about to have a shared experience, in the form of a big storm that’s barreling up the East Coast.

First of all, stay safe. FEMA has a page with lots of tips and safety information.

Second…would you like to be part of a collaborative writing experience? This storm is poised to affect millions of us, all up and down the East Coast. So here’s the invitation part…

Write or draw something as the storm passes through. Maybe by flashlight or candlelight while the power is out…maybe in between trips downstairs to bail out the basement. And then, let’s gather all that writing and art together to see what people created as Hurricane Irene passed through.

A little background… I’m a bit of a weather geek. I’m married to a meteorologist, so it’s not uncommon for cold fronts and funnel clouds to be dinner conversation at our house. And I wrote a book about storms. So I’ll be writing this weekend. On my laptop, as long as the battery lasts, and then if the power goes out, I’ll be scribbling in my notebook.

Want to join me? Here’s what I’m thinking…

1. Create something - a poem, a description, a short story, a dialogue, a song, a comic, a sculpture, a drawing, a scarf, a piece of jewelry, a quick scene for a movie, a dance, a collage…whatever you want. Create it while you’re waiting for the storm or in the middle of the storm, or after the storm has passed. (If you’re not in the path of Irene, that’s okay…you can write about what you see on the news or hear from relatives & friends.)

2. Please keep your creations appropriate for audiences of all ages. (Obviously, you’re free to create whatever you want - but I want to make sure the posts that I share here are appropriate for teachers K-12 to share in classrooms. Thanks!)

3. Share what you created on your blog or your Facebook page or Google+ or wherever you share things online. If it’s art, you can share a photo. If you’re a kid, you can ask your teacher or librarian or a parent to share it for you. If you don’t have a blog or another place online to share writing, just come back here and paste what you wrote into a comment, and I’ll share it for you.

4. Include your city & state, plus the date and time you created the work.

5. Come back to this post and leave a comment with a link to what you shared. Also, let me know who you are (i.e. author of XYZ series, 5th grader in Quincy, Massachusetts, Librarian in the Outer Banks) Names are optional.

6. Next week, after the storm has passed, I’ll create a big post with links to all of our work that was “Created in the Path of Irene.” It’ll be kind of like a Hurricane Irene Online Museum.

Author/illustrator friends…when you post your storm writing & art, you may want to include a quick bio and information about your books; some folks who come to see your storm creations may not be familiar with your other work.

And everyone… please feel free to share this invitation far and wide - and teachers, I’d love it if you’d extend the invitation to your students, too! It would be great to see what younger writers come up with, and I think it would be really cool for kids to see their hurricane reflections shared alongside those of published authors.


The back door is now encircled by a little pillbox-structure of bags of concrete-and-sand mix. My excellent landlord Mike Fitzgerald helped. He looked dismayed when he first saw the concrete mix, and pointed out that if any of it got washed down the backyard drain, we could kiss that drain goodbye.

Good catch, I said. We wrapped each bag in heavyweight black plastic yard bags, then in three turns of a tightly woven but otherwise undistinguished white-with-roses fabric I had that nobody has ever wanted, and I could never figure out what to do with. I started with what must have been twenty or thirty yards of the stuff, and I still have enough of it to wrap a mummy.

I must say, all that flowered cotton gives the back-door pillbox a sort of cozy war-at-home look. All I need now is a wooden practice gun and a flat-brimmed Brodie helmet.

We’ve also sandbagged the downstairs loo. I woke up this morning with the realization that if the neighborhood runoff drains backed up badly enough that my backyard drain stopped working, it could send backwash up the sewer pipes. I have dealt with a flood like that exactly once — I lost rugs, a sofa, and various other items, and had to scrub the whole basement out with a mixture of detergent and non-chlorine bleach, while saying “ick ick ick” a lot — and I never want to have to deal with another.

Laura Mixon and Emma Mixon-Gould were going to be staying here tonight, but they decided to leave early. I’m sorry they won’t be here longer, but I think it was the right decision. They’ll be travelling to Jane Yolen’s in advance of the really bad weather, and when they get there they can help Heidi try to weatherproof Jane’s house. Best guess right now is that the hurricane is going to travel up the Connecticut Valley, so it’s going to hit a lot of our friends. With any luck, it’ll have calmed down by the time it hits Northampton, Colebrook, Montreal, and all those points in between.

August 25, 2011
Medieval storms and changing coastlines
Posted by Teresa at 07:08 AM *

I’ve visited Rye in Sussex. It’s a charming little town that used to be one of the Cinque Ports, and overlooks what used to be Romney Marsh. At any rate, that’s what I was told when I was there; and when I climbed up on top of Rye’s church tower, I could see green fields stretching off in all directions. It is therefore a bit unnerving to discover how violently all that happened.

From the Guardian, on the great storms of 1287:

There were two “great storms” in 1287. One was on the east coast: it killed hundreds of people in England and drowned thousands on the other side of the North Sea. This disaster was similar to the 1953 flood, when an extreme low pressure coinciding with a high tide caused a storm surge.

The other storm, on England’s south coast, must have been ferocious, because in a single night it fundamentally changed the geography. The harbour at Hastings was destroyed, the old town of Winchelsea, which was already under attack from the sea, was abandoned, and the coastline realigned.

Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the damage was that the thriving port of New Romney was turned into a landlocked town. Massive quantities of shingle from Dungeness, along with mud and soil, inundated the town, completely filled the harbour, and left New Romney nearly a mile from the sea.

The river Rother, which ran through the town, was stopped up by the storm and found a new outlet to the sea at Rye, 15 miles away, a course that the river still takes. In New Romney (a Saxon name, so not very new) there is still visible evidence of this extreme event. It is a draw for archaeologists, because the silt and gravel covered and preserved the town.

Visitors to the parish church of St Nicholas, the only surviving building from the period, have to step down into the church. There are still stains on the pillars marking the level of the flood.

From the always-interesting VillageNet Local History site: The Changing Face of Romney Marsh, 10,000 BC - 2000 AD, in eight steps, with maps and diagrams.

A slightly more technical short article on the geology and geography of Romney Marsh.

A map of the medieval harbor of Rye.

A fuller account of the storms that year, also from VillageNet, is 1287: A Terrible Year for Storms:

In Feb 1287, a storm hit the southern coast of England with such ferocity that whole areas of coastline were redrawn - towns that had stood by the sea now found themselves landlocked, while others found themselves in possession of new harbours.

In Hastings, the storm caused the cliff and with it half the Norman castle to fall into the sea, blocking off the harbour and ending the town’s days as a port. The old town took over as the port, but the protected inlet was totally destroyed. The old harbour is where the Shopping Centre in Hastings can be found.

Further along the coast, the port of Old Winchelsea , an island which was where the current Winchelsea Beach can be found was completely destroyed. It was later rebuilt several miles inland, where it became the first example of town planning in England being built on a grid system familiar to our American friends. Despite its new hilltop position Winchelsea still retained its place as a Cinque Port .

The most dramatic change wrought by the great storm was to the towns of Rye and New Romney . Before the storm New Romney was a thriving harbour town with the River Rother flowing through it into the English Channel. The storm silted up the harbour completely and diverted the river away from the town to enter the sea at Rye about 15 miles away. More or less overnight New Romney became landlocked, a mile from the coast.

So much silt was deposited by the flood that the land level in the town rose by 5 inches. If you visit the parish church, which is the only building in the town pre-dating the flood, you will find that the floor of the church is several inches below street level. The pillars in the church provide further evidence of the flood - the level the water reached can still be seen on them. The River Rother that had previously entered the sea at New Romney, changed course and now entered the sea at Rye, creating a brand new harbour. …

14 December 1287, North Sea Countries: A mighty storm sends a high storm surge onto Holland, drowning a reported 50,000. In East Anglia, England, 500 lives are lost.

Hickling, Norfolk: in 1287 a great flood engulfed the village, and 180 people were drowned. The waters rose a foot above the high altar of the Priory Church. Hickling was one of the townships that suffered most severely from the tremendous storm of December, 1287, no fewer than nine score persons being drowned there. In the priory the water rose more than a foot above the high altar, and all the canons fled away except two, who stayed behind and managed to save the horses and other property by bringing them up into the dormitory over the vaulted undercroft.

Once you start reading about catastrophic medieval storms, you’re bound to make the acquaintance of the Grote Mandrenke of 1362. From the Guardian:
Few great weather events in British history were as devastating as the “Grote Mandrenke”, the great drowning of men, which took place in mid January 1362. A huge south-westerly gale originating in the Atlantic Ocean swept across Ireland, Britain, the Low Countries, and northern Germany, causing at least 25,000 deaths.

The first warning of the storm came from Ireland, where homes and buildings in Dublin were devastated by the high winds. Next to experience the brunt of the storm was southern England, where thousands of trees were blown down. Massive damage was caused to the few high buildings, notably churches, and many spires or towers were destroyed. Most famously, the wooden spire of Norwich Cathedral fell through its roof.

Worse was to come. As the storm reached the North Sea, it combined with high tides to produce the phenomenon most feared by coastal communities, a storm surge.

Ports all along the east coast of England, and across the North Sea in the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark, were destroyed, as the power of the wind and waters changed the shape of the coastline.

“Changed the shape of the coastline” doesn’t begin to cover it. Wikipedia has a good plain account of what happened:
The Grote Mandrenke (Low Saxon for “Great Drowning of Men”) was the name of a massive southwesterly Atlantic gale which swept across England, the Netherlands, Northern Germany, and Schleswig around January 16, 1362, causing at minimum 25,000 deaths. …

An immense storm tide of the North Sea swept far inland from the Netherlands to Denmark, breaking up islands, making parts of the main land into islands, and wiping out entire towns and districts, such as Rungholt on the island of Strand in North Frisia. This storm tide, along with others of like size in the 13th century and 14th century, played a part in the formation of the Zuider Zee, and was characteristic of the unsettled and changeable weather in northern Europe at the beginning of the Little Ice Age.

An interesting article on the Grote Mandrenke’s role in the opening of the Zuider Zee — and thus, indirectly, the rise of Amsterdam as a great trading city.

Generally, though, the chaotic weather at the beginning of the Little Ice Age was catastrophic for low-lying communities. Check out these maps of the coastline of Holland and Frisia in 500 CE and 1555 CE; ditto, two 17th C. maps of Schleswig, “the one on the left showing the coast and lands as they were c.1240, compiled from parish records and reliable local information, the other showing the contemporary view and the outline of the drowned lands.” As it says on the site which reproduces them:

The North Sea incursions were catastrophic on a Hollywood scale: sea surges punched through the dunes (you can see the relics of the old coast in the line of islands off the west coast of Holland, Germany, and Denmark), killed perhaps 100,000 people, and turned vast agricultural districts into reed seas. In 1231, the sea flooded up river channels into the inland lake of Holland and by 1300 it had become a bay. In 1287, thirty villages in the lower Ems basin were drowned and the Dollart formed. In floods in 1240 and January 1362, sixty parishes in the diocese of Schleswig were overwhelmed, amounting to half the agricultural land of the realm, and perhaps 30,000 people died. The 1362 stormflood was the Grote Mandrenke, the “Great Drowning.” The island of Heligoland was 60 kilometers across in C.E. 800; by 1325 it was only 25 kilometers in diameter at the widest, half the loss having come in a single storm in January of that year. Today it is only 1.5 kilometers at the widest. The English ports of Ravenspurn and Dunwich drowned about the same time.
The vanished trading city of Rungholt in Nordfriesland has achieved legendary status. Archaeological remains show it to have been a wealthy and substantial settlement for its time, though it wasn’t the Atlantis of the North Sea some have imagined. It was erased by the storm surge of 1362, along with the land it stood on. Perhaps inevitably, local lore says that if you sail across that stretch of water on a stormy night, you can still hear the bells of Rungholt ringing.

Hurricane Lantern
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:01 AM * 132 comments

Six years ago at Making Light, in Katrina: Not your usual weather disaster story, Miss Teresa wrote:

By the way, New York City is also vulnerable to hurricanes. Making Light is in a Zone C evacuation area, which means that in the event of a major hurricane making landfall south of the city, we’ll be flooded. That’s as opposed to the large swathes of the city that are Zone A evacuation areas. Zone C means “get out”; Zone A means “get out or die.”
Projected track of hurricane Irene (2011) Now, on New York City’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) page, we read:
Hurricane Irene Approaches U.S. East Coast
OEM is closely monitoring Hurricane Irene as it approaches the East Coast. While the forecast remains uncertain, there is a possibility New York City may experience hurricane or tropical storm conditions this weekend. OEM urges New Yorkers to find out if they live in a hurricane evacuation zone and take steps to prepare for heavy rain, storm surge, and strong winds.

Now might be a good time to review one’s emergency plans and supplies.

Irene on CNN
Hurricane Evacuation Zone Finder
Real emergency preparedness
Emergency preparedness redux
Tips for an apocalypse

Index to Medical Posts

August 24, 2011
Whiny Tea Partiers feel threatened by Jane Yolen
Posted by Teresa at 10:11 AM * 99 comments

I got this story from Bear, who got it from Ellid at Kos, who linked to the version at Democratic Underground, most likely because she didn’t know how to construct a zero-Googlejuice link to the malign wingnut DU cited in their article.

The wingnut’s piece about Jane begins:

Thanks for the hate mail, folks! Glad to get confirmation that I struck a nerve.
Which is pure trollspeak. More on him later.

What actually happened: The staff of detestable Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) staged one of those cynical photo-ops where they pose a politician reading to a bunch of photogenic tykes. The reading took place at the Access Community Health Center in Madison, WI, a nonprofit clinic for low-income families. One of the books they used was How Do Dinosaurs Clean Their Rooms? by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague.*

The occasion got written up in one of Shawn Doherty’s “Laptop City Hall” columns: What’s wrong with this picture? Ron Johnson reads to local kids:

Sen. Ron Johnson is reading a book to ten cute kids at a community health clinic on South Park Street. The book is about a dinosaur who cleans his room and never does naughty things like shove his dirty socks to the back of his dresser drawer. As I look around this Thursday afternoon, I count as many grownups taking pictures with clunky cameras as kids. Even the Senator’s aide is snapping photos with his cell phone. …

Johnson’s office contacted the Madison branch suggesting the visit. Apparently it fit nicely into a day in town that included an appearance on Vicki McKenna’s talk show and a stop at a fundraiser for the Dane County Young Republicans at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.

But some people found something sour about all these sweet pictures of the senator reading to children in a Madison community health clinic.

“Just this morning I was watching Fox News and the senator was on talking about repealing the health care act, the one hope many of these kids have,” says Robert Kraig of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “And then he goes off and has a photo opp at a community health center? That posturing is very inconsistent with what he is proposing.”

Like other Republican congressmen including most notably Wisconsin’s Paul Ryan, Johnson has called not only for the repeal of the federal health care reform law but for a drastic reduction of spending on Medicaid programs like Wisconsin’s BadgerCare plans.

“There’s a stark contrast between the warm and fuzzy image of him reading to children and the extreme Draconian cuts he wants to propose that will cut millions of kids like these off health care,” Kraig says.

Well, maybe not all these kids. Turns out many of those listening to Johnson were not actual patients at Access, but children of staffers’ friends who had responded to an appeal for live bodies for what in politics is called a “media opp” or media opportunity. …

And so forth. When the article went live, the very first comment was posted by Jane. As Shawn Doherty described it in her next “Laptop City Hall” column, Thanks but no thanks, author says after Ron Johnson reads her book to kids:
The very first reader’s comment on my article, made before the comment thread disintegrated into liberals and conservatives calling each other stupid, was from Jane Yolen, the author of one of those books. … Yolen’s comment makes it clear she is not keen on having her work and young fans used as props by a senator whose policies and politics, she believes, harm children.

“I wish he would help kids and not cut those programs that help them, rather than just reading a book chosen for him, and written by a progressive Massachusetts liberal like me,” she sighs in her comment.

Minor error there: the photo op was in a public health clinic, rather than the usual schoolroom or library. The point still stands, though; Johnson wants to slash funds for all three.

Doherty was intrigued. She contacted Jane through her website, and they had a conversation in chat:

Capital Times: I’m delighted that you saw my story and commented on it. May I ask how you found it and what prompted you to respond?

Jane Yolen: Google alert. Most of the time it is years out of date, and usually totally uninteresting. But this time, it pointed me to your piece, and I was alternately amused, bemused, and annoyed. Not at the writer of the article, but at the co-opting of my book for a politician’s photo op.

CT: What had you heard about our senator from Wisconsin, Ron Johnson, before you read my piece and what concerns you about the idea of him reading one of your stories to children?

JY: He is a Republican junior senator associated with the Tea Party. And that makes me think that either he is 1. A True Believer in the Tea Party NoNothingness which frightens me or 2. Kowtowing to it for votes which possibly frightens me more. Since the Tea Party (and alas much of the Republican Party these days) are the ones behind the notions of breaking unions, throwing librarians out of their jobs, and defunding education, I think it is more than a tad bit disingenuous for such politicians to be out in libraries reading books to children who will have no libraries to visit if we listen to the Tea Party. …

CT: Perhaps you could come up with a question for the senator you would like to ask him?

JY: Senator, why are you here reading this book? Did you choose it or was it chosen for you? Are you surprised that it was written by someone who finds your political stance anathema? Do you care? …

CT: Have you ever thought of writing a story about politicians or politics?

JY: I have political people in a number of my novels, though they tend to be kings or viziers or the like. For my political bona fides: I was a delegate from Massachusetts pledged to McGovern in the ‘72 Democratic Convention, among other things. I’d like to add — as a non-Christian, I find it appalling that self-proclaimed Christians don’t follow their own religious precepts: Matthew: “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

Wingnut outrage! Moe Lane, that troll I mentioned earlier wrote a piece called “Jane Yolen doesn’t want your filthy conservative eyes…”, which of course is neither what she said nor meant. He also calls her a hateful bigot, which is (a.) also untrue, and (b.) pure projection on his part. Don’t bother to click through. There’s no real substance to his article. It’s just cheap outrage-mongering based on inaccurate reporting.

Moe Lane is upfront about his belief that the more outrage he can generate, the more donations he gets — “You can turn hate into money,” as he puts it — and he sure shakes that tin cup in your face. He cross-posted his piece about Jane to Red State and it got picked up by a bunch of other cheap outrage sites, so he’s happy. The story also got picked up by WTAQ News Talk, which did its own trashy, inaccurate, and insubstantial writeup titled Children’s Book Author Yolen Teague Acts Completely Childish About Ron Johnson. (They amended the title later to say “Jane Yolen” instead of “Yolen Teague”, but you can still find the original version.)

Why all the fuss? I believe it’s because Jane explained what was wrong in clear, straightforward language — a knack that way too many liberal pundits have lost. If exposing children to books and literacy is good, then what Ron Johnson is doing to schools and libraries is bad. If children being cared for in a public health clinic is good, then what Ron Johnson is doing to healthcare funding is bad. Johnson tacitly admits that these things are good, and that the general public sees them as good, by using them as props for his photo session. He wants the benefit of being associated with them. Then, in real life, he does his best to trash them. Simple.

What venues like Moe Lane and WTAQ News Talk are really saying is that Jane Yolen made them feel bad. She got through to them. They can’t really argue with her, so they throw sh*t in her general direction, but still: she got through to them.

Good on her.

Addendum: One more Laptop City Hall column: Tea party tizzy over children’s author Jane Yolen’s remarks. Shawn Doherty says, “After reading through the 110-and-counting comments at the end of my last story on this and dozens of other remarks on conservative blogs across the country, though, it seems to me that conservative critics are the ones who are having a tantrum here.”

August 23, 2011
Open Thread 163
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 06:26 AM *

As I cam thro the Garrioch land,
And in by Over Ha,
There was sixty thousan Highland men
Marching to Harlaw.

The Highland men, with their broad sword,
Pushd on wi might and power,
Till they bore back the red-coat lads
Three furlongs long, and more.

Lord Forbés calld his men aside,
Says, Take your breath awhile,
Until I send my servant now
To bring my coat o mail.

Child #163

Continued from Open Thread 162

Continued in Open Thread 164

August 20, 2011
And then Buffy ….
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 03:30 AM * 101 comments

My younger daughter’s favorite tee-shirt:

And then Buffy staked Edward.  The End.

August 19, 2011
Chelyabinsk: The Dirtiest City in Russia
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 01:23 AM *

From The CMO Site: Social Media Marketing House of Fail

Chelyabinsk: The Dirtiest City in Russia
…the Russian city of Chelyabinsk, one of the 10 most polluted cities in that nation, announced a contract worth $10,700 for some SEO expert — hat color not specified — to “optimize” queries to the Yandex and Google search engines using 15 search phrases, including “ecology of the Urals,” “radiation in Chelyabinsk,” and “dirtiest city in Russia.” The result must be predominantly positive or neutral links for the first 150 results from those search engines, with only 20 percent allowed that display a negative tone. How much actual cleanup would $10,700 accomplish, if directed to that end? This campaign can only be seen as fostering the opposite of trust.

Folks like that, the “SEO” merchants and their employers, are why we have a spam-word filter list here hundreds of lines long that sometimes snatches up the innocent into its gnome-ensorcelled hands.

Here’s how I expect they’ll work. They’ll find 200 or so predominantly positive-or-neutral web pages about Chelyabinsk (or write ‘em themselves if there aren’t that many). Then for each of those phrases, for “ecology of the Urals,” “radiation in Chelyabinsk,” and “dirtiest city in Russia,” they’ll post comments in blogs all over the web. The comments won’t have anything to do with Chelyabinsk (which many consider the dirtiest city in Russia, and that means it’s pretty darned dirty). Rather, the poster’s name will be “Ecology of the Urals” (just like a common Making Light poster name is “Cheap Viagra” or “Designer Handbags”), with a comment text that reads:

This design is incredible! You certainly know how to keep a reader amused. Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Wonderful job. I really enjoyed what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it. Too cool!
well let me be brutally honest with you,i didnt like your writing style, but i got what i came searching here for,so thanks for this post,though you can improve your writing style by a bit.
is your website supported on safari browser.because i tried using it through safari but the sidebar goes out of the page.

Without active, human, moderation, that sort of thing overwhelms the Web. You can find blogs out there with open comment threads a thousand posts deep, where every single post is spam. As Miss Teresa noted: “I’m starting to regard unmaintained comment areas as the online equivalent of letting old automobile tires lie around in your back yard, collecting stagnant water where mosquitoes breed.”

Strong moderation! Human moderation! As my friend MacAllister Stone notes over on G+, what machine-rules-based pseudo-moderation breeds is a generation of folks who are adept at gaming the system, “people who’ve essentially been rewarded for learning to circumvent and exploit the requirements for participation — and they’re often angry and a little abusive when confronted by a human moderator….”

(Say, do you write poetry?)

Hat tip to my friend Mitch Wagner for the story about Chelyabinsk (the dirtiest city in Russia) producing a new, and different, kind of pollution.

August 18, 2011
…this report of my death was an exaggeration.
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:00 PM * 16 comments

Neither publishing nor bookselling appear to be quite ready for the coffin.

From The New York Times:

BookStats, a comprehensive survey conducted by two major trade groups that was released early Tuesday, revealed that in 2010 publishers generated net revenue of $27.9 billion, a 5.6 percent increase over 2008. Publishers sold 2.57 billion books in all formats in 2010, a 4.1 percent increase since 2008.

The Association of American Publishers and the Book Industry Study Group collaborated on the report and collected data from 1,963 publishers, including the six largest trade publishers. The survey encompassed five major categories of books: trade, K-12 school, higher education, professional and scholarly.

“We’re seeing a resurgence, and we’re seeing it across all markets — trade, academic, professional,” said Tina Jordan, the vice president of the Association of American Publishers. “In each category we’re seeing growth. The printed word is alive and well whether it takes a paper delivery or digital delivery.

And from The Washington Post:

The American Booksellers Association, the national trade organization for independently owned bookstores, counted a 7 percent growth last year and has gained 100 new members in the past six months. The association now counts 1,830 member stores across the country, up by 400 since 2005, according to Meg Smith, the association’s spokeswoman. The new stores have opened in at least 35 states, from New York to California, an indication that store owners across the nation see an opportunity to find a concrete niche in the e-book world.

“The takeaway is that independent bookselling is still a desirable profession and it’s sustainable,” Smith says.

Both articles are well-worth reading in full. Both publishing and bookstores deal in Story. Story, as Miss Teresa says, is a force of nature. When publishers or bookstores get away from story, they are moving from their positions of strength. Chocolates are not story. Coffee is not story. Music may be story, but most often isn’t. People who want story know where to go to find it.

While information wants to be free, entertainment wants to be well-paid.

Onward to truth, beauty, and story.

August 17, 2011
Science Fiction, History of
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 08:04 AM *

First, promoted from a Particle: The history of Science Fiction in Pictorial Form.

Next, a new textbook (full disclosure: Doyle and I are in it; authors’ copies arrived yesterday): Sense of Wonder, edited by Leigh Grossman

Third, just in from NPR: Top 100 Science-Fiction, Fantasy Books

Things I haven’t done: Counted the numbers of works by women and persons of color, either as absolute numbers or as percentages of works listed/mentioned.

The NPR list has excited comment on the order of “Sword of Shannara is listed? Say what?!” The textbook has excited comment on the order of “No Bradbury? Say what?!

Other than that … our beloved genre!

August 15, 2011
Small furry Monday
Posted by Teresa at 09:51 AM * 56 comments

Lucius, my insanely hirsute Syrian rescue case, is becoming an eccentric old hamster. Lately he’s been working on the art of getting a drink without having to wake up.

It was with a mixture of amusement and fellow-feeling that I observed him this morning, his eyes nearly shut, sucking on a spot halfway down the tube of his water bottle. Con: not going to get any water out of the middle of the tube. Pro: looked awfully comfortable.

I waited a minute or so before quietly saying “Heyyyyy, Loosh,” which woke him from his nap. He opened his eyes an additional 1/128”, found the end of the tube, got his bedtime drink of water, and trundled off to sleep for the day. If he belonged to a vocal species, he’d have been making Sleepy Old Guy noises.

Patrick is still coming to terms with the brevity of hamster lives. I tell him it’s not that they’re so short; it’s that they burn through them so much faster than we do ours. I hope that’s true. I think it is.

August 14, 2011
More Self-Publishing Blather
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 02:45 PM *

I suppose I should give my bona-fides for talking about this at all. My first self-published work was in 1978 (the first public appearance of Syr Agricoli!), and involved a Xerox machine and a saddle-stapler. Since then, I’ve been a member of an amateur publishing association (which is where my short story, “The Little Prune That Couldn’t Talk” was first published—you can read it here today). I’ve self-published various other works over the years, not counting the major posts here at ML (e.g. Chesapeake v. Shannon, Ash Wednesday, and the Trauma and You series). My first POD self-publishing experiment was in 2005, via Lulu. I’ve had an Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing account since August of last year, with my first work published there in September 2010. Since then I’ve put up all of the short stories to which we had clear rights, and three of our out-of-print novels, via Kindle, Smashwords, and Google.

So when my good friend Mitch Wagner asked

Can you point to any good information on the business of self-publishing, including where to post work, how much to charge, and best ways to market?

I’m planning to self-publish four science fiction and fantasy novelettes.

what could I do but try to answer?

I’ve already listed some useful software. Here’s the rest of the mix:

The only way to get onto the Kindle is through Amazon, via Kindle Direct Publishing. Currently, this is free. Unfortunately, Amazon is the 800-pound gorilla. Most of our pricing and distribution decisions will be influenced by their gravity hole. But you absolutely have to be on the Kindle.

The next must-publish place is Smashwords. They distribute to everywhere that isn’t Amazon. They automatically convert MSWord doc files into a variety of ebook formats. In order to make that work, they have very particular requirements for the file you upload.

If you want to publish directly at B&N, rather than use Smashwords to distribute there, you can use PubIt. There’s a slight difference in the royalties. Allegedly there’s a difference in the visibility at B&N’s site, too.

The tough one to get into is the iBookstore. You have to have a Mac to create the content in the format they like, and you have to have a US tax ID number and already own an ISBN for your work. Or, you could go through an aggregator. Like Smashwords or But the cost of producing an ebook via is ridiculous. Priced right out of the market. I don’t recommend it. is the grand-daddy of the self e-publishers. They have some peculiar requirements. At one time, they required that any work you uploaded had to be previously commercially published. They also wanted at least ten works, and they wanted to be the exclusive on-line distributor. Those requirements may have gone by the wayside. is the classic for producing a hard-copy POD version for free. Avoid all of their blandishments and attempts to lure you into spending money. And don’t buy an ISBN. All that will do is double the cover price of your work, kick your royalties straight in the ass, and not do a single blessed thing for sales.

When I originally published Atlanta Nights I bought the ISBN through Lulu (after enough income had arrived from sales to pay for it). Royalties through online distribution through Amazon were $1.19 each. Then Amazon pulled their Let’s Kill Everyone Else’s POD games, and royalties per sale through Amazon, B&N, and the rest of the non-Lulu bookstores are now $0.12.

Publishing at Lulu requires that you be able to produce .pdf files. They will take word-processing documents, but the results from that can be bizarre.

I have The Confessions of Peter Crossman up at Lulu without an ISBN. And miracle of miracles, here it is over at Amazon too!

You don’t need an ISBN on the hard-copy book to get it listed at Amazon. Slapping on an ISBN is a profit killer. No ISBN means that the hardcopy can’t be special ordered at your local bookstore … but face it, that isn’t too likely to happen anyway.

One more place to upload your e-text: Google Books. They’re confused, confusing, and slow. But other than that … why bother? Wait ’til it’s out of beta.

Now let’s talk about pricing. Free books—you can give away a ton, and at the end of the day, all you’ll have accomplished is you’ll have given away a ton. Folks may scarf them because they’re free and never even open them.

The lowest price you can assign at Kindle or Smashwords is $0.99. That’s where I’ve priced a bunch of my short stories. That brings in $0.35 cents each at Amazon, slightly higher at Smashwords. Once you hit $2.99 at Amazon, the royalty rate goes from 35% to 70%. Let me give you an example of what that means in practical terms:

In June of this year, through Amazon Kindle, I sold 16 copies of Two From the Mageworlds at $0.99, and two copies of The Confessions of Peter Crossman at $2.99. These brought in, respectively, $5.60 and $4.14. That is to say, the $0.99 story sold 700% more than the $2.99 book, but only brought in 35% more money. Therefore: Going below $2.99 is nuts.

Since Amazon demands that the price in their Kindle store be the lowest that the book’s trading for anywhere, that’s the effective floor everywhere.

Here’s a neat little toy: E-Book Royalty Calcumatic

Okay, you’ve got your book uploaded, and you’ve got it priced. Now comes the deucedly difficult question of how to sell it. Just being listed in a database isn’t much good.

The first, best, grandest way to sell books is to write and publish more books. Anecdotally (which is what most of e-self-publishing is these days), you need to have between three and seven different books listed in the Kindle or Nook or iBookstore virtual shelves to have much of a chance at all.

Then, the next major force are the book-bloggers. You need reviews. The slush-pile has moved…again. Used to be the slush-pile was in the publishers’ offices. Then it shifted to the agents’ offices. Now the slush-pile is in the process of shifting (at least for the self-published) to the reviewers. You need to find folks who will review self-published, electronic works (which pretty much means The New York Times is right out).

Here is a handy list of book-review blogs that are receptive to self-published e-books.

Beyond that there’s the silly stuff, like listing your books in your e-mail sig file, mentioning them in your blog, and so on. The conventional wisdom is that you have to spend forty hours a week touting your books on Twitter and Facebook. I’m not convinced that’s a good use of your time.

One final word: Before you self-publish, make sure the book is as good as it can be. That means editing. If you can’t make your own covers, you’ll have to hire an artist/designer. You’re the publisher, so you either perform or hire all the functions that publishers perform. The key to a successful career is to never publish anything bad.

This doesn’t violate Yog’s Law. The publisher is still paying for everything. You, as author, get to collect 15% of the cover price of every book sold, and deposit it into a savings account labeled “Retirement” (or whatever). The rest of the income (if any) goes to you-as-publisher, to attempt to recoup whatever you-as-publisher spent on producing the book. Just like in commercial publishing.

Let me mention two more toys much beloved by the self-published. Amazon lists Sales Ranks, and there is a never-ending stream of folks who pretend that they can somehow divine the actual number of sales of the books from those ranks. The results they come up with vary from the laughable to the completely bogus.

Most of the automated tools to derive sales from sales rank now return Code 404 (anyone remember Charteous?). Two that are currently up are NovelRank (which is notoriously an order of magnitude or two off—it’s so bad that they include a disclaimer on their own page) and MetricJunkie. I won’t waste time by explaining all the reasons why any results you derive from Amazon sales ranks are wrong (including but not limited to the fact that an Amazon sales rank only refers to sales through Amazon—it’s obvious, I know, but some people still haven’t figured that part out). Just be advised that if you want to waste time while waiting for your own particular miracle, the time-wasters are already on scene. NovelRank even has a widget you can put on your webpage!

See also:

August 13, 2011
Our Renovation schedule
Posted by Patrick at 12:35 PM * 79 comments

The 2011 World Science Fiction Convention takes place this coming Wednesday through the following Sunday. This year it’s in Reno, Nevada, where Johnny Cash shot a man just to watch him die. Below the fold, Teresa’s and my schedule of public appearances.

August 10, 2011
Things You Can’t Talk About At Making Light
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 10:07 PM * 47 comments

The mysteries of the Gnomes explained.

One of the keywords that puts a post into automatic moderation here at Making Light is “linkedin.” Why? Because we’ve had so much spam from folks trying to drive traffic to their Linkedin profiles that we had to do it.

It will therefore be very difficult to discuss this next bit: Linkedin has added a new feature, turned on by default, that allows them to use your name and picture to advertise goods and services to third parties.

Check out the new email defaults too, where “Yes, share my data with third party applications” is turned on by default.

Workshop instructions for turning all this off are here.

August 06, 2011
Happy 20th anniversary —
Posted by Patrick at 05:48 PM * 93 comments

to the World-Wide Web.

Still a pretty good thing, despite everything. Thanks again, high-energy physicists!

Open thread 162
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:36 AM *

In the land of Lemuria, all coins that are not gold are silver.

One day, on a Lemurian street, Ms. Smith meets Mr. Jones. Ms. Smith says, “I have two Lemurian coins in my hand. The one on top is gold.”

Mr. Jones replies, “I have two Lemurian coins in my hand. At least one is gold.”

Assuming gold and silver coins are evenly and randomly distributed in Lemuria, and otherwise unidentified coins in the hands of Smith and Jones are no more likely to be silver than gold, what are the odds that Mr. Jones has more gold coins in his hand than Ms. Smith has in hers?

Continued from Open Thread 161

Continued in Open Thread 163

August 05, 2011
Movie Time: Final Destination
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:17 PM * 19 comments

Long-time readers of Making Light will recall that I like horror movies.

I like the How Did They Do That? experience of watching ‘em. Along with plot, and character, and theme, and such. Even if plot, character, and theme are all absent, a good How Did They Do That? can redeem an otherwise irredeemable movie.

So, one thing I like are the How To Do Special Effects videos you see on YouTube. These aren’t someone reposting someone else’s material, but useful and interesting things all on their own.

Which brings us to a special from Indy Mogul, a guy who does Backyard Special Effects. It’s a three-parter called Death’s Last Stop:

And the How They Did That reels:

But that isn’t what I want to mention, particularly. What I found interesting was that this three-part mega-test film was sponsored by the folks who made the movie The Final Destination, as part of their pre-release marketing plan. The Final Destination is the exact same movie as Final Destination, Final Destination Two, and Final Destination Three, only this time in 3-D!.

(I see from IMDB that there’s a Final Destination Five scheduled for this summer. Using my psychic powers, I predict that it will have the Exact Same Plot, and probably the same story beats minute-for-minute, as the other films in the series.)

Back to my point, such as it is: Kudos to the Final Destination folks for guerrilla marketing done right: For a negligible cost (we’re talking of mini-films with budgets measured in the tens of dollars), weeks of publicity for at least a segment of their core audience (the How Did They Do That? crowd).

To reward them for their clever (though cheap) marketing, I have rented The Final Destination.

August 04, 2011
Fifty Ways
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:45 AM * 31 comments

You got problems with your writing
She said to me
The answer’s easy if you
Put your B in C
I’ll show you how to move along
When you find you’re up a tree
There must be fifty ways
To plot your novel.

She said it’s not my habit
To keep you from your booze
But somehow I can’t help myself
When a writer has the blues
So sit down at your keyboard
And listen to the Muse
There must be fifty ways
To plot your novel
Fifty ways to plot your novel.

     Make like you’re Mark Twain, Laine
     Channel Brontë awhile, Kyle
     Fanthorpe for a day, Rae,
     And fill up the page.
     Add a man with a gun, Bun
     Stick in fan appeal, Ceil
     Pretend you believe, Steve
     And burn and rage.

She said it’s really rugged
When a novel is half done
There are some games that you can play
To make the writing fun
I said please keep on talking
‘Cause you just a hit a home run
About the fifty ways

She said why don’t you type a page
Before calling it a night
She said don’t pause to fact-check
‘Cause you’ll fix it in re-write
She said this is an art-form
Where things are not black or white,
There must be fifty ways to plot your novel
Fifty ways to plot your novel.

     Run ‘em down with a truck, Chuck,
     Deny their free will, Phil,
     Don’t need to explain, Jane,
     Just twist up the plot.
     Put some sex in the stew, Sue,
     Don’t let ‘em say when, Jen,
     Make the raths outgrabe, Abe,
     And see what you’ve got.

August 01, 2011
That Was Then
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:07 AM * 24 comments

[Bad Blood] by Doyle and Macdonald [Hunters' Moon] by Doyle and Macdonald [Judgment Night] by Doyle and Macdonald
This is now
Bad Blood Ebook Hunters' Moon Ebook Judgment Night Ebook
Professional cover artists, you will perceive, are in no danger from me.

The first chapters of all three novels are available, free, on-line:

And, with that, I think it’s time to go back to writing new books.

The old versions of the self-published covers, for posterity’s sake:

Bad Blood Ebook Hunters' Moon Ebook Judgment Night Ebook

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

Dire legal notice
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.