Back to March 2014

To Making Light's front page

Forward to May 2014

April 28, 2014
Pasta with fresh peppers and arugula
Posted by Teresa at 09:51 PM * 152 comments

1/4 C. chopped walnuts*
1/4 - 1/3 C. prosciutto or pancetta bits
4-7 large thick-walled bell peppers
4-6 oz. (which is quite a lot!) baby arugula leaves
3-4 C. coarsely grated fresh Parmagiana
1/3 - 1/2 C. heavy cream
12 oz. dried Campanelli pasta (or other pasta as it please you)*
salt, pepper, butter or olive oil

Set water for pasta on to boil. Put some olive oil or a large dollop of butter into a pan and follow it with the walnuts and prosciutto or pancetta. Working quickly, cut bell peppers into coarse chunks, throwing them into the pan as you go. Stir the pan a lot.

Grate the cheese while the peppers are cooking. When the pasta’s ready, drain it or fish it out, and add it to the peppers, which by now should have all lost their cell turgor and be throwing off liquid. Some water will also be contributed by the pasta. That’s good too.

Turn down the fire and stir in the pasta, then start stirring cheese by the handful into the peppers-and-pasta mix. This is where the pepper juice and pasta water come in handy. Add the heavy cream and keep stirring. Adjust seasonings. When the cheese and cream are fully amalgamated, fold in the arugula, or if there’s not room for that, pile it on top of the pasta mixture.

Slap a lid on the whole thing and wait 3-5 minutes, or however long it takes for the arugula to start wilting. Fold or stir until the arugula is mixed into the whole, but no further. Adjust the seasoning again.

Serve and eat — ideally, without any further delay. Feeds four energetic young persons, or six staid older ones.

This makes a great, fresh-tasting, generously cheesy pasta dish that’s neither cooked nor sauced beyond what’s strictly necessary. The pepper chunks still have some tooth, the arugula leaves will still be recognizable, and slightly bitter greens cooked with a little heavy cream are a magic combination. The leftovers pack well for lunch the next day.

Making Light recipe index

April 26, 2014
Science fiction’s topic du jour, in verse
Posted by Patrick at 09:08 AM * 873 comments

Last night, from commenter “lighthill,” in the SF topic du jour thread:

Now my ice cream truck is painted like a cheerful Panzer tank,
With a freezer full of ices and a fylfot on the flank.
And the music box is set up—hey, it’s not against the law!—
To play ‘Deutschland Uber Alles’ after ‘Turkey in the Straw.’
And although I scorn the Untermensch, the deviant, the Jew:
I tell them so politely, and I serve them ice cream too.
But so narrow-minded are they (so unethical as well!)
That they seldom come to sample the fine ice cream that I sell!
Nor even will they enter into rational debates
Scheduled daily in my ice cream truck with all my skinhead mates.
So you see, it’s rankest prejudice—as blatant as it’s shitty—
That my fine all-natural ice cream has not yet won “Best In City”.
Really, it’s a magnificent tapestry of life itself.

April 25, 2014
TNH on art-and-politics
Posted by Patrick at 07:19 AM * 73 comments

From the comment thread following this post. It seems to me that these remarks deserve to be seen by those Making Light readers who don’t necessarily read 300 or more messages into the comment threads.

My practical experience is that the artist’s work can’t be divided from the artist’s politics. Working relationships are an expression of how one party reads the other’s work. Some writers are never so good as when they’re being critiqued by a particular editor or beta reader or spouse. If you have a mismatch between a copyeditor and an author, that copyeditor will honestly and dutifully perceive a somewhat different set of errors than another copyeditor would. There’ve been comic books whose underlying premises only really worked when the right artist was drawing them.

Have you ever read Deus Irae by Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny? They just didn’t mesh. You can hear the gears grinding all the way through that thing, except for the scene with the dog.

Readers will judge the politics. There’s no way to keep that from happening. They may perceive it as (for instance) the difference between a strikingly original, a satisfactory, and a cop-out ending, but they will judge.

I can’t see that as wholly bad. Here’s an example: I hate it when a promising skiffy book ends with that stupid mainstream thing about how there can never be new answers to old problems, so for those trying to transcend the old answer set, it comes down to a choice between madness and death. Bleah! I want the ending where the character invents a completely unanticipated third answer in a cave, from a box of scraps.

I won’t take it well if someone tells me I have to believe a madness-or-death dichotomy ending is just as good as, or superior to, a wildly-different-third-answer ending, because the madness-or-death ending is characteristic of the author’s worldview. I can at most learn to see and understand that that ending grows out of a particular set of beliefs (which it does).

I do this all the time. I think we all do it. In Doyle & Macdonald’s Mageworlds books, spacefaring civilization would grind to a halt if ships that have just made planetfall didn’t stop to fill out a heap of paperwork. Spacefarers in series by other writers get along without the paperwork. Spontaneous peasant uprisings may succeed in many fantasy universes, but not in Westeros or Dragaera, where the authors know rather too much about the history of peasant uprisings. As readers, we pass from one to another, switching logics as we go.

Stretch it too far, though, and we break, snarling in irritation. That’s the basic malfunction in Mary Sue fiction — not the being good at everything, or the color-changing eyes, but having causality liquefy every time Ensign Mary Sue is near. Ayn Rand’s causality is also weird: holding certain principles can strongly affect your competence. And so forth. Enough bad causality makes a dent in my reading pleasure.

The only general solution I know is to become a better reader. The Hugos work in part because their rules accommodate the widest possible range of reading protocols. Changing that is almost certain to be a mess.

The thread is worth reading.

April 23, 2014
Dysfunctional Families, the Role-Playing Game
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 05:08 PM *

They do say that the family that plays together, stays together. So here’s a game for the whole family. Do it thoroughly enough, and your kids will never really stop playing!

The object of the game is to control the stories the family tells about itself. Gameplay is broken up into Narratives. Each Narrative has a Viewpoint Character (VC), whose opinions are to be treated as fact for the entire Narrative. Note that two VCs can share a Narrative if they agree on all significant points.

The same real-world event (e.g. a holiday dinner) can be the subject of different Narratives from different VCs. Advanced players (like families with grown children) can play with different VCs at the same time for extra realtime conflict, but beginners should probably start with one Narrative per event. That’s all most VCs will allow, anyway.

Before the game starts, the VC will assign everyone (including themselves) a Role. These Roles will define their personalities and constrain their actions in the Narrative. Note that neither the Roles nor the events of the Narrative have to map to objective reality. Very experienced VCs can create a seamless Narrative that not only bears no resemblance to actual events, but supplants them in everyone’s memory.

April 21, 2014
Open thread 196
Posted by Patrick at 09:40 AM *

From rec.arts.sf.written, 1994: “Help Me Make an SF Course”. The messages are a little out of order in the Google Groups archive, but you’ll get the gist.

Evidently I wasn’t kidding when I said, in this thread, “Now that many of us have slapped [REDACTED] down for having the temerity to say what I imagine rather a few others were thinking, let me say that I read his ill-considered, unfair, over-the-top, profane, and personally abusive flame, and enjoyed just about every word of it.” Because it appears that I not only declared my enjoyment of it, but I also saved a copy to my hard drive, where—twenty years and uncounted hard drives later—it turned up this morning while I was looking for something else. Causing me to fall out of my chair when I realized who [REDACTED] was.

[REDACTED] is much more famous now, and not known for flaming; quite the opposite, his public persona is thoughtful and measured. I do hope he doesn’t mind this brief glimpse into Usenet-That-Was. We’ve all been a lot of different people over time. Some of us did it in online text. Before that, some of us even did it in mimeo ink…

Footnote: I also said “Incidentally, in substance, [REDACTED]’s flame was hardly different from Chip Delany’s “Letter to a Critic,” the first piece in his The Jewel-Hinged Jaw (1977). Delany’s anger is ground down to a finer grain, but it’s the same anger.” I still think that’s true.

Continued from Open thread 195. Continued in Open thread 197.

April 20, 2014
On the science-fiction world’s topic du jour
Posted by Patrick at 01:00 PM *

I pretty much agree with this.

On suggestions that the Hugo Awards process is hopeless, terrible, should be replaced by a panel of experts / my friends / cosmic overminds from Aldebaran: Yes, well. The Hugos are what they are—a popular award for certain kinds of SF and fantasy-related activities, open to anyone who wants to participate and who’s willing to buy a Worldcon membership. And administered by volunteers who are responsible for keeping procedures in compliance with a set of rules maintained and amended over several decades in a democratic, transparent process open to all Worldcon members. Of course that means the Hugos have flaws. So do juried awards, your friends, and, probably, cosmic overminds from Aldebaran. Best advice: Enjoy awards; don’t let them bend you too far out of shape.

On not being a finalist this year for Best Professional Editor (Long Form): Look! There isn’t a single person who’s been nominated in this category every year since it began in 2007. This is a mark of a successful category. Meanwhile, all of the five people who are finalists are entirely deserving—and whichever one wins, they’ll be a first-time winner.

On stories from making up over one-third of the short-fiction finalists: LOUD CRIES OF WOO HOO. And congratulations to Andy Duncan & Ellen Klages (“Wakulla Springs,” best novella), Charles Stross (“Equoid,” best novella), Mary Robinette Kowal (“The Lady Astronaut of Mars,” best novelette), Thomas Olde Heuvelt (“The Ink Readers of Doi Saket,” best short story), and Viable Paradise alumnus John Chu (“The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere,” best short story).

Oh, and for those of you going “huh?”, here’s the full list of this year’s Hugo Award finalists. Let the commenting begin!

April 12, 2014
De-localization of sex in art: a theory
Posted by Teresa at 05:41 PM * 88 comments

Assuming a popularly-supported art form, i.e. one that has a broad audience, and survives on payments from individual members of that audience, or from advertisers who target that audience:

Banning sex in art doesn’t get rid of sex. It only de-localizes and diffuses it, so that it becomes ubiquitous, unacknowledged, dumbed-down, and largely normative.

I remember the liberalization of censorship of both text and images in the 1960s. The overall effect, it seemed to me, was that sex got less creepy. You could tell where it was and where it wasn’t.

April 10, 2014
Tending the Dikes of the Internet
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 07:48 PM * 53 comments

…en in alle gewesten
wordt de stem van het water
met zijn eeuwige rampen
gevreesd en gehoord.

…and in all quarters
is the voice of the water
with its eternal disasters
feared and obeyed.
Herinnering aan Holland, by Hendrik Marsman

Russel Shorto, the New York Times’ go-to Batavophile, has an interesting article up right now: How to Think Like the Dutch in a Post-Sandy World. It discusses the work of Henk Ovink, a Dutch water manager and senior advisor to Obama’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Ovink, who appears to have taken on the role because he was bored out of his skull by how controlled water is back home, is helping HUD to create water policies and to plan for future flooding.

Obviously, there are culture clashes.

Dutch battles against water led his country to develop a communal society. To this day, Water Boards, which date to the Middle Ages, are a feature of every region, and they guide long-term infrastructural planning. American individualism, on the other hand, has yielded a system in which each municipality has a great deal of autonomy, making regional cooperation difficult. “The vulnerabilities are regional,” said Judith Rodin, the president of the Rockefeller Foundation, which is the main funding organization working with Donovan’s team. “Yet we have individual community rule, and very little incentive to get out of that.”

Shorto brings out the deep historical roots of the Dutch communal approach to water management. But he only briefly waves at another important element of the culture’s relationship with the discipline: the memory of past catastrophes, particularly the 1953 Watersnoodramp, the great flood that displaced tens of thousands of people and covered nearly a tenth of the Netherlands’ agricultural land. The disaster occurred when the North Sea, whipped up by storm winds and swollen with spring tide, overtopped the coastal dikes and ate them out from the vulnerable landward side. They hadn’t been built to resist water from the land. It was a critical vulnerability, the sort of thing that happens when there’s more risk than there is money to meet it.

In the aftermath of the disaster came some of the country’s most dramatic water engineering: the Delta Works, which shortened coastlines, moved the fresh/saltwater lines, and culminated with the massive Oosterscheldekering. It was a terrifically difficult and expensive project: people not only had to adapt to some substantial changes to the landscape, but also pay for their neighbors’ safety. If you live below sea level, the security of the dikes is everyone’s business in the end.

But while we’re clicking around, reading about Ovink and musing about 1953, the internet’s shared defenses have themselves been eaten out from the landward side. Four days ago, a critical vulnerability in OpenSSL, the open-source implementation of the web’s basic security protocols, was announced: Heartbleed.

OpenSSL is one element of the enormous body of open source and free software that keeps the internet going. Its failure is a big problem. Encryption and security matter, not only to keep our private business private and our finances under our control, but also to run our infrastructure. Heartbleed jeopardizes all of these things.

When I put the problem like that, it sounds like the solution is to move away from open source software. But the stuff is pervasive because it works; it’s robust, generally secure, and does what people need done. (And closed source software is not notably better.) OSS is as much a part of the internet as dikes are of the Netherlands. Likewise, online insecurity, like water in these times of climate change, is not going away. We’re going to have to learn to live with both.

I’ve been reading Heartbleed articles by techies as well as journalists, and they’ve been writing about it the way that Ovink talks about water engineering. This article by Dan Kaminsky is the one that really got me thinking about the parallels between the two.

There’s a lot of rigamarole around defense in depth, other languages that OpenSSL could be written in, “provable software”, etc. Everyone, myself included, has some toy that would have fixed this. But you know, word from the Wall Street Journal is that there have been all of $841 in donations to the OpenSSL project to address this matter. We are building the most important technologies for the global economy on shockingly underfunded infrastructure…

And so, finally, we end up with what to learn from Heartbleed. First, we need a new model of Critical Infrastructure protection, one that dedicates real financial resources to the safety and stability of the code our global economy depends on—without attempting to regulate that code to death. And second, we need to actually identify that code.

It’s a good read, even if you don’t know the technologies he discusses. And I think Kaminsky’s thesis is sound: this is critical stuff, and we need to treat it like critical stuff without breaking what put it into that position in the first place (the OSS culture). Which brings me round to Ovink again, in another way: resistance to the cultural foundation upon which the tools to protect us are built.

Samuel Carter, an associate director at the Rockefeller Foundation, underscored that the very concept of regional planning is still a work in progress in the U.S. “A lot of people feel that it goes against the American character,” he said. Ovink experiences that pushback on a regular basis. He told me that not long ago he was in New Jersey talking with residents hit by Sandy who were raising their houses on stilts. He laid out for them a future situation in which, rather than have each homeowner undertake such difficult and expensive work, the community would embrace measures to protect an entire region from flooding. The response, he said, was, “That would be a socialistic approach.”

OSS culture doesn’t get called ‘socialistic’, but it’s self-organizing and anti-capitalist in its own way. Creating a bridge between that and the businesses and regulators who are tasked with managing critical infrastructure is going to require an Ovinkian charm offensive. Patrick McKenzie’s article on What Heartbleed Can Teach The OSS Community About Marketing looks like a useful start. And I’m sure there’s much more smart writing that I haven’t stumbled across; I’m just skimming the community.

The final quote in Shorto’s article seems like a good way to end this one, too:

“It’s a long shot,” Eric Klinenberg said. “The only reason to think it will work is that we know if it fails, we’re essentially doomed.”

(As for Heartbleed? Take it seriously. Test your key sites, and change your passwords when they’re patched. Don’t share passwords across sites. Watch your bank statements and your email notifications of purchases and registrations.)

Thanks to Laura Mixon for the Shorto link and Jan Lehnardt for the Kaminsky and McKenzie ones. Eclectic Twitterfeed is definitely the name of my next band.

April 07, 2014
Captain America: the Winter SPOILERS
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 01:24 PM * 133 comments

So that moment when Cap uses his shield to surf down an oliphant’s back during battle, slaying his attackers with the sparkle of his white teeth? And the bit where Black Widow reveals that she has become the Widow of Many Colors? The moment when it turns out that George R.R. Martin secretly wrote the script and everyone’s dead, including an audience hoping for continuity?

Yeah, those. Discuss ‘em here. And if you don’t want to see spoilers, like that thing with the hedgehog and the needlenose pliers, maybe stay out of the thread.

April 03, 2014
That “International Book Award Contest” ad
Posted by Teresa at 01:52 PM *

Is that “International Book Award Contest” still visible in our ad column? If so, what you need to know is that PNH and I rejected it,* and were surprised to nevertheless find it running on our site. Making Light has a long history of writing about scams aimed at naive authors. We wouldn’t approve an ad for the “International Book Award Contest” on the coldest day ever recorded in Hell.

We’re not pointing the finger of blame at We’ve always had a good working relationship with them. Our expectation is that this is some kind of unintentional screw-up (possibly related to how far Patrick and I are from our normal time zone), and that the ad will presently be removed.

In the meantime, if anyone’s wondering whether Patrick and I approve of the International Book Award Contest: we do not.

(Which is not to imply that Abi, Avram, or Jim do approve; just that they can speak for themselves.)

April 02, 2014
It’s not what you know. It’s not who you know, either. It’s who knows what about you.
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 07:35 PM *

So from the Twitter account of David Graeber (as in Debt, among other things) come the following tweets:

I am sure that there will be people right along to ask how anyone can really know whether he’s being evicted, and if so, whether it is really for the reasons he states. And of course, I don’t know; I’ve never met the guy, and I am not acquainted with his circumstances. I don’t know the functionaries either, nor the officials who ordered them to act. I know that I have seen the tweets, but beyond that, I am out of the world of facts and into one of speculation, inference, and guesswork. So are most of us. Even Graeber himself cannot really know the reasons why anything has happened to him.

But, assuming arguendo that the facts and causes of the matter are exactly as stated, we are back to the matter of knowledge from a different angle: the knowledge of who was involved in Occupy Wall Street from the beginning. And not just abstract knowledge, but usable knowledge on an institutional level, knowledge that can be dispersed and acted upon, both officially and unofficially.

Knowledge is power, and there are people who have more of it than we do. Some work for governments, but some don’t. Call them, if you will, the Powers that Be. We individuals have to filter out our knowledge out of a soup of misdirection, denial, fragments1, and propaganda. TPTB, meanwhile, seem to get their knowledge undiluted at source2.

(Not that they always get good information, nor act on it when they do, mind.)

This imbalance is a palpable problem, not just for Graeber, but for us all. Whether it’s prosecution for the three felonies a day we are all alleged to commit, or mere public humiliation, the risk of abuse by means of knowledge (and the lying pretense of knowlege) is a real engine of fear. I don’t know anyone who has not chosen to do or let be, speak or be silent, with an eye to whom they might piss off and what the consequences could be.

Back when The Wire was new, I was much struck by this speech3. But even then, the choice to overlook the minor crimes of ordinary people passing their evenings in “the poor man’s lounge” seemed more of a dream than a realistic idea. Now it just sounds hopelessly na├»ve, even in such a gritty show. Who is using what is intelligence, to be collected, collated, and kept.

In contrast, there’s a recent novel on the subject of surveilance4 in which the protagonist who knows too much can only escape from the clutches of officialdom by pleading guilty to a minor crime. That rings more true: people in those circumstances are not acquitted in real life. TPTB, even when thwarted, do not let their critics go without a macula, a smudge, to diminish their credibility. The vindictive impulse is universal, but it’s usable knowledge that gives it teeth.

But this desire to know is not limited to the powerful, or I wouldn’t be reading Twitter. And it’s not modern, either. One aspect of Catholic doctrine is the perpetual virginity of Mary: the idea that even after the birth of Jesus, she and Joseph did not have sex. I’ve never been comfortable with that, not because I have an opinion either way, but because it’s an incredibly intrusive thing to have a doctrine about at all.

What’s modern is the amount to which the thirst for knowledge is rewarded, even for hoi polloi. I can read and muse about the troubles of relatively ordinary people I have never met, and about whom I know very little. And that curiosity has led to the kind of indexing and searching technology that allows me to check if their stories have been denied yet, and if so, by which people affiliated with what organizations. I can then research the organizations, and read critiques of the tools I used to do so.

Most of my knowledge may not be actionable, but it sure is interesting.

And at times like this, I think about how the grain for the bread of Rome came from conquered Egypt, and how her circuses were paid for by the tribute of the empire, and how the social structures that permitted the taking and holding of the empire produced the population that needed to be appeased with bread and circuses. The mitigation is the fruit of the problem, as always.

  1. Read to the end of that article. Scary stuff in there.
  2. Another article to read all the way through.
  3. The automated captions on the video are ludicrous. If you prefer to read rather than listen, a transcript of the speech is here.
  4. This is a reverse spoiler. I’m giving away the ending, but not the title. Please follow suit.

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.