Links and Notes for the Week of February 11, 2018

* My partner and I have been spending our Sunday afternoons studying, writing and watching The Mind of a Chef, which is all kinds of distracting and wonderful and a purveyor of the worst kind of wanderlust. Anthony Bourdain is the executive producer and narrator of each episode. Like all of his shows, he makes even the most exotic and high-concept meals accessible (in concept, if not financially) to even the most casual non-foodie viewers.

* I spend a lot of time reading news of the literary world. To keep things organized, I use Feedly, which I picked up after Google shut down its Reader service. This is a partial list of the lit news resources I read: Book Riot, NPR Books, Brain Pickings, Electric Literature, Literary Hub, Locus Online, Publisher’s Lunch, The Millions, New York Review of Books, Tor.com, Words Without Borders, Aerogramme Writers’ Studio.

* Some words: suppose, oppose, impose, depose, compose, transpose

* Metafilter has posted a good catch-all thread discussing a recently published study from the Southern Poverty Law Center: The Alt-Right is Killing People. The post, and many of the comments, provide additional links to stories which add context and nuance to the points discussed. As always with Metafilter, the comments are worth reading.

* I’ve been following The Edge for oh, about fifteen years now. It looks like they may be closing up shop, as they just asked their last question: “What is the last question?” The link goes to the (hundreds of) answers.

* The squealing cowards who oppose gun control have the blood of 32 more people on their hands. The NRA is a terrorist organization and they pull the strings of their lickspittles in the GOP. The emasculated orange coward-in-chief has, of course, done what all Republicans do and is blaming the victims. For a continually up-to-date score of the Republican-sanctioned violence in this country, see the Gun Violence Archive.

* As of the date of publishing this post, I have 631 books catalogued in LibraryThing.

ConFusion 2018: Science Fiction and Philosophy

(These are my lightly edited notes for a panel I attended at the ConFusion Fantasy and Science Fiction Convention in January of 2018)

PANEL: “Science Fiction and Philosophy: Exploring the Connections”

DESCRIPTION: “SF has been called the literature of ideas, and the ideas explored in SF have become increasingly philosophical throughout the history of the genre. What are the most illuminating thought experiments in recent and classic SF? Which philosophical questions do they raise? And how are philosophers in today’s universities employing SF in their teaching and research?”

PANELISTS: Andrea Johnson, Dyrk Ashton, Ken Schrader, Nathan Rockwood

NOTES:

MY THOUGHTS:

This panel was interesting in that so much of the discussion revolved around listing works which address philosophical questions, and not a lot of addressing the questions themselves. This bothered me at first, but on reflection I realize that these panels are meant to be introductions and overviews, not necessarily deep dives into the subject; if for no other reason than that the panels all stand alone, and if two or more share a subject it is only by coincidence. That said, I appreciated the breadth of suggestions, and particularly that they included games. Computer games, if the narrative is sufficiently complex, can be seen as simulations and testing grounds for ideas which are not always easy for an individual to address in the real world.

Links and Notes for the Week of February 4, 2018

* This is how you give an acceptance speech: Ursula Vernon, upon receiving the 2017 Hugo Award for best novelette.

* Some words:
** “gigil” (Tagalog) – the trembling or gritting of the teeth in response to a situation that overwhelms your self-control. The powerful urge to bite or squeeze something cute.
** “Kummerspeck” (German) – lit. “Sorrow fat” or “Sorrow bacon” – the weight gained through stress eating.

* Over at Metafilter (user name: JohnFromGR) there is an excellent catch-all post covering the latest bullshit from the alt-right/neo-nazi contingent of genre fiction and fandom (Sad Puppies, Rabid Puppies, Happy Frogs, GamerGaters, MRAs, etc.).

* Though I have been aware of it for quite some time, I have never used Patreon. That all changed after I attended ConFusion and spoke with a number of writers who fund their writing through Patreon. Since then I have added my support to the efforts and good works of Kameron Hurley (on Patreon) and Apex Publishing (on Patreon). I really like this mode of providing support. It is a good balance to the per-project model of Kickstarter and similar services. Another way to look at it might be to say that it has the same highs and lows as Kickstarter, just smoothed out over a much larger time frame. In any event, a few dollars a month to support great writing in return for the opportunity to read that great writing, is money well spent.

* I have been following the Calvert Journal for a while now. Back in 2016 they ran an article about teens in Transnistria, which introduced me to the concept of states which are minimally recognized as such by other countries. Transnistria has been one such since the collapse of the Soviet Union. They, along with Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Artsakh, created the Community for Democracy and Rights of Nations (Twitter feed). I find places like this interesting because they exist on the edges and in the interstices of power, and thus may be fertile ground for new ideas of politics, sovereignty, autonomy and empire. If they survive.

* In your copious free time, you can amuse yourself with Monster Breeder. Capture monsters. Breed them. Make new monsters!

ConFusion 2018: Immigration and Refuge in Science Fiction

(These are my lightly edited notes for a panel I attended at the ConFusion Fantasy and Science Fiction Convention in January of 2018)

PANEL: Immigration and Refuge in Science Fiction (20 January 2018, 10:00)

DESCRIPTION: “Travel stories are classics in any genre, but in science fiction stories of travelling to a new home are often about colonization, or about intrepid explorers amongst the (primitive) aliens. Let’s talk about the science fiction stories that better reflect the experiences of immigrants and refugees in the real world.”

PANELISTS: Alexandra Manglis, Amal El-Mohtar, David Anthony Durham, John Chu

NOTES:

My thoughts:

There were many important ideas passed around in this panel, particularly in light of the racist, xenophobic, fascist policies of the current (c. 2018) U.S. president and his cabinet. One book which comes to mind which showed the POV of a refugee is What is the What, by Dave Eggers. Neither genre nor quite fiction, but a beautiful book all the same. As for fiction stories, well, I can’t think of any I have read. Not that they are not out there.

Links and Notes for the Week of January 28, 2018

* Some words: Dialogue. Monologue. Analog. Dialect. Lecture. Lector.

* After some years of using GoodReads, I am trying out LibraryThing as a way to catalog all of my books. I can’t say I prefer one to the other, but at first use the LibraryThing UI is easier for viewing large volumes of data. Thus I don’t need to build a custom app to do this for me. Plus plus, the LibraryThing Android App can scan barcodes, which VASTLY simplifies the cataloging process.

* [UPDATE] After a week of using LibraryThing, I can say this: LT is very good as a cataloging system. It lacks some of the “friendliness” of GoodReads, but that is not a criticism. LT also makes sorting, filtering, and categorizing extremely easy. I think I will end up using both in parallel – GoodReads for the more public-facing view of all things literary in my life, and LibraryThing for the catalog of my personal library. LT will also be useful for outputting data for any custom apps I might build down the road.

* I’ve been studying up on Baba Yaga and Russian history for a writing project. One of the odd bits of trivia I have uncovered is that there is a community of Old Believers in a tiny town in northern Minnesota. Old Believers — staroveri (старове́ры), formerly called raskolniki (раскольники), which has interesting connotations vis a vis Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment — have communities all over the world, with the primary U.S. populations being in Alaska, Oregon, and Pennsylvania. Funny, the way the pieces of a story come together.

Links and Notes for the Week of January 21, 2018

* I have personal connections to New Orleans. My dad lived and worked there for many years, from the early 1980s until his passing in 2009. I attended Mardi Gras exactly once in all that time, in 2007. Unfortunately I did not get to experience the Krewe of Barkus, who are all Good Dogs.

* Since some people disagree that they are all Good Dog—and who has time or patience for that malarkey—it is sometimes necessary to clean house on Twitter. I have only recently begun to use Twitter as my primary social media outlet, as, though they are both objectively terrible, Facebook is worse. Barry Ritholtz, who I have been following for about a decade, has recently posted his strategy for dealing with trolls on Twitter. Time will tell if it is effective.

* Though I have subscribed to the RSS feed for a couple of years now, and I have been aware of its existence for somewhat longer, I have just now began listening to the Writing Excuses podcast, starting at Episode 1.1. My plan is to go through all of them in order and get caught up to present by the end of the year.

* Over in the day job, as I study up on React.js (which is actually kind of fun, now that I have played around a bit) I am keeping things interesting by using CSS Grids for structure and layout. In particular the Grid by Example website, created by Rachel Andrew, is a tremendous resource. While writing this post I realized that I met Rachel back in June of 2017 when I attended the O’Reilly Fluent conference in San Jose, California.

* Great googly moogly! Ben Firshman has built an NES emulator in Javascript, including my all-time favorite, Bubble Bobble! So much for productivity until Spring.

Links and Notes for the Week of January 14, 2018

* Back in September of 2016 I took the Amtrak from Grand Rapids to Vancouver via the Empire Builder route. It was a wonderful, contemplative, transcendent experience (blog posts pending). Based on that, and based on this article in the Calvert Journal, I now want to experience the Trans-Siberian Railway. It will also give me an excuse to dust off my Russian skills.

* And speaking of that trip, while in transit, while not watching America roll by, I read Trysting by Emmanuelle Pagano. It is an absolutely beautiful book, recalling all of love and beauty and intimacy and trust and heartache and the million tiny moments that bind people together and pull them apart. I just came across a wonderful review by Lauren Goldberg in Music & Literature which does justice to the most compelling book I have read in years. On a related note, I think I will now buy a subscription to Music & Literature.

* And speaking of Russian stuff, the Speak Russian Like Russians blog is both useful and fun.

* In the world of fandom and literature, author Jim C. Hines (may his beard grow ever longer) has put together an excellent post detailing the long history of Jon del Arroz’s trolling and harassing behavior toward authors, fans and organizations in the larger community. The comments on the article are mostly erudite and informative, though a JdA supporter/GamerGater pulls an impressive amount of sea-lioning to no significant effect.

* The 2018 State of the World conversation over at The Well has wrapped up. It, as well as the many previous conversations in the series, are well worth perusing over the upcoming weeks and months. A hearty thank you to Bruce Sterling, Jon Lebkowsky and all the other participants for opening this to the general public.

Dean Allen, creator of the content management/blogging system Textpattern, has passed away. Allen was one of the biggest influences in my early career as a web developer. I took his thoughts on design and typography to heart, though I was never a designer. His photo blog featuring his Weimaraner Oliver made me want to move to rural France. Allen, along with Eric Meyer and Jeffrey Zeldman, were huge influences as I began my career in web development.

Links and Notes for the Week of January 7, 2018

* Interesting thought experiment: Roko’s Basilisk. To wit, “The premise is that an all-powerful artificial intelligence from the future could retroactively punish those who did not help bring about its existence, including those who merely knew about the possible development of such a being.” See also: America in 2017.

* For the record, this is what happens when toxic masculinity, white privilege and tech-bro douchebaggery combine to create the perfect American asshole. James Damore is a waste of space, skin, time, attention and oxygen.

* Something wonderful: A large (100+!) collection of writers in their writing spaces.

* I follow a few foreign (to me here in the USA) news and cultural feeds. The Calvert Journal recently ran this wonderful overview of pop music from Yugoslavia, circa 1960 – 1990. The Calvert Journal is a wonderful resource. In particular, their New East 100 is worth a few hours of browsing.

* The always-entertaining John Scalzi’s take on Trump’s ongoing racism.

* For the record, here is my stance on Donald Trump: Trump is a racist. Trump is racist. This has been apparent to the entire rational world for decades. If you want to argue this point, I don’t need to provide you with examples of his racist behavior. The simple fact that you want to argue this point demonstrates that you have nothing useful to say.

Links and Notes for the Week of January 1, 2018

Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky are holding their annual State of the World conversation over at The Well. Quite worth following over the next couple of weeks, and bookmarking for reference as the world continues to continue.

Charles Stross gave the keynote speech at the 34th Chaos Communication Congress in December 2017. Transcript here. Video here. Much discussion about the idea of the corporation as artificial intelligence. As always with Stross’s blog, the comments following the transcript are well worth reading.

* At the day job, I am studying up on React.js. After learning and using many versions of jQuery, Backbone, Bootstrap, Angular, Ember, and a host of other frameworks, my emotional reaction to React can be summed up as “eh”. The ennui of the Javascript developer.

* Over at File770, we learned that Rabid Puppy ally Jonathan Del Arroz has been banned from the next WorldCon due to his extremely bad behavior and threats of disrupting the con. This is merely another in the ongoing trend of Puppy-aligned writers and fans running aground on the cold rocks of the rational, adult-behaving world.

* During a quiet moment I looked around the interwebs to see if any other countries had the misfortune of having a leader like Trump. As it turns out, there is one! Turkmenistan has the great good fortune of being led by one Gurbanguly Mälikgulyýewiç Berdimuhamedow, who has recently outlawed black cars in his country, and who has had made a giant statue of himself riding a golden horse. Also he is a dictator and runs one of the most repressive regimes on the planet.

Issues: Preamble

Before I dive into the mosh pit of American and worldwide events I feel it is important to state my starting position. This will provide context for my positions on topics like politics, religion, economics, environmentalism, and so on.

I am a straight Caucasian male. I was born in June of 1969, which makes me a member of Generation X. Politically, I am a hodge-podge of liberal, socialist, anarchist and Green. Religiously I am predominantly Buddhist, with a strong dash of Taoism and sprinklings of Eastern Orthodox mysticism. I have a college degree and a good job as a programmer. My life is stable enough for me to occasionally feel genuinely bored.

As a straight white dude I am overwhelmingly on the side of hegemony in the United States. Every benefit it is possible to accrue simply by being born white and straight and a dude, I have accrued. In the past twenty years and eight jobs I have only *really* had to fill out a resume once. The only way I could more closely hew to the current odious version of the American Dream would be for me to be conservative and Christian.

Those last two points? Never gonna happen.

I recognize how privileged my life is, and how little I have had to work, comparatively, to make it so. The system is set up specifically for people like me, and specifically against people who are not like me. And that fact nauseates me.

As a nerdy kid in a small farm town I was bullied regularly. Not badly, compared to the suicide-inducing standards of today, but consistently. That led directly to my lifelong practice of martial arts, and to my lifelong–and steadily increasing–hatred of bullies and bullying. For the purpose of any discussion along those lines, I will define bullying simply as punching down from a position of strength. And since this is my blog, I will be the sole determiner in these discussions as to what constitutes punching down.

To go along with that definition, I also have three general rules or guidelines or aphorisms that I try to keep front-and-center:

  1. There is no such thing as an over-reaction to being bullied.
  2. In any particular situation, if you take the side of hegemony, the only direction you can punch is down.
  3. When in doubt, err on the side of compassion.

I agree that the third point is incongruous with the first two. So be it. I contain multitudes. And sometimes pie.