Tuesday, August 31, 2010


This is an Israeli commercial for high definition TV, which Patrick found on youtube. It is hard to comment.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Astronomy Photo of the Day

Could life once have survived on Mars? Today, neither animal nor plant life from Earth could survive for very long on Mars because at least one key ingredient -- liquid water -- is essentially absent on the red planet's rusty surface. Although evidence from the martian rovers indicates that long ago Mars might once have had liquid water on its surface, that water might also have been too acidic for familiar life forms to thrive. Recently, however, a newly detailed analysis of an unusual outcropping of rock and soil chanced upon in 2005 by the robotic Spirit rover has uncovered a clue indicating that not all of Mars was always so acidic. The mound in question, dubbed Comanche Outcrop and visible near the top of the above image, appears to contain unusually high concentrations of elements such as magnesium iron carbonate. The above image is shown in colors exaggerated to highlight the differences in composition. Since these carbonates dissolve in acid, the persistence of these mounds indicates that water perhaps less acidic and more favorable for life might have once flowed across Mars. More detailed analyses and searches for other signs will surely continue.

As always, courtesy of NASA. Our tax dollars at work.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

On to Ordinary Events...

Yesterday was the farmers market and a visit with a friend. I also cleared out the magazine racks, which get full quickly, due to catalogs and New Scientist. Today will be packing manuscripts to be sent to the Northern Illinois science fiction archive and filing and then a trip to a coffee house to write. The weather is bright and hot.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Paul Krugman is Depressed Today

This is from his blog at the New York Times:

I’m finding it hard to read about politics these days. I still don’t think people in the administration understand the magnitude of the catastrophe their excessive caution has created. I keep waiting for Obama to do something, something, to shake things up; but it never seems to happen.

Here’s what I wrote in February 2009... It’s pretty rich that now the usual suspects are accusing me of having shared the administration’s optimism. But that’s a trivial point; the important thing is that all signs are that the next few years will be a combination of economic stagnation and political witch-hunt.

This is going to be almost inconceivably ugly.

What Krugman wrote in February 2009 was an essay on America's failure to rise to the occasion of a huge economic crisis. The stimulus package was too small. The government was doing too little.

What hit me in today's post was the first paragraph: Krugman's sense that the government is utterly clueless. I have the same impression. It's nice to be in good company.

And the last two lines of his post really hit me.

Note a day later:

Compare this to the previous post, which is Grace Lee Boggs at the age of 95, still full of energy. I am a great fan of Krugman. His gift for popular writing about economics is remarkable, and he seems to be a decent man. But he doesn't think outside the box, and that (I suspect) encourages despair.

This are disturbing times, and we really do need to think in unconventional ways.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

An Essay by Grace Lee Boggs in Common Dreams

I won't be marching with Jesse Jackson in the March called by the UAW and the NAACP to commemorate the August 28, 1963 March on Washington.

That's not only because at 95 my marching days are over.

As early as 1963, Malcolm X called the "I have a Dream" March a "Farce on Washington" because John Lewis had been forced to delete from his speech any references to Revolution and Power by the MOW's "Big 6" organizers: A. Philip Randolph, Dr. King/SCLC, Roy Wilkins/ NAACP, James Farmer/CORE, Whitney Young/Urban League, John Lewis/SNCC.

Marchers were also instructed to carry only official signs and allowed to sing only one song ‘We shall overcome,' (see p. 127, Living for Change).

Malcolm never put lipstick on a pig. Malcolm thought outside the box. If he were alive NOW, he would be telling us that we should no longer be marching. We should no longer be protesting. We should no longer be dreaming. We should no longer be encouraging democratic illusions.

• WHEN millions of Americans do not have meaningful work,
• WHEN as a result of our obsession with economic growth, wildfires in Russia burn dangerously close to nuclear plants and millions drown from floods and mudslides in Pakistan, China and Iowa,
• WHEN Congress decides to cut back food stamps for the poor and hungry in order to provide paychecks for public employees because trillions are being thrown away on unwinnable wars in the Middle East and military bases around the world,
• WHEN our cities are dying because corporations are exporting jobs oversea to make bigger profits,
• WHEN our prison population is the highest in the world because our schools structured in the factory age have become pipelines to prison,


Instead in every community and city we should be discussing how to make the "Radical Revolution of Values" not only against Racism but against Materialism and Militarism that Dr. King called for in his 1967 anti-Vietnam war speech.

King's call for this "Radical Revolution" came only four years after his 1963 "I have a Dream" speech. But in those few years, youth in Watts, California and other cities had risen in Rebellion. In Chicago King and anti-racist marchers had experienced the raw ugliness of Northern racism. The genocidal war in Vietnam had exposed our country as the world's worst purveyor of violence and on the wrong side of the world revolution.

That is why in 1967 King decided that the time had come to warn the American people that unless we make a Radical Revolution in Values, we face spiritual death.

In 2010, 42 years later, we are experiencing massive physical and spiritual death.

Why are we STILL marching and dreaming?

Why are we not making a "radical revolution in values"?

Why are we STILL obsessed with economic growth?

Why are we STILL allowing corporations to deprive us of jobs by replacing human beings on the line with robots and by exporting jobs overseas to make greater profits?

Why are we STILL accepting the dictatorship of technology and of corporations?


• slow down global warming by building sustainable local economies and by living more simply.

• reject the dictatorship of technology so that it is no longer normal and natural to replace human beings with robots.

• stop corporations from exporting jobs overseas.

• end factory-type schooling and start engaging schoolchildren in local community rebuilding.



Tuesday, August 24, 2010


I have not been productive since the great Carpeting Event. The reshelving is mostly done, along with some housecleaning: the bathroom yesterday, some dusting and furniture polishing, vaccuming in the living room, though that was done by the roomba.

But I still have filing and writing to finish. Lots of writing.

I think I will go to the local coffee shop and write and plan my week. I often plan work instead of doing it. Alas!

Astronomy Photo of the Day

What's the matter with this cluster of galaxies? To find out what forms matter takes in the Abell 1689 cluster requires not only deep images from telescopes like the Hubble Space Telescope, but detailed computer modeling as well. To start, almost every fuzzy yellow patch in the above image is an entire galaxy. A close inspection, however, shows that many background galaxies are strangely magnified and distorted into long curving arcs by the gravitational lens deflections of the cluster. Computer analyses of the placement and smoothness of these arcs indicate that in addition to the matter in the galaxies you can see, the cluster must also contain a significant amount of dark matter such as the model digitally superposed in purple. Now Abell 1689 remains enigmatic because the arcs are so numerous and diverse that no single dark matter model has emerged that can explain them all and still remain consistent with dark matter models needed to constrain their motion. Still, the detailed information available from clusters of galaxies like Abell 1689 gives hope that one day full solutions will be found that will not only fully reveal the dark matter in clusters, but also reveal the amounts of dark energy in the universe needed to lie along the line of sight to the distant arcs.

The Astonomy Photo of the Day website has published NASA photos for two days running. Since these are government products, our tax dollars at work, and not copyrighted, I am able to copy them. So here are two days in a row of wonderful images of the stars.

I have trouble with dark matter. It is a kind of plug, created to explain phenomena like this. I feel the same way about dark energy. The dark is in both names, in part because no one is sure what exactly the stuff is, and so far no one has figured out a way to prove its -- or their -- existence. This is very close to aether.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Astronomy Photo of the Day

Is this one galaxy or two? This question came to light in 1950 when astronomer Art Hoag chanced upon this unusual extragalactic object. On the outside is a ring dominated by bright blue stars, while near the center lies a ball of much redder stars that are likely much older. Between the two is a gap that appears almost completely dark. How Hoag's Object formed remains unknown, although similar objects have now been identified and collectively labeled as a form of ring galaxy. Genesis hypotheses include a galaxy collision billions of years ago and the gravitational affect of a central bar that has since vanished. The above photo taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in July 2001 reveals unprecedented details of Hoag's Object and may yield a better understanding. Hoag's Object spans about 100,000 light years and lies about 600 million light years away toward the constellation of the Snake (Serpens). Coincidentally, visible in the gap (at about one o'clock) is yet another ring galaxy that likely lies far in the distance.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Thursday, August 19

I went to the bank and the library, then to a coffee house to read. I got comfort books at the library, nice stories about nice people. The plan for the rest of the day is reading, some filing and some cleaning.

I walked along the rvier for a while and saw two two boats, the Prosperity out of the Port of St. Louis and the J.W. Hershey out of Jeffersonville, Indiana. Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera with me, so I have no photos.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


"Mammoths" and Tomb got an awesome review in Strange Horizons. It's one of those reviews one dreams of, where the reviewer really gets what one has tried to do. I can point to it and say, "You want to know what these stories are about? Read this."


Taken all in all, this has been a good day. I wasted yesterday and felt bad about it. Today I exercised, then met with Lyda Morehouse and her six-year-old son to write. Mason gave me a suggestion on how to solve a problem in the current story, which I will take seriously. I've read a good review and gotten some good writing done; and I am feeling much happier than yesterday.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Cooperative Venture

This is the tow boat Cooperative Venture out of St. Louis, MO, docked at Lambert's Landing in St. Paul.


Our hoya is getting ready to bloom again. This is from the last time.

Untitled Poem

This is one of those days
when you write and unwrite.
Nothing seems true.
Everything is pretentious
and dishonest.

Even this poem is full
of abstract nouns
and verbs that say nothing.
Only ‘write’ is active,
and it isn’t enough.

Note: I took this poem to my poetry writing group, and the people there suggested I change 'say' to 'do' in the next to last line. I am not sure. The poem is about the failure of words, an inability to say. I thought of changing 'say' to 'mean,' since 'mean' is not an active verb. 'Say' is. I will continue thinking about this.

Astronomy Post of the Day

Why are some hills on Mars so layered? The answer is still under investigation. Clearly, dark windblown sand surrounds outcropping of light sedimentary rock across the floor of crater Arabia Terra. The light rock clearly appears structured into many layers, the lowest of which is likely very old. Although the dark sand forms dunes, rippled dunes of lighter colored sand are easier to see surrounding the stepped mesas. Blown sand possibly itself eroded once-larger mesas into the layered hills. Most of the layered shelves are wide enough to drive a truck around. The above image, showing an area about 3 kilometers across, was taken in 2003 October by the now defunct Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft orbiting Mars.

Friday, August 13, 2010


The Great Re-carpeting is almost done. The books are reshelved. The doodads and objets d'art are mostly back in place. I still have four bags of papers to go through. I pulled them off my desk, and I don't want to them to go back on the desk.

I've decided to buy two small file cabinets and put them in my large closet. The papers will go into the file cabinets or into a shredder. My desk top will have a computer, a printer, bills to be paid and manuscripts I'm working on. Everything else will be in the closet.

Patrick made some real changes in his room. My room and the living room are pretty much the same as before, except things have been dusted.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Creative Job Search

Patrick took a two-day class on "Creative Job Search" at the state Workforce Center. He had a conversation with the instructor at the lunch break today. She told him she likes her job, but it really bothers her to know that 25% of the people in her classes will never work again. "They've created an underclass, and they expect us to fix it."

She said the hardest part was the young kids who've lost their jobs at McDonalds, and aren't going to work again. "In five years there won't be entry level jobs. They'll have shipped them all overseas."

(Some of the service jobs will remain, though I don't know how many. Eating out is discretionary. So is most shopping. How many people will be able to eat out or shop for entertainment?)

Pat told the instructor he felt incredibly lucky that he'll be able to retire soon. If he was 40 with his skills, he'd be terrified.

One of the guys Patrick was partnered with lost his job at a factory where he'd been working for decades. He is utterly unprepared for this job market.

The other guy is planning to hang on for two years until he can collect his military pension. Like Pat, he is lucky. He can retire soon.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Astronomy Photo of the Day

What's lighting up nebula IRAS 05437+2502? No one is sure. Particularly enigmatic is the bright upside-down V that defines the upper edge of this floating mountain of interstellar dust, visible near the image center. In general, this ghost-like nebula involves a small star forming region filled with dark dust that was first noted in images taken by the IRAS satellite in infrared light in 1983. Shown above is a spectacular, recently released image from the Hubble Space Telescope that, although showing many new details, has not uncovered a clear cause of the bright sharp arc. One hypothesis holds that the glowing arc was created by a massive star that somehow attained a high velocity and has now left the nebula. Small, faint IRAS 05437+2502 spans only 1/18th of a full moon toward the constellation of the Bull (Taurus).

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Astronomy Photo of the Day

Two hours before closest approach to Neptune in 1989, the Voyager 2 robot spacecraft snapped this picture. Clearly visible for the first time were long light-colored cirrus-type clouds floating high in Neptune's atmosphere. Shadows of these clouds can even be seen on lower cloud decks. Most of Neptune's atmosphere is made of hydrogen and helium, which is invisible. Neptune's blue color therefore comes from smaller amounts of atmospheric methane, which preferentially absorbs red light. Neptune has the fastest winds in the Solar System, with gusts reaching 2000 kilometers per hour. Speculation holds that diamonds may be created in the dense hot conditions that exist under the clouds-tops of Uranus and Neptune.

We get damaging winds and hail in Minnesota in the summer. Neptune would have very damaging winds and diamonds.


I had a short novel (or long novella) published in May, 2010. It has gotten several very nice reviews. But one of the reviews made me crazy, because it said the story was fluff.

I mentioned this to Mike Levy and he said, "Well, it is fluff. There is no character development." Or words to that effect.

The story is about a planet where one sex has enslaved and exterminated the other sex. Because the surviving sex, the murderers, are female and capable of parthenogenesis, they survive. But their culture is not nice. Among other things, they have created a second intelligent species, which they exploit and eat.

Now maybe I need to think about what "fluff" means.

I just checked Dictionary.com. Fluff is "something of no consequence: The book is pure fluff, but fun to read."

No, I would say the story does have some consequence. It's about the failure of nurture, what happens when a culture devalues care, as our culture in the US is doing right now.

However, it is also a parody of space opera and first contact stories; and this may be the problem. I am talking about something serious within a plot which is a joke, and that may send a mixed message. As a rule, one should avoid irony, ambiguity and mixed messages in science fiction and fantasy. (Though come of think of it, the 1950s short story writers I loved used plenty of irony, ambiguity and humor, along with terror and horror. Well, that was long ago.)

Mike is right. I don't think there's much character development. My characters sail into an awful situation and are horrified by it. Then they are rescued and sail out.

I guess I would argue (a) most plots are a joke, because they are nothing like life; and (b) a lot of life simply happens. It doesn't have the structure of a plot; and it doesn't have the meaning of a plot. While it certainly changes us, it does not necessarily change us in a meaningful way.

There are things we can learn from life. Psychology, biology, the social sciences all illuminate our lives for us. But this isn't the kind of meaningful meaning we seem to want.

I am often baffled by the responses my stories get, and I guess this is another example. I think this particular tale is more good than bad. I would have liked more time to tinker with it, but I don't think the problem is fluffiness.

Ah, what the hell. It's light summer reading about slavery, the eating of intelligent life forms, and holocaust.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Who Needs A Publisher

A neat article from Newsweek on people who are self-publishing on Kindle and making it work. One guy, who had been turned down by every possible print publisher, ended up selling 4,000 books a week on Kindle and was picked up by Simon and Schuster. Another guy is making $100,000 a year. By eliminating the publisher, he can sell books for $2.99 and make a profit.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Publishing 1

Norman Spinrad has done a couple of posts on publishing recently. One was interesting, in that it told me things I didn't know. According to him, bookstores "buy to net," which leads to "the death spiral of publishing."

Suppose Barnes & Noble orders 10,000 copies of a book, and 80% sell. This is pretty good, especially considering they can return the unsold copies for credit, unlike every other kind of retailer. When a new book by the author comes out, the buyer at B&N looks at the records and says, "This author sold 8,000 copies last time. We will order 8,000 this time." Now it isn't likely that every single copy of a book will sell. Maybe some copies are left in the back room or displayed in the wrong place or end behind another book. So this time 90% of the copies sell, which is very good. So when book number three comes out, B&N orders 7,200 copies. And so it goes...

I don't know if B&N reorders. I was told years ago that B. Dalton did not. If a book sold out in a store, that was it. This makes sense, if ordering is done chain-wide. Doing well locally or in a few stores would not make an impact.

(Lyda Morehouse says she was told the problem is space. The chains have lots of books and limited space. It doesn't make sense to restock an old book, rather than bringing in a new book.)

Anyway, all of that was interesting.

Publishing 2

Spinrad then did a second post on how one of his novels got really bad treatment from the big New York house Alfred Knopf.

I posted this on facebook:
Spinrad's horror story is pretty ordinary, except that he was dealing with a 'literary' press, whose people thought they were better than those tacky sf publishers and editors. The snobbery and lack of courtesy sounds seriously angering; and the sub-under-editor he was dealing with sounds far less competent than any sf editor I have ever met. The other stuff -- a bad cover, lack of marketing, a publication date that was shifted into a dead month -- sounds not unusual. My take, which could be wrong, is they didn't pay a huge amount for his book (though his advance was far more than I have ever gotten) and they weren't paying much attention to it. But it's really hard to see a book handled badly and realize that there's no malice, just lack of attention.

A lot of authors have stories about bad covers. I have some, which I am not going to tell, because they make me angry even after many years.

A lot of authors have stories about lack of marketing. My impression is, the average science fiction book is dropped over the side to float or sink on its own. It may get an ad in Locus, but nothing other than that. If it does okay, the publisher may buy another book from the author. If not, not.

Maybe -- as I suggest above -- Spinrad's advance of $75,000 was not enough to justify serious marketing. According to him, he was promised a half page ad in New York Review of Books and did not get it; and the publisher had no interest in sending him on a book tour.

I did some quick checking via Google and discovered that Tom Clancy got $45 million for a two-book contract in 2001. The same year Michael Crichton got $40 million for a two-book contract. This is serious money, and the publishers will work hard to recover it. $75,000 is a lot less, though boy I would love to have it.

Spinrad's novel did not do well, and Knopf was not interested in his next book. Spinrad thinks the experience ruined his chance of selling in the US. It sounds like a bad experience, and I can understand why he is upset.

But in a lot of ways I thought his description of his trials was in the same class as "sun rises in east" and "rain makes most people wet."

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Science Fiction

You have to remember, I write science fiction, and science fiction is naturally melodramatic and extreme... It asks two great questions, "What if?" and "If this goes on?" And it wants its answers -- its disasters -- to be big enough to be visible and understood.

Is this depressing? Not necessarily. There is a line that comes (I think) from Isaac Asimov. It may be the great statement of science fiction. "There will be a future, and it will be different."

This statement can be set in opposition to Francis Fukayama's stupid argument that history came to an end after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and to Margaret Thatcher's terrifying statement that "There is no alternative" to the status quo.

As long as there is life, there is change and therefore history; and as long as there is life, there are alternatives.

So Far, So Good

Paul Krugman says that the guys in charge -- the administration, Congress and the Fed -- seem to have decided 10% unemployment is okay, and we can just let the economy perk along at the current speed.

The question is, can it continue at the current speed? Or will it move more or more slowly, descending into an ever deeper recession?

Or will there be more speculative bubbles like the 1990s tech bubble and the recent weird financial instruments bubble that blew up in 2007-2008?

We might have both, a slowly shrinking "real" economy, with speculative bubbles swelling and exploding on top, threatening to destroy the world banking system each time they pop...

I posted this on facebook a day or so ago:
Eleanor Arnason has had a slow, low energy day. She has depressed herself by reading political and economic blogs; and she suddenly realized what current political and economic news reminds her of: the story of the guy who falls off the top of the Empire State Building; and as he's passing the second floor, someone in an office with an open window hears him say, "So far, so good."
See post above.

Other High Points of Diversacon

Mike Levy said that "Mammoths of the Great Plains" is "one of the best tales of alternative history I've ever read." I can quote exactly, because the comment is on his handout for the Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy panel. I will probably frame the handout.

And Sandy Lindow said (in facebook) about seeing me at Diversacon, "I get the feeling that you are in an amazing part of your life. Retirement becomes you. You seem more vital than you have in years."

This second comment needs to be in cross stitch or maybe on a Chinese fortune cookie slip of paper.

I have been feeling really ambivalent about not working, happy to have the free time, but also scared by the idea of being old enough to retire. Of course, this economy is retiring many people of many ages...

I am still looking for work, but after more than a year, I don't expect to find any. When I started, I got a number of interviews. Now, these no longer happen. I suspect prospective employers look at my resume and say, "This woman has been out of work too long."


I went to Diversacon this past weekend. It's a small con. It peaked as 200 members a number of years ago and now is somewhere under a 100. Very quiet, but for me very pleasant. The guests this year were Bill Wu and Rob Chilson, whom I had not seen for more than 20 years. They are sf and fantasy writers much like me. We've been around a long time. We've never hit it big. We keep trucking.

Mark Rich, Mike Levy and Sandy Lindow were there from Wisconsin. Mark is a science fiction writer, poet and author of a biography of Cyril Kornbluth which is apparently excellent. I am going to buy it, though it costs $40. Sandy is a poet. Mike is a scholar and reviewer for Publisher's Weekly, among other publications.

I could keep going. The con was full of people I've known for decades... Grey Johnson, who reviews for New York Review of Science Fiction and SF Site; Dave Lenander, who founded the Rivendell fantasy discussion group 30+ years ago and has been active in the Mythopoeic Society for an equally long period; Phyllis Anne Karr, a fantasy writer from Wisconsin; Martha Hood, a writer from California, who comes every year. She has published in Tales of the Unanticipated, a local Twin Cities sf magazine... Greg said he needed to get a copy of Mammoths of the Great Plains, a chapbook of my work published in May of this year. So I gave him a copy, and maybe he will review it.

Over the years I have become friends with a number of people who do reviews and scholarly essays. These are all honorable people. They won't say kind words about my work because they like me. But they are likely to look at a book with my name on it; and if they like it, they will review it.

These kinds of friendships do not sell books or make one famous, but I like the regard of people I respect, and I like positive reviews.

One thing about reviewers who are friends. If they don't like something I have written, they simply don't review it. They don't write, "This is the worst garbage it has been my misfortune to read..."

I was commuting to the con from my apartment, so I did not attend parties. The high points for me were the panels on current adult science fiction and fantasy and current YA science fiction and fantasy. Mike and Greg were on the first panel. Mike and Dave Lenander were on the second. I also liked the poetry reading, done by a group including Sandy, John Rezmerski, Ruth Berman, Terry Garey and Mark Rich. (I am missing a couple of names. They may come to me.) And I liked the panels on mermaids and on rats in science fiction and fantasy.

Astronomy, Heat and Packing

The astronomy picture of the day is awesome, but copyrighted. The predicted high is 90 F. I am going to stay inside and pack books for the big move Thursday. I don't remember if I have mentioned it before, and I'm not going back and re-reading myself. We are having the apartment re-carpeted, which means moving everything out of the living room into the bedrooms, then out of the bedrooms and into the living room, while the new carpet is laid. Fortunately, the hall, kitchen and bathrooms do not have carpet...

Anyway, due to books and knickknacks, this is a somewhat big deal. Once it is done -- the carpeting will be complete by evening on Monday -- I can get back to writing.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Photo of the Day from NASA

What's causing those strange dark streaks in the rings of Saturn? Prometheus. Specifically, an orbital dance involving Saturn's moon Prometheus keeps creating unusual light and dark streamers in the F-Ring of Saturn. Now Prometheus orbits Saturn just inside the thin F-ring, but ventures into its inner edge about every 15 hours. Prometheus' gravity then pulls the closest ring particles toward the 80-km moon. The result is not only a stream of bright ring particles but also a dark ribbon where ring particles used to be. Since Prometheus orbits faster than the ring particles, the icy moon pulls out a new streamer every pass. Above, several streamers or kinks are visible at once. The above photograph was taken in June by the robotic Cassini Spacecraft orbiting Saturn. The oblong moon Prometheus is visible on the far left.