Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Finished one short yesterday, but am now not sure what to do with it. I discovered something about the market I was going to send it to that made me wary. (New writers, be everything twice or three times).

Finished the draft of another today. So I'm doing pretty well, even with all the non-fiction I'm squeezing in as well. Both glad and disappointed that summer is almost over.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


There's often a lot of talk in writing circles about minimizing distractions. Turning off the internet, or blocking certain sites, or... what do you do when its the research you're doing for an article that distracts you. Earlier today, a 400 word article about cruise ship liability turned into about an hour reading up on fascinating intricacies of maritime law as it applies to cruise ship passengers. And then I was trying to write about invasive species and came across...this:

How the heck do you minimize distractions when it's stuff directly related to what you're writing? (continues to studiously avoid a site on Regency society somebody linked on G+ earlier).

Yeah. Mini-rant. But, seriously...I lose.

Monday, August 29, 2011


I'm now on, but am waiting to find out if they'll allow me to claim my author profile (I wouldn't think there'd be a problem for a small fish like me).

Please note that my 'library' there is nowhere close to finished. I'm having to do it a bit at a time so it doesn't interfere with the far more important task of writing fiction and articles.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Libertarianism, Economic Crises, and the Future

I'm going to be honest. I like the idea of being a libertarian. I like the concept that maybe, just maybe, people can be trusted to be responsible for themselves. I like the idea of smaller government, although I'm not sure exactly how to achieve it. I like the idea of paying fewer taxes...but what about all the people who would lose their jobs?

Truth is, government cuts affect real people. Some of whom are my friends. Of course, the ideal of libertarianism is that anyone who tries should be able to get a job, and if they can't, they just aren't trying (with exceptions for the profoundly disabled).

Which is a nice idea. It's a great idea. It's a great image that 'anyone who tries should be able to get a job'.

Here's where it runs up against reality.

Reality: Most modern factories are highly automated. They require a small number of highly-trained workers.

Reality: The local pharmacy now has two counters for actual cashiers, and I've never seen them both occupied. There are six U-scan units. I know people have been fired in favor of the machines.

Reality: There are more people every day. There are fewer jobs every day.

I want to believe in a world where everyone can step forward, be proud, work for a living and survive. But for that, there needs to be a labor shortage. We currently live in a world with a labor surplus.

Now, that may not be such a bad thing. Cities could only start when agriculture developed to the point where farming had a labor surplus. A labor surplus is an incredible resource. The problem is that our society exists in the industrial paradigm. You work and you get to eat or you don't work and you either don't get to eat or live as a beggar. At the same time, we live in a world of plenty.

So, what about a different in which everyone gets their basic needs and only has to work for the extras. We almost have the technology to do it. Except...

...that's Marxism. Marxism does not work at any level above that of the kibbutz, commune or monastery. Unless, of course, Marx was actually spot on with his theory of history and the communists failed because the technology was not there yet. Now there's a scary thought, isn't there.

So. How do you reconcile libertarian philosophy with a labor surplus? The immediate answer is that you can't. A libertarian society requires a labor shortage.

Except that's the in the box answer. It's not the science fiction writer's answer.

The science fiction writer's answer is that we, as a society, should both move away from the employment paradigm into one that makes sense for a post-industrial society and find a use and place for the surplus labor. When Europe had a labor surplus, they colonized America. Oh, but there's no America new world.

Wrong. We do have a New World to colonize. We have the technology. We are very close to having a drug that protects humans from the effects of long-term exposure to space. And we have the labor surplus.

We have the hard working people who want to live, want to build, but are trapped because there aren't enough jobs, or the jobs there are don't pay a living wage.

And we have a new world that's not much further away, with the right launch window, than America was for the men and women of the Mayflower and her sisters. Those men and women used state of the art technology, and they willingly took a leap of faith. A shot in the dark to get a better in which they knew they would have to work hard. Sure, they were also fleeing religious persecution, but there were other issues. Land shortage. Shortage of jobs. A labor surplus.

I suspect that there are many people out there who would, if given the chance, if the door was opened only a crack, willingly take the same leap of faith and risk a one way trip to a new world. One where they would have to work even harder, for it is not a new world that is green and pleasant and there are no natives to learn from and exploit.

The answer to having a truly free society without going down the path to Communism (although I'm not averse to a bit of well-placed Socialism) and to resolving our labor surplus problems is also good for the human race. It would teach us, once more, that to build society and make history, men and women and, yes, even children, must take risks. It would remind us that what we are is a curious, upright ape that climbs the hill just to see what's in the next valley.

Everyone out there is saying that society needs to retrench. Roll back. Not spend money. Huddle together until the crisis passes. They're wrong.

Our society is at a crisis point, and if we retrench and roll back, we become Rome. If we go up and out, then we become the future of humanity.

So. How about it. Who out there is young, healthy, ready to start a family and willing to take a one way trip of about six weeks? You'd end up in a place where you had to make not just your food, but your air and water. The weather is awful. But your children would not be sucking off of some welfare teat but standing proud as citizens of a new world.

Who out there would be willing to take a one way Mars.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

First earthquakes...

...and now battening down for a hurricane. I'm starting to think we have a ticked off storm god somewhere. There are people working on the roof. I hope we don't have quake damage...I live on the top floor and don't want to deal with any leaks, although I would think the rain we just had would find them.

All of this is making it real hard to concentrate on work.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Shake, Rattle and Roll...

A few minutes before 2pm this afternoon an earthquake reported first as 5.8 and then at 5.9 (the USGS site is now showing 5.8 again, but we'll see what we'll finally get) hit Mineral VA, about 80 miles southwest of my location.

I was in the shower. No kidding. The best way I can describe it is that the bathtub vibrated and became almost liquid. At the same time it sounded like somebody had grabbed the entire wall between my apartment and the corridor and was trying to shake it open. With undertones of jackhammer.

The epicenter was in a mildly active area that occasionally gets a magnitude 4, but this is a very unusual event. There is some minor cosmetic damage to my bath tub, but I have electricity, gas and telecommunications and the building itself seems to be undamaged.

It says something about my priorities that I hit the manual backup button to send all of my writing to my offside backup before leaving the building...doesn't it. Ahem.

In any case, no real significant damage done. Except a little bit to my nerves.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The right to take risk...

Two things triggered this blog post.

The first was that when I went pony trekking in England, they would not allow my husband to canter his horse. He is a perfectly safe and competent rider, but he did not check all of their required boxes...specifically, I suspect it was because he hasn't ridden in a little while.

The reason? 'Health and safety/insurance won't let us do it'.

And I'd always thought of England as more sensible about such things.

The second trigger point was an article in the Washington Post about a diagnotician...a real life Doctor House who stated that he is often unable to treat patients once he has established their condition. Why? Because he isn't allowed to use a remedy not approved by the FDA. No matter what.

Let's look at number two first. If somebody is dying and there is a potential cure, our society will not let them try it unless it is proved to be safe. Now, if you're going to die anyway, why not take the risk of a cure that might work or might kill you (or your child)? No. Much better to accept only 'standard treatments' and let people die. I read an editorial by the good Dr. Schmidt saying he would like to see licensed quacks...medical professionals with the legal right to attempt untested and unproven treatments on fully consenting patients.

As for number one, if I fall off a horse and hurt myself, that is my fault. If it happens, it happens despite safety equipment and correct fall training, so I would have to be fairly unlucky. It is not my trainer's fault, or the owner of the horse's fault (and I have heard a good number of horror stories wherein somebody has had to watch a good friend sued out of business by their health insurance company entirely against their wishes).

What it boils down to, though, is that we don't trust people to make their own decisions and judgments any more. As a result, people can't assess risk. They become paralyzed when forced to do so.

I would, thus, argue for a right to take risk. This means the right to sign a waiver and have it be binding, so that a provider of unproven medical care or risky activities is in no danger of being sued. It means the right to do whatever we want with our own bodies regardless of how dangerous it is. It's a right to smoke, drink, take drugs, get on a horse, go sailing, or try a last ditch cancer treatment. We need all of those rights, and all of those rights go together. They can't be separated.

I'm not entirely against safety legislation. People who are working should be provided with safety equipment and providers of risky activities should be legally obligated to make standard safety equipment available to their customers. Children should not be on bikes, horses, or skateboards without helmets. But each and every adult should be legally permitted to assess risk for him or herself and make a reasoned decision. After all, we are supposed to be Thinking Man.

Friday, August 19, 2011


Just upgraded my Mac to Lion. Still getting used to its quirks. Pretty good so far, but seriously, Apple, what was with getting rid of the scroll arrows?

Everything else is pretty sweet, although now I have to reinstall XCode. Sigh.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Your Best Shot

So, there I was on the Llandudno Promenade when I heard a roar. If you have ever heard a high performance jet aircraft, you won't mistake it for anything else. Needless to say, I looked up... time to see the Red Arrows roaring towards the beach. For those who don't know, this is the RAF's equivalent of the Blue Angels. They were coming in fairly low and reasonably fast, and I only had seconds to react. I pulled out my camera and snapped a shot, then said to my husband, "Not a chance."

I meant not a chance that the photo would come out. I only have a little snapshot camera, and I'm only a 'reasonably competent' photographer. But when I got back home and cataloged the photos, I found this:

Not bad for a little snapshot camera! I couldn't believe it actually worked.

What does this have to do with writing? A lot of people are afraid to submit to major magazines. They will never get accepted. To which I say, you have no chance of being accepted if you don't submit. I would have had no chance of getting that picture if I'd reacted as many people would and refused to believe there was a chance of making the shot.

So, take your best shot. It doesn't cost much and you never know what might happen.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Thoughts on education and equality

No, I'm not...exactly...digressing into politics. Or rather, I wish this didn't have to sail close to the politics wind.

A group of education superintendents in Virginia got tired of having to teach every child what, and often only what, is needed to pass the standardized tests. They suggested moving the tests earlier in the year. The children who passed could then move on to some real learning, and the ones who failed would receive remedial training and get a retake.

What did the state do? Refused to even let it get a vote. Why? Because it's 'unfair' on the children who failed that they would have to spend the rest of the year drilling for the test.

Well, so, we stay with everyone spending their entire education drilling for tests. Because we can't treat any of the little darlings differently. It might damage their precious, oh-so-valuable, self esteem.

It's a symptom of just how screwed up our education system is. Meanwhile, good jobs are harder and harder to get, most factory work is being done by robots...but we're teaching kids only to pass exams. Give me one thing other than maybe a particularly tough job interview, in the real world, that at all resembles passing an exam. I challenge you.

Part of the problem is that we're trying to educate children in a post-industrial world using a system designed to produce factory workers. Instead of moving more towards teaching young people what they really need to know, we've moved away. And one of the things nobody is willing to admit or acknowledge is that people are different. Children are different. The concept of leaving no child behind might seem very well, but it assumes not just equal opportunity but equal ability.

I know somebody who can barely read. His command of the English language is poor...and it's his first language. But give him a broken down car and he'll give you back a working one almost every time. He is brilliant. He is an absolute genius with mechanical equipment. Tell me the same teacher, in the same class, could educate him and say, a good writer with no practical skill, and get the same results in terms of achievement. It's utterly ridiculous.

The answer is that horrible word: Streaming. Grouping children according to ability. But the modern west isn't willing to do it, because, again, it might damage the 'self esteem' of children branded as stupid.

First of all, properly done streaming does not brand any child as stupid. A child can be in the A stream in history and the C stream in that child stupid? No, they're just really good at history and either bad at maths or hate it. (Yes, I was that child...I have pretty nasty math phobia caused by, yes, an incompetent teacher).

On top of 'no streaming' is the idea that 'everyone should go to college'. This is, in a word, wrong. All expanding access to college degrees has achieved is to make them necessary to flip burgers: In other words, worthless.

And here comes the political argument. Both major parties support No Child Left Behind. Both support the idea of completely equal opportunity and ability for all children, regardless of how ridiculous it seems.

Guess what? I grew up in England. Streaming was abolished by the Labour Party...because it wasn't socialist. All of this stuff is socialist by its very nature.

I'm all in favor of equal opportunity, but we do not have equal ability. I can't draw to save my life. I freely admit it. My math skills are not what they should be. I am very good at some things, very bad at others. So are all children. Why can't we have an education system that assesses true ability, aptitude and interests and encourages young people in the right direction for their skills and desires. Oh yeah. Self esteem.

Well, here's my argument about self esteem. Isn't it far better for somebody's self esteem for them to be able to fix somebody's car, fix somebody's hair so they look fantastic, build their own computer...than to struggle to keep up with people who are more academic. Not more intelligent. Just more academic.

I don't know, but I do know what we have is rather broken and needs to be worked on. And it's part of the job of science fiction writers to present possibilities for fixing what's broken in our society. Or at least to highlight what might be going wrong.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tilting Trains

I thought this one up whilst on, yes, the train, between Crewe (a place which has the primary significance of having a lot of trains) and London.

When I was a child, British Rail made a huge fuss about their 'Advanced Passenger Train'. Amongst other things, this train would smoothly tilt when it went around bends, maintaining safety and passenger comfort and allowing the high speed train to negotiate the steepest of curves at its full speed.

The BBC was all over it. Everyone was all over it. The Tilting Train was going to be the best thing since sliced bread. An amazing technological development.

Guess what happened?

It didn't work. And it didn't work. And it didn't work. After years of development, they gave up and produced the InterCity 125, Britain's first high speed train. It was called the 125 because its top cruising speed under ideal conditions on a straight track when it wasn't raining (i.e. never) was 125 miles per hour. It did not tilt. Not an inch. Eggs were being picked off of faces for years.

Then they came out with the InterCity 225. It had electric doors instead of mechanical ones and several other improvements. And it tilted very slightly. Just a little. No mention was made of this.

I don't know what they call the current British high speed trains. But I do know they are very comfortable, very fast...and very definitely tilt. It only took twenty years.

Why is this relevant to a writing blog?

The developers of the Advanced Passenger Train made the same mistake many newbie writers do. They hyped a product they do not have.

This is like querying your novel when you've written three pages. And yes, people do it. If you do not have the product and hype it, then what happens?

You get egg on your face when it turns out you can't produce it. And twenty years late is not good enough for the reputations of those involved.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Well, I'm back...

A few highlights of the trip:

Wild ponies on a ridge (sadly, I did not get a photo of these beauties).
Teenage pony trekker guides chatting away to each other in Welsh...the language has a future.
Standing on the top of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) unable to see a thing with the wind howling around me.
Sipping Strongbow (how come cider tastes better draft?) in the back corner of the original Llandudno village pub.
More jackdaws than you could shake a feather of them with white primaries.
A crow doing a barrel roll.

I can't make this stuff up...and I'm good at making stuff up!