Monday, October 31, 2011

Seven Billion - Good Or Bad?

Or just...hype.

We're going on and on about the seven billionth human to be born, even though we don't actually know for sure that it is or is not. Furthermore, how do you define human? Do you include Neanderthals? Australopithecus? Some scientists even argue that we should recategorize chimpanzees and bonobos as members of genus homo.

And then there's, well, how many hunter gatherers in Ice Age Europe? We simply don't know.

Setting that aside, population growth is a concern. By many measures, there are too many human beings on the planet. There are especially too many human beings in certain parts of the developing world. On the other hand, a new worry is beginning to emerge.

People in the developed world can't afford to have children without wrecking their standard of living. Populations are starting to drop and the number of retirees is growing...without new workers to replace them. Many countries are facing the specter of raising the retirement age - which might make sense as people live longer and stay healthy longer.

Here is the real problem.

We do have too many human beings. However, we have economic and social systems calibrated for an increasing population. In the long term, dropping the human population to some reasonably determined carrying capacity is a good thing...but how do we do it without wrecking our entire society?

Especially as our society is already in so much trouble. Answer? I don't have one...yet. I do know that uncontrolled population growth is bad. So is uncontrolled population fall. Population stability will require that we rethink how our economy work.

The other alternative is to expand our range, but realistically, we don't yet have the technology to move large numbers of humans off this planet. Yet. I personally feel expanding our range is the true solution, but it too carries far too many 'hows' with it to be a feasible short term option.

So, once more, I'm leaving you with more questions than answers. I don't really have the choice, because I don't have the answers. Yet.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Ding, dong...

...another bastion of gender inequality is dead. Well, dead in the sense of not being a bastion of gender inequality any more.

Upon the ratification of appropriate Acts by the elected governments of the United Kingdom, the sixteen Commonwealth countries that still consider the British Monarch to be their head of state and the Manx Tynwald, the male requirement for succession will be removed from the British Monarchy. The Act of Succession will also be amended to permit the Monarch to be married to a Roman Catholic (although the monarch him or herself will still be required to be 'in communion with the Church of England').

What this means, in plain English, is that the first child born to William, Duke of Cambridge and his wife Catherine will become the direct line heir to the throne after his or her grandfather, then father (displacing Prince Henry). If this child is female, then by the older tradition she would have been displaced by a younger brother.

This will no longer be true. The line of succession will now pass to the first born legitimate child regardless of gender, beginning with the offspring of William and Catherine.

This is way, way overdue. Since 1993, it has been possible for a woman to serve on an active duty warship in the Royal Navy, allowing a female heir to properly fulfill the traditional requirement of service as a military officer. (William broke with this tradition in choosing to serve in the army not the navy). Interestingly, Queen Elizabeth II did partially fulfill this requirement by serving as an ambulance driver during the final months of the blitz (as soon as she became old enough).

There is no reason why the reigning monarch needs to be a man and no reason to retain this archaic tradition.

So, all I am going to say now is:




Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Blast From The Past

I got an email today from somebody I hadn't talked to in years. I used to do tabletop RPGs with him many, many years ago.

I made a character for one of his campaigns that was a member of an alien race that I had introduced to multiple game worlds. I was quite surprised to get the email...because he's apparently still using them after all these years.

So, I figured I owed a shoutout to Gene DeMaitre - he's a great worldbuilder and I love the Venetian land whale.

Check out the campaign description here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Unfortunate news...

It appears that Twisted Library (formerly the Library of the Living Dead/Library of Horror) is in significant financial difficulties due to the state of the economy. Apparently, even evil dentists can be hit by it.

Because of this, they've decided to cancel most of the upcoming anthologies. It appears that Horror Comes Out may have been axed and I'm fairly sure Zombiality 2 and The South Will Rise Undead are also not going to be happening. It's a definite confirmation that Zombie Feary Tales is a no go.

However, the publisher is still afloat. Which led me to think of some things. With Christmas coming up, I can think of two presses that need support.

Norilana Press is also in some financial difficulties, and has also had to cancel and delay books.

With the holiday season coming up, consider one of the following books for a present. Books make cheap presents and you can read them as many times as you want to.

From Norilana Press:

Warrior Wisewoman 2

Warrior Wisewoman 3

From Twisted Library:

The Zombist: Undead Western Tales

Zombiality: A Queer Bent on the Undead

These are all great books...and they have me in them to boot.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Woof, woof, woof.

Right now, I'm contemplating finding a nice way to tell my neighbors that this sequence of events is entirely their fault:

Dog sees leash. Barks. Door opens. Dog barks louder.

Owner yells 'Shut Up!'

Dog...barks louder.

Yeah. Lady, your dog thinks you are joining IN, not telling him off. (Your dog is, by the way, extremely cute, no doubt how he gets away with things...)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Rising above the crud.

Somebody mentioned earlier that there is too much porn on Smashwords.

This may well be because the erotica industry has embraced the ebook faster than anyone else. If you have porn on your ereader...nobody knows you're reading porn.

However, his concern was that the porn was drowning out the other stuff. I would point out there is a far greater concern.

The crap drowning out the good stuff. We're in a publishing wild west right now, with people bypassing the traditional gatekeepers of quality (agents and editors). I once read a short story in which the definition of 'professional editor' had changed completely. Instead of producing books or anthologies, professional editors were paid by readers to make personalized recommendations.

Maybe we need people to start that service...

Friday, October 21, 2011

Rational thought

I really have slight writer's block today in terms of good blog posts. Over the last couple of days, I've got into a couple of online debates.

Most people debate rationally. Others, however, seem incapable of doing so. What makes the difference between people who can disagree with respect...and people who start calling names, blocking people and making threats?

Is it just an anger control thing? Or does it reflect it that the people who can debate in a reasonable manner are those who have actually, at some point in their lives, been taught to debate?

I think that may be the closest thing...and if that is the case, then the answer is to teach our children how to debate. How to argue a point. How to cite sources. How to be sure to attack the opinions of the opponent rather than their character. We'd certainly have a much more civil...and fun...internet if everyone could do it right.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Here we go...

I'm linking to this post, but I would note it is lengthy and somewhat technical and not everyone who reads this blog may want to actually read it.

Basically, we're talking about the Technological Singularity. Except, we're not, quite. This post talks about one aspect. It appears that the meaning of the term has shifted from what Vinge originally meant.

The Singularity is when technological development accelerates to the point where the world changes totally within a human lifespan. It doesn't technically mean 'When computers get smarter than us'. But it's come to be very focused on that.

Here is the question: Do we want computers smarter than we are? (If you can get your hands on it, read Mary A. Turzillo's 'An Old-Fashioned Martian Girl' for one look at why that might not be the best idea).

Second question: Can we stop that from happening? Short of the destruction of our civilization, the answer is probably no.

So the real question is...can we have a C/Fe culture? Here, I refer to Isaac Asimov's wonderful robot novels (which every science fiction and mystery fan should read...a lot of people forget that Asimov had a deft hand with a mystery). A C/Fe culture is one in which humans and robots work together and complement one another. If we are really going to have fully sapient computers, then we need to work out what a C/Fe culture would look like.

And lately, I've been thinking a lot about what a post-industrial culture will look like and one of my thoughts was 'fewer humans, more robots'...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Things Girls Don't Do... comics - check.
...enjoy science - check. motor racing - check.
...write science fiction - check.
...go to gaming conventions - check.

...hey. I'm apparently not a girl ;). (Actually, I'm gratified that most of these are ceasing to be true, although some of DC's recent decisions seem bent on 'fixing' the first one).

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Writer's Block

We all get it. I get it less often than most, but sometimes it can be chronic. And the more pressure is on me to write, the worse the block gets. So I'm going to pass on this tip.

If you have writer's block on a project, step back and write something else. Even if you have a deadline. And if you do have a deadline, ask for an extension. Make sure that you set reasonable deadlines for yourself, too, so that you're not under the kind of pressure that can create writer's block...or make it worse.

Now. I have to go try and write an article. Mutter. I have idea block on non-fiction right now. Then I have a short story I want to write.

Monday, October 17, 2011

More on risk

I've said before, either on this blog or on Google plus that I feel that mentally competent adults should have the right to take risks.

I feel that I should have the right to get on a horse without worrying about whether my health insurers will pay if I fall off...or worse, worrying that they might sue the horse's owner into bankruptcy if I do hurt myself.

I feel that people should have the right to choose whether they wear safety gear (although I would prefer that they did) unless, of course, they have agreed to waive that right by signing a contract. However, I am adamantly against any sporting body (NCHA, I'm looking at you) banning safety gear or campaigning against its use.

Yesterday, the final IndyCar race of the 2011 season went horribly wrong. During qualifying, more than one driver expressed concern about high qualifying speeds, with the pole position driver and several others hitting 222 miles per hour on the relatively tight 1.5 mile oval.

Ten laps into the race it happened. Even on slow replay, the cause of the crash was hard to determine, but all it took was for two cars to touch wheel to wheel to set off the 'Big One'. Problem is...these were not stock cars. Multiple cars spun and the car driven by Will Power was launched into the air.

Towards the back of the pack, Paul Tracy hit the brakes to try and avoid the carnage ahead of him. Driving close behind him was 33-year-old veteran Dan Wheldon, who had failed to get a full time ride for the 2011 season and was driving in only his second race.

He could not stop in time. His car hit the back of Tracy's, flipped and went airborne. Once an open wheel car is inverted, the technology designed to keep them gripping the track can send them even higher, and this was not the normal rapid end over end flip. Instead, the car slammed into the catch fence above the soft barrier, a device designed to prevent spectator deaths from flying debris or cars, and caught fire, spinning horizontally and finally coming to rest well down the track. At some point, the roll 'pod' designed to protect the driver from head and neck injuries came detached from the 'capsule' that houses the driver.

Dan Wheldon was airlifted to the nearest hospital, and pronounced dead two hours later.

The fourteen other drivers involved in the crash walked away. Three - Will Power, Pippa Mann and J. R. Hildebrandt were taken to the hospital. Power was released that night, although he has already said he will not be driving next week in Australia as planned. Mann and Hildebrandt were kept overnight for observation.

Ironically, Wheldon, left without a ride, spent most of 2011 test driving the 2012 chassis, which addresses many safety concerns. He spent the last year of his life trying to prevent accidents like the one that claimed it.

However, there are two key facts here. Very key.

1. Dan Wheldon knew the risk. So did his widow. Do I have every sympathy for him and his family? Absolutely. But he chose to be a race car driver. It was what he was good at, it was his gift and what he did well.

2. Fourteen drivers walked away. Including the other driver who's car went airborne, although Power did apparently suffer from minor injuries to his lower back and might well be buying his chiropractor's next new car. Had this accident happened fifteen or even ten years ago, we would be looking at probably at least two driver fatalities, if not more. Instead, we have one. A tragedy, yes. But not the tragedy it could have been. Heck, if this accident had happened twenty years ago, we would probably be looking at dead spectators.

There are people who are going to say 'open wheel racing is too dangerous'. To which I respond 'Yes, but those drivers know exactly what they are getting into'. Just as I know that when I get on a horse I face the risk of an unscheduled dismount and possible injury, so any race driver knows that when they climb into that cockpit, they face very real risks. Serious risks.

Can and should those risks be mitigated? Definitely. In fact, I will stick my neck out and say that had these drivers been driving the Safety Cell chassis that will be used for 2012, there is a very real chance this fatality would not have happened. The new chassis has a deeper cockpit with much better integration of the roll pod with the cockpit capsule (which might well have saved Wheldon), and the chassis encloses the front of the rear wheels. This should reduce the risk of a car going airborne and improve safety for both drivers and spectators.

On top of that, this happened on a new track which the drivers did not like...the drivers said it was too fast, and they were right. The drivers also said the field was too big, and they were right. Indy needs to apply something like the NASCAR restrictor plate system on these tight ovals so that the top speed is restricted. (NASCAR, generally, tries to avoid having cars go over 200 miles per hour and, in general, stock car racing is safer than open wheel). The promoter had a lot riding on this race, financially...and perhaps it should have been canceled. I hope that in the future the drivers are listened to.

But does this mean we should stop racing? Or stop racing on ovals? Heck no. I suspect that Dan Wheldon would be the first to chime in with that heck, no...closely followed by Dale Earnhardt, Ayrton Senna and the rest.

Risk is part of life and part of almost all sports. As somber as it is to reflect on tragedy, we must learn from it and move on. This could also be applied to any other field of human endeavor, such as, say, the space program.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Primitive, not stupid

I get really tired of people who say that Stone Age humans were less intelligent than we are. How about this for evidence to the contrary. A paint workshop...where apparently people gathered to mix ochre for cave paintings and body paint (I say people, but it's likely this kind of work was mostly done by women). The point is not just that they were making paint, but that they had a special area set aside for it. You can imagine them sitting around mixing the dye and chatting about who was mating with who...

(Humans have always gossiped about other people's sexual activity. I'm sure of it).

Thursday, October 13, 2011

I have a new toy...

I got tired of not being able to write on the road (every writer has their rituals. One of mine is a complete inability to write longhand). So I bit the bullet and ordered an Asus EeePC netbook.

This is basically an ultraportable netbook. Ten inch screen, weighs less than ten pounds. It comes with the MeeGo operating system over a Linux kernel. I have yet to properly put it through its paces, but it arrived on my desk with Open Office and Adobe Reader pre-installed as well as usable email, instant messenger programs. It came with the Chromium web browser (which has the annoying feature of refusing to permit connection at ALL to sites it thinks the security certificate is revoked on, but I don't want to weigh a netbook down with a heavier browser).

I'll probably write a full review of it once I've actually used it a few times, but it has an...interesting GUI, a decent keyboard for a netbook and a surprisingly usable trackball. At the very least, I know it will be good enough to jot down story ideas on and I should be able to write on it. I plan on testing it soon by transferring the entire manuscript of Third Princess and seeing if I can edit it, or if I'm going to have to break down files to allow for the lesser computing power compared with my desktop.

I have hope that it's going to prove to be a handy toy, though.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A few things...

Grrr...DC. Cough up JL #2 already. Or put the thumbscrews on whoever missed their deadline. Surely it should be out by now, or is it going to be bimonthly or something? I want to know what happened next.

UPS...cough up my netbook. It's been on the truck since 5am. (I wish I could see delivery trucks arrive from my apartment, but the angle's not quite right.

On the other hand, work is going well, even if the weather is unpleasant. Finished another short story today, but not quite sure what to do with it as the call it was for got tweaked in a way that makes it no longer suitable. Probably one for the rewrite queue. Three more short stories in the queue then I can go back to editing Third Princess.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Domestic Violence Month

I meant to blog about this earlier, but it is, indeed, Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Which means it's a time to remind ourselves that not every relationship is healthy.

A time to remind ourselves to appreciate the healthy relationships we have.

A time to remind ourselves to keep our eyes open for those who might need our help.

A time to appreciate and give a shout out to those who have suffered or are suffering, not all of them women, in abusive relationships past or present.

So. Yeah. It's a shout out...especially to the children trapped in situations they might not be ready to understand.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Getting on with things...

Not taking the day off this time...I'm hoping to get a ton more articles written and then start editing the flash fiction I wrote yesterday (love the CFS - write a story of exactly 713 words. Why 713? I dunno...maybe it's the editor's birthday?)

But definitely in a better place...albeit wishing my new netbook would get here already. It was impossible to buy one locally without also purchasing a Windows license I don't want. Sigh.

Friday, October 7, 2011

A Tribute for Ada Lovelace Day

I was just informed that today is, in fact, Ada Lovelace Day.

As a woman who writes science fiction (and not that long ago would have had to consider using just her initials to make sure nobody found out) I have to give a big kudos to all women in science, in technology, in mathematics.

At first I wasn't sure I could follow the suggestion to give a shout out to a woman that inspired me in science specifically. As it happens, I love scientific theory, but suck at the practice of science....hence why I am not a scientist. I also have math phobia I'm working hard on getting over. I'm not a scientist. I love science, but...

Then I realized there was and is a woman I want to give a shout out to today. I doubt any of you have ever heard of her.

My shout out for Ada Lovelace Day goes to Julien E. L. Harvatt. To any reader of this blog, she is a 'who?'. Her achievement for all women was incredible and vital, but went almost unnoticed.

She served as a civilian advisor on the committee that determined that it was not only feasible but desirable for WRENs (female officers) to go to sea on ships of the Royal Navy. Her work opened the door for women in combat roles in the British armed forces, and it was her ability to speak with and deal with everyone from the janitor to the First Sea Lord that made her so excellent in her role.

She was also a breast cancer survivor.

Both of those things, alone, made her an incredible woman. But her true achievement was not in using her sheer force of personality to convince the navy now was the time to allow women to go to sea.

It lay in creating the women they needed to be those first, brave female officers. For she did not do this for herself.

She did it, as she did everything else, for her girls. For the young women in her charge, whom she guided from girlhood to womanhood and to whom she always sent the same message. You can do anything. You can be whatever you want. You can achieve. You can stand as equal to any man born. Don't listen to anyone who tells you you are only a girl...because there is no such thing. Because you are, each of you, valuable as girls. As women. As individuals. And, yes, as scientists or as soldiers or as sailors.

Or, for that matter, writers.

Like this one.

I am proud to say that I was and always will be one of Miss Harvatt's girls.

She belonged to the most valuable profession of all: Teacher.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Therapeutic Cloning

It's with us. We have it. What does this truly mean? I don't know...but I do know that it will be 'fun' to watch the backlash.

The technique is not yet workable, but scientists have genetically engineered non-viable human embryos that produce stem cells matched to a donor. One more step...stripping out extra DNA these cells carry...needs to be perfected before it can be used.

But will it? This will be the next target of those who think all 'human life' is something special, even human life with no chance of surviving. For that matter, I'm not even entirely sure what I think about it myself. It could be a slippery slope.

But we have to accept that 'playing God' is, and always has been, what humans do.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Treating People Right

I just came across a story about an Australian fashion store where a sales associate was rude to a customer, insulted her body, called her a 'joke' and chased her out of the store. Why? Because she could not find what she needed there and decided not to buy something.

When she complained, his manager called him a 'retail superstar' and basically said they expect their associates to be snobs.

Just wow. Wow. Unfortunately, a lot of writers treat their readers like that. Especially if they don't buy something. The truth is, you can't afford to chase off a reader, even if it turns out they would never buy your book in a million years.

People talk to each other, especially in these days of the internet. What is the right attitude to take when a reader says thanks but no thanks?

The best thing to do might well be to recommend something that might be more to their taste...and then everyone wins.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Slower than usual today because I had to go buy printer paper (This is a distinctly unpleasant trek without a car, with a heavy hand cart).

So I'm going to mini-vent about the Shoppers Warehouse I have to walk past to get to the Staples. It has to be a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act to completely block the sidewalk outside your store with merchandise displays, surely. Every single time I go there, it's blocked. Which when you have a cart full of paper is almost as bad as if I was in a wheelchair.

Why can't people think about others, just a little, more than they do?

Monday, October 3, 2011

FISH. Fish, everywhere.

The story is what happens when the call for submissions says 'fantasy focused on fish' and my muse hands me robot fish. I end up with...well. You'll see.

The anthology is FISH by Dagan Books. Thirty-five watery tales combined with really sweet cover art.

This one will be coming out on February 8, 2012, assuming we don't get a disaster of some kind. Follow the news at Dagan Books - FISH anthology where you can see the full table of contents (note that this is not the final order of stories, which has yet to be determined) and the cover art.

Judging by the story they bought from me, this one is going to be delightfully weird and a lot of fun. Some of the titles alone intrigue me: "Did The Catfish Get A Flat Head?" and "Needlepoint Fish of Azure City" come to mind.

I'm really looking forward to this one. Bubble...bubble...bubble...