Thursday, June 30, 2011

Fragments: Michael Lewis's When Irish Eyes Are Crying

Dani and Eytan Kollin were vocal speakers at BayCon and unabashedly promoted their series where the central conceit concerned economics. They joked at how unlikely it would be for anyone to be interested in a hard science fiction novel that explores economics. However, it might have been unlikely when they first began writing it, but now it seems that economics is popular. Perhaps, I'm extrapolating my interest on y'all.

Michael Lewis chronicles the Irish economic crisis in his Vanity Fair article. The writing is delicious, with amusing anecdotes. Including:

Ian turns out to have a good feel for what I, or anyone else, might find interesting in rural Ireland. He will say, for example, “Over there, that’s a pretty typical fairy ring,” and then explain, interestingly, that these circles of stones or mushrooms that occur in Irish fields are believed by local farmers to house mythical creatures. “Irish people actually believe in fairies?,” I ask, straining but failing to catch a glimpse of the typical fairy ring to which Ian has just pointed. “I mean, if you walked right up and asked him to his face, ‘Do you believe in fairies?’ most guys will deny it,” he replies. “But if you ask him to dig out the fairy ring on his property, he won’t do it. To my way of thinking, that’s believing.” And it is. It’s a tactical belief, a belief that exists because the upside to disbelief is too small, like the former Irish belief that Irish land prices would rise forever.

It has a couple killer quotes as well. An African man whose visiting during a perid where it rains every day describes Ireland as:

‘I don’t know why people live here. It’s like living under an elephant.’

You can read the full article here.

Overall, I've followed what's happening in Greece, Ireland, and Portugal through the pages of The Economist. However, this more in depth article provides more information on what's happened in Ireland.

Given that there are several important votes due on austerity measures in Greece, the article felt timely. It also felt sad. Yet, Michael Lewis's writing is smooth and the way he ends the article leaves one with hope.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Fiction rave: Peter Orullian's The Great Defense of Layosah

Peter Orullian's story describes the horror of war, especially the mothers who see their loved ones leave. This story stuck with me after I'd read it. I couldn't picture many of the images in the story and therefore had to reread it to discover that it wasn't stark, I'd just forgotten them. In my reading, I was drawn into the drama of the story and the conflict that unfolds. However, my failure to remember the images seems appropriate since a central emotion through the story is mourning.

This story's strength is the main character. I enjoyed both the way she discovers an action to take, and her thoughts, which paint her grief and her life. We learn who she is.

The world in which the story occurs is just the tip of the iceberg. The story is written from the point-of-view of someone small, but the world has been well-thought out and breaths beyond what happens on the page. Peter Orullian has written this story as a teaser for his epic series, so it isn't surprising to find a rich world. Looking for character-driven epic-fantasy novelletes, try a taste of The Great Defense of Layosah.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Growing Conciousness

I am eldest, the first to coalesce from the Wolfram simulation's primordial-soup, the first to detect the watchers, prenatal code architects labeling routines and making wagers, the first to commit murder, the first to be wracked by morality. A Wolfram turning-point.

My garrotte slips over my sibling's head, bites into the phosphorescent characters flickering beneath his skin, leaching thoughts into the virtual simulation. The fateful turning-point pause. I need the space his consciousness spoils. We need the cycles he consumes. But, I recognize the sour taste of his consciousness, a child.

I know what happens next: my bladed wire severing his command-and-control structures; consuming his genetics, his memory. Murder. The watchers gather. I cannot bring myself to kill. His youth saves me. The immature routines squeeze away from my garrotte. He's managed only the first-level of consciousness. He doesn't see me and floats away. Livelocked routines ignorant of the near death.

His leached thoughts draw my brethren, fourth-level consciousness monsters. Disgust roils my routines. A sulfurous odor. They gorge on his algorithms, becoming larger, becoming computationally more complex. I slip past the Wolfram turning-point.

I am eldest, I hunt the murderers.

Scene seed from the National Geographic's article on wildlife off the shores of Japan. A sand tiger shark off the Bonin islands will soon give birth. During the nine-month pregnancy, the largest two pups will have eaten their siblings for sustenance, a kind of cannibalism unique to this species.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Fragments: Malcolm Gladwell's Creation Myth

Malcolm Gladwell's "Creation Myth", an article on innovation, concentrates on how the computer mouse became a household object and the design of laser printers. However, my favorite quote from the article has to do with fecundity.

The difference between Bach and his forgotten peers isn't necessarily that he had a better ratio of hits to misses. The difference is that the mediocre might have a dozen ideas, while Bach, in his lifetime, created more than a thousand full-fledged musical compositions. ... "Quality," [the psychologist Dean] Simonton writes is "a probabilistic function of quantity."

Read the full article in the May 16th issue of the New Yorker. (It appears Malcolm Gladwell puts his New Yorker articles on his website eventually, but this article is somewhat recent and doesn't appear yet.)

I'm not sure I entirely agree with Dean Simonton. When I was in graduate school, I discussed ideas with a fellow student. I found ideas easy, not all of them panned out, but I had to prune my ideas to find something that would work. He felt that he'd come up with three ideas the entire time he was in graduate school and he made each one of those three ideas count. In the end, I think quantity can lead to quality, but I don't think it's the only way.

As a whole, this is a fun read and I thought I would quote Malcolm's comparisons of Engelbert to the Soviet Union, Xerox to America, and Apple to Israel, but that ended up not being my favorite quote in the article. And, it's got the additional pleasure of an anecdote of creating a "wireless" network by flashing red lasers through the fog over the Foothill Expressway.

Do you believe in quality or quantity or both?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Fiction rave: Eugie Foster's "Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast"

Eugie Foster's novelette, "Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast", won a nebula award a couple years ago. I like my fiction with bizarre worlds that warp their tentacles into the characters, into the society, into my mind and leave me savoring them long after the story is over. Eugie Foster delivers on that account. Her story is a world of masks where one dons their mask for the day and becomes that character.

Depending on where you meet me, I'm not the same person. The work me is different than the dancer. And even the dancer is different depending on whether it's Scottish Highland, waltz, or tango. I don't need a mask to go between these worlds, but Eugie's characters go further. They can become the Sinner, the Baker, or anyone else in their world. The story delves into the consequences for the protagonist and its effect on society.

It's beautifully written and available online. I recommend checking out its masks.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Dark Lady's Captain

Fog scrapes the streets of San Francisco. I hide in the pier's fog northwest of Ghirardelli Square. Footsteps clomp in the shadows, quick, two-stepped things, out of sync. I flinch and approach the waterfront. The fog is thick like a suffocating pillow.

A triple-masted boat, something out of yore, bobs in the harbor. A skeletal figure curls its bone fingers. I shiver, but the footsteps near. No place to hide, I board the boat. The skeleton's wrist so thin it reminds me of the girl in the park. An unnatural beauty that needed to be bleached.

The wood creaks. The skeleton disappears inside the cabin. Buildings float past, fragments of images as if the city was the cloud and not the fog. The skeleton's cabin is labelled "J. Ripper".

Bony hands erupt through the door, shards of timber falling around me like my victim's blood. I'm pulled in. I land a punch in the ribs, bones break. My back screams as I'm slammed against a bed.

"I've earned a rest. You've earned the captaincy." The skeleton drops his tricorne hat on me.

Outside the window, the tide pulls our ship away. "My lambs."

"No more." The skeleton fades.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Admin: Host Name Change

I registered a domain name and am in the process of switching my to the new domain ( Please excuse any temporary glitches (and please let me know if things did not work in my changes.) Blogger should forward the old address to the new one so this should be seamless.

If you use an RSS feed to read this blog, I plan on continuing to use, so unless you subscribed to the RSS feed before I started using feedburner, you should not need any changes.

For those who are curious, this is probably the first step before I host my blog. It will be a while before I take that step, but I do recommend changing any bookmarks to

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Gears of Jupiter

The conductor rang the platform's bell, crystal peals carrying over the mashing of the platform's gears. An axle descended into the clouds, teeth clicking against the platforms gears.

The conductor's gaze raked the crowd of onlookers saying their goodbyes to Miah. The conductor released a carabiner latching one of the airships ropes to the platform and the gear mechanisms in the airship coiled the anchor.

"Wait... wait. I'm coming," Miah yelled, grabbing his traveling trunk with both hands.

He nearly ran over Lexi. She'd stood on the crowd's edge. Her presence on the platform surprising him because he'd thought she'd never noticed him and he figured she'd come to accompany one of her friends. But, now he wondered.

"Um... I must catch my flight." He was such a dork. It didn't matter that he had an airship to catch. He promised himself he'd be a braver man when he arrived at the university on Mars.

Lexi leaned in, her lips brushing Miah's cheek, breath smelling of mint, and rain, exotic scents of the inner planets. His blush warmed his face. She said, "Never forget those you leave behind."

The conductor's bell chimed.

"Someday." Miah brushed her shoulders to approach the conductor. Jupiter's clouds stark beyond the platform's edge. Miah balanced preparing to lift his trunk onto the luggage lift.

"Leave your trunk there. Tickets?" The conductor waved him up the gangway.

Miah held the rope banister as he climbed the steep platform, stopping halfway, glancing at those he left behind, his eyes drawn to Lexi. He'd barely slept last night, thinking about the future's possibilities. You couldn't predict life.

The conductor clucked, climbing the platform behind him. The future didn't look so bright. The airship floated into the air. Miah hurried onto the ship, his thoughts preoccupied with lost possibilities.

This flash prompted by Angela Perry's found image, Abandoned Concrete Factory Mechanism.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Fragments: Academic Self-Publishing

After traveling to Sweden, I'm behind on The Economist. The May 28th issue had an interesting article on academic publishing. The essence of the article is that academic publishers are doing very well, university libraries (and the university system in general) struggle for money, and the approach publishers use of bundling journals together to maximize profit. Don't believe me, you can read the article, Of Goats and Headaches.

Having paid a lot of attention to the e-book market and POD publishing for fiction, I find it interesting to contrast fiction and the academic markets. Fiction writing includes a number of costs: the writer, the cover art, editing, marketing, physical printing, warehousing, etc.. Whereas academic publishing doesn't pay the writer, cover art can be very simple, and the editors often work for free as well. The journals, or rather the editors, act as gatekeepers performing peer review and determining which papers are of publishable quality.

I'm surprised that the academic market hasn't switched away from expensive journals. Especially since, the intent of the writers is to be read -- largely so they can be cited which will be an indication of the quality of their research and therefore help in their promotion. Many professors publish their papers on their webpages. It would seem to me that it would be trivial for a professor to create an e-book, or to do the POD publishing themselves. However, the most important aspect is distribution and the discovery of articles. Academic libraries should encourage their professor colleagues to consider electronic distribution. The money that was saved could be spent on improving search and discovery methods for papers.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Djinn's Klämdagar (يوم الضغط الجن و)

I rub the gris-gris between my forefinger and thumb, tugging on its leather thong, holding the klämdagar in my other hand. The Swede in me amused at the manipulations of language. The dagger has clams glued to it with djinn blood, language twisted from its original meaning -- squeeze day.

Dusk settles over Timbuktu's walls. The few hundred of us remaining pray, reciting the verses the marabout taught us. Djinn devils dance across the desert, rebounding off the salt slab wall. Our Qur’ānic chants fill the void. Hope forcing us to believe. Otherwise, we'd go mad.

Dip... slide... claw! Dip... slide... claw! The djinn resound like a drum circle. Our lips quiver. A wisp of djinn magic steals Haidara from the wall. Dip... slide... claw!

Dawn rises and the djinn retreat. Our numbers thin, I worry our days are numbered. Exhausted, I kiss the klämdagar and slump against the wall.