Pixel Scroll 3/18/23 Pixel’s Cat, Neither Scrolling Nor Not Scrolling, You Decide

(1) DE LINT AND HARRIS STILL NEED SUPPORT. The Ottawa Citizen profiled MaryAnn Harris’s illness and fundraiser in “A tick bite, the Powassan virus, and MaryAnn’s struggle”.

… “They didn’t know what was wrong,” said Charles, a popular author of fantasy novels, a three-time Aurora Award winner, and a member of Canada’s Science Fiction Writers Hall of Fame. “They assumed it was a virus of some sort. It looked like they had 70 little machines feeding her different kinds of antibiotics.”

Today, more than a year and a half after falling ill, MaryAnn hasn’t been back home. She still breathes with a ventilator and remains nearly paralyzed.

The culprit? A tick bite that transmitted the rare but increasingly common Powassan virus, a potentially deadly pathogen that caused encephalitis.

“We were never aware of the bite. We never even saw the tick,” Charles said. MaryAnn fell ill during the lockdown and the couple hadn’t travelled anywhere.

They figure she picked up the tick bite either in the yard of their Alta Vista area home or during one of their frequent walks around the community gardens in Pleasant Park. And it’s hardly the only question that can never be answered.

“If she was going to get sick,” Charles asks, “why did it have to be something so rare?”

Powassan virus was first identified in 1958 when it infected and killed a young boy in Powassan, Ont., on the outskirts of North Bay, 200 km northwest of Ottawa. Until 1998, there had been only 27 cases in all of North America. Since then, the numbers have been rising: 5-10 cases a year in the U.S. from 2010 to 2015; and 25-30 a year since. Since 2017, there have been 21 cases in Canada. Most infections occur in the northeastern U.S., Eastern Canada and the Great Lakes region.

…The couple — Charles is 71 and MaryAnn is 70 — have been together for 47 years and married for 42. With their guitar and banjo, they are well-known in Ottawa’s folk and bluegrass music scene.Charles’s novels, many of them set in the fantasy city of Newford, have a worldwide following. MaryAnn is his business manager, editor and illustrator. Her illness has left Charles with little time to write since he now spends five hours a day at Saint-Vincent Hospital, six days a week. He pays for a caregiver on the seventh.

Friends, family and fans have rallied around the couple. Musicians have visited the hospital to play for MaryAnn. A GoFundMe started to help pay for the many expenses they now face has topped $90,000. Fans have also subscribed to Charles’s Patreon account to help support his writing.

One fan, Julie Bartel, manages the GoFundMe and posts regular updates on MaryAnn’s progress on social media. Bartel, 52, grew up in tiny Orem, Utah, and as a teenager immersed herself in Charles’s fantasy novels….

The GoFundMe is here: “Harris – de Lint Recovery Fund”.

See also Julie Bartel’s File 770 post “More Information About the Harris / de Lint Fundraiser”.

(2) DOUBLE THE DISPLEASURE. Victoria Strauss gets busy in “One Week, Two Fakes: American Booksellers Federation and The Acquisitions Guild” at Writer Beware.

As you’ll know if you’re a regular reader of this blog (and from your own experience if you’ve ever self-published), we are currently in the midst of a tsunami of scam companies that aggressively solicit authors with out-of-the-blue emails and phone calls touting phony services–“endorsement” to Big 5 publishers or major film studios, “nominations” for representation at book fairs or other costly-but-useless PR strategies, and more.

These ripoff artists often seek to boost their credibility–and stroke writers’ egos–by naming some made-up organization or group that has recommended or otherwise validated the author’s book. The Guild of Literary Agents, Book Acquisitions Guild of America, Book Acquisition Society, The Literary Arts Organization, Affiliation of Creator Agents, Hollywood Database, Literary Review of Books…I could go on, but you get the picture. Despite the official-sounding names, none of these so-called organizations (which I’ve seen referenced in multiple scam solicitations) exist–as even a cursory websearch will confirm.

Scammers, of course, are counting on writers not to check. But writers have become much more savvy about solicitation scams than they used to be–partly because there are now so many of them, and partly because there are so many warnings about them. This has caused some predators to up their game, attempting to create credibility for their made-up endorsement organizations by giving them actual websites.

I ran across two of these this week….

They are the American Booksellers Federation and The Acquisitions Guild.

(3) ROWLING INTERVIEW PODCAST CONTINUES. The Hollywood Reporter covers episode 5 of The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling podcast under the headline “J.K. Rowling: Criticism of Trans Stance Hit Different Than Christians”.

J.K. Rowling says that when it comes to the backlash she’s received around her Harry Potter books and her personal stances on the rights and identities of trans people, criticism from her “allies” hit differently than conservatives claiming she was promoting witchcraft.

“If it’s coming from people that you would, well, you would have thought were allies? Yes, that’s absolutely going to hit differently, but I don’t hold myself —” Rowling said before The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling host Megan Phelps-Roper cut her off in the podcast’s latest episode. “I would assume we share certain values. So yeah, that hits differently. Of course, it hits differently.”…

The podcast’s fifth episode, titled “The Tweets,” dropped March 14 and is largely dedicated to Rowling expounding on the motivation behind her past social media messages and essay regarding her position on trans women as women and their presence in women’s spaces.

“It is very biblical language that is used of women who say, ‘You know what? I think any measure that makes it easier for predators to get at women and girls is a bad idea,’” Rowling said of critics, who have said her refusal to acknowledge trans women as women is “evil.” She continued, “There are plenty of women who don’t even … identify themselves as feminists who are very concerned about this.”

During the episode, various voices, including Phelps-Roper, repeatedly read unattributed tweets allegedly sent to Rowling. But speaking to her own initial tweet in 2019, which ultimately sparked the first major wave of criticism against the author over her support of a U.K. woman embroiled in an employment case around language and discrimination in the workplace, Rowling said she notified her team ahead of time.

“I drafted the tweet, and then I was considerate enough to phone my management team and say, ‘You cannot argue me out of this,’” the author explained. “And I read out what I was about to say because I felt they needed warning because I knew it was going to cause a massive storm.”

At another point, she added that she “absolutely knew” that people who love her books would be “deeply unhappy” with her, but that “time will tell whether I’ve got this wrong. I can only say that I’ve thought about it deeply and hard and long, and I’ve listened — I promise — to the other side.”

On the larger response to her public stances, the author describes “fury and incomprehension” on one side and “a ton of Potter fans who were grateful that I had said what I said” on the other after sharing her first and subsequent tweets. But Rowling ultimately questions the motivations of the Harry Potter fans who didn’t stick by her. “What’s interesting is the fans that have found themselves in positions of power online, did they feel they needed to take this position because they themselves had followers? Possibly, I don’t know,” she said….

(4) THESE FANS LITERALLY KEEP WATCHING THE SKIES. [Item by SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie.] In Nature, “Fan astronomers show pros how to help in asteroid collision”. “Astronomy, like other scientific fields, continues to benefit from working scientists collaborating with amateur colleagues.”

When NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft slammed into an asteroid on purpose last September, many telescopes were trained on this one-of-a-kind celestial event. Some were operated by teams of amateur astronomers — skilled skywatchers for whom astronomy is not their full-time day job (or, more accurately, night job). Three such teams on France’s Réunion island in the Indian Ocean, plus one in Nairobi, managed to watch the impact in real time.

These skywatchers are among the authors of a study in Nature that describes how the asteroid, named Dimorphos, became temporarily brighter and redder as the spacecraft hit it. One of five papers about the impact published in Nature15, it describes a real-time view of a cosmic collision — similar to that when Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9 slammed into Jupiter in July 1994.

(5) JERRY SAMUELS (1938-2023). Singer Jerry Samuels, died March 10. Under the name Napoleon XIV, he recorded the 1966 novelty hit “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!” Listeners to Doctor Demento are likely familiar with it.

(6) MEMORY LANE.

2018[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

For these Beginnings I usually prefer to use the first novel in a series, so why use the twenty-first of twenty-three novels published to date? 

Because RobicheauxA Novel, published by Simon & Schuster five years ago, thirty-one years after the first novel by James Lee Burke in the series, The Neon Rain, came out, has one of the best Beginnings of all. 

It won’t spoil much to tell you that the series center around Dave Robicheaux, a former homicide detective in the New Orleans Police Department. He now lives in New Iberia, Louisiana, and he works as a detective for the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office.

I’ve read around half the books so far. It’s a quite brilliant series where the characters, both principal and secondary, continue to evolve as the series goes on, the stories are complex if usually quite violent and not for the squeamish. And the setting? The story goes often into the squalid side of New Orleans and other places just as disgusting. Need I say more? 

Oh, and Will Patton narrates the series quite amazingly in terms of giving each character their own unique voice. If you listen to books, you’ll really enjoy these.

Now here’s our very interesting Beginning…

LIKE AN EARLY nineteenth-century poet, when I have melancholy moments and feel the world is too much for us and that late and soon we lay waste to our powers in getting and spending, I’m forced to pause and reflect upon my experiences with the dead and the hold they exert on our lives.

This may seem a macabre perspective on one’s life, but at a certain point it seems to be the only one we have. Mortality is not kind, and do not let anyone tell you it is. If there is such a thing as wisdom, and I have serious doubts about its presence in my own life, it lies in the acceptance of the human condition and perhaps the knowledge that those who have passed on are still with us, out there in the mist, showing us the way, sometimes uttering a word of caution from the shadows, sometimes visiting us in our sleep, as bright as a candle burning inside a basement that has no windows. 

On a winter morning, among white clouds of fog out at Spanish Lake, I would see the boys in butternut splashing their way through the flooded cypress, their muskets held above their heads, their equipment tied with rags so it wouldn’t rattle. I was standing no more than ten feet from them, although they took no notice of me, as though they knew I had not been born yet, and their travail and sacrifice were not mine to bear. 

Their faces were lean from privation, as pale as wax, their hair uncut, the rents in their uniforms stitched clumsily with string. Their mouths were pinched, their eyes luminous with caution. The youngest soldier, a drummer boy, could not have been older than twelve. On one occasion I stepped into the water to join them. Even then, none acknowledged my presence. The drummer boy stumbled and couldn’t right himself, struggling with the leather strap around his neck and the weight of his drum. I reached out to help him and felt my hand and arm sink through his shoulder. A shaft of sunlight pierced the canopy, turning the fog into white silk; in less than a second the column was gone. 

Long ago, I ceased trying to explain events such as these to either myself or others. Like many my age, I believe people in groups are to be feared and that arguing with others is folly and the knowledge of one generation cannot be passed down to the next. Those may seem cynical sentiments, but there are certain truths you keep inside you and do not defend lest you cheapen and then lose them altogether. Those truths have less to do with the dead than the awareness that we are no different from them, that they are still with us and we are still with them, and there is no afterlife but only one life, a continuum in which all time occurs at once, like a dream inside the mind of God. 

Why should an old man thrice widowed dwell on things that are not demonstrable and have nothing to do with a reasonable view of the world? Because only yesterday, on a broken sidewalk in a shabby neighborhood at the bottom of St. Claude Avenue, in the Lower Ninth Ward of St. Bernard Parish, under a colonnade that was still twisted out of shape by Katrina, across from a liquor store with barred windows that stood under a live oak probably two hundred years old, I saw a platoon of Confederate infantry march out of a field to the tune of “Darling Nelly Gray” and disappear through the wall of a gutted building and not exit on the other side.

(7) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born March 18, 1888 Alexander Leydenfrost. As an illustrator, he briefly worked for Planet Stories before being signed by Life magazine where the money was better. But his quite brief tenure at Planet Stories is credited with the creation of the enduring cliche Bug-Eyed Monster as that’s what his illustrations showed. (Died 1961.)
  • Born March 18, 1926 Peter Graves. Star of Mission Impossible and the short lived Australian-filmed Mission Impossible which if you’ve not seen it you should as it’s damn good. I’m reasonably certain his first genre role was on Red Planet Mars playing Chris Cronyn. Later roles included Gavin Lewis on The Invaders, Major Noah Cooper on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Doug Paul Martin in Killers from Space and Paul Nelson on It Conquered the World. It’s worth noting that a number of his films are featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 series. (Died 2010.)
  • Born March 18, 1932 John Updike. It might surprise you to learn that there are two Eastwick novels, The Witches of Eastwick and The Widows of Eastwick, the latter set some three decades after the first novel ended. He wrote a number of other genre-friendly novels including The Centaur, Brazil and Toward the End of Time.  (Died 2009.)
  • Born March 18, 1947 Drew Struzan, 76. Artist known for his more than a hundred and fifty movie posters which include films in Back to the Future, the Indiana Jones, and Star Wars film franchises. In addition, he designed the original Industrial Light & Magic logo for Lucas. My favorite posters? Back to the FutureThe Goonies and The Dark Crystal.
  • Born March 18, 1950 J. G. Hertzler, 73. He’s best known for his role on Deep Space Nine as the Klingon General (and later Chancellor) Martok. He co-authored with Jeff Lang, Left Hand of Destiny, Book 1, and Left Hand of Destiny, Book 2, which chronicle the life of his character. His very TV first role was a genre one, to wit on Quantum Leap as Weathers Farrington in the “Sea Bride – June 3, 1954” episode. Setting aside DS9, he’s been in ZorroHighlanderThe Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of SupermanCharmedRoswell and the Enterprise series;  for film genre work, I see The Redeemer: Son of SatanTreasure Island: The Adventure Begins and Prelude to Axanar (yet another piece of fanfic). In addition, he’s done a lot of video game voice acting, the obvious Trek work but such franchises as BioShock 2The Golden Compass and Injustice: Gods Among Us. 
  • Born March 18, 1959 Luc Besson, 64. Oh, The Fifth Element, one of my favorite genre films. There’s nothing about it that I don’t like. I’ve not seen Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets and comments leave me disinclined to do so. The Transporter is not genre but I recommend it as a great film none the less.
  • Born March 18, 1960 Richard Biggs. Another way too young death. On Babylon 5 as he appeared as Dr. Stephen Franklin, and reprised the role in the final aired episode of Crusade, “Each Night I Dream of Home”. Other genre roles included playing Roger Garrett on Tremors, Hawkes In The Alien Within, An Unnamed Reporter on Beauty and the Beast, Dr. Thomson on an episode of The Twilight Zone and a Process Server in an episode of The Magical World of Disney. (Died 2004.)
  • Born March 18, 1961 James Davis Nicoll, 62. A freelance game and genre reviewer. A first reader for SFBC as well. Currently he’s a blogger on Dreamwidth and Facebook, and an occasional columnist on Tor.com. In 2014, he started his website, which is dedicated to his book reviews of works old and new; and which later added the highly entertaining Young People Read Old SFF, where that group read prior to Eighties SF and fantasy, and Nicoll and his collaborators comment on the their reactions.

(8) COMICS SECTION.

  • Tom Gauld is at it again.

(9) FALLING BEHIND. The New York Times reports on “How Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant Lost the A.I. Race”.

On a rainy Tuesday in San Francisco, Apple executives took the stage in a crowded auditorium to unveil the fifth-generation iPhone. The phone, which looked identical to the previous version, had a new feature that the audience was soon buzzing about: Siri, a virtual assistant.

Scott Forstall, then Apple’s head of software, pushed an iPhone button to summon Siri and prodded it with questions. At his request, Siri checked the time in Paris (“8:16 p.m.,” Siri replied), defined the word “mitosis” (“Cell division in which the nucleus divides into nuclei containing the same number of chromosomes,” it said) and pulled up a list of 14 highly rated Greek restaurants, five of them in Palo Alto, Calif.

“I’ve been in the A.I. field for a long time, and this still blows me away,” Mr. Forstall said.

That was 12 years ago. Since then, people have been far from blown away by Siri and competing assistants that are powered by artificial intelligence, like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant. The technology has largely remained stagnant, and the talking assistants have become the butt of jokes, including in a 2018 “Saturday Night Live” sketch featuring a smart speaker for seniors.

The tech world is now gushing over a different kind of virtual assistant: chatbots. These A.I.-powered bots, such as ChatGPT and the new ChatGPT Plus from the San Francisco company OpenAI, can improvise answers to questions typed into a chat box with alacrity. People have used ChatGPT to handle complex tasks like coding software, drafting business proposals and writing fiction.

And ChatGPT, which uses A.I. to guess what word comes next, is rapidly improving. A few months ago, it couldn’t write a proper haiku; now it can do so with gusto. On Tuesday, OpenAI unveiled its next-generation A.I. engine, GPT-4, which powers ChatGPT.

The excitement around chatbots illustrates how Siri, Alexa and other voice assistants — which once elicited similar enthusiasm — have squandered their lead in the A.I. race….

(10) STAR TREK INSIGHTS. Rachel Stott is on to something here.

(11) VIDEO OF THE DAY. The Library of America’s panel “Back to the Future Is Female!” can now be viewed on YouTube.

From Pulp Era pioneers to the radical innovators of the 1960s and ’70s, visionary women writers have been a transformative force in American science fiction. For Women’s History Month, acclaimed SF authors Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Pamela Sargent, and Sheree Renée Thomas join Lisa Yaszek, editor of LOA’s The Future Is Female!, for a conversation about the writers who smashed the genre’s gender barrier to create worlds and works that remain revolutionary.

[Thanks to Cat Eldridge, Mike Kennedy, SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, Ferrak MacGoogan, Peer, John King Tarpinian, Chris Barkley, Andrew Porter, and Michael Toman for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Cat Eldridge.]


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15 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 3/18/23 Pixel’s Cat, Neither Scrolling Nor Not Scrolling, You Decide

  1. I might be first? How unlikely, if true.

    Okay, second.

    Exhausted. Trying to put together the money for my move. Listening to the audiobook of Elysium Fire.

  2. Soon Lee: I can either make up an implausible explanation that this is something the cat’s tail is doing, or I can fix the typo. As soon as I get out of the box you’ll know which I did.

  3. 5) Yes, it as a tough week. Jerry Samuels died just five days after Robert Haimer (“Artie Barnes” of Barnes and Barnes).

  4. (2) Simple clue for new writers who haven’t looked into the field (I’ve introduced several to know that there was one, and how it worked): no agent or publisher is going to contact you. Ever. Their slush pile is far too deep, and then there’s the jerks with the chatbot fanfic.

  5. (7) Luc Besson

    Cat, having seen (and loved) both The Fifth Element and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, I suspect that if the former is one of your favorites, then despite the comments, you’ll at least mostly enjoy the latter. Both are bizarre in a good way, and both have moments that are not quite what you’d expect. You might see if your library has it on DVD. You can rent it on Prime Video for a little more than you can borrow it for one night from Redbox (just under $3). I don’t own it but I may have to do something about that now.

  6. These A.I.-powered bots, such as ChatGPT and the new ChatGPT Plus from the San Francisco company OpenAI, can improvise answers to questions typed into a chat box with alacrity. People have used ChatGPT to handle complex tasks like coding software, drafting business proposals and writing fiction.

    Badly, all of those things.

    It’s really weird to me how so many people have uncritically fallen in love with ChatGPT and its ilk. They’re fun toys but extremely unreliable as tools. My favorite recent example: https://www.vice.com/en/article/3akz8y/ai-injected-misinformation-into-article-claiming-misinformation-in-navalny-doc

  7. “ If it’s coming from people that you would, well, you would have thought were allies? …I would assume we share certain values. So yeah, that hits differently. Of course, it hits differently.”
    Sure does. Too bad that Rowling is too busy speculating about ignoble motives of HP fans who oppose her views to recognize that.

  8. Mike Kennedy proclaims definitively that Surely that should’ve been Schröllinger‘s cat.

    First, it’s Schrodinger’s Cat as it’s named after Erwin Schrodinger, and second, no, Pixel has a cat too. Haven’t you heard that all the best pixels have Social Justicie Credentials, and that like all cats, it’s grey after midnight and can walk through walls.

  9. They’re coming to scroll me away, to the pixel farm, where life is beautiful all the time?

  10. (7) Happy birthday (belatedly) to James!

    “Two Scrolls diverged in a File, and I—
    I took the one less Pixeled by,”

  11. 9) The only genuinely useful (which is not to say practical) use I (a programmer) have found so far for ChatGPT is to write code. But in order to get good results you need to describe what you are looking for specifically and explicitly. And even so, it will probably not write precisely the same code twice. So good for a hobbyist or for someone with enough expertise that they can verify the output before adding it to a code base. So a good tool for someone with experience, but not a good tool for skipping the part of your profession where you gain experience.

  12. @Tom Becker: Or Mike could do the flip side of that single, a true masterpiece of pixel scroll insanity. (Or ytinasni llorcs lexip)

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