Pixel Scroll 4/30/17 Scroll Like No One Is Filing You

(1) IS THIS A GOOD IDEA? What did Ray Bradbury think would happen when he left his personal books to the Waukegan Library?

When I covered the legacy in 2013, Bradbury’s daughters had approved trading some of the books to the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies to get other books for the library’s collection. That was before plans for a Bradbury statue got off the ground. The latest on that front is told by The Verge in “Ray Bradbury’s hometown is crowdfunding a statue in his honor”:

The committee is looking to raise $125,000 to fund the project, and launched its campaign earlier this month. Donors who give more than $150 will be given a book from Bradbury’s library. Thus far, the committee has raised around $13,000, with another $20,000 promised. Richard Lee, the Library’s executive director and chair of the statue committee, told The Chicago Tribune that he hoped that the statue will remind area children of the famous author, and that it might inspire them to become writers themselves.

The link for donations is here.

Gifts of any amount will make this project reality. Donors supporting the project at $500 and above will be recognized permanently near the statue on the grounds of Waukegan Public Library….

Gifts of $150 and higher will be acknowledged with a book from Ray Bradbury’s personal library, which was left to Waukegan Public Library after Bradbury’s death in 2012.

(2) COSPLAY MELEE WINNER. Jacqueline Goehner won Season 1 of Syfy’s Cosplay Melee. See her interview here.

(3) CHARON DUNN HAS LAUNCHED AGAIN. And this time she’s following Camestros Felapton’s marketing advice: “I had my cat interview me this time, but he’s not nearly as articulate as Timothy. So much for idea stealing.”

“An Interview with Charon Dunn, author of Retrograde Horizon, by T.B. Kahuna”

I interviewed myself to promote the last book I launched, and it worked! People actually bought copies! I was feeling all self-congratulatory about my self-inflicted promotional ability, when I reflected that everything on the internet is better with a cat in it. Maybe I could get my own cat to interview me to promote my current book!  So I woke T.B. Kahuna from his nap, and bribed him with some catnip and a bilateral ear massage.

Me: Kahuna, I really appreciate your being able to fit this interview into your busy schedule.

T.B. Kahuna: I have food in the square kitty dish but not the round one! Please move it to the round one right now. It’s kind of an emergency.

Me: Sure, but before I do that, I just wanted to talk about my most recent book, Retrograde Horizon….

T.B. Kahuna: Oh no, my catnip-filled squirrel got stuck behind the couch again.

It’s interesting that you should bring up politics. I did a little rewriting after the U.S. presidential election, since one of my villains is a politician – I toned down the violence and opinion-slinging, and I made my bad guy more generic. My stories take place far in the future, long after the corpses of current politicians have decayed into dust and the social problems we’re fighting about have been solved for the most part, leaving room for a whole bunch of new ones (for instance: if we create sentient life, do we have to consider it a sovereign nation?). My goal is escapism for people taking a breather from politics, not to browbeat people about the world they’re trying to escape. [Retrieves squirrel.]…

(4) WELCOME TO THE CLUB. Well said.

(5) DOING JUSTICE. Is the studio doing enough to promote Wonder Woman? Here’s an uptick in marketing from the past couple of days. “Wonder Woman: Diana, Steve Trevor & Etta Candy Arrive in New Photos”

Warner Bros. has released a handful of new images for the “Wonder Woman,” featuring Gal Gadot as Diana Prince, Chris Pine as Steve Trevor, Saïd Taghmaoui as Sameer and Lucy Davis as Etta candy.

The photos arrive amid criticisms that the studio isn’t promoting director Patty Jenkins’ film as heavily as it did last year’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Suicide Squad.” However, it was revealed late last week that advertising spending for “Wonder Woman” is outpacing that for “Suicide Squad” at the same point in pre-release


(6) HOW PLASTIC WAS MY VALLEY. Silicon Valley deconstructed by In the Circle, on NPR: “In ‘The Circle’, What We Give Up When We Share Ourselves”.

The Circle, the film based on the novel by Dave Eggers, presents a dystopian view of the direction Silicon Valley is taking the world. And, as a longtime Silicon Valley correspondent, I have to say there is a lot that this comic and spooky film gets right.

Let’s start with the main character, Mae, a recent college grad played by Emma Watson. Mae is eager, idealistic and versed in the kind of marketing verbiage that rolls off the tongues of way too many young people in Silicon Valley. When she goes for a job interview at the Circle — the world’s biggest tech company — she impresses her interviewer with a comically perfect description of the company’s main service.

Sounding like a commercial voice-over, she says: “Before TrueYou, it was like you needed a different vehicle for every single one of your errands. And no one should have to own 87 different cars. It doesn’t make sense. It’s the chaos of the Web made elegant and simple.”

(7) THE ROADS MUST BURROW. More SF from Elon Musk: underground highways to reduce traffic jams: “Ted 2017: Elon Musk’s vision for underground road system”.

In a wide-ranging conversation with Ted curator Chris Anderson, the founder of Tesla and Space X said that he was inspired to consider a tunnel system to alleviate congestion because he found being stuck in traffic “soul-destroying”.

Chip Hitchcock sent the link with a comment, “The Big Dig may have been exceptionally expensive, but I don’t see this happening for under a billion dollars a mile.”

(8) FEELS MUGGY. There is a fantasy design, and several of the other designs also include one or two sff writers.

This sturdy 11 ounce (i.e., normal size) white ceramic mug is both microwave and dishwasher safe. There are books all the way around it, so it works beautifully for both coffee and tea drinkers, and for both righties and lefties.

This set is of 20 of the most beloved fantasy books of all time, including Game of Thrones, The Fellowship of the Ring, Stardust, and The Last Unicorn.

You know I’ll never hear the end of it unless I show you the one with a Bradbury reference. (It’s the third book from the right.)

(9) PINNING AWAY FOR THE FJORDS. The same outfit sells book pins like these. Use your psychic powers to figure out which one John King Tarpinian now owns.

(10) ZAHN’S STAR WARS NOVELS. THRAWN by Timothy Zahn, was published by Del Rey on April 11.

One of the most cunning and ruthless warriors in the history of the Galactic Empire, Grand Admiral Thrawn is also one of the most captivating characters in the Star Wars universe, from his introduction in bestselling author Timothy Zahn’s classic Heir to the Empire through his continuing adventures in Dark Force Rising, The Last Command, and beyond.

But Thrawn’s origins and the story of his rise in the Imperial ranks have remained mysterious. Now, in Star Wars: Thrawn, Timothy Zahn chronicles the fateful events that launched the blue-skinned, red-eyed master of military strategy and lethal warfare into the highest realms of power—and infamy.

Other Thrawn novels:

Thrawn Trilogy:

  • Heir to the Empire
  • Dark Force Rising
  • The Last Command

Hand of Thrawn:

  • Specter of the Past
  • Vision of the Future

Star Wars Legends:

  • Outbound Flight
  • Choices of One

Carl Slaughter notes, “I have not been able to find material in Wikipedia, Amazon, or Good Reads about the previous Thrawn novels that provides insight into the development of the Thrawn character and his place in the Star Wars Universe.  I would appreciate anyone linking to or writing such material. “

(11) PAINFUL BUT GREAT. Review of The Handmaid’s Tale TV show by Annalee Newitz at Ars Technica. “The Handmaid’s Tale is the most horrific thing I have ever seen”

What’s really stunning about The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t its evocation of a dark political future, however. It’s the way we’re drawn into the personal perspective of June, a book editor who paid very little attention to politics until one day her credit card stopped working. Because she’s fertile, June is sent to a reeducation camp for handmaids. Eventually she’s renamed “Offred” when she becomes the property of a man named Fred and his supposedly infertile wife. Other women aren’t so lucky. The infertile are sent to die cleaning up toxic waste in the colonies. Lesbian “gender traitors” are hanged in public places, where their bodies are left on display for days.

(12) A HANDMAID’S TRAILER. You might be curious to compare the trailer for the 1990 adaptation of A Handmaid’s Tale with the current one.

(13) ONE ADAM-12. Grammar brawl in progress. Proceed Code Three.

(14) IT’S GREAT TO BE A GENIUS OF COURSE. C. and Matt make a promising beginning as two snooty critics in “The 2017 Hugo Awards shortlist: a conversation between two SFF fans” just before completely embarrassing themselves:

C. …So when I say I looked at this year’s list with a sigh, I’m being pretty literal. I’m quite resigned to the fact that the Hugo isn’t the best award for my tastes.

Matt …So over the last last three years I have tried to get involved.  The Hugos are not perfect they have been prone to white US male for a long time but it’s changing.  This year I think we have an almost puppy free list and that finally allows a debate on the quality of the books!

Be that as it may – they decided to go ahead with their debate although each admits not having read half the nominees for Best Novel. Here’s a scorecard —

All the Birds in the Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders

  • C: (Quit at page 150)
  • M: (Finished book)

A Closed and Common Orbit, by Becky Chambers

  • C : (Refused to read – didn’t like first book)
  • M. (Read)

Death’s End, by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu

  • C: (Read)
  • M. (Hasn’t read)

Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee

  • C. (Read)
  • M. (Read)

The Obelisk Gate, by N. K. Jemisin

  • C. (Read)
  • M. (Hasn’t read)

Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer (Tor Books)

  • C. (Hasn’t read)
  • M. (Hasn’t read)

Yet they confidently offer this opinion about the award –

So, let’s face it: both of some of the most popular novels on the list aren’t novels that, to me, bring something new to the genre. They are certainly crowd pleasers but I really wonder at their future legacy.

How the hell would they know? And then they go on to cover themselves with even more glory, discussing what they haven’t read in the rest of the award categories.

(15) FIVE MISCONCEPTIONS. Vintage Geek Culture seeks to convince readers there are places where the narrative and factual history part company: “Top Misconceptions People Have about Pulp-Era Science Fiction“. There are five, which, as we know, is the magic number.

“Racism was endemic to the pulps.”

It is absolutely true that the pulps reflected the unconscious views of society as a whole at the time, but as typical of history, the reality was usually much more complex than our mental image of the era. For instance, overt racism was usually shown as villainous: in most exploration magazines like Adventure, you can typically play “spot the evil asshole we’re not supposed to like” by seeing who calls the people of India “dirty monkeys” (as in Harold Lamb).

Street & Smith, the largest of all of the pulp publishers, had a standing rule in the 1920s-1930s to never to use villains who were ethnic minorities because of the fear of spreading race hate by negative portrayals. In fact, in one known case, the villain of Resurrection Day was going to be a Japanese General, but the publisher demanded a revision and he was changed to an American criminal. Try to imagine if a modern-day TV network made a rule that minority groups were not to be depicted as gang bangers or drug dealers, for fear that this would create prejudice when people interact with minority groups in everyday life, and you can see how revolutionary this policy was. It’s a mistake to call this era very enlightened, but it’s also a mistake to say everyone born before 1970 was evil.

(16) SPACE AT ANY SPEED. CBS Sunday Morning’s  “Book excerpt: Neil deGrasse Tyson’s ‘Astrophysics for People in a Hurry'” inspires me to paraphrase Emily Dickinson’s line about death – “I could not slow for astrophysics, so astrophysics kindly slowed for me…”

Time is relative, but some of us still don’t have enough of it to fully take in the most salient aspects of such topics as dark matter, exoplanets, the Big Bang, and why so many objects in outer space are spherical.

Fortunately, we have Neil deGrasse Tyson, whose latest book, “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry” (published Tuesday from WW Norton), offers a shortcut to scientific literacy, with entertaining, bite-sized chapters that explore cosmic questions.

Read the excerpts below. And make time for Martha Teichner’s interview with Tyson on CBS’ “Sunday Morning” April 30!

Excerpt from the chapter entitled “Dark Energy”

So what is the stuff? Nobody knows. The closest anybody has come is to presume dark energy is a quantum effect — where the vacuum of space, instead of being empty, actually seethes with particles and their antimatter counterparts.

They pop in and out of existence in pairs, and don’t last long enough to be measured. Their transient existence is captured in their moniker: virtual particles. The remarkable legacy of quantum mechanics — the physics of the small — demands that we give this idea serious attention. Each pair of virtual particles exerts a little bit of outward pressure as it ever so briefly elbows its way into space.

Unfortunately, when you estimate the amount of repulsive “vacuum pressure” that arises from the abbreviated lives of virtual particles, the result is more than 10120 times bigger than the experimentally determined value of the cosmological constant. This is a stupidly large factor — a consequence of what may be the most embarrassing calculation ever made, leading to the biggest mismatch between theory and observation in the history of science.

(18) SHARPEN UP THOSE SKILLS. CinemaBlend says “Machete Kills Again In Space Is Actually Happening”.

If you saw Machete Kills in theaters, then you probably also saw that hilariously ridiculous trailer for something called Machete Kills Again…in Space. At the time, we thought that was all we were going to get of the supposed third installment of the Danny Trejo-led franchise, but the man himself has confirmed that this is in fact in the works. Yes, we will be seeing Machete going berserk…in space! Trejo told Halloween Daily News that he and Robert Rodriguez, his Machete director, will be filming Machete Kills in Space. (Apparently they thought the “Again…” part was unnecessary.) We won’t even have to wait too long for it, as he also said that they will be “working on it this year.” If Trejo can’t land a part in Star Wars: Episode 7, 8 and/or 9, he’ll at the very least be able to brandish a lightsaber machete.

This is the 2014 teaser —

[Thanks to JJ, David K.M. Klaus, Chip Hitchcock, John King Tarpinian, Mark-kitteh, and Carl Slaughter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Kip W.]

168 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 4/30/17 Scroll Like No One Is Filing You

  1. @Eli: The “Colossal” trailer didn’t just not look fairly dark; it looked downright comedic, if kinda weird. Thanks for the warning; I’m fine with dark, but I’d rather know it’s dark, than expect comedy and get dark.

  2. (14) This was actually a pleasant surprise, after that intro 😛

    Matt seems totally into the shortlist — “For me it’s a strong list and three of them were on my ballot. I think it’s a list that looks very much like where SF is going” He was also super enthusiastic about each of the books he’d read.

    As for C. , it would’ve nice if he hadn’t started off so dismissively, but I think this mostly came out unbalanced — he squees all over Obelisk Gate, and can’t wait to read TLTL. Enthusiasm over 2, cheerful over one, and the other three he gave good reasons for disliking or avoiding. But the way it’s arranged, all the snark comes first.

    I read this as a casual discussion, quite clearly between people who aren’t authoritative, nor are they trying to be. Engendering this kind of thing is exactly what the Hugos are awesome at (and the tweet in (4) expresses this very nicely 🙂 ).

    The opening is unfortunate, and I can see how it can color the entire piece. But dissatisfaction with the Hugos is a proud Hugo tradition; with the Puppies in remission, we’re going to see it sprouting up again 🙂

  3. Standback: It’s the not reading a bunch of stuff they’re commenting on that is unfortunate.

    What claim the Hugos have on the larger culture is that the participants are expressing individual preferences for things they’ve read.

  4. @Mike: To me it looks… more like liveblogging their current reading, I guess.

    I think it’s completely legit to go “Well, I hated the previous book so I’m not going to read this one, even for the Hugos.”

    I wouldn’t present that as a review of the book (and I don’t think they did). What they did do, which I agree is frustrating, is present this as a summary of reading the shortlist, when actually they haven’t read the shortlist.

    But taken as “Here are my current impressions of the shortlist, based on what I’ve read and what I already know I’d rather avoid”, I think it’s OK. 🙂
    (I’m much more comfortable with that than the Shadow Clarke’s “I’m shortlisting this book I haven’t read yet… and even that I’m pretty OK with. I’m a big softie, I guess 😛 )

  5. @Carl Slaughter
    I don’t know if someone has mentioned this or you’ve already found it, but http://www.starwars.wikia.com otherwise known as wookieepedia is THE source for Star Wars info. Note of caution, its as large a rabbit hole as tvtropes or any other website of that nature

  6. Standback: What they did do, which I agree is frustrating, is present this as a summary of reading the shortlist, when actually they haven’t read the shortlist.

    That was my issue with the piece: they are very clearly presenting it as a review roundup of the Hugo shortlist, more than half of which they haven’t even read.

    I think the piece would have had a lot more value if it had just included comments from the things they had read or seen; I mean really, where is the value in a bunch of “haven’t read it yet”s and “looking forward to it”s? Or they could have even waited until they could post reviews for the vast majority of the shortlist.

    I love that they’re enthused. But I think that they kind of shot themselves in the foot with this one. The next time I see one of their blog posts linked, I’m likely to think it’s not worth clicking on.

  7. Colossal was definitely dark comedy with a very weird tonal shift midway through for a character that I still am not sure works. The movie’s plot hinges on it though.

  8. Graphs have a center that’s not a point. I’d have to think a while about whether the graphs is actually centered on it or around it or at all in that relation to it.

    John Barnes’ Timeline Wars had a useful and usable innovation of some sort sent near Alexander’s time in Caesar’s Bicycle. I’ll check and see what it was.

  9. Hi everyone! I’m C. from The Middle Shelf which is linked in this piece. I saw the referral in my stats and followed it.

    First I’d like to thank everyone for their comments. What I take from them is that we obviously didn’t emphasized enough that it was nothing but a conversation between two fans and not a review, just the kind of stuff you’d say in the pub to your mates on a Saturday night. If you want more meaty stuff, The Middle Shelf has them too whether in the reviews section or on “While we were reading”, including, if I may say so myself, a great comparative study of Hammers on Bones and The Ballad of Black Tom *pats self on the back*.

    I take on board the comments that my opening comments are a tad too snarky: sadly we followed the shortlist order and I relied on Matt’s comment to provide balance. But in the end the fact is that, no, you’re right, I didn’t read much on this shortlist because as I said initially, my tastes rarely run with the Hugos (though I’ve also read since The Ballad of Black Tom and loved it).

    But, hey! If you’re not too repulsed by this Hugo post, feel free to drop by after 3rd May as the Clarke shortlist will be known and I’m pretty sure this time I’ll have read a lot of books that’ll end up on it before Matt and I have a conversation about it!

  10. 13) I tried visualizing the sort of eldritch geometries you would need, in order to have the centre go around something else… I found myself in a conceptual space full of strange chanting and tentacles.

    14) Everyone’s entitled to an opinion. If you want it to be an informed opinion, though, you’re going to have to read the damn books.

  11. Centered on indicates one single center point, as with a circle. Perhaps “centered around” is more of an elliptical reference.

  12. (8) FEELS MUGGY.

    You know I’ll never hear the end of it unless I show you the one with a Bradbury reference. (It’s the third book from the right.)

    Does that mean that Mike won’t hear the end of it, since there’s (at least) two more mugs with Bradbury references that he didn’t show us?
    (A high SF ratio on that one. Including (12).)
    And there is more Bradbury in the Prints section …

    Overall, that site seems like very clever art/business idea. A relatively simple idea, with enormous potential to create semi-customized merchandise.

  13. As many times as I’ve seen it referenced, I’ve never actually seen a copy of Hawk Among The Sparrows. My thoughts instead went to The Man Who Came Early by Poul Anderson.

    Setting aside the communications problems from linguistic drift, the problem of bootstrapping is at least partly abstraction of earlier advances contained in earlier technology plus supply chain. Even black powder (charcoal, saltpeter, sulphur, [hollow log, diamond]) on Googling looks to be a more difficult problem than I would have guessed.

    What would easily achievable low tech bootstrapping look like?

    Yoke (Yay, King David’s Spaceship!)
    Bicycle (referenced in a title above)
    Balloon? (Do we have a good supply or replacement for silk?)

    What else?

  14. @Kip W: like the title.

    @Bonnie McDaniel: logic break here? They don’t have to have read all of the novels to say that some of the novels on the list don’t break new ground. I admit their approach is irritating, but that’s a separate issue — and explaining the first Chambers as Firefly fanfic makes it less senseless (based on the very little I know about the show). (I thought even the 2nd Chambers was not as heavy with the authorial hand but too much look-at-me-I’m-groundbreaking.)

    @Techgrrl1972: I wouldn’t assume that the 5000 passengers would include nobody who can deal with whatever languages were spoken in that time/place; e.g., when did ancient Greek become the common tongue (koine) of how much of the Mediterranean? But I agree that refueling is improbable; the effort to get enough fuel to move the ship would probably(*) be much greater than that required to move those troops on galleys — not to mention how hard it would be to land those troops in hostile conditions from modern covered lifeboats while galleys can be (almost?) beached. And the ship could probably get away with dumping its sewage, but those 5000 would need a lot of fresh water that would have to be lightered from shore.
    (*) the modern petroleum boom started with a gusher in Pennsylvania — at least according to U.S. history books. Was there surface oil anywhere in the Mediterranean basin? IIRC ships’ fuel is not far above asphalt; the mix of compounds in crude oil might be touchier to work with but might be usable without refining. (This was not my professional area in chemistry; crxns welcome. e.g., is “bunker” fuel only for freighters?)

    @P J Evans: exactly the story that occurred to me; I was also remembering the useless missile that couldn’t track the relatively tiny heat sources of WWI airplane engines.

    @Iphinome: could that area/time build something strong enough to contain/direct a black-powder explosion? (i.e., something cannonlike — I know that’s many centuries into the Iron Age but not how much of it they had or could handle in one piece.) OTOH, I suppose they could hurl buckets of black powder with lit fuses since they had siege engines — for slightly greater effect than your suggested shock (especially if some brightboy thought of mixing the powder with scrap metal), although I’m remembering that Chinese rockets were used more for shock&awe than for direct effect.

    @John A Arkansawyer: Graphs have a center that’s not a point. What is the center of a graph if not a point? Isn’t the intersection of two lines still a point? (Maybe it’s not; I was a lot better at analytical geometry than plane/qualitative geometry.)

  15. The mug with twenty beloved fantasy books seems to me to have only nineteen. I counted several times in case I had missed something. (Though if you count the Pullman as three – and I agree, there’s no reason why he should get the whole series while everyone else gets only one volume – there are twenty-one. But then, come to think of it, The Once and Future King is also a series, which makes it twenty-four.)

    Dragonflight is science fiction, of course.

    Six and a half are children’s/YA (the half being TOAFK, which starts out as a children’s series but changes).

  16. @Chip Hitchcock

    I think most modern cruise liners are either diesel engined or electric engined powered by diesel generator. Warships are mostly gas turbine fueled by jet fuel (i.e. highly refined kerosene).

  17. 12) I watched the first episode. It was very good, but I can’t watch anymore. It’s just too depressing. Our own dystopia seems far too imminent.

  18. 15: those Tumblr folks need to stick to posting images of retro SF TV…it’s like they’re treating the entire 1926-1999 era as one time period.

    @Thornton: YAY! The Strand

  19. @Chip: Bronze cannon were favoured for a long time, Iron castings had a tendency to crack. A civilization capable of casting large bronze statues would be able to make cannon barrels.

  20. I haven’t read “Hawk Among the Sparrows” or any of the novels being discussed, but I’m reminded of the movie The Final Countdown, where the USS Nimitz found itself cast back do December, 1941, and at one point a couple of F-14 Tomcats were trying to engage some Japanese Zeroes.

  21. @Sean Kirk

    To be fair, Dave Thomas didn’t graduate high school until he was in his 60s. And still built two of the most popular fast food chains in history.

  22. It’s funny how people will notice that some aspect of language isn’t 100% logical and then suddenly obsess over it. I never see anyone try to do that for a foreign language, though. You just accept that words in combination may mean something different from what they mean in isolation.

    In Spanish, for example, “dar” is the verb “to give” and “con” is the preposition “with” but the expression “dar con” means (among other things) “to find by accident/stumble across.” I cannot imagine anyone trying to argue that dar con is somehow “wrong” because it “really” means “give with.”

    As for “centered around” vs. “centered on” it surprises me that any native speaker does not “license” both expressions. (Linguists rarely say that things are “right” or “wrong”; we say that native speakers “license” (accept) or “don’t license” (reject) certain expressions.) Both are participles, so it depends on whether you buy “to center around” and “to center on” as verbs. To me, they both imply adherence to some theme, but “center on” promises greater fidelity to that theme.

    “The anthology centers on climate change.”

    It almost sounds to me like that’s the marketing strategy. “If there’s no climate change, no one will buy it!”

    “The anthology centers around climate change.”

    Now it sounds like the stories are going to involve climate change. It’s a subtle difference, though, and I wouldn’t be surprised if most people don’t make it.

    As to the notion that a center has to be a point, the chocolaty center of a tootsie pop had better not be a point, or I’ll want my money back! 🙂

  23. In one of Fred Saberhagen’s Empire of the East books, probably Changeling Earth, there’s a genie/djinn who will give you anything you want, but you have to be specific. There’s a sequence where an army is trying to get hot air balloons. They want them resistant to arrows, so they start out as metal hot air balloons. After much back and forth, I think they wind up with more traditional hot air balloons with a light plastic mail.

  24. @Iphinome
    We had Technology in the Ancient World – it’s really quite surprising what they had, and what could have been improved with just a little work. (I suggested knitting because they had wool and linen available, and, as I said, needles are basically mandrels. Drop a couple of them wound with wire ready to be cut, have the loops tangle, and someone might get a bright idea.)

  25. @Chip Hitchcock as per @Anthony it’ said Archimedes invented a steam cannon. I would not bother. A trebuchet has to be better.

    Cast iron is no-go, it cracks as @Anthony said, and no blast furnaces. Plus just knowing about the blast furnace doesn’t mean you could design a working one, I’ve seen sketches of old ones and I doubt I could get it to work without wasting a lot in trial and error.

    Hammer out something to contain the explosion, sure. How far and how heavy a ball? Out preforming a catapult or trebuchet is your goal or you’re just being wasteful.

  26. The 2017 Derringer Awards winners, for short mystery fiction, have been announced. One of my short stories, “Beks and the Second Note”, was a nominee in the Best Short Story category, the first time I’ve received an award nomination..

    Spoiler: I didn’t win. (Congrats to Linda Barnes, whose story I’m not at all surprised won; it was very good.) But it was exciting to finally have a story of mine get some award attention.

  27. @Iphinome
    In 1632 they also had a town library and highschool, a cruise ship is going to have less in the way of reference material.

    I dunno, a cruise ship with capacity for 5000 passengers is like a small town. I suppose it would have something like a Chief Engineer. If he’s like every engineer I’ve ever known, he’ll have a bunch of technical books scattered around his office. And it’s more likely that they’ll be books on thermo (steam tables, classes of heat engines) and metallurgy (both of which would be sort of useful) than, say, circuit design (which wouldn’t be so useful).

    And I’ve seen machine shops on ships much smaller. The LST 325 came by a few years ago, and it had a small, well-equipped shop. A machinist will have reference books on hand, like Machinery’s Handbook.

    The ship’s medical officer might well have a copy of something like an emergency medicine reference book. The chef would have cookbooks. And many cruise ships have libraries.

  28. @Greg Hullender: In fairness, there’s a difference between correct and incorrect (or nonsensical) usage and idioms (like “dar con”) where the literal meaning of two words isn’t relevant because the phrase has a different meaning than its parts.* This feels more like the former to me. On the other paw, Mirriam-Webster says “centers around” is an idiom, so what do I know! 😉

    Still, as a native English speaker, various things sound better to my ear – like “centers near” or “revolves around” or “focuses on,” for example. “Centers around” doesn’t sound as wrong as some word combinations , but it sounds “off,” like something a non-native speaker might say. But again – M-W disagrees.

    LOL re. the Tootsie Pop, though it seems to support on versus around. I mean, your Tootsie Pop center isn’t around the rest of the pop. It’s in the middle of the pop (middle and center sometimes being used interchangeably). Plus, you’re making me hungry and I haven’t had eaten yet today.

    Here’s a slightly interesting discussion at English StackExchange about this. (This links to M-W.)


  29. @Iphinome You are right, though, in that it would be less than the libraries of a small West Virginia town. But there would be something.

  30. Scalzi’s comments reflect his background as a journalist–someone forced for years to follow rigid, arbitrary style guides which often have little relationship to how English actually works. Note that when someone pointed out (correctly) that “centered around” was idiomatic, his only response was a sort of feigned outrage.

    I note that people here seem to be falling into what I call the logical fallacy: “it makes sense/doesn’t make sense, therefore it must be correct/incorrect.” This is a fallacy because language doesn’t work that way! One of my favorite counter-examples, because it’s standard on both sides of the pond, is the phrase “head over heels”. This makes no sense whatsoever, but if you try to reverse it to make sense (“heels over head”), people will stare at you in bemusement.

    Or consider the word “terrific”. It’s derived from the word “terror”, and it makes no sense to use it to refer to something good, but people do anyway. And no one is ever confused. Language doesn’t have to make sense. It just has to communicate common, shared ideas.

    Anyway, to me, the phrase “centered around” suggests something like a scatter-chart. Not precisely centered on a specific point, but generally centered around it, more-or-less (depending on your error bars). 🙂

  31. Re cannon, I seem to remember learning at Gettysburg that both bronze and iron cannons were used in the US Civil War, and that the cannons sometimes exploded during use.

    I recommend taking the private tour. A docent will hop into your car with your group. You drive around the battlefield area and they will tell you about the battle. It was very different from anything thay I had pictured. For one thing, it’s sprawling. You stop and get out to look at sites of specific interest.

    After our day there, we had dinner at a farmhouse turned restaurant . They had recently renovated when we visited years ago, and had been surprised to discover that the farmhouse had been part of the Underground Railroad. The secret rooms are now visible to the public.

  32. @Xtifr

    re: “head over heels”

    I always read that as falling forward headfirst, and heels going up in the air; i.e., tumbling, perhaps down a slope, or perhaps metaphorically–falling head over heels in love.

  33. Xtifr: I note that people here seem to be falling into what I call the logical fallacy: “it makes sense/doesn’t make sense, therefore it must be correct/incorrect.” This is a fallacy because language doesn’t work that way!

    How strange. I would have said it works exactly that way. That’s one reason languages change over time, as the meanings of words multiply or transmute, new idioms are created and familiar ones fall out of vogue. Grammar is an attempt to explain how communication works, but despite all efforts in that direction it is not an irrefutable mold into which words are poured.

  34. Everyone uses language differently, and one person’s idiomatic expression is another’s “huh, what?” In this case, “centered around” isn’t an idiom I’ve previously run into – maybe it’s more common in American English? – so I tend to focus on the literal meaning of the words… which makes it look, to me, like a bloomin’ silly thing to say. YMMV, and it’d be a funny old world if we were all the same, and all that sort of thing….

  35. Started out as “heels over head” in the 14th century and had become “head over heels” by the 18th century.

  36. Actually, the more I think about it, the more I realize that “centered around” is perfectly logical! Despite what some may claim.

    A set of circles centered on a point must be concentric or congruent. If the circles are not concentric or congruent, then they are merely centered around a point.

    QEFD. 😀

  37. Jonathan French’s The Grey Bastards – winner of Mark Lawrence’s Self Published Fantasy blog off thing as mentioned in a recent Scroll – has now been picked up by a trad publisher.

    It will only be available in its current form until the end of May before being taken off the market and re-released, so anyone interested in checking it out might want to pull the trigger.


  38. I think I would start with book printing press. That would help to get up the educational level (this should already have been invented in 1632). After that some kind of steam power or water wheel. After that, the spinning wheel, if I could figure out in my head how to recreate it.

    With the basics of education and mechanics, I think a lot of stuff would start to happen by itself.

  39. For what it’s worth, linguists have a somewhat tighter definition for idiom than the general public does. To be an idiom, in addition to meaning more than the sum of its parts, a phase needs to be “unproductive,” meaning you can’t change it around the way you can normal phrases.

    Example “to kick the bucket” is an idiom because you can’t say things like “The bucket was kicked by Jim.” You can’t even say “he’s kicking the bucket,” even though “he’s dying” works fine.

    Dictionary companies tend to think an idiom is any combination of words that needs its own entry. I can see their point, but I prefer the linguistic definition. Otherwise too many things get called idioms.

  40. My pet peeve phrase is “wants to have their cake and eat it too.” Of course you’d want to eat a cake that you have. That’s the point of having a cake! It’s the eating a cake and still having it that’s impossible, but no one ever says it in that order.

  41. Hampus: Dawww! Are you getting the cat in a month? I must have missed some backstory.

    Greg H: I’ve been seeing comments in Spanish Duolingo under your name. Is that you? They’re always very helpful, so thank you! (I’m jonesnori there.)

  42. I am now going to insist that my obituary begin, “The bucket was kicked by Joe on [some date hopefully far, far in the future]…”

  43. @Viverrine – My pet peeve phrase is “wants to have their cake and eat it too.” Of course you’d want to eat a cake that you have.

    Yeah, it bugs me too. Does it make more sense if you know that the “too” got tacked on at some later point? Without it, you would want to have your cake and also eat it (without losing the cake), and who wouldn’t want that.

    But, really, I’m just posting to say awwww, what a cute kitten.

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