(1) SFWA GIVERS FUND GRANT DEADLINE OCTOBER 1. During SFWA’s recent annual business meeting, Chief Financial Officer Erin M. Hartshorn gave an update on the current amounts in each of the organization’s benevolent funds: $388,000 for the Emergency Medical Fund, $66,000 for the Legal Fund, and $103,000 for the Givers Fund, which will give away $30,000 worth of grants this fall. Applications for grants from the Givers Fund are due October 1.
(2) RUSHDIE TO SPEAK. On October 21, Salman Rushdie will make one of his first in-person appearances since being severely injured in a stabbing attack last August, at Frankfurter Buchmesse: “Salman Rushdie Appears at Frankfurt’s Saturday Gala” reports Publishing Perspectives.
…This program, supported by ARD, ZDF, and 3sat, precedes the October 22 presentation to Rushdie of the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, as Publishing Perspectives readers know. The award carries a purse of €25,000 (US$26,389).
In a statement today, Frankfurt president and CEO Juergen Boos has said, “I was very moved that Salman Rushdie is not missing the opportunity to meet the audience in Frankfurt in person, in addition to attending the award ceremony for the Peace Prize….
…As you’ll remember, the stabbing attack on Rushdie at the Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York occurred on August 12, 2022. Dealing with severe injuries and the preparation of his new book, Rushdie has made very few public appearances since then, one of them in May in a videotaped message from New York for the British Book Awards….
(3) HOW NETFLIX DVD WORKED. [Item by Dan Bloch.] Tomorrow is, of course, Netflix DVDs last day, and there are of course lots of articles about this, all saying more or less the same thing (“Netflix DVD, we’ll miss you, even though we canceled our subscription a long time ago”). This one is different: “Netflix’s DVD service shuts down: here’s the complex tech behind it” at The Verge. It’s a longish but very interesting article about how the technology in their shipping hubs works.
… Bronway custom-designed a massive disc robot called the “automated rental return machine,” or ARRM 3660. The ARRM, as Netflix employees simply called it, was an assembly-line-sized machine consisting of 6,500 parts total. At its center were two carousels, housed behind glass doors, that were loaded up with incoming mail and then used pneumatic arms to perform all of the things people had done before: slice open returned envelopes, unpack discs, inspect them, clean them, add them to a facility’s inventory system, and get them ready to go out of the door again — basically, every job short of sorting discs and stuffing envelopes for the next customer.
The robotics company sold 180 of these machines to Netflix in 2010, and they were deployed in stages across all of its hubs. The labor savings alone were enormous. “The hubs were a spectacular number of people,” recalled Johnson. “You could replace about five humans opening the discs with one machine.”
Once a hub was fully automated, it really only required a handful of people to operate. Warehouse workers would arrive at 2AM each day to flip on the machines and process tens of thousands of DVDs in time to deliver them to the Postal Service later that morning. “It was just one person per machine,” Gallion said. “You’d have one person running the stuffer, one person running the sorter, one person running the rental return machine.”
But automation wasn’t just about labor costs alone. Machines were also a lot better at their job, which led to less frustration for Netflix subscribers. Customers who borrowed entire seasons of a TV show would frequently mix up discs — they might put season 7 disc one of The Simpsons in the sleeve for season 7 disc two.
Netflix hub employees were supposed to catch those mix-ups and make sure that the next customer didn’t accidentally receive the wrong disc. “But humans aren’t very good at that,” Johnson said. Machines, on the other hand, aren’t fooled by similar-looking titles. “If barcode A doesn’t match barcode B, then clearly, you’ve got a mismatch,” he said…
(4) PLUMBING THE ABSTRUSE. Timothy B. Lee and Sean Trott promise: “Large language models, explained with a minimum of math and jargon” at Understanding AI.
… If you know anything about this subject, you’ve probably heard that LLMs are trained to “predict the next word,” and that they require huge amounts of text to do this. But that tends to be where the explanation stops. The details of how they predict the next word is often treated as a deep mystery.
One reason for this is the unusual way these systems were developed. Conventional software is created by human programmers who give computers explicit, step-by-step instructions. In contrast, ChatGPT is built on a neural network that was trained using billions of words of ordinary language.
As a result, no one on Earth fully understands the inner workings of LLMs. Researchers are working to gain a better understanding, but this is a slow process that will take years—perhaps decades—to complete.
Still, there’s a lot that experts do understand about how these systems work. The goal of this article is to make a lot of this knowledge accessible to a broad audience. We’ll aim to explain what’s known about the inner workings of these models without resorting to technical jargon or advanced math….
(5) CHENGDU WORLDCON UPDATE. [Item by Ersatz Culture.]
- Day tickets still not available
After the closure of regular ticket sales – on the con site, and on the damai.cn vendor site – the day tickets that were promised exactly a week ago — https://en.chengduworldcon.com/news3_35_95_32_66_76_50/151.html — have not yet materialized. Here’s a (Chinese language) Weibo post from File 770 commenter Adaoli summarizing the situation: https://weibo.com/5726230680/Nllv9A08q
- Chinese anthology of short stories by Cixin Liu, Robert Sawyer and Sergei Lukyanenko to be published in October — https://book.douban.com/subject/36519554/
I’m not sure if this is a new announcement, but I don’t recall seeing any mention of it prior to today. Douban – which can be compared to both IMDB and Goodreads – has a listing for “Stellar Concerto”, which features stories from the three Worldcon GoHs. The listing indicates there are new stories in this anthology, although I assume that means they are new in translation, but have been previously published in their original language. The publisher is the Chengdu-based 8 Light Minutes Culture, which has a few staff on the Chengdu concom.
- HelloChengdu magazine SF special — https://weibo.com/1662229842/NlnnPvnGo
The October issue’s cover feature is about SF, although it doesn’t seem to have an explicit Worldcon connection, on the cover at least. There are photos of some of the interior content, which seems to involve at least a couple of people on the concom, at this Weibo post: https://weibo.com/1662229842/NlnnPvnGo
- Another Worldcon promo video post — https://weibo.com/3167104922/Nl2ym33oX
The HelloChengdu Weibo account linked to a Sichuan Daily post from a couple of days ago with a 2-minute Worldcon-related video that has CG renderings of the venue that I don’t think I’ve seen before. Although given that the con is ~20 days away, I’d have thought the time for CG renders over real-world footage should have long passed.
- 50-minute video explaining how The Three-Body Problem came to win the Hugo — https://weibo.com/tv/show/1034:4950663621443638?from=old_pc_videoshow
This one is way beyond my negligible language skills – and I think it might be a repost of something previously released – but I believe it goes over the Puppies stuff (29:43 and later), Marko Kloos declining his Hugo nomination (from 36:26) and the resulting elevation of The Three-Body Problem to be a finalist., Other people/things shown or namechecked include: VD and LC (30:02, VD numerous times after that), Zoe Quinn (from 32:39), GRRM’s Puppygate blog post (37:33), N. K. Jemisin (40:30), Robert Silverberg (45:24), the “GRRM Can Fuck Off Into the Sun” blog post (48:00).
This isn’t something that most File 770 readers are going to need or want to watch, but I think it’s a good illustration that Chinese fans aren’t ignorant of stuff that happens in the Anglosphere.
(6) SOMETHING MISSING. Abigail Nussbaum voices the opinion that “Terry Pratchett: A Life With Footnotes by Rob Wilkins” has a lot of deficiencies as a biography at Asking the Wrong Questions.
…The core problem of A Life With Footnotes is one that felt easy to predict before even turning the first page. Terry Pratchett, to be perfectly blunt, did not live a particularly interesting life. He was the precocious son of working class parents in post-war England, who fell in love with science fiction and fantasy in his teens, fooled around with writing them with only moderate success, did some creative-adjacent salaried work (journalism, then PR), and then hit on a concept that ballooned into a world-class success with remarkable speed, after which he was very rich and very successful for the rest of his life. In other words, the life story of quite a few midcentury authors (give or take the stratospheric success). What set Pratchett apart, like most writers, was what was going on in his head….
But then, one of the most startling choices in A Life With Footnotes is how little it has to say about Pratchett the author….
Wilkins’s focus seems, instead, to be on the business side of things….
While I agree with Nussbaum’s description of what is and isn’t there, Pratchett was unable to complete his autobiography before he died so my own focus is on the book we have thanks to Rob Wilkins’ efforts, not the book we wanted.
(7) FROM PIXELS TO BRICK AND MORTAR. The New York Times says “Instagram’s Favorite Bookseller Is Ready to Go Offline”.
For Idea, a rare-book dealer and publisher in London, the dwindling of print has never been much of an issue. If anything, it has been a boon for the understated business that David Owen and Angela Hill have built, largely on the back of Instagram’s early infrastructure.
But now, Idea is navigating yet another swerve — the death of the Instagram timeline. In 2021 the social media platform moved from a chronological feed to a more opaque algorithm, which boosted videos. That meant less exposure for posts of, for example, vintage fashion books, which in turn made book selling on Instagram something of a slog.
And even though Idea has some 500,000 followers — W magazine called it an “Instagram phenomenon” in 2015 — the company is ready to experiment with a fairly antiquated idea that some may consider riskier than print itself: a physical bookstore.
In late September, Idea will open a store spread over three floors of a brick building on Wardour Street, in the London neighborhood of Soho. (The location is also Mr. Owen and Ms. Hill’s current home — they rent in the building — in a district crowded with David Bowie walking tours and lines for a Supreme store nearby.)
“What it really feels like is the perfect answer to all the frustration we’ve had with Instagram for the last couple of years, compared to the absolute joy and wonder we’ve had with it the eight previous to that,” Mr. Owen said.
When Mr. Owen and Ms. Hill started their Instagram account in 2010, it quickly became a popular feed. Glossy scans of their collection — which included issues of Six, a magazine by Commes des Garçons ($3,050); “Pentax Calendar” by Guy Bourdin ($500); and “Fiorucci: The Book” by Eve Babitz ($365) — popped out against a sea of heavily filtered selfies….
(8) MOTE GETS SHOPPED BY UNTITLED.TV. The Chaos Manor Facebook page announced an interest in making series from two Niven/Pournelle books has been expressed by Untitled.
A shopping agreement for a streaming series based on The Mote in Gods Eye and The Gripping Hand has been secured by Untitled.
With the end of the WGA strike, real work has begun to craft and pitch an expected 24+ episode, 3 year story arc.
Questions abounded on how to both streamline and lengthen the proposed series for streaming audiences. Let’s see how Untitled proceeds, now that the clock has started.
When asked Why 3 Arms? Larry Niven explained yesterday that his approach to the initial alien design was inspired by the dual question of why tool makers would need symmetry in their biology if there was limited-to-no gravity. He also posed: Do we need a spine? What if the spine was an evolutionary mistake?
(9) WHAT SIR PAT READS. The New York Times asks the actor about his reading habits in “The Most Novelistic Part That Patrick Stewart Ever Played”. But first – the hook!
“I acted Macbeth for exactly 365 days,” says the actor, whose new memoir is “Making It So.” “The role got into me so deeply it dominated my life at the time and caused me to drink too much alcohol after the performance was over. No other role I have played has affected me so profoundly.”…
…Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how).
Immediately on waking up I make a cup of Yorkshire Gold with a chocolate digestive and read in bed for half an hour, or more. Always a book. Never a script or emails. This not only wakes me up, it puts me back in the world we are living in and who we are today. Unless there is an urgent reason I do not look at newspaper headlines, or listen to the news until halfway through the morning.
What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?
You know, I haven’t heard of it either….
(10) MICHAEL GAMBON (1940-2023). Actor Michael Gambon died September 27. Variety profiles his career in its obituary: “Michael Gambon Dies: Harry Potter’s Dumbledore Was 82”.
“We are devastated to announce the loss of Sir Michael Gambon,” his family said in a statement. “Beloved husband and father, Michael died peacefully in hospital with his wife Anne and son Fergus at his bedside, following a bout of pneumonia.”
While it is easier for a character actor, often working in supporting roles, to rack up a large number of credits than it is for lead actors, Gambon was enormously prolific, with over 150 TV or film credits in an era when half that number would be impressive and unusual — and this for a man whose body of stage work was also prodigious.
He played two real kings of England: King Edward VII in “The Lost Prince” (2003) and his son, King George V, in “The King’s Speech” (2010); Winston Churchill in his later years in the 2015 ITV/PBS “Masterpiece” telepic “Churchill’s Secret”; U.S. President Lyndon Johnson in John Frankenheimer’s 2002 HBO telepic “Path to War,” for which he was Emmy-nominated; and a fictional British prime minister in “Ali G Indahouse,” also in 2002. And as Hogwarts headmaster in the “Harry Potter” movies, he presided over the proceedings therein. In 2016, he served as the narrator for the Coen brothers’ paean to golden-age Hollywood, “Hail! Caesar.”…
And you can see a photo of Michael Gambon, circa 1970, from when he was invited by producer Cubby Broccoli to test for James Bond at the Tim Burton Wiki.
(11) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.
[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]
- Born September 28, 1913 — Ellis Peters. Nom de plume of the writer of The Cadfael Chronicles,which I’ll admit I broke my rule of never watching a video adaption of a print series that I like. Derek Jacobi as Cadfael was damn perfect. She is here because she was the writer of two excellent ghost novels, The City Lies Four-Square and By This Strange Fire, under her real name of Edith Pargeter. (Died 1995.)
- Born September 28, 1932 — Michael G. Coney. British-born writer who spent the last half of his life in Canada. He’s best remembered for his Hello Summer, Goodbye novel. I’m very fond of The Celestial Steam Locomotive and Gods of the Greataway which might be set on what could be Vancouver Island. His only Award was from the BSFA for Brontomek!, one of his Amorphs Universe works, although he was a 1996 Nebula nominee for his “Tea and Hamsters” novelette, and a five-time finalist for the Aurora Award. (Died 2005.)
- Born September 28, 1938 — Ron Ellik. Writer and Editor, a well-known SF fan who was a co-editor with Terry Carr of the Hugo winning fanzine, Fanac, in the late 1950s. Ellik was also the co-author of The Universes of E.E. Smith with Bill Evans, which was largely a concordance of characters and the like. Fancyclopedia 3 notes that “He also had some fiction published professionally, and co-authored a Man from U.N.C.L.E. novelization.” The Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction says he died in an auto accident the day before his wedding. (Died 1968.)
- Born September 28, 1950 — John Sayles, 73. I really hadn’t considered him a major player in genre films but he is. He’s writer and director The Brother from Another Planet and The Secret of Roan Inish; and he wrote the scripts of Piranha, Alligator, Battle Beyond the Stars, The Howling, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, The Clan of the Cave Bear and The Spiderwick Chronicles.
- Born September 28, 1963 — Greg Weisman, 60. Writer who’s best remembered for Gargoyles, Spectacular Spider-Man and Young Justice. He also scripted some of Men in Black: The Series and Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles. He also wrote children’s novel World of Warcraft: Traveler, followed by a sequel, World of Warcraft: Traveler – The Spiral Path. Children’s novels in the Warcraft universe? Hmmm…
- Born September 28, 1982 — Tendai Huchu, 41. Zimbabwean author who’s the editor along with Raman Mundair and Noel Chidwick of the Shores of Infinity zine. He’s also written a generous number of African centric stories of which “The Marriage Plot” won an African Speculative Fiction Society Nommo Award for African Speculative Fiction for Best Short Story.
- Born September 28, 1986 — Laurie Penny, 37. They are the writer of one genre novella to date, “Everything Belongs to the Future“, published at Tor.com, and a generous number of genre short stories. They were a finalist for the Astounding Award for Best New Writer at Worldcon 75 won by Ada Palmer. “Vector at Nine Worlds: Laurie Penny”, an interview with them by Jo Walton is in Vector 288.
(12) COMIC SECTION.
- The Far Side shows something that might be a case for an insurance company. But is it an act of God?
(13) FIFTY CALIBER. Congratulations to Michaele Jordan on her appearance in 50 Give or Take!
(14) CHOPPED. “Now that Winnie-the-Pooh is in the public domain, it’s a free-for-all.” NPR tells how “Winnie-the-Pooh is now being used to raise awareness about deforestation”. [Click for larger image.]
Winnie-the-Pooh: The Deforested Edition is a reimagining of the A.A. Milne classic created by the toilet paper company Who Gives A Crap.
There is just one, stark difference: There are no trees.
The Hundred Acre Wood? Gone.
Piglet’s “house in the middle of a beech-tree” is no longer “grand.”
Six Pine Trees is six pine stumps.
Yes, this is imaginative PR (a free eBook is available on the Who Gives A Crap website; a hardcover was available for purchase but is now sold out). But the company’s co-founder, Danny Alexander, said the goal is to raise awareness about deforestation. Who Gives A Crap prides itself on “creating toilet paper from 100% recycled paper or bamboo,” he said….
… Alexander said Who Gives A Crap has tried to spread the word that “over a million trees are cut down every single day just to make traditional toilet paper,” according to a study the company commissioned….
(15) OCTOTHORPE. Episode 93 of the Octothorpe podcast “The Good Thing About the Hugos” is now up.
John Coxon is husky, Alison Scott is a dingo, and Liz Batty is a ridgeback.
We discuss Chengdu, our impact on Chinese fandom, Glasgow, its impact on Glaswegian fandom, and then all the Hugo categories bar one (foreshadowing). Or four, depending on how you count.
(16) PROTON ART. “Painting with protons: treatment beams recreate works of art” at Physics World.
Intensity-modulated proton therapy (IMPT) is an advanced cancer treatment technique that uses narrow pencil-like beams of protons – painted spot-by-spot and layer-by-layer within the patient – to deliver radiation in highly complex dose patterns. Combined with sophisticated treatment planning techniques, IMPT can shape the proton dose to match the targeted tumour with unprecedented accuracy, maximizing the destruction of cancer cells while minimizing damage to nearby healthy tissue.
Looking to showcase the impressive power of IMPT to create intricate dose distributions, medical physicist Lee Xu from the New York Proton Center came up with an unusual approach – he used proton pencil beams to recreate a series of well-known paintings as treatment plans, effectively using the protons as a paintbrush….
(17) DISKWORLDS. In this week’s Nature: “How worlds are born: JWST reveals exotic chemistry of planetary nurseries”, “The telescope is delivering a cascade of insights about the ‘protoplanetary’ disks where planets take shape.”
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is aweing scientists and the public alike with its spectacular images of distant galaxies and its discoveries of dozens of new black holes. Yet JWST is also rewriting scientists’ understanding of objects on a slightly smaller, more relatable scale: how planets form from swirls of gas and dust around young stars. Such ‘protoplanetary’ disks are what the environs of the Sun would have been like 4.6 billion years ago, with planets coalescing from the whirling material around an infant star.
JWST is revealing how water is delivered to rocky planets taking shape in such disks. It’s providing clues to the exotic chemistry in these planetary nurseries. And it has even found fresh evidence for a cosmic hit-and-run in one of the most famous debris disks, encircling the star Beta Pictoris…
[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Chris Barkley, Cat Eldridge, Steven French, Lise Andreasen, Jeff Smith, SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, Dan Bloch, Bill, Mike Kennedy, Andrew Porter, and Ersatz Culture for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]