Pixel Scroll 9/25/17 What Do A Pixel And A Scroll Have In Common? They Both Can’t Climb Trees

(1) STAR TREK DISCOVERING. Camestros Felapton takes you from photon soup to Klingon nuts: “Thoughts on Star Trek Discovery Episodes 1 & 2”. Although not especially spoilery, good form still demands a SPOILER WARNING!

However, Russell T Davies made a smart move from which Discovery could have learnt. Set a new series in a time that follows a catastrophe that creates both a bridge to the previous series, and allows the viewers to re-encounter familiar protagonists in a new way. That doesn’t imply a new Star Trek would need to have a post-apocalyptic vibe, rather some sort of event that disrupted galactic civilisations sufficiently that the Federation is needing to rebuild (a gamma-ray burst, a contagion that spreads via transporter beams, a big-bad alien did more damage than usual).

Discovery hasn’t taken that option but the setting kind of looks like it did. The technology is both old and new, the spaceships look both updated and more grungy, some aliens are now more familiar and closer to humans (e.g. the Vulcans) while others have become even more alien and Star Fleet understands them less (the Klingons). The whole feel of the show implies a setting where change has occurred but which claims that it is about changes that will occur and I find that somewhat annoying.

(2) ALLEGRO CON TROPE. The Independent is more enthusiastic — “Star Trek: Discovery season 1 episode 1 & 2 review: Tropes and unprecedented surprises balance out for an intriguing new Trek iteration”. But who are you going to believe?

The team behind Star Trek: Discovery could be forgiven for feeling under pressure. They had to deliver a show that satisfies one of the most rabidly pedantic fan bases out there, while still catering to normies only not really au fait with Trek beyond a few action movies about good-looking people having fights in space.

But, despite a reportedly troubled gestation, they’ve somehow managed to deliver, audaciously using their first two episodes to set up several seemingly key characters before wiping the slate clean in the closing moments. In truth, the first two episodes that arrive on Netflix today – ‘The Vulcan Hello’ and ‘Battle at the Binary Stars’ – function more as a standalone TV movie, setting up the tone and feel of the show while leaving about as much wiggle room for the future as conceivably possible.

(3) ROCKET SCIENCE. Video highlights of last Saturday’s Atlas V launch of NROL-42 from Vandenberg. Via United Launch Alliance.

(4) FUSION. The Register says it’s happening — “Hotter than the Sun: JET – Earth’s biggest fusion reactor, in Culham”.

Geek’s Guide to Britain I’m in a room that, in normal circumstances, is not fit for human habitation. It features a number of big red buttons surrounded by illuminated yellow rings – just in case. “Push button to switch off Jet. Press only in case of extreme emergency,” the signs read, informatively.

This is the Torus Hall, a 40,000m3 space the size of an aircraft hangar with two massive fly-towers that house 1,100-tonne doors to seal the room off from an adjacent assembly hall. The walls and ceiling are two metres thick. The atmospheric pressure inside the hall is kept lower than pressure outside so that in the event of a breach, air would be sucked in rather than vented.

The hall houses possibly the closest thing on Earth to the centre of a star: the Joint European Torus, the world’s biggest fusion reactor at the Culham Science Centre in Oxfordshire, UK. Jet is a tokamak, a circular structure shaped like a doughnut that employs powerful magnets to control that stuff of science fact and fiction: plasma.

…Jet is a European project involving 40 laboratories and 350 scientists. In 1997 it set a record, producing 16MW of fusion power from a total input power of 24MW.

Iter, however, is a scaled-up version of Jet currently under construction in the south of France planned to open in 2025 – a fusion reactor that aims to use 50MW to generate 500MW for 500 seconds. Iter, in turn, will pave the way for Demo, one or more proof of concept fusion power stations, with South Korea aiming to put a Demo live in 2037.

For now, however, Jet is the world’s biggest fusion device and proves that nuclear fusion can generate power – it’s just not big enough to create more power than it uses….

(5) HOW ONE AUTHOR GETS PAID. A post at Metafilter attempting to use Amazon stats to estimate writers’ sales provoked John Scalzi to explain why that is a futile effort: “Can You Tell My Earnings From My Amazon Sales? Spoiler: Nope, Not at All”.

…So what does this all mean? Well, it means that for a non-self-pubbed author, often none of their annual earnings from a book are directly related to how many of those books sell in a year (or any other specified time frame). In fact, depending on how the advance is paid out, three-quarters or more (even all!) of the author’s earnings from a book are disbursed before the book has sold a single unit.

Like so:

Book is contracted: 40% of the advance (“signing installment”) goes to the author. Books sold to date: 0.

Book is turned in and accepted: 20% of the advance (“delivery and acceptance installment”) goes to the author. Books sold to date: 0

Book is published in hardcover: 20% of the advance (“hardcover installment”) goes to the author. Books sold to date: 0 (there may be pre-orders, but the sales don’t usually start being counted until this time).

Book is published in paperback: Final 20% of the advance goes to author. Books sold to date: Hopefully some! But even if the number is zero, the final installment gets paid out (if so few books are sold that the publisher foregoes the paperback release, there’s still usually the contractual obligation to pay out)….

(6) CROWDFUNDING THREE ANTHOLOGIES. Joshua Palmatier’s “Guilds & Glaives, Insurgency, and Ur-Bar Anthologies!” Kickstarter has less than three days to run and is still looking to raise about $3,000 of its $20,000 goal.

THE RAZOR’S EDGE, GUILDS & GLAIVES, and SECOND ROUND: A RETURN TO THE URBAR anthology kickstarter is nearing its goal! If we can reach $20K by Noon, September 28th, EST, then there will be an open call for submissions for the remaining slots in the anthologies. If you have a story idea that fits one of the anthology themes, write it up, revise it, polish it, and send it in for consideration. I’ve posted the guidelines below. Note that the kickstarter still has a few days left and there are still some pretty awesome reward levels left…

(7) AS YOU WISH. “‘The Princess Bride’ Turns 30: Rob Reiner, Robin Wright, Billy Crystal Dish About Making the Cult Classic” is a Variety piece full of interviews about the beloved 1987 fantasy film.

“It was an impossible sell,” said Reiner. “The funny thing about it was that before I made ‘Stand by Me’ — I had made ‘Spinal Tap’ and ‘The Sure Thing’ — I had a meeting with this executive at Paramount. She said, ‘We love your films. What do you want to do next? I said, ‘Well, you don’t want to do what I want to do.’ She said, ‘No, that’s not true. I want to do what you want to do. I said, ‘No, no. You want me to do what you want to do.’  She said, ‘No, no. I want to do what you want to do. What is it?’ I said ‘The Princess Bride.’ She said, ‘Well, anything but that.’”

(8) PALS FOR ETERNITY. SyFy Wire contributes to the nostalgia in “The Princess Bride at 30: Why Fezzik and Inigo have one of the best friendships in film”. Reason number one is —

Helping each other deal with a difficult boss, Vizzini

Vizzini is clearly not an easy man to work for, and he doesn’t treat Fezzik or Inigo very well as his employees. After they kidnap Buttercup, Fezzik expresses his opinion that it’s not right to kill an innocent girl, but Vizzini isn’t interested in his hired help doing anything beyond what they are hired to do. He immediately insults Fezzik, and when Inigo voices his agreement with Fezzik, insults him as well before turning on Fezzik again. Once Vizzini walks away though, Inigo goes to Fezzik and the two rhyme together happily, much to Vizzini’s annoyance.

The scene captures how the two friends have each other’s back in this perhaps less than ideal work environment. Inigo didn’t have to voice his agreement with Fezzik after seeing Vizzini’s reaction, but he did. Then he tries to turn the mood around by doing something Fezzik enjoys and excels at: rhyming. It reminds Fezzik that he’s more than the dumb brute Vizzini wants him to be, and that Inigo recognizes his gifts, even if Vizzini does not.

(9) DONATIONS NEEDED. The father of Pierre Pettinger died recently due to a house fire, and Pierre has set up a Gofundme campaign to help cover the funeral expenses — Pierre Pettinger [Sr.] Funeral Fund. Their target is $13,000.

While it appears that insurance will cover the costs of repairing and restoring the home, the expenses for Dad’s funeral were significant and have put some strain on all the members of our family. Pierre will be administering the funds and will see to it that they go directly to the funeral home. The goal we have set represents the total cost, but any help you would care to offer would be received with gratitude.

Pierre the younger and his wife Sandy are Fan GoH for Worldcon 76. They’ve done wonders in Masquerades for years, winning many awards, and Pierre is Archivist for the International Costumers Guild.

(10) REED OBIT. SF Site News reports author Kit Reed (1932-2017) died on September 24 from an inoperable brain tumor.

Reed  was a Best New Author Hugo nominee in 1959. Reed was up for the James Tiptree, Jr. Award three times, had a novel, Where, on the John W. Campbell Memorial Award shortlist, and received the ALA Alex Award for Thinner Than Thou. Reed’s most recent novel, Mormama, was published earlier this year.

(11) JACOBS OBIT. Harvey Jacobs (1930-2017), a 1998 World Fantasy Award nominee for his novel American Goliath, died September 24 from an infection brought on by brain cancer treatment. An author sometimes compared with Vonnegut and Roth, he published his first story in 1951, contributed regularly to New Worlds and F&SF in the Sixties, and continued to produce a modest number of sff stories thereafter.


  • September 25, 1989 — Fox TV’s Alien Nation premiered.


  • Born September 25, 1930 — Shel Silverstein (author, humorist)
  • Born September 25, 1951 – Actor Mark Hamill
  • Born September 25, 1952 – Actor Christopher Reeve

(14) POURNELLE MEMORIAL. Jennifer Pournelle’s eulogy of Jerry Pournelle, delivered at the memorial service held September 16, has been posted at Chaos Manor.

He was generous as a husband. He adored his wife. He loved deeply, and passionately, and never anyone more than her. The parable of the widow’s alms teaches us the truest measure of generosity: when that of which you have the least, you give most freely. So by “generous,” here I do not mean with obvious things like, like gifts and jewelry and public events (though with those too). I mean that, although always awkward as a schoolboy in showing his feelings for her, he did his utmost with what he knew how to do: jokes, and puns, and praise, and respect, and walks, and stalwart support of her career, and four sons.

And especially—and this is most telling—by listening to her, and to her alone. Certainly not always. Probably not often enough. But I do not believe that any other human being on the planet had the capacity to tell him “no” and make it stick. Because of his generous love for her, he listened, and learned how to be a better father, and an outwardly more affectionate one. To say the words out loud. She taught him that the great light of a generous heart need not be hidden beneath a bushel. He listened, and let his generous light shine on her, and everyone around them.

It certainly shined on us, his children. He was generous as a father. OK, let’s start with the obvious. There was never a check he would not roll his eyes, groan, and write. School fees? Of course. Wrecked car? Harrumph. No problem. College expenses? Well, it’s your job to get the best deal you can. It’s my job to pick up the rest. Airplane tickets, tailored mess uniforms, personal sidearms? Here you go. Need a tool, a meal, a book, a computer, a printer, a place to sleep, a bottle of white-out? There’s one here somewhere in the house. Go find it. Help yourself.

But his real generosity was with imagination. He believed in space. He believed in adventure. He believed in deep truths in myth, and deep lessons in legend. He believed in science. He believed in nature. He believed in fun. And he combined them all. Road trips, hiking trips, shooting trips; flights of imagination; cooking (badly), reading (well), brainstorming plot lines, standing up to bluster, figuring out what you need to know, then figuring out who could tell you. He’d pick up a phone in a heartbeat if he thought he could marshal support or make a contact. He’d invite you to dinners across thresholds you’d never otherwise cross—and then always pick up the tab.

And when you finished what you started, or achieved what you’d aimed, or found success in your field, his outpouring of respect was spontaneous and generous—and never seeking to curry your favor….

(15) KEITH KATO. Keith Kato posted his own extensive memories of Jerry Pournelle and account of the memorial service at The Heinlein Society website.

Of course he knew not only all the Mercury astronauts, but also knew the candidates who did not make the cut. Jerry once told a funny story about turning John Glenn upside down and shaking him over a smoky fire, while fake-arguing with the staff, and dropping manhole covers on the floor. Glenn kept a dot in a circle, and his heartbeat remained rock steady (except for one momentary blip when the manhole covers landed), after which Glenn glaringly said “You son of a [redacted for the delicacy of our readers’ um…eyes?]!”

(16) MASTERCHEF. On the making of videogames: Jason Sheehan reviews Walt Williams’s Significant Zero: Heroes, Villains, and the Fight for Art and Soul in Video Games: “Leveling Up In The Video Game Industry, Without Checkpoints: ‘Significant Zero'”.

I learned this recipe from Walt Williams, whose debut book, Significant Zero, is all about the making of videogames. And also about the making of Walt Williams who, for years, has been involved (both seriously, tangentially, and in every way in between) with the production of some of the best videogames ever created: Bioshock, Star Wars Battlefront, Mafia II, Spec Ops: The Line. Mostly Spec Ops, which is one of the darkest, most haunting, and most narratively daring games I’ve ever played. Spec Ops was Williams’s masterpiece and Significant Zero is the story of everything it took to make it and everything it cost him — beginning years before, ending years after. Sure, it’s a workplace memoir (more or less): A writer writing about writing, which can be the most annoying thing in the world. Except for one thing.

Walt Williams is basically a ghost.

(17) OVERWHELMING SUCCESS. The BBC writes the biography of a product in “How plastic became a victim of its own success”.

He became so famous that Time magazine put his face on the cover without needing to mention his name, just the words, “It will not burn. It will not melt.”

What Leo Baekeland invented that July was the first fully synthetic plastic.

He called it Bakelite.

(18) EXTENDED MAINTENANCE. How would you like this job? “Airlander 10: ‘How we fix the world’s longest aircraft'” (short video)

Two technicians have told how they had to learn how to rope climb to fix the world’s longest aircraft.

The Airlander 10 – a combination of plane and airship – has been at Cardington Airfield, Bedfordshire, for the last four years.

Technicians Ivor Pope and Darren Gurney have overseen the aircraft since early 2016.

“Being up on the hull is a fantastic experience,” said Ivor Pope, the maintenance, modification and ground operations manager.

(19) BIKE RECYCLERS. Leave no trace? “Abandoned at Burning Man, bicycles now head for Houston and the Caribbean”.

After nine days of parties, music and larger-than-life art installations, the 2017 season of Burning Man came to a close on 4 September. In theory, all evidence of “Black Rock City” – which attracted 70,000 attendees to the dusty desert – was supposed to vanish. One of the festival’s core tenets is “leave no trace”.

However, clean-up crews found thousands of perfectly useable bicycles abandoned by attendees. Bikes are the most common form of transportation around Black Rock City, and the way they are tossed aside at the end has long been a problem.

Burning Man partners with local charities to take, refurbish and sometimes donate the bikes to needy families, but this year, the sheer number of bikes overwhelmed even these partners. An estimated 5,000 bicycles were left behind.

(20) I SWEAR THAT IT’S ALL TRUE. Past Daedalus: Whale tails and the human-powered watercraft speed record: “Water speed record that’s surprisingly hard to break”.

However, an Oxford University spinout called Animal Dynamics, co-founded by zoologist Adrian Thomas, is spending £200,000 ($260,000) to do just that. Their craft, the Malolo, is a hydrofoil-like Decavitator. Unlike its rival, the Malolo’s design is inspired by the way whales swim through water – instead of a propeller, it has the kind of large, arched tail that you sometimes spot above the water when a whale dives.

Now two years after starting work on the project, the team have begun testing their third prototype off the south coast of England. According to Thomas, they have already reached speeds of about 12 knots (13.8mph/22km/h).

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Steven H Silver, Chip Hitchcock, Martin Morse Wooster, JJ, Nancy Sauer, Cat Eldridge, and David K.M. Klaus for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Peer.]

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33 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 9/25/17 What Do A Pixel And A Scroll Have In Common? They Both Can’t Climb Trees

  1. …I have nothing today.
    (Sorry, being told what you worked hard on basically isn’t good enough sort of rocked my world today)

  2. (19). As a Burner, I’m infuriated by the bike dumping. It does violate one of our ten core principles and makes it harder for the Resto team to work. Happily, once the word got out about the overwhelming number of abandoned bikes, Burners in the Reno area made the trip back to the Playa you help pull the bikes out.

    But to understand why this happens, you have to understand that there are two types of attendees, generally speaking. The first are the people who are there to take part, see everything, and embrace the ethos of the event. They are the ones on their hands and knees while packing up to make sure not the tiniest piece of trash is left behind. The second are the one who are there to spend the week doing almost nothing but dancing to EDM at the sound camps, located on the rim of the city at 2:00 and 10:00, and in the Deep Playa Music Zone way out in the desert. They ignore almost everything that makes the event special, treating Black Rock City like just another festival site.

    At the end of the week, they bicycle out to see the Man burn on Saturday night and the Temple burn on Sunday night, and they dump their bikes. They get too drunk, take too much X, hop on a party barge, or a combination of all three. The result is thousands of cheap WalMart bikes dumped all over the place.

    The sound camps are a nuisance and need to be dealt with. They ignore the volume restrictions, constantly get terrible marks on the “MOOP Map” (the official map showing where the most MOOP – Matter Out Of Place- was found during restoration) and rarely interact with the rest of the City and event.

    Time for them to go. I’m not saying other Burners aren’t bad about packing it out, some are terrible, but the sound camps are the big repeat offenders.

  3. (17) I met Bakelite up close and personally in my properties of materials class, where it was used to encase samples. (I also have some elderly pans with Bakelite handles, because heat-resistant, though not actually safe at high temperatures.)

  4. Paul Weimer, it sucks to work really hard and not be appreciated. Condolences.

    Also, sacrificial fourth.


    I think that trying to do 3 at once was probably not an effective marketing strategy; I suspect that potential backers would prefer to support something that is the only stated goal, and will therefore receive concentrated attention until it is completed.

  6. (15) Jerry once told a funny story about turning John Glenn upside down and shaking him over a smoky fire, while fake-arguing with the staff, and dropping manhole covers on the floor. Glenn kept a dot in a circle, and his heartbeat remained rock steady (except for one momentary blip when the manhole covers landed), after which Glenn glaringly said “You son of a [redacted for the delicacy of our readers’ um…eyes?]!”

    I must be really tired, because I’ve repeatedly tried to parse this in various ways, and it’s still not making any coherent sense to me.

  7. JJ, sounds like a paraphrase of an astronaut stress-test of the sort they showed in the movie The Right Stuff. Maybe.

  8. @JJ It refers to a passage in Lucifer’s Hammer in which a character relates a story about John Glenn. (15) roughly describes what Pournelle did to Glenn in that passage of the story. (I.e. not in real life).

    Kato is obviously writing from memory, though, because he’s got a lot of details wrong. For example, in the book it’s “a shitload of scrap iron onto a tilted iron plate” not a stack of manhole covers, and there’s no smoke or fire. But his heart rate did go “blip,” and otherwise he finished the task perfectly and finished up saying, “You sons of bitches . . . .” so this must be what he’s talking about.

  9. (10) KIT REED OBIT.

    Reed’s son Mack has posted a lovely tribute to her on Facebook which is publicly viewable. If you don’t have an FB login, you can click “not now” on the login nag dialog box, and it should drop to the bottom of the screen so that you can read the post.

  10. Cassy, Greg, thanks. I did a Google search and found the bit on Baen.com:

    “There’s a story they tell about John Glenn . . .” He rolled onto an elbow. “The space medicine boys were trying to find out what we could go through and still function. They had John Glenn wired with widgets so they could watch his heartbeat and perspiration while he went through a program on the Gemini flight simulator. Right in the middle of it they dropped a shitload of scrap iron onto a tilted iron plate, right behind him. The whole room rang with it, and it went on and on. Glenn’s heartbeat went blip!” Johnny’s finger sketched a tepee shape. “He never even twitched. He went through the whole sequence, and then he said, “You sons of bitches…”

    That makes a lot more sense. The linked story is clearly being told by someone who knows all of the context but is forgetting that the audience probably doesn’t.

  11. 16 – Spec Ops was an okay game mechanically but memorable for how it went about the horrors of what the character faced. The game gives you a lot of choices between choosing violent alternatives that seem like you have to choose the lesser of two evils, then at the end shows that you could’ve just not chosen an evil at all, the brilliance was that the game never explicitly says there’s another option and as a player in the heat of the moment never consider anything but what’s immediately in front of you.

    I don’t know that any game has or will come close to messing with how people make choices as well as that one did.

  12. @JJ: On (6), that may be true, but this is ZNB’s third multi-anthology Kickstarter, so it’s worked for them in the past (and for ~500 backers each time), and a backer can pick and choose which of the anthologies to get.

    That said, I do find it odd myself and can only imagine it’s a factor of pooling marketing resources and/or wanting to use a bunch of good anchor authors across the anthologies to draw in attention. *shrugs*

    I’ll decide whether or not to back this one when I get my reminder email 48 hours out (I rarely ever back when a campaign is first launched).

  13. (7) Re-watched The Princess Bride recently, because the cats are only a bit over 2 years old, so they’d never seen it. For me, it was just as awesome (maybe even moreso) as when I first saw it (30 years ago, I guess it was). They thought the special effects were terrible. What do cats know? I tried to explain the conceit. They didn’t care.

    (15) Glad someone put that into context. The story sounds vaguely familiar now, but I was originally imagining Pournelle as a 20 foot tall giant holding a tiny Glenn up in the air above a campfire, dropping manhole covers. Kinda brought to mind the troll scene in The Hobbit, but without the mutton.

  14. (19) My hobby for the past few years and, honestly, until I can no longer swing a wrench, is finding, fixing, and donating bikes. I had a coworker from Jamaca that would buy dozens of bikes from police auctions and the like. We would fix them up and he would ship them home.
    While it irks me that people would ditch even a discount-store bike, I am glad to hear that others are fixing and finding homes for them.

    @Paul Weimer – I give you all the spoons you need. I would buy you a beer if I could, but for now I shall curse them as short-sighted dunces (whoever they are).


    I thought Discovery worked very well as a piece of drama while I was watching it, but once I started thinking about the details it became clear there were some less-than-coherent parts. Still, very promising, and I imagine my issues were caused by too many hands putting pressure on the pilot to make a big dramatic splash to start, so hopefully it will settle down.

    (4) FUSION

    I was chatting to a couple of guys from this facility not so long ago. They’re very enthusiastic about what they’re doing (apparently they have staff refusing to retire because they want to be around for potentially record breaking tests next year), but also very concerned about the future of EURATOM and how they’re going to stay involved with this big pan-European project.

  16. My copy of Ann Leckie’s Provenance showed up on my Kindle this morning (or last night). I do believe I’ll be making some adjustments to my reading queue.

  17. All my kindle preorders failed, because of a credit card expiration, so I have that going for me today.

  18. Those were two very nice tributes to Jerry Pournelle. And I had no idea the man’s first name was “Jeremiah!”

  19. @13: Luke Skywalker is older than Superman? That’s … novel….

    @7: for another view (not dissimilar, just other): has anyone missed Cary Elwes’s As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From the Making of The Princess Bride? Rather much about Andre the Giant’s incredible capacity for alcohol, but does make clear that he was at least as good a person as the character analyzed in @8.

  20. @John A Arkansawyer: They do sound appealing – if I ever get the DragonCon, those panels will be what I look for.

    @Lis Carey:
    “The Tickbox came back, it couldn’t Scroll away”

  21. I haven’t ever got to one of the EFF panels at Dragon Con, but maybe I’ll try to squeeze in one next year.
    I did this year go to two Science Track panels, and they were informative and hilarious. Sci Track folks completely commit to cosplay with one of the panelists dressing up as Mayor McCheese.

  22. Joe H. on September 26, 2017 at 7:54 am said:
    It’s now not in my reading queue. Oh my, that’s a trip through worlds.

  23. @Chip Hitchcock – just finished it and returned it to my local library. I was looking for some light reading after finishing Sam Quinones’ Dreamland, which has some fairly grim history of the town I live in. Elwes seems to have liked Andre a great deal.

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