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|Thursday, April 24th, 2014|
|The octopus and its friend
Kam and I visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium's new Tentacles exhibit over the weekend. I was telling Arthur about it, and the following conversation (approximately) ensued:
Me: There was one tank with a big octopus in it, and a little fish, about fist-sized. A woman nearby said to her kid, "See that fish? That's the octopus's best friend." ...I suppose it's a good idea to make friends with your lunch.
Arthur: Did you get to see them making friends?
Me: No. I guess it's possible it wasn't lunch.
Arthur: Yeah, maybe they were just friends. Maybe you're reading too much into it.
Me: I think the octopus wanted to be more than just friends, but the fish said let's just be friends.
Arthur: Yeah, octopi can be like that sometimes.
Me: Yeah. Clingy.
|Research Digest post #2
My time in the BPS Research Digest hotseat continues. Today’s post is about a lovely study by Stuart Ritchie and colleagues which uses a unique dataset to look at the effect of alcohol on cognitive function across the lifespan. Here’s the intro:
The cognitive cost or benefit of booze depends on your genes, suggests a new study which uses a unique longitudinal data set.
Inside the laboratory psychologists use a control group to isolate the effects of specific variables. But many important real world problems can’t be captured in the lab. Ageing is a good example: if we want to know what predicts a healthy old age, running experiments is difficult, even if only for the reason that they take a lifetime to get the results. Questions about potentially harmful substances are another good example: if we suspect something may be harmful we can hardly give it to half of a group of volunteer participants. The question of the long-term effects of alcohol consumption on cognitive ability combines both of these difficulties.
You can read the rest here: Alcohol could have cognitive benefits – depending on your genes.
See also, Tuesday’s post: A self-fulfilling fallacy?
|Hugos 2014: Venues
Another unusual thing about this year's Hugo nominees is where the short fiction was published.
As I noted last year, over 60% of the Hugo-nominated short fiction in every year from 2001 through 2009 was published in the Big Three print prozines (Asimov's, F&SF, and Analog). In 2010, that dropped to 18%, but it was back up to 50% or higher in 2011 and 2012. Then last year it fell to 8%: only one story, from Asimov's.
This year it was only 14%, which is to say two stories, both from Analog.
Meanwhile, Clarkesworld had one or two stories nominated each year from 2009 through 2012, and three last year, when it also won the Best Semiprozine category. It seemed like Clarkesworld was steadily becoming the most consistent venue for Hugo-nominated fiction.
This year upended all that. Clarkesworld had no stories nominated. Five of this year's short-fiction nominees were published in Tor.com, which had one or two stories nominated a year from 2010 through 2012, and none last year.
(Meanwhile, Strange Horizons, which hasn't had a Hugo-nominated story since 2007, has one this year. Yay, new editors! Yay, Sofia!)
I don't have any clear theories about what's going on with all these shifts in the venues for Hugo-nominated short fiction. The closest I've come so far is that Tor.com and Clarkesworld seem to be joining the general historical pattern of the Big Three, where they have some years with a lot of stories nominated and some with a few, but the majority of the nominations stay within the group. If you look at those two plus the Big Three as a new Big Five, they collectively account for over half of all the nominated stories from 2010 through 2014.
But there are also other things going on. Subterranean Press, for example, has been a steady presence on recent ballots, with stories from anthologies, collections, standalone novellas, and Subterranean magazine. (Arguably, they should count as part of a Big Six.) Night Shade, Pyr, Solaris, and Tachyon have had multiple nominees during recent years (though of those, only Tachyon has had three nominees in the past five years). And there've been a bunch of other highly regarded anthologies in recent years, from various publishers.
Here's a table showing the number of nominated stories from each venue/publisher from 2010 through 2014, for publishers with more than two stories nominated during that time:
|Subterranean Press (all venues)
Earlier years, before Clarkesworld and Tor.com started appearing on the ballot, looked pretty different, but that's another topic for another time.
|Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014|
|Dysfunctional Families, the Role-Playing Game
They do say that the family that plays together, stays together. So here's a game for the whole family. Do it thoroughly enough, and your kids will never really stop playing!
The object of the game is to control the stories the family tells about itself. Gameplay is broken up into Narratives. Each Narrative has a Viewpoint Character (VC), whose opinions are to be treated as fact for the entire Narrative. Note that two VCs can share a Narrative if they agree on all significant points.
The same real-world event (e.g. a holiday dinner) can be the subject of different Narratives from different VCs. Advanced players (like families with grown children) can play with different VCs at the same time for extra realtime conflict, but beginners should probably start with one Narrative per event. That's all most VCs will allow, anyway.
Before the game starts, the VC will assign everyone (including themselves) a Role. These Roles will define their personalities and constrain their actions in the Narrative. Note that neither the Roles nor the events of the Narrative have to map to objective reality. Very experienced VCs can create a seamless Narrative that not only bears no resemblance to actual events, but supplants them in everyone's memory.
Characters, including Viewpoint Characters, are defined in terms of six traits: a Role, three Attributes, a Tape tagline (in the VC's voice), and a Destiny. The three attributes are Consistency (people who are "always" or "never" something have high consistency), Capability</em> (is this person good at things?), and Charm. All of these are defined from the perspective of the VC and do not necessarily reflect reality.
Here are four characters for a family dinner, just to give you the feel of things:
Role: Mom the Martyr (VC)
Consistency: high (she's reliable when everyone else lets her down)
Capability: high (she's the only one who can do things right)
Charm: high (the VC always has high charm)
Tapes tagline: It's a good thing I'm here or everything would be a disaster.
Destiny: Never to be appreciated for her hard work.
Role: Goofy Dad
Consistency: low (you never know whether he'll get anything right)
Capability: low (totally impractical at every household task)
Charm: high (somehow he's always talking his way out of things)
Tapes tagline: Oh, darling, what have you done this time?
Destiny: To bumble on forever
Role: The Loveable Screwup
Consistency: high (always getting into trouble!)
Capability: high (that's what's so frustrating!)
Charm: high (he can talk his way out of anything, just like his father)
Tapes tagline: You're capable of so much more! I don't know why you're throwing your potential away.
Destiny: One day the consequences will catch up with him. (alternative: he'll never amount to anything)
Role: The Smart One
Consistency: high (she always does so well at school!)
Capability: high (so bright)
Charm: low (it's a shame she doesn't have any friends)
Tapes tagline: She's sure to succeed if she just puts her mind to it.
Destiny: To always succeed at everything and never get credit for it (alternative: to fail at something, and be blamed extra-hard for wasting her potential).
The object of the game is to prevent other people from becoming VCs, choosing their own Roles, or creating their own Narratives.
(Note that this is better done without outsiders. They never know their Roles, contradict the VC, question the Narrative, and generally mess things up.)
This is part of the sequence of Dysfunctional Families discussions. We have a few special rules, specific to the needs and nature of the conversations we have here.
- If you want to participate but don't want your posts linked to your contributions to the rest of Making Light, feel free to choose a pseudonym. But please keep it consistent within these threads, because people do care. You can create a separate (view all by) history for your pseudonym by changing your email address. And if you blow it and cross identities, give me a shout and I'll come along and tidy it up.
- On a related note, please respect the people's choice to use a pseudonym, unless they make it clear that they are willing to let the identities bleed over in people's minds.
- If you're not from a dysfunctional background, be aware that your realities and base expectations are not the default in this conversation. In particular, please don't do the "they're the only family you have" thing. Black is white, up is down, and your addressee's mother may very well be their nemesis.
- Be even more careful, charitable, and gentle than you would elsewhere on Making Light. Try to avoid "helpiness"/"hlepiness" (those comments which look helpful, but don't take account of the addressee's situation and agency). Apologize readily and sincerely if you tread on toes, even unintentionally. This kind of conversation only works because people have their defenses down.
- Never underestimate the value of a good witness. If you want to be supportive but don't have anything specific to say, people do value knowing that they are heard.
Previous posts (note that comments are closed on them to keep the conversation in one place):
The danger of linking to someone else's post as a short-cut way of explaining what you think about a particular issue is that you may wind up having all of their subsidiary opinions attributed to you as well. When I said
I basically agreed with this post by John Scalzi
, I meant that I agree that there's no evidence (as far as I'm aware) that anything on the now-endlessly-discussed 2014 Hugo Awards ballot is there because of "ballot-rigging." But it appears some people think I was also signing on to the entirety of John Scalzi's approach to deciding what to vote for in the Hugos. Short answer: No, I'm not.
To be clear, I think John's approach is fine for him. I also think it's fine to ignore and not read a work when you have adequate reason to believe it will just make you unhappy. For that matter, I think it's fine to ignore and not read something because the author has called for harm to you or to people you care about. Art and politics can't ever be completely separated. As a general rule of thumb, when we think our approach to something is politics-free, that generally means the politics are so normative as to be invisible.
I've said before that I value some work by some very right-wing artists, for instance Ezra Pound. I've pointed to Chip Delany's point (in his introduction to Heinlein's Glory Road) about the royalist Balzac being Marx's favorite novelist. None of this means that I think everybody's obliged to give some kind of Olympian "fair shake" to anyone's art just because it's art. The world is full of art. It's not that special, and making it doesn't get any artist off the hook for being a terrible human being. If you're a terrible human being, lots of people are not going to want to pay attention to your art even if it's the best thing since Dante on toast. I can't imagine that any of this is actually news to anybody.
|And Now, Rebuttals
And, now, for your information and consideration: People who disagree with me and think I am very, very wrong with regard to my thoughts on the Hugos this year:
You may find that you agree with them more than me. In which case: Agree with them more than me. As I’ve noted before, I could be wrong.
The only thing I would note is that I’ve not ever said people must read everything up for consideration for the Hugo. If you find you can’t, for whatever reason, then don’t, and (I think this follows) I would suggest leaving it off the final ballot entirely. Likewise, if you read it but can’t separate it out from the author, that’s life, and that’s okay. I think it’s worth trying, but a) it’s not always possible, b) no one’s obliged to agree that this is the best course of action.
In any event, take a look at what these folks have to say. They’re worth the read.
|Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014|
|My C2E2 Schedule
If you’re going to be at C2E2 in Chicago this weekend — and why wouldn’t you be? How could you not be? — then this is where you will find me.
1:30pm – 2:30pm, Room S402: “Science Fiction”: Daryl Gregory, M.D. Waters, Gary K. Wolfe and I are going to talk about the genre of science fiction and finally settle all lingering questions about the field. after which the aliens will finally arrive and the new age of humanity will begin! (Note: settling all questions, alien arrival and new age of humanity are not guaranteed.)
2:45pm – 3:45pm: Table 1: Autographing: After we’re done with the above panel, all of us will be signing! Wheee!
1:30pm – 2:30pm, Room S403: “Geek Geek Revolution”: This will be a game show I am hosting, in which authors Patrick Rothfuss, Kevin Hearne, Seth Fishman and Lydia Kang (and possibly some extras) compete by answering nerdy quiz questions. Yes, I will be Alex Trebek for this. BWA HA HA HA HAH AH AHA HA.
Other than this, I will be wandering about and causing trouble for others. Come find me! See you there.
|Wheel of Time; Hugo Novel Nominees; How I Read Nominated Works
Because you asked, that’s why.
* Tor has decided to place the entire Wheel of Time series into the Hugo voters reading packet, which has surprised many — that’s 15 books, which is a hell of a lot of reading — and I think has convinced some others that this year’s Best Novel Hugo race might be over before it begun. Well, I have a couple of thoughts here.
One, good on Tor for committing the entire series to the voter packet: The nomination is for the entire series, so voters should read the whole thing and decide whether, in sum, it is worthy. Having it available in the packet for those who have not yet attempted the series is going to be useful for that aim.
Two, I think it presents a risk to the series’ overall chances, as opposed to just placing A Memory of Light into the packet. First, because, Jesus: Fifteen books. I suspect some people who haven’t already committed to the series are just going to look at that mass of 4.4 million words and go, “uh, yeah, no,” and that will be that. Second, fifteen books are fifteen different chances for the series to fail for any particular reader. Again, if you’ve not already bought into the series, this will not necessarily be a positive.
Three, while having all the books in the series in the voter packet might be an impetus for people to get a supporting membership to the Worldcon (along with, you know, everything else in the packet), it doesn’t follow that those people will then automatically turn around and vote for the series. It’s reasonable to posit that the people who are most likely to vote for the series are already invested in the series, i.e., they already have the books, in which case their presence in the voter packet is nice but not necessary. New people coming in may be attracted by the sheer bulk of the series, but they may also decide it’s not their thing (see points one and two) and prefer one of the other nominees.
Add those up, and there’s an argument to be made that having just the final installment of the series in the packet would have been the less risky proposition.
So yeah, don’t assume having the whole series in that packet is a net positive for the series’ Hugo chances. Tor putting the whole series in the reader packet is the correct thing to do. It’s not a slam dunk, however.
* On the subject of Wheel of Time, Brandon Sanderson writes a very good piece on the series’ nomination, both to the fans of the series and to those who are coming to it from elsewhere, essentially asking both groups to set aside any prejudices they have for or against the series and to make a principled choice in terms of the Hugo. Good for him, because he’s correct; the series should be judged on its merits, and he’s the right person to make that argument to both assumed camps.
With that said, I think we need to be careful with the assumption that the only people who nominated Wheel of Time as a series are the people who are in the tank for the series and only the series. There are five slots for each category on the Hugo nomination ballot; very few fans, I suspect, nominate only one work in the novel category. I find it difficult to believe there is no overlap between WoT fans and fans of the Ann Leckie, Charlie Stross, Mira Grant and Larry Correia’s nominated novels — and if there is indeed no overlap at all, then that doesn’t bode particularly well for WoT’s chances, given how the Australian Rules ballot works.
So again: Let’s not assume a WoT slam dunk.
* Indeed, with regard to the novel, let’s recognize the strengths each nominee brings to the table: Ancillary Justice has been nominated for just about every major science fiction award this year — Hugo, Nebula, Clarke, BSFA, PKD — and is arguably the most talked and praised science fiction novel of 2013. Neptune’s Brood is classic Charles Stross, and a very good novel of hard(er) SF, which is always popular, and Charlie is also the only UK nominee on the novel ballot, which doesn’t hurt when the Worldcon’s in London. Parasite continues Mira Grant’s novel nomination streak, is scary as hell and a damn fine read. Warbound is the surprise in the field (which is not bad), entirely different from the other nominees (also not a bad thing) and, as has been established, has its own passionate set of fans.
So once more: Let’s not count the Hugo novel chickens before they hatch. We might all be surprised — and surprise here would not a bad thing.
* I’ve been asked if I intend to read all the nominees this year. I do — some I have already read, and the rest I will get to when the Hugo voter packet comes out, if not sooner. My own particular reading style for nominations is to read until I get bored, at which point I stop. If I get to the end, then it means I wasn’t bored, so that’s good. I then rank the works that did not bore me, by various criteria including (but not limited to, and not in equal amounts) story, writing quality and emotional impact. Sometimes this requires tough choices. Sometimes it doesn’t.
When I note that I don’t always read a nominated work to the end if it bores me, some folks question whether that strategy is fair. My response: Hell yeah. If a work is boring, it’s fair to put it down — fair to me, at least, since I didn’t sign on to be bored. I don’t care if it might “pick up at the end” or whatever; if the writer didn’t pick it up at the beginning, I’m not sure why I need to do all that heavy lifting. I get bored pretty quickly; nominated works shouldn’t give me the chance to get bored.
(Mind you, as I sow, so do I reap — which is to say that if someone reading my work for the Hugos, etc gets bored with it, I am perfectly fine with them chucking it and moving on to the next thing. That’s life, people!)
* Also, no, I don’t plan to publicly comment on what I think of each of the nominated works (other than the generally positive things I’ve said about the novel nominees above) until after the award ceremony at least, no matter how fun some of you might think it would be if I did. Other people can take up that task. I will merely say what I’ve said before: If you’re voting on the Hugos this year, consider simply judging the works on their own merits. I don’t think you’ll go wrong if you do. In fact, I’m pretty sure you won’t.
|The Big Idea: Daryl Gregory
Your brain: Is it your friend? Or is it something else entirely — something maybe a little less chummy with you than you thought? Ask Daryl Gregory, because he’s given it some thought (with his brain!!!!) for his newest novel, Afterparty.
Your brain is lying to you. Not just about the small stuff, like when it makes you fall for an optical illusion, messes with your sense of time, or creates a gorilla-size gap in your perception when it’s busy concentrating on something else.
Your brain is also lying about the big stuff, the most fundamental aspects of being human. It starts with the illusion that there’s a “you” behind your eyes, and independent “self” that has something called free will. Folks like Daniel Dennett argue that free will is just a feeling of control. And Dan Ariely, the guy who wrote Predictably Irrational, can supply plenty of examples of how our “rational” decision-making can be shaped by things as simple as changing the design of a form at the DMV.
But evolution has also shaped our brains to affect the way we make moral decisions. Consider the well-known thought experiment, the Trolley Problem. A runaway trolley is coming down the track toward five people. You can pull a lever to divert the trolley onto another track, where a single person is standing. Do you kill one person to save five?
The answers people give can vary simply by the story you tell about the singleton who would die. Is he a fat man you’d have to push onto the track yourself, a villain who “deserves it,” or an unsuspecting guy sleeping in his hammock? Because we evolved as social apes, some actions just feel more wrong, even if the moral calculus is the same.
Your brain, basically, is Mr. Liar McLiarpants. And that’s the big idea behind Afterparty.
The story takes place in the very near future. (If you want to write about the present in a way that won’t feel quaint in ten minutes, write near-future SF. It’s just mainstream fiction with the sell-by date scraped off.) To show what life is like a few years into the designer-drug revolution, I made up a few technologies that are pretty much doable now, chief among them the ChemJet.
Here’s how you build one. Take something like a 3D printer. Replace the input material with packets of pre-cursor chemicals (phenethylamine’s a good building block) that you buy semi-legally online. Next download recipes for smart drugs from a vibrant community of bio-hackers. Or make your own, and beta test the results on you and your friends.
Obviously there are going to be some interesting consequences of desktop drug design, some of them horrible.
Lyda Rose, the main character in the book, is a good example of both sides of that bio-hacking coin. She’s a former neuroscientist who discovers that the drug she helped create ten years ago, and thought she buried, is back on the streets, being printed by underground churches.
The drug goes by the name Numinous, and for good reason. Take a little, and you get that mystical feeling that William James described in The Varieties of Religious Experience, and that’s been experienced by humans throughout history. (Some people with temporal lobe epilepsy have it every day.) It has many qualities, but the main one is that you feel like you’re in contact with something wholly outside your self—a divine other.
That’s what happens if you take a little Numinous. Overdose on the drug, however, and you might wake up with a deity permanently installed in your brain—your own personal Jesus.
Ten years before the story starts, Lyda and the co-creators were all given a massive dose of Numinous against their will. (Who did that to them, and why, is one of the mysteries in the book.) Each of the survivors now has their own “divine” presence living with them, and Lyda’s is Dr. Gloria, an angel in a white lab coat. Lyda, as a scientist, knows that Dr. Gloria’s a hallucination. But the other side of the coin is that the good doctor is also good for her; Lyda’s a better person when Gloria is advising her and soothing her.
That’s the main question the book asks: if someone invented a drug that made you technically insane, but helped you to be kinder and more connected to your fellow humans, would you take it? And what happens when other people decide they should convert you for your own good?
If you don’t want to wait for the future to get your dose of chemical evangelism, you can always take the long road. Every day, millions of people meditate, pray, sing whirl, and chant, chasing that feeling of the numinous. Whether it’s God (or some other higher power) communicating with them, or whether it’s just the brain fooling them with its own recipe of chemicals, that’s a question that each person—and his or her brain—has to work out for themselves.
As for me, I trust my brain about as far as I can throw it. (Which isn’t far, because skull.) But I think of it as living with a charming sociopath. Some of the stories it tells become more interesting when you know they’re lies.
Afterparty: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Powell’s
Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s blog. Follow him on Twitter.
|Why all babies love peekaboo
Peekaboo is a game played over the world, crossing language and cultural barriers. Why is it so universal? Perhaps because it’s such a powerful learning tool.
One of us hides our eyes and then slowly reveals them. This causes peals of laughter from a baby, which causes us to laugh in turn. Then we do it again. And again.
Peekaboo never gets old. Not only does my own infant daughter seem happy to do it for hours, but when I was young I played it with my mum (“you chuckled a lot!” she confirms by text message) and so on back through the generations. We are all born with unique personalities, in unique situations and with unique genes. So why is it that babies across the world are constantly rediscovering peekaboo for themselves?
Babies don’t read books, and they don’t know that many people, so the surprising durability and cultural universality of peekaboo is perhaps a clue that it taps into something fundamental in their minds. No mere habit or fashion, the game can help show us the foundations on which adult human thought is built.
An early theory of why babies enjoy peekaboo is that they are surprised when things come back after being out of sight. This may not sound like a good basis for laughs to you or I, with our adult brains, but to appreciate the joke you have to realise that for a baby, nothing is given. They are born into a buzzing confusion, and gradually have to learn to make sense of what is happening around them. You know that when you hear my voice, I’m usually not far behind, or that when a ball rolls behind a sofa it still exists, but think for a moment how you came by this certainty.
The Swiss developmental psychologist Jean Piaget called this principle ‘object permanence’ and suggested that babies spent the first two years of their lives working it out. And of course those two years are prime peekaboo time. Looked at this way, the game isn’t just a joke, but helps babies test and re-test a fundamental principle of existence: that things stick around even when you can’t see them.
Maybe evolution fixed it so that babies enjoy peekaboo for its own sake, since it proved useful in cognitive development, but I doubt it. Something deeper than mere education is going on.
Peekaboo uses the fundamental structure of all good jokes – surprise, balanced with expectation. Researchers Gerrod Parrott and Henry Gleitman showed this in tests involving a group of six-, seven- and eight-month-olds which sound like more fun than a psychology experiment should be. Most of the time the peekaboo game proceeded normally, however on occasion the adult hid and reappeared as a different adult, or hid and reappeared in a different location. Videos of the infants were rated by independent observers for how much the babies smiled and laughed.
On these “trick trials” the babies smiled and laughed less, even though the outcome was more surprising. What’s more, the difference between their enjoyment of normal peekaboo and trick-peekaboo increased with age (with the eight-month-olds enjoying the trick trials least). The researchers’ interpretation for this is that the game relies on being able to predict the outcome. As the babies get older their prediction gets stronger, so the discrepancy with what actually happens gets larger – they find it less and less funny.
The final secret to the enduring popularity of peekaboo is that it isn’t actually a single game. As the baby gets older their carer lets the game adapt to the babies’ new abilities, allowing both adult and infant to enjoy a similar game but done in different ways. The earliest version of peekaboo is simple looming, where the carer announces they are coming with their voice before bringing their face into close focus for the baby. As the baby gets older they can enjoy the adult hiding and reappearing, but after a year or so they can graduate to take control by hiding and reappearing themselves.
In this way peekaboo can keep giving, allowing a perfect balance of what a developing baby knows about the world, what they are able to control and what they are still surprised by. Thankfully we adults enjoy their laughter so much that the repetition does nothing to stop us enjoying endless rounds of the game ourselves.
This is my BBC Future column from last week. The original is here
|Monday, April 21st, 2014|
|Please, please, please don’t drive while intoxicated.
I saw this on our local news last night, and it broke my heart. Here’s today’s LA Times:
The Los Angeles County coroner has identified a Palmdale teen who authorities said was killed when a suspected drunk driver crashed into her home and hit her while she slept.
Giselle Mendoza, 16, was pronounced dead at her home early Sunday after Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies said Roberto Rodriguez, 20, crashed his SUV into a Palmdale apartment building.
Mendoza was sleeping in her first-floor bedroom when a 2007 Nissan Pathfinder slammed into the complex in the 1000 block of East Avenue R before 4 a.m. Sunday, officials said.
Please let me be your Internet dad for a quick moment: at some point in your life (maybe at several points in your life) you will be confronted with the decision to drive after drinking or using recreational drugs. You may think, “it’s only a mile” or “I’ll be very careful” or “I probably shouldn’t drive, but I think I’ll be okay” or “I don’t have money for a cab”.
But here’s the thing about that: you may convince yourself that it’s okay to drive, and you may even get where you’re going safely. You may do that more than once, and start to think that you’re never going to have a problem if you drive while intoxicated (even a little bit).
But what if you don’t? What if you lose your focus or judgement for one second, and you end up hitting a person who’s crossing a dark street in front of you? What if you end up missing a light, and crashing into another car?
What will you do when you, an otherwise good person who would never intentionally hurt another person, make the decision to get behind the wheel when you shouldn’t, and you end up killing someone?
Just think about that for a moment, okay? If this kid, Robert Rodriguez, is found guilty, he’s likely going to spend most of his life in prison. He’s 20 years-old. He’s probably not a criminal, and he’s probably going to spend what should be the best years of his life in a prison, because he made the decision to drive while intoxicated.
Now think about the family of Giselle Mendoza. She was sixteen years-old. SIXTEEN. Her life hadn’t even started yet, and now she’s gone. Forever. Because a suspected drunk driver — just four years older than her — decided that he’d get behind the wheel of a car when he shouldn’t have.
Look, I get it: figuring out how to get home can be a hassle. Taxis and Uber are expensive, and public transit can be inconvenient.
But take a moment and think about Giselle Mendoza’s friends and family, and Robert Rodriguez’s friends and family, and ask yourself how much cab fare they think would have been too much.
Okay, thanks for listening and letting me be your Internet dad for a minute.
|A history of the mind in 25 parts
BBC Radio 4 has just kicked off a 25-part radio series called ‘In Search of Ourselves: A History of Psychology and the Mind’.
Because the BBC are not very good at the internet, there are no podcasts – streaming audio only, and each episode disappears after seven days. Good to see the BBC are still on the cutting edge of 20th Century media.
The series looks fantastic however and it aims to cover psychology, psychiatry, neuroscience and the diverse history of dealing with mental distress.
The first episode is already online so worth tuning in while you can.
Link to In Search of Ourselves: A History of Psychology and the Mind.
|Hugo nominees 2014: Gender notes
I want to spend the next couple of days writing and reading nonstop about the 2014 Hugo Award nominees, but alas, I'm going to have to pause for things like going to work and sleeping. So just one post this morning:
Before I dive into the political and strategy discussions in later posts, I want to focus on some notable points about the gender of the nominees and of the authors of the nominated works.
I've updated my Hugo fiction-category nominee gender stats page. This year, 39% of the nominated fiction works were written by woman, which on the one hand is a much much higher percentage than almost all years before 2010, but on the other hand is significantly lower than the past three years. I'm not so good at prognostication, but if I had to guess, I would guess that the number is likely to hover roughly in the 40%–60% range for the next few years. I hope that the days of consistently-under-25% are over. But then, I would have said the same thing during the last percentage peak in the early '90s.
One of the most happily amazing things about this year's ballot, in terms of gender, is the Pro Artist category. Last year, one woman was nominated (Julie Dillon), and she was the first woman to appear on the ballot in that category in twenty-seven years. This year: THREE women.
This is unprecedented in the entire fifty-five-year history of nominations in this category. There was only one previous year when even two women were on the ballot, and that was 1984.
So I'm totally thrilled to see three women this year. That category is one of the least-changing categories on the ballot; this development seems to me to be a great indicator that things are changing. Though of course a single year does not make a trend. I hope this continues; and I hope that the Pro Artist category continues to recognize a larger number of artists than it usually has over time.
...Argh—I wrote about five more paragraphs here, and then my server crashed and I lost them. Feh. Will try to reconstruct.
Next category I wanted to talk about wrt gender: Pro Editor, Long Form. 80% of the nominees this year are women. That's never happened before. There was one previous year (2011) when four of the nominees were women, but that year there was a field of seven nominees, due to a tie. Other than in 2011, I don't think there've ever before been more than three women nominated in any Pro Editor category. However, there've been at least two women nominated in the Long Form category almost every year since its inception in 2007; the Long Form category per se has been pretty gender-balanced. But its predecessor, the combined-lengths category, wasn't.
And the last category I wanted to mention is Fan Writer. There've often been one or two women nominated in this category, but there've also fairly often been no women nominated. This year: four out of five. However, in this category that's not unprecedented: it's happened one previous time, in 1974.
...I should note that of course I have nothing against the men who've been nominated in these categories in the past and who are still eligible and still doing fine work. But for an award that's been pretty heavily male-dominated in the past, especially in a couple of the abovementioned categories, I find it really refreshing to see deserving women getting more attention.
|You, too, can vote in the Hugos!
I've seen a bunch of people say in the past couple of days that they're not eligible to vote in the Hugos.
But there is a very easy way to become eligible to vote in the Hugos: pay US $40 (or GB £25) to become a supporting member of WorldCon. You can do this from anywhere in the world, from your computer.
If you do that, you will receive a copy of the Hugo Voter Packet, which will almost certainly include electronic copies of most of the nominated works. The total value of the works included in the packet will be more than US $40. For example, the entire Wheel of Time series will be included.
There are, of course, plenty of people who can't afford that $40 regardless of how much stuff they get for it. I'm not making an argument that it's the right price for a membership. All I'm saying is that there are a lot of people who think that it's impossible for them to participate in the Hugo process because they don't know how to go about doing so.
So please spread the word: if you can afford a $40 supporting membership, then you can help determine who wins this year's Hugo Awards. As a bonus, you also get to nominate for next year's awards, when the time comes for that.
For more details, see my 2011 entry about the packet.
[Edited an hour after posting to add info about Wheel of Time.]
|Detecting inner consciousness
Mosaic has an excellent in-depth article on researchers who are trying to detect signs of consciousness in patients who have fallen into coma-like states.
The piece meshes the work of neuroscientists Adrian Owen, Nicholas Schiff and Steven Laureys who are independently looking at how to detect signs of consciousness in unresponsive brain-injured patients.
It’s an excellent piece and communicates the key difference between various states of poor response after brain injury that are crucial for making sense of the ‘consciousness in coma’ headlines.
One of the key concepts is the minimally conscious state which is where patients show signs of fleeting and impaired consciousness but which is nonetheless verifiably present.
However, MCS is still a very impaired state to be in and this is sometimes missed by news reports.
For example, lots of coverage of a recent Lancet study suggested that ‘one third of patients in persistent vegetative state (a state with no reliable signs of consciousness) may be conscious’ as if this meant they were fully conscious but trapped in their bodies, when actually they just reached criteria for minimally conscious state.
My only point of contention with the Mosaic article is that it’s a little too enthusiastic about sleeping pill zolpidem, which has been reported to lead to a ‘miraculous’ recovery in some case reports but where results from early systematic studies still look bleak.
Nevertheless, an excellent piece that’s probably one of the best accounts of this important and innovative area of research you’re likely to read for a long-time.
Link to Mosaic article ‘The Mind Readers’.
|Open thread 196
From rec.arts.sf.written, 1994: "Help Me Make an SF Course"
. The messages are a little out of order in the Google Groups archive, but you'll get the gist.
Evidently I wasn't kidding when I said, in this thread, "Now that many of us have slapped [REDACTED] down for having the temerity to say what I imagine rather a few others were thinking, let me say that I read his ill-considered, unfair, over-the-top, profane, and personally abusive flame, and enjoyed just about every word of it." Because it appears that I not only declared my enjoyment of it, but I also saved a copy to my hard drive, where--twenty years and uncounted hard drives later--it turned up this morning while I was looking for something else. Causing me to fall out of my chair when I realized who [REDACTED] was.
[REDACTED] is much more famous now, and not known for flaming; quite the opposite, his public persona is thoughtful and measured. I do hope he doesn't mind this brief glimpse into Usenet-That-Was. We've all been a lot of different people over time. Some of us did it in online text. Before that, some of us even did it in mimeo ink...
Footnote: I also said "Incidentally, in substance, [REDACTED]'s flame was hardly different from Chip Delany's "Letter to a Critic," the first piece in his The Jewel-Hinged Jaw (1977). Delany's anger is ground down to a finer grain, but it's the same anger." I still think that's true.
Continued from Open thread 195.
|Sunday, April 20th, 2014|
|On the science-fiction world's topic du jour
I pretty much agree with this
On suggestions that the Hugo Awards process is hopeless, terrible, should be replaced by a panel of experts / my friends / cosmic overminds from Aldebaran: Yes, well. The Hugos are what they are--a popular award for certain kinds of SF and fantasy-related activities, open to anyone who wants to participate and who's willing to buy a Worldcon membership. And administered by volunteers who are responsible for keeping procedures in compliance with a set of rules maintained and amended over several decades in a democratic, transparent process open to all Worldcon members. Of course that means the Hugos have flaws. So do juried awards, your friends, and, probably, cosmic overminds from Aldebaran. Best advice: Enjoy awards; don't let them bend you too far out of shape.
On not being a finalist this year for Best Professional Editor (Long Form): Look! There isn't a single person who's been nominated in this category every year since it began in 2007. This is a mark of a successful category. Meanwhile, all of the five people who are finalists are entirely deserving--and whichever one wins, they'll be a first-time winner.
On stories from Tor.com making up over one-third of the short-fiction finalists: LOUD CRIES OF WOO HOO. And congratulations to Andy Duncan & Ellen Klages ("Wakulla Springs," best novella), Charles Stross ("Equoid," best novella), Mary Robinette Kowal ("The Lady Astronaut of Mars," best novelette), Thomas Olde Heuvelt ("The Ink Readers of Doi Saket," best short story), and Viable Paradise alumnus John Chu ("The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere," best short story).
Oh, and for those of you going "huh?", here's the full list of this year's Hugo Award finalists. Let the commenting begin!