Monthly Archives: November 2008

The Worldcon Reading List

Worldcon was 3 months ago, but I’ve only just recently finished the last of the books I bought there. Herewith, a mostly-unordered list, complete with reactions, and Amazon links for your buying pleasure.

Of Worldcons that Never Were

One of the first panels I attended this year was about the Worldcon in fiction; I picked up a few of the books mentioned there.

  • Now You See It/Him/Them and Charles Fort Never Mentioned Wombats (Doubleday science fiction), both by Gene DeWeese and Robert “Buck” Coulson, fall into the genre of con mysteries, told by authors who love cons, mysteries, and have fun with their ideas. Only the second book actually takes place at a Worldcon, but both were quite enjoyable.

  • Gather in the Hall of the Planets/In the Pocket and Other Stories by Barry Malzberg writing as K. M. O’Donnell. This is an Ace Double that proves that more is not always better. Gather in the Hall of the Planets is cute, if very dated — the protagonist, a fading SF writer, has to figure out who at the Worldcon is an alien, or the aliens will destroy Earth. Very much a work of its era (1971), with the obligatory badly-written sex scenes and inner turmoil. The stories in the other half of the book are, to put it kindly, unreadable.

  • Alternate Worldcons, edited by Mike Resnick, is unavailable from Amazon; I got my copy from Dean Wesley Smith on eBay. It was conceived and sold at a Cincinnati Fan Group party at ConFrancisco, and, as Mike said during the panel, paid its authors very little. The stories are uneven and very in-jokish…but that was OK, because I’m on the inside of the jokes.

More Usual Alternate Histories

As usual, I went to a few alternate history panels, and came away with strong recommendations for two series.

  • Jo Waltons’ Ha’penny
    and Farthing
    are set in a world where England made peace with Hitler after just a year or so of war; antiSemitism is very much the order of the day in this England, and there are plots afoot. These are very political novels, and are far too believable for my comfort. The third book, Half a Crown, was recently released but I haven’t read it yet — I intend to, though.

  • S. M. Stirling’s Island in the Sea of Time (Island) is the first in a series set on a Nantucket Island which mysteriously is displaced back to the Bronze Age. Unlike the 1632 (The Assiti Shards) series from Eric Flint, not all of the castaways are good guys — far from it. Strongly recommended.

Miscellaneous Old Stuff from the Huckster Room

I spent a long time in the Huckster Room and came away with surprisingly few books to show for it, mostly ones which I remembered having owned at some time in the past.

  • Wine of the Dreamers, by John D. MacDonald: This is one of MacDonald’s rare SF novels; it shows its Cold War origins very clearly, but it’s still an interesting read.

  • Other Times, Other Worlds by John D. MacDonald: A collection of MacDonald’s SF shorts, written between 1948 and 1968. You can see his maturation as a writer over those two decades. Some of the stories are minor classics, like “Spectator Sport”; others are good fun, like “Ring around the Redhead” and “The Big Contest”.

  • Best Science Fiction of the Year: Third Annual Collection, edited by Lester Del Rey. The title is accurate. My favorite story in this collection is Norman Spinrad’s “A Thing of Beauty” (especially after having walked across the thing in question last month), but there are many winners, and almost all of the stories have aged well.

  • Not This August by C. M. Kornbluth, revised by Fred Pohl. I remember reading the original version of the book when I was in high school; it was amazingly chilling, and, unlike most SF, drove me to the dictionary. Pohl revised the book in 1981 to “remove glaring anachronisms”, but I’m not sure what those revisions were — the book is, thank God, very dated indeed. Read it along with Heinlein’s Sixth Column for an overwhelming sense of Cold War gloom and doom!

  • The Merchants’ War by Frederik Pohl. This is the sequel to Pohl and Kornbluth’s The Space Merchants; the books take place in a world where advertising has gone wild (yes, even more than in our world), but where the Venusians offer an alternative prospect. This was a good one to read during the campaign: “How can we win with truth?”

  • The Long Way Home by Poul Anderson. Dated, but an enjoyable read — like almost everything Poul Anderson wrote.

  • Slan: A Novel by A. E. van Vogt. Yes, it’s a Classic of SF. Yes, Fans are Slans. But most of the plot points make no sense, and the dramatic revelation at the end wasn’t. Read it because it’s a classic, but don’t expect it to meet today’s standards.

  • The Joy Makers by James Gunn. This is three novellas under one set of covers, telling one somewhat contrived story. What would the world be like if happiness could be ensured? Not happy, that’s for sure. Still, worth a read.

  • Satan’s World by Poul Anderson. Chee Lan, Adsel, and David Falkalyn at work, with Nicholas van Rijn along to save the day. Serendipity, Inc., provides a service much like Google — but they are definitely evil. Well worth a read, along with the rest of the Polesotechnic League series.

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Test your civics knowledge

Susan Kitchens passed along this quick 33-question civics literacy quiz. I got 32 out of 33 right — 96.97%. Not bad for a math major!

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A quick note about Jason’s 4 minute tuna steaks – Yum!

As we were leaving the house yesterday morning, Diane noted that she’d picked an extra lemon earlier in the week and we might want to use it soon. We’d already had lemon chicken this week, so I wanted to try something different — tuna seemed like it might be a good idea, so I Googled for “recipe lemon tuna steak” and the top hit was Jason’s 4-minute tuna steaks.

The “4-minute” part sounded good — of course, that was just the cooking time, but when I looked at the recipe, the prep didn’t seem too onerous, so I Sametime’d the URL to Diane to look at and she said “yes”.

I didn’t follow the recipe exactly (our lemons are oversized, but I cut everything else by 50% because I was only cooking for two — and I substituted crushed red pepper for the chili flakes), but it was very tasty and I’d happily make it again. More to the point, I’d happily eat it again, so I’m posting about it so I don’t lose the pointer to the recipe.

Thanks, Helen!

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Twitter Search beats Google — malware attack averted

As I was driving to work this morning, my iPhone tinged, letting me know I had a new SMS awaiting me. And it tinged a second time as I pulled into my parking place, since I don’t check SMS messages while I’m driving.

It was a Facebook notification from an IBM colleague with a subject of “How did you manage to get on this video?”, sent to me and 19 others, with a link to a geocities.com page.

I was immediately suspicious, because the note wasn’t in my colleague’s style — but it was rather short, so perhaps that wasn’t valid. I was also suspicious because the names on the note were a rather mixed bag.

But it was vaguely possible that the video had something to do with IBM’s Smarter Planet initiative, so I didn’t want to discard the note.

Instead, I did the obvious thing: I Googled for “Facebook” and “get on this video”, looking for reports of malware. But I found nothing. I tried a few other variants, including “Facebook malware” and still found nothing.

So I went to plan B: Twitter. Nothing was obvious on my home page, so I posted a query: “Just got suspicious-looking facebook msg: ‘How did you manage to get on this video?’ with a link to GeoCities. Anyone know if it’s malware?”

While I waited for an answer, I tried Twitter Search, using “Facebook” as my query. Within seconds, I had my answer — yes, it was malware, and apparently virulent stuff.

And when I went back to my Twitter page, I’d gotten three replies from friends telling me the same thing (the first one arrived less than a minute after my tweet).

For timely questions, Twitter is my new go-to tool — sure, Google has depth, but it’s not instantaneous. Twitter gives me three paths to an answer:

  • Stumbling on it in my friends’ tweetstream without ever asking the question
  • Asking the question and hoping a friend answers
  • Using Twitter Search

My search strategy on Twitter is different than what I’d use on Google, though. On Google, it helps to be specific — a search on “Facebook” alone would be pretty useless, hence my attempts to qualify with the hook phrase and the word “malware”.

In contrast, on Twitter, timeliness is your friend — a one-word query (“Facebook”) is just fine, because you’re going to get the current conversation, and the human eye can do a good job of picking out the pay dirt if there is any.

I guess I’ll never find out how I got on that video, though.

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The US Government: An Owner’s Manual

That should be the title of the Presidential Transition Team website.

Somebody should have pointed Sarah Palin there (not that she’s going to get to use the information) — it even explains the role of the Vice President.

(Link courtesy of change.gov)

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Yes, we did — but we still must.

I spent Tuesday afternoon making a few last minute phone calls to battleground states, hoping to encourage at least one more voter to go to the polls. But everyone I talked with had already voted (naturally, I also got to talk to a lot of answering machines, which I hope don’t have the vote).

Then I settled in for a long afternoon and evening’s watching of TV and Twitter. I was unhappy with the first few results (not that there was anything surprising in those states), but John King’s magic map soothed me — and then the 8pm ET declarations set my mind completely at rest.

We watched the networks make the Big Call at 8pm PT, then finished watching Indecision 2008 (frankly, I didn’t think Stewart and Colbert were anywhere near their best form — there’s a reason they tape the shows!); then we headed off for the Obama victory party at the Computer Museum (thanks, Mootmom, for the tickets).

So we missed McCain’s concession and most of Obama’s speech — but it was worth it; the atmosphere at the Museum was uplifting.

My joy was tempered, though, by the likely (and now almost certain) passage of Prop 8. This won’t be the end of the journey — and the election of Obama makes it more likely that if the case winds up in the US Supreme Court, the discrimination will end. If I had my way, the government would get out of the marriage business altogether and would only recognize civil partnerships (without regard to gender) — the word “marriage” would be left in the hands of religious bodies to define as they liked. But I realize that’s unlikely, and I’d be perfectly happy with the status as it was in California before Tuesday.

This afternoon, I discovered that change had come to government in a very literal sense, with the opening of change.gov, the Obama/Biden transition site. I’ve subscribed to the blog already — I wonder how long before I get a text from 62262 telling me about it?

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Vote as if it mattered…because it does!

If you’ve already voted, you can ignore this posting. But if you haven’t, here are my heartfelt recommendations (not on every issue or office, just the ones where I really care):

  • Barack Obama for President
  • Yes on Santa Clara County Measure A: We need a 2/3 supermajority for this issue to pass — and I don’t know about you, but I think it’s worth keeping the trauma and burn centers open instead of closing them down because of seismic problems. Sure, the legislature should have funded the seismic upgrade mandate…but they didn’t, so we have to (and guess what — taxpayers were going to pay it anyway).
  • No on California Proposition 8: When it comes to marriage, the State should not discriminate based on how race, national origin, or genders are mixed and matched. The first two are (finally) well established in law; now we need to get the trifecta.
  • No on California Proposition 4: If a teenager doesn’t have a good enough relationship with her parents to talk to them about having an abortion, putting the law in the way isn’t going to help.
  • Yes on Santa Clara County Measure R: Keep the Campbell Union School District funding stable.

Even if the Presidential race has been called by the time you’re ready to vote, remember that there are plenty of “down-ballot” issues and races which make a difference in your life and the lives of your neighbors!

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It’s all over for us but the volunteering

We spent a surprisingly-quick 90 minutes at the Registrar of Voters’ office this afternoon, applying for and then casting our absentee ballots. We can now safely ignore further appeals for our votes.

So then we drove directly to the local Obama office and spent some time as volunteers — Diane did data entry, and I made calls. I wish I’d planned on volunteering, because I would have brought a headset along and had a much easier time hearing the people on the other end!

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