Public art in Chrysler’s Detroit ad

As a big fan of public art, I was particularly impressed with the fragments of public art featured in Chrysler’s “imported from Detroit” Superbowl ad:

There’s a lot to like here. There’s a lot of art deco, and I like art deco. There’s a lot of different kinds of art—murals, sculpture, architecture. And the spot features the sort of public spaces that are being phased out these days (in favor of commercial spaces that are technically only open to customers). The public square is important, and neither the mall nor the parking lot of a strip malls is an adequate substitute.

Anyway, one of the good things about public art on display in public places is that it’s available for use in spots like this. It’s part of our culture.

Legend of a beauty

Marjorie Boulton
Marjarie Boulton in Berlin at the 1999 Universala Kongreso de Esperanto

For our Esperanto group’s discussion circle yesterday, we read a story by Marjorie Boulton from her book Faktoj kaj Fantazioj.

A father, wanting the best husband for his daughter, announces that she has died and requests money for her funeral. Two of the suiters decline, but one opens his purse and hurries to the father to grieve with him. Then the father reveals that it is a ruse and the couple is married.

I found it a odd and disturbing story.

So, I wrote my own version, with what I consider a more likely ending, and shared it with the other members of the Esperanto group. I also sent it to my brother to include with a group of similar little tales that we’ve written (Legends of the Zne Master).

I call it “Legend of a Beauty.” Steve posted it as “The Thrifty Father” and provides an English translation at the bottom of the page.

My favorite holiday: Groundhog’s Day

I’m a latecomer to Groundhog’s Day fandom. I blame my second-grade teacher. She told us about the holiday, but who somehow failed to get through to me that it’s a joke.

That unfortunate early experience aside, the cross-quarter date is important to me. Just like Halloween marks the time when I tend to start worrying about the approaching dark days of winter, Groundhog’s Day is when I start to feel like the worst is past.

That wasn’t always true. I used to think that February was the worst part of winter. It always felt bitterly unfair that I’d (somehow) make it through January, only to have to confront another whole month of winter—with no guarantee of relief in March either. (We often get mild weather starting in late March, but it’s also entirely possible to get a whole winter’s worth of snow in the first few weeks of spring.)

But the sun follows a more rigid schedule. The days will get longer—and at an increasingly rapid pace over the next few weeks. And, despite the idiosyncrasies of the weather in any particular year, the longer days will lead to warmer days. It would take a volcano to make it otherwise.

So, I’m a fan of Groundhog’s Day and its promise of spring—whether early or on its regular schedule.

Like a Hawk in its Gyre

“Like a Hawk in its Gyre” is up at Redstone Science Fiction, issue #9, February 2011, edited by Michael Ray.

Cover of Redstone Science Fiction, February 2001 (issue #9)Like a Hawk in its Gyre” is up at Redstone Science Fiction, February 2011 (issue #9), edited by Michael Ray.

The bicycle noticed someone was following before Kurt did.  Watching for a tail was a habit he’d finally broken himself of, but not before the bicycle’s impressionable brain had picked it up.  Its low warning hum sent a thrill of adrenalin through him, giving power to the part of his brain that wanted him to sprint away.

Update: “Like a Hawk in its Gyre” has been reprinted in audio form on Escape Pod, read aloud by Tim Crist.

Would we lose internet service if there were riots?

All the smart folks on twitter have been asking questions along this line. If we had civil unrest, would the government try to cut off our internet access? (I have no doubt that if they tried, they’d succeed. Internet and cell phone providers are regulated companies; they’d roll over in two seconds.)

I think that would be bad.

First of all, it would be unconstitutional. At a minimum, such an action would infringe several first amendment freedoms: speech, press, assembly, and to petition the government.

More important, in a stable democracy like the US, I think internet and cellular service would be at least as much a stabilizing force as it would be a destabilizing force. In the event of civil unrest there would be many powerful voices calling for calm and for non-violence. Shutting off the internet would silence those voices along with the voices of those trying to organize protests.

So, I just sent this note to my congressman, urging him to take steps to protect citizens’ access to telecommunications services:

Prompted by the recent news that the Egyptian government cut off internet and cell phone connectivity for its citizens, it occurred to me that this tool of repression should not be available in the United States.

At a minimum, I urge you to oppose any legislation along the lines of last year’s “Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act,” but I think you should go further.

I’d very much like to see legislation that would specifically bar the government from shutting down internet or cellular connectivity for US citizens, and that would bar telecommunication providers from “voluntarily” complying with “requests” from the government that they stop providing connectivity to persons in the US.

Of course, legal solutions only go so far. They would be much strengthened by technological solutions. Cell phones and internet access points can be designed to mesh with other nearby devices. That would make it vastly more difficult for a top-down order to shut down connectivity—hopefully, difficult enough that governments wouldn’t even try.

[Updated 30 January 2011: Here’s a list of ad-hoc meshing protocols that might serve as a basis for making a top-down shutdown impossible.]

News on upcoming stories

The good folks at Redstone let me know that my story, “Like a Hawk in its Gyre,” will be in the February issue, which should be up in a very few days. They’ve got the publicity machinery rolling, with both a twitter mention and a facebook mention. I also got email saying that they’d sent off payment for the story.

In other news, I got the contract from Asimov’s for the story they’re buying. No word on which issue my story might be in, but Asimov’s pays on acceptance, so they said to expect the money from them in 4–6 weeks.

Tuesday evening was the incognito writers group meeting—fun as always, plus I got good critiques on my most recently completed story.

Now, of course, I’m at work on my next story.

Created a bitcoin account

I noticed that my brother now had a bitcoin payment address at the bottom of his blog, so I figured I ought to send him something.

So, I signed up for bitcoin, followed a link that gives you a bitcoin nickel for free, and then sent 4 bitcoin cents of it to Steve.

Now I only have one bitcoin penny. If you’ve got a bitcoin account (or, if you’d like to create one and get your own free nickel), and want to send me some bitcoins (not that I can see why you would), here’s my payment address:

1JizYHL53sn64hG4Nt7s2Q5PMEYpRjrWPV

Then I’d have more than just one bitcoin penny.

Some bitcoin pennies would be great, but what I’d really like is some spesmiloj.

(Note: I’d actually feel kind of uncomfortable if someone I didn’t know personally were to send me either bitcoins or spesmiloj.)

Teaching about Esperanto and morphemes

Still full dark yesterday morning when I ventured out in the bitter cold to make the pre-dawn drive to Normal to give an 8:00 AM presentation on Esperanto.

I dressed for the cold—wool socks, flannel-lined jeans, wool shirt under my Alaska pipeline surplus coat, hand-knit wool hat, scarf, and mittens—so I was comfortable enough. (And it was cold. Official temp when I headed out was just -6℉, but it kept dropping as I drove and was apparently -11℉ by the time I arrived.)

It was a rather pleasant drive. The roads were clear, so I was able to make good time. (When it’s that cold ice isn’t really very slippery anyway.) There was a nearly full moon high in the south-west, so bright I was glad it wasn’t any lower or more westerly—it would have made it hard to see the road. In the rear-view mirror I could see the sky behind me turn pink with the approaching dawn.

I’d been invited by John Baldwin to teach a little Esperanto to one of his classes. He’d just introduced the students to the topic of morphemes, which are hard to teach to native speakers of English. English has morphemes, of course, but they’re largely fossilized—artifacts of the history of the language, rather than active components that speakers use all the time to build words and sentences the way they are in Esperanto.

I taught them a little Esperanto through the direct method—teaching them “Mia nomo estas . . .” and “Mi havas ĉapelon.” Then I went over the grammar of the language, with an emphasis on the morphemes, and then we translated some sentences into and out of Esperanto. I had a good time. The students seemed engaged. The professor said he was pleased with how things went. So, it was all good.

Things wrapped up promptly at 8:50. I got back in my car and drove back home. Not a boring drive, because things looked quite different by daylight. I did some thinking about my next story.

It was warming up—about 0℉ by the time I got home.

Fingerless glove design

We keep our apartment cool, in the interest of minimizing our contributions to both resource depletion and global warming. Plus, Jackie likes to wear her woollies, which isn’t practical in a warm apartment. The only real downside is that, in a cool apartment, my hands get cold when I write. To address that problem, Jackie offered to knit me some fingerless gloves. (Click any of the pictures for a larger version.)

Fingerless gloves
My first fingerless gloves

My first pair of fingerless gloves were knitted to my precise specifications. It’s made of fairly course yarn, which I figured would be fine for my purposes, and it has the fingers truncated almost completely, which I figured would make it easier to type.

Unfortunately, even just the row or two of knitting that formed the finger holes turned out make them a little uncomfortable for typing.

Since those weren’t quite satisfactory, I came up with a new design—fingerless gloves that not only had no fingers, they didn’t even have finger holes.

My Rosebud Wristlets

Jackie made these most lovingly. She not only spun yarn by hand, she spun it by hand while attending a science fiction convention (WorldCon in Toronto). The main color was hand dyed as well (with brazilwood). The yarn is wonderfully soft and fine. I got to pick the colors, and I picked these colors so that I could call them Rosebud Wristlets.

My Rosebud Wristlets were a complete success, and they’ve been my main fingerless glove for seven years (they were a Christmas present in 2003).

I liked them so well, I got Jackie to make a second pair that we gave to Kelly Link.

My 2010 fingerless gloves

Not having fingers at all was great for leaving my fingers free for typing, but had a downside: My hands stayed warm, but my fingers sometimes got cold. So, I asked for yet another pair of fingerless gloves, this pair with fingers, but made from yarn so fine that it wouldn’t force my fingers uncomfortably far apart.

So, Jackie knit me this pair of fingerless gloves. Each glove finger extends out to the last knuckle of my finger. They’re made from machine-spun “fingering weight” yarn (perhaps called that because it’s the right weight to use when knitting glove fingers).

They’re wonderful. They’re not more wonderful than my Rosebud Wristlets, but they do keep my fingers warmer. So far I’ve been alternating between them, depending on whether just my hands are cold, or my fingers too.

For a while I’d imagined that I might design the ultimate fingerless glove, but it turns out, as usual, that the best tool for the job really depends not only on the precise details of what you’re trying to do, but also the precise circumstances under which you’re trying to do it.