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More Loncon Thoughts

I am probably not going to attend the Hugo Awards. The auditorium is better then that at Chicon (not saying much) or Reno, but still, it's kind of like the Academy Awards - more interesting to see who won then seeing them win.

I've been walking enormous distances, in part because I'm half a kilometer from a half-kilometer-long convention center, in part because English people think nothing of long walks and in part because I'm a tourist. For example, yesterday I walked around Greenwich, visiting the Naval Museum, old Hospital (the Painted Hall is very impressive) and The Queen's Residence, which is now an art gallery. But today my legs hurt, my knees hurt and my ankles hurt.

I can't think of anything else at the moment, so have a picture.
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Loncon 3 Thoughts

I'm at Loncon3, using the free wifi to update. The weather continues rainy and cool, which means it's good to be inside. I've ran into a number of Chicago and KC fans I know, and several authors.

I did want to make a brief SF comment. In one of the panels today, the group (all SF writers except for a guy from the Royal Observatory) said that we shouldn't colonize other planets. (Tobias Buckell was on that panel.) To that, I say bollocks.

Well, I should amplify that. Asking whether we should or should not colonize other worlds is like asking whether or not we should breathe. We will do both. It is what humans, nay, life, does. Here on Earth, life expanded to fill every viable crack, which means the only lifeless place I know of is interior Antarctica, if you don't count humans.

Life expands. It only takes a small group of malcontent humans or organisms getting out-competed in their current habitat to "colonize" a new habitat. Life expands - that's what it does. So, if we can get there, wherever "there" is, we will colonize.


Oxford to London, Travelogue

I made it from Oxford to London. My trip was not without some (minor) drama.

Things started well enough. Not wanting to lug my suitcase nearly a mile over crowded streets, I booked a taxi. Said taxi got me to Oxford's train station early - around 2:15 for a 3 PM scheduled train. As it happens, for short-haul commuter trains like the hour-long run to London Paddington, there are no reserved seats and you can take any train. Thus, I got the 2:30 train.

Arriving at Paddington early, I had to take three Underground train lines - Hammersea, Jubilee and Dockyards Light Railway (DLR). I made the first two with no problem, but the Jubilee train I caught terminated one station before I was supposed to get off. So I got off where I thought I could catch the DLR. Yes I did, but the DLR has essentially four routes, and figuring out which to take was a problem.

I eventually got it right, but I was a bit hot and sweaty from hauling luggage around. Fortunately, I ran into a local fan on the DLR (he was wearing a Star Wars t-shirt) and he gave me the advice to the right DLR stop (two past what I thought I needed). Also thanks to him, I was able to find the hotel, which was not immediately visible from the station.

I'm staying at the Travelodge ExCel. It's a bit of a walk from here to the convention, but one (short) DLR hop, and since I have a prepaid card I'll probably be training it. The hotel is pretty basic, but adequate, and (for London) cheap.

My last item of note is a personal one. I was bending down in the hotel room and the seat of my pants ripped out! (Reason number 1,542 I always packs more than one pair.) Fortunately, the rip occurred once I was in the room, not on the road. So I changed and walked across the street to the white-tablecloth Chinese restaurant and had dinner. Registration tomorrow.

ETA: Oh, and my 10-year-old el-cheapo digital camera has gone to that great camera store in the sky.


Oxford Pictures

Like the label on the tin says:

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John Lowrie and I in front of Trinity College gates. Thanks to John's breaking and entering skills, we had just walked up the lawn behind us.

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Pitts River, AKA, An Organized Victorian Hoarder.

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Yes, Virginia, This is a street. At the end of it, there's a bar where Bill Clinton "did not inhale" back in the 60s.

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My quarters in Oxford. It's a "new" building by local standards - late Victorian.


Merrie Olde England, Oxford

I'm here in Merrie Olde England, Oxford, Oxfordshire, UK, what what. (sorry about that last.) I'm using a somewhat wonky wifi connection in a pub, the Turf Tavern on Bath Place. Bath Place is a street, although I have wider corridors in my house (literally so) and one gets to the pub by walking through a hole in the wall. Since this connection is slow and wonky, this post will be a radio show.

The flight over from Chicago was uneventful, although there were three SF fans I knew on the same plane. I scored a seat on the mid-deck emergency exit row, so I had scads of legroom. Alas, despite the best efforts of my blood-pressure meds and Mister Jameson's finest, I couldn't get a wink of sleep on the flight.

Based on John Lowrie's recommendations, I caught the bus from Heathrow. Terminal 2 (recently opened) is where Aer Lingus lands and because I was coming from Ireland I didn't have to clear immigration in the UK. Once in Oxford, I linked up with John and we did the nickel tour of several colleges. Included was a visit to the Bodelian, John's library, which nearly had me in tears. Rare books that in the US would be locked in glass were just sitting out. I had an early dinner, and crashed, hitting the sack at 7:30 PM my time.

Today, after a breakfast in the College's dining room, we hit several museums, including most interestingly Pitt River. Named after a Victorian general, the place looks like somebody took a world-traveling hoarder's stash and made somewhat of an effort to organize it. Turns out (after touring 2/3rds or the place) that Mister Pitt Rivers was interested in how ideas became reality. Thus, for example, he collected different types of spears from around the world and displayed them together, illustrating the different ways various people tackled the same problem.

John's program is still ongoing, so he has "work" tomorrow, thus I'm on my own. Thus, after I battle the late-Victorian plumbing in my student housing room, I will hit the Museum of the History of Science, do a bit of shopping, and then taxi to the train station and on to London.

If and when I get more reliable Internet, pictures to follow. Also my comments on English Fire Codes (apparently they don't have them here) and other thoughts.

Counting down - Last Day of Work

Relax, Mom - last day of work before a vacation. A few thoughts:

1) Today is the 40th anniversary of Nixon's resignation. I have an (minor) personal link to this event. When I was seven, my family and I went to Washington DC on vacation. We were supposed to get a tour of the White House, but when we got there, we were told the tours had been cancelled. In those pre-cell phone and -Internet days, it wasn't until we got to our hotel that night that we learned Nixon had resigned, and that was why there were no tours.

2) I see that Obama has authorized airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and airlifts to aid refugees. I'm frankly not thrilled that we're involved in this mess, but I would be even less thrilled if a genocide occurred. Sometimes the choice isn't between "good" and "bad," it's between "bad" and "worse."

3) Related to this post by my favorite PCotI (Professional Crank on the Internet) - if art is subjective, then my opinion is no better or worse than yours. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then everybody can have an equally-valid definition of "beauty."

Thoughts, Count down edition

The count down clock for my departure to Worldcon in Merrie Olde England is at T-minus three days. I have no idea how much I'll post while gone (I am taking my personal laptop) but since I won't be sitting in front of a PC for eight hours, I suspect posting will be light and variable. In the meantime, three thoughts.

1) Teresa Nielson Hayden is being highly reasonable on SF fandom. The tl;dr version is that fandom has always argued about politics.

2) John Scalzi's book Old Man's War is now going to be a TV series. What I want to highlight from that post is this: "Why are your books being made into TV series when better books like [X] and/or writers like [Y] are not? [Scalzi's answer] I don’t know." There is a large random luck / grace of God / X factor in determining commercial and critical success. If it could be predicted and bottled, people would do so, but it can't so they don't.

3) Via another Scalzi link, I am reminded of the wonderful book Emergence. I read it decades ago, but when I was reminded of it, I instantly recalled large chunks of it. Some books stick with you - this one did.


Pirates of Mars
Two updates on writing:

1) I had my monthly writer's workshop last night. Comments on my WIP were generally useful and in one case critical. I had made a typo, and had the wrong character saying something, which made a hash of the entire scene!

2) My magnum opus (to date) Pirates of Mars is available as an audiobook. I have nine (9) free downloads for reviewers!



1) A very interesting article: why you should stop believing in evolution. TL;DR version = one believes in religion and comprehends science.

2) Yet another Republican-led House panel finds no misconduct or attempt to misled in Benghazi affair.

A twofer from Gin and Tacos:

3) a lack of constraint. Constraint is used in the technical sense to mean people should believe things that make sense together. In other words, if balancing the budget is important, raising taxes should be okay.

4) We Americans have little faith in special knowledge, and only with the greatest difficulty is the idea being forced upon us that not every man is capable of doing every job. But Mr. Ford belongs to the traditions of self-made men, to that primitive Americanism which has held the theory that a successful manufacturer could turn his hand with equal success to every other occupation.

This quote above shows one of the (many, many) failures of libertarianism. There really is "special knowledge" and we ignore that at our peril. ETA This is more a critique of people who are self-described libertarians vs. the philosophy as a whole. See, for example, how we can't trust climate scientists because reasons.

Thoughts, Some Controversial

On the new "miracle space engine"

Late last week broke news that somebody had discovered and tested a space engine that generated thrust without requiring fuel. As this site points out, don't get too excited. The thrust is within the margin of error of the measuring system.

On the Israeli / Palestinian War

Three thoughts:
1) As Jim Wright says, if you insist on an eye for an eye, eventually everybody's blind.
2) Also from the above link, neither side wants peace. They want the other side to just go away, which isn't quite the same.
3) If your neighbor commits a crime, and the police response involves blowing up your house, no matter how heinous your neighbor's crime was, you are not going to be happy with the police.


Corporations Are *Not* Evil

In one of his many, many and quite lengthy rants, John C. Wright advises us that "leftists hate corporations" and that we think "corporations are evil." Well, no, not really.

On the other hand, nobody at GM sat around stroking a white cat and saying "let's kill some customers." Nobody on the Titanic said "let's sink this boat and drown a thousand people." In the current Hachette / Amazon scuffle, neither side is saying "let's screw authors!" Yet, decisions have been or are being made to cause those various bad effects.

This is largely because the human beings at those entities making the decisions are doing so based on what is perceived to serve their interests best in the short term. Now, corporations have no monopoly on short-term and self-centered thinking. However, safety costs money, and costs reduce profits. Protecting the interests of vendors is simply not part of the DNA of business. In short, the incentives of any for-profit enterprise are to skimp on safety and screw vendors.

In addition, corporations tend to have diffuse decision-making processes. Again, no one person at GM or on the Titanic made a "smoking gun" decision. But various people at various times made decisions that resulted in the bad effects noted. So, corporations aren't evil, but neither are they good.

James Madison, in writing the Constitution, wanted to pit faction against faction in government, assuming that a healthy competition between the groups would keep things more or less down the middle. I would submit that a healthy competition between government and corporations (and labor and individuals) would accomplish the same goal.


Over on Making Light, they have an open thread which starts One of my long-running disgruntlements with survivalists and Galters is their collective ignorance of one key aspect of self-sufficiency: cloth. I can’t count how many people I’ve watched loading their own ammunition and slaughtering their own deer. But all the while, they’re wearing flannel shirts and jeans made of fabric that was woven on an industrial scale, from mechanically-spun fibers, before being shipped across the world either made up or on bolts. Even when they sew the garments themselves, their participation in our shared culture lies across their shoulders and hangs from their belts.

Making cloth is hard work, and especially by hand it's time consuming. Back in Ye Olde Dayes, women would spend every spare waking moment making cloth, and still only end up with enough for two or three outfits. I learned from the comments to this post that there was a crime called "child-striping" or ambushing a child to steal their clothes and resell them.

It is hard to understand how, in historical eras, most people lived on the knife-edge of survival. In modern Third-World countries, they still do.


Imagine you're off doing whatever it is you do and somebody comes up to you. They say, "the Earth is flat and I challenge you to a debate right now!" The following things would (I suspect) go through your mind:

  • This guy's got a few screws loose, bats in his belfry, and isn't playing with a full deck. The idea the the Earth is round is pretty basic and well-accepted.

  • Darn!  I know I learned all of the evidence for a round Earth, but that was a long time ago.  I'd have to start digging some of that up to refresh my memory.

  • Okay, suppose I toss a few facts at this guy.  Will it matter?  I mean, he's got a few screws loose, bats in his belfry and isn't playing with a full deck.

  • Will it end, or will he be like a dog once you start throwing a ball, insisting we keep at it until he gets tired?

I leave it as an exercise to the reader to determine what this post is related to.


Links With Comments

Like the label on the tin says.

1) Today is the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. Here are some interesting thoughts on the generals of WWI weren't as dumb as they get portrayed in popular history.

2) Walter Jon Williams reminds writers that Amazon is not your friend: they have the right to reduce your royalties at any time without notice.

3) A reminder - the Hadley Rille fundraiser (now with no totebags!) has two days to go.

That was, well, "interesting."

So yesterday (or actually over the weekend, but it got promoted to a lead post) I asked my favorite Professional Crank on the Internet (PCotI) "why shouldn't every free adult human be able to vote in the country they are a citizen of?" (The PCotI thinks that women shouldn't be allowed to vote.) Hilarity ensued.

Well, maybe not hilarity. I was told that:
1) Fascists and communists wanted women to vote. (Good think fascists and communists weren't in favor of dental hygiene, I guess.)

2) Women and illegal immigrants won't vote in the long-term interests of the state. (When I suggested that sounded better in the original Italian as delivered from Mussolini's balcony, well that was not well-received.)

3) Since the Founding Fathers only allowed male land-owners to vote, well that was the gold standard of voting. (The reason we got universal male suffrage is that men demanded it and threatened to take the vote by force.)

4) Women are akin to children in that they can't think long-term. (Do I need to comment on that?)

5) Only ex-soldiers should vote, or people not getting a check from the government. This ran downhill into whether or not public schools were good or bad. (PCotI's commenters are against public education. Again, no particular comment.)

6) Tom Kratman showed up, and accused me of "intellectual dishonesty" for refusing to admit that Hitler was freely voted into office. (Hitler came in second in an election marked with considerable physical violence and coercion. In any event, I never claimed voting was perfect.)

7) The evils of the War of Northern Aggression were discussed. (The South Carolina Declaration of Secession was, I was told, not relevant. In any event, the fact that white men voted to fight in defense of enslaving non-voting black men somehow proves that voting is bad. Yet we should let men vote but not women. If you can figure that one out, please let me know.)

8) There were a few commenters who stated the obvious - PCotI wanted to restrict the franchise so that his preferred political views would win at election time. These comments, despite being as obvious as farts in a bathtub, were ignored.

So, maybe not hilarity, but an "interesting" time was had.

"Good guy with a gun"

I was asked, relative to last week's shooting in a Pennsylvania hospital, if I thought the US should encourage more civilians to carry guns. Herewith is my answer.

I am in favor of allowing competent citizens to carry concealed weapons. Both parts of that sentence are important. "Competent" because incompetence kills, and "concealed" because open carry is (in most cases) provocative. It's also a threat - how am I supposed to know that the idiot individual with a rifle walking down the street is a good guy or a bad guy?

I am not in favor of encouraging people to carry guns. "Adding courage" is not something I want to do with regards to guns. If you don't have the courage needed, don't carry. That's the philosophical side of the case.

The practical side of the case is that you have a better chance of getting struck by lightning than needing a gun. So, for most people, the real risk of carrying is accidental discharge of a weapon. Also on the practical side is the nature of the threat. In most mass shooting cases, the criminal has the advantage of surprise. In the Pennsylvania case, had the attacker been a better shot, the doctor would have been dead and the shooter would have had a second gun.

Police carry guns, but in practice most of the time they are moving to a shooting. As we saw in the Las Vegas shooting a few months back (where two cops were shot in the back while on lunch) police are no more surprise-proof then anybody else.

In short, although I have no problem with concealed carry, "good guys with a gun" are always going to be scarce on the ground.

Three Thoughts On A Friday

Armed Response

Comes news today that a hospital shooting in Pennsylvania was stopped when a doctor pulled out his own gun and shot the attacker. This does demonstrate that, yes, Virginia, armed citizens can interrupt mass shootings. Alas, only about 3% of Americans carry a gun, so this doesn't happen very often. ETA Not advocating more Americans carry a gun, merely noting that since most Americans don't, "good guys with guns" are scarce on the ground.

Reagan Republicans

I voted for Ronald Reagan in 1984, and Bush in 1988 and 1992. Since then, I've been trending Democratic. this article very accurately traces why.

Fast Food Wages

From various sources comes news that Elizabeth Warren announced that fast food workers deserved a "living wage." I'm all in favor of people making enough to live off of, and considering the US has the lowest minimum wage of the industrialized world, we could probably bump ours and not hurt anything.

Having said that, the real problem is thanks to the deindustrialization of the US (Ross Perot's "giant sucking sound") jobs that pay decent wages for non- and semi-skilled labor are scarce on the ground. The real fix is a change to industrial policy to pull those jobs back from overseas. Relatively small tariffs would, I think, be very helpful in that regard.


The heat wave broke in Chicago, and I had the windows open last night. It was a bit chilly this morning, making it hard to get out of bed. That trend seems to be following my blogging this AM, so this post is in lieu of actual content.


Air Conditioning

Previously in this space I posted a statement to the effect that my air conditioning at my house was not working. After two repairmen visiting (only one of which charged me) I have been assured that it is functioning correctly. Both asked me to run an experiment, and the results are in.

The experiment was to see if the house would hold a temperature during a heat wave, like the short-lived one we just had here in Chicago. The answer is "yes." But what my AC won't do is pull the temperature down if the sun is out, and it won't quickly pull it down at night, especially if it's hot outside. Basically, if I want coolth in a heat wave, I need to set it at or very close to my desired temperature and let it run.

Since my AC comfort level is 74 degrees, that means on especially hot days when I leave the house I set the AC at no higher than 76, vs. the 80 that the programmable thermostat is set to. At any rate, now I know.

Comment Policy

This is the personal blog of Chris Gerrib, and all opinions expressed here are solely his own. Commenters are welcome; however please be polite to me and my other readers. I reserve the right to delete comments that are rude, inappropriate or otherwise objectionable at my sole discretion. The opinions expressed in a comment are not necessarily mine, and if I do not delete a comment that should not be construed as my agreement with the commenter.

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