Look! Up in the Sky...

Does this count as Mundane?

Um. Everybody duck!:

December 24 Update: 2004 MN4 is now being tracked very carefully by many astronmers [sic] around the world, and we continue to update our risk analysis for this object. Today's impact monitoring results indicate that the impact probability for April 13, 2029 has risen to about 1.6%, which for an object of this size corresponds to a rating of 4 on the ten-point Torino Scale. Nevertheless, the odds against impact are still high, about 60 to 1...

60 to 1? Where do I buy that lottery ticket?

Hugo Ruminations, Part I

A Convention Report

As noted before, the Brunette and I are signed up for The 63rd WorldCon. Not only does this mean that we get to return to Glasgow next summer, it also means that we get to nominate and vote for the Hugo awards. Now, if that's not exciting, I don't know what is.

Apparently, each convention is allowed to have an additional category on the ballot. Glasgow chose to have an award for Best Web Site. I suppose it would be cheeky to nominate my own humble site, especially since it has nothing whatsoever to do with science fiction, so I'll need to look around. Here are three that I'm considering nominating -- we get to nominate up to five:

Mundane SF

It's slightly possible that I've outgrown words like manifesto. The etching a line in the sand image behind such words no longer stirs my blood. On the other hand, I've been drawn to this blog for the last little bit, trying to see how the young ones are doing these days.

The Mundanes promise

To produce a collection of mundance science fiction consisting of stories that follow these rules:

  • No interstellar travel -- travel is limited to within the solar system and is difficult, time consuming and expensive
  • No aliens unless the connection is distant, difficult, tenuous and expensive -- and they have no interstellar travel either
  • No Martians, Venusians, etc.
  • No alternative universes or parallel worlds
  • No magic or supernatural elements
  • No time travel or teleportation
  • Not to let Mundanity cramp their style if they want to write like Edgar Rice Burroughs as well.

Ah, youth. Certainly, in a time that brings us bloated works like Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, it's nice to see someone trying to think about discipline. Any kind of discipline. Perhaps they were thinking of a similar cinema manifesto? At any rate, it's good to see they're not toooooooooo obsessed with adherence, as the last line of the manifesto shows:

To burn this manifesto as soon as it gets boring.

Today in Alternate History

A site that will surely not land on the Mundane list, Today in Alternate History is a weird ride. That's about all I have to say about that.

Neil Gaiman's Blog

It looks like all my sites so far are blogs. Now, Neil Gaiman's web site is a full web site, but his blog is what draws me. I'm not sure that I've ventured anywhere else on his site. Mr. Gaiman has got to be the most accessible of our living writers.

Of course, our dead writers aren't very accessible at all.

I don't mean that his writing is accessible, though 'tis; I mean that Neil Gaiman faithfully updates his blog -- when he's not too buried by work and sometimes even when he is -- and maintains a public conversation with his fans and other passers-by. I take this as a sign that the man has some compulsive disorder that forces him to write at any opportunity. Before the internet, he'd have been that man in the ink-splattered overcoat, trailing bits of paper and unanswered post cards everywhere he went.

Or maybe not.

At any rate, I visit his blog nearly every day -- when I'm not too buried by work and sometimes even when I am.

Comments and other suggestions are welcome! Balloting will close in March.

Oh, geez, and I haven't mentioned that the exchange rate for the tickets was $1.94 to the pound. Oi.

The Grass is Singing (Doris Lessing)

The arrival of the golden triangles broke my concentration. I had pretty much come to the conclusion that all of my favorite restaurants have vowel-ending names. My stomach had been rumbling pretty loudly as I scrolled through my favorite eateries in my mind. These golden triangles -- samosa filling inside egg roll wrapping folded like a flag -- are an addiction from Mandalay. Bambule, Udupi, Fado, and Costa Elegre all end in vowels, too. I was trying to decide whether Siri's truly matched the hypothetical pattern when the delicious appetizer arrived.

Sadly, the golden triangles were accompanied by my imaginary friend Bertie.

"Wow, this place is twice as big as it was in College Park," Bertie said and dipped a triangle into the orange-colored sauce. Mandalay originated in College Park, but were forced to new digs in Silver Spring because of, well, simple gross stupidity on the part of College Park's leadership.

"And it still fills up," I said and moved the plate closer to myself.

"Look, I need your help," Bertie said after he had made a second triangle disappear. I merely raised my eyebrows. "Yeah, see, I've got this radio gig to review a book."

"Oh?" I said, more surprised by this than by anything he has ever said. "What book?"

"The Grass is Singing, by Doris Lessing," he said.

I pulled the orange-colored sauce away from him, too, and asked, "What are you going to say about it?"

"I was thinking of starting like this: 'In a fit of drug-induced psychedelia not seen since that Naked Lunch guy and Hunter Thompson shared a trunk in Del Rio, Ms. Lessing presents the inner barkings of people we just cannot understand.' But I have changed my mind."

"Ah," was all I could summon up.

"Now, I think I'll go with the science fiction angle," he said. No matter how often I vow to myself not to play along, he just says things that leave me not choice but to respond.

"SF angle?" I ask, squeakily.

"Yeah, I'll go, 'This is a nice attempt at humanity's inability to feel at home in an alien landscape, what with the grass singing all night long and all. But in the end this is merely a pale imitation of The Songs of Distant Earth."

While I stared at him (mouth open, no doubt) trying to figure out where to begin, he snatched my last golden triangle.

"So, you, uh, need me to, what? Maybe tell you that The Grass is Singing cannot be an imitation because it came out 36 years before Clarke's book?" I sputtered. "Or is it that you need to be told that it can't be an imitation because IT ISN'T EVEN SCIENCE FICTION? Or, perhaps, just maybe, you need my help in understanding that The Grass is Singing was actually a brave work about race relations and colonialism written in the '50s by a colonial white woman?" I paused for breath. "Did you even glance at the book?"

"Of course not," he said, seeming somewhat surprised that I might ask. "My shtick is going to be that I'm reviewing books by the title alone. It works much better if I haven't read the book."

I shook my head, which was pretty difficult because I was also trying to hold it firmly with both my hands. "So, what is that you need me for?"

"A ride," he said. "Can you give me a lift to the station tomorrow?"

"Uh, I guess," I muttered. Why can't I get a gig at a radio station?

"Great," he said. "I've been thinking about one of your favorite restaurants. Why don't you pick me up there?"

"Which one is that?" I asked.

"Moby Dick," he said, then left me alone with my broken restaurant taxonomy. Darn those kabobs, anyway.

Filed under:

Um. No, No You're Not

Come In, We're OpenMy original plan was to ride from the implosion to Reiter's Scientific and Professional Bookstore on K street. This is the area called the Golden Triangle, which is neither the same Golden Triangle as is in Greenbelt nor the home of the delicious little appetizer you can get at Mandalay Restaurant and Cafe. Reiter's is a great geek book store. Unfortunately, it's not open until 9:30 on Saturday mornings. But, hey, no problem. I'll have no trouble finding somewhere to get a drink and read for the hour and a half until Reiter's opens. This is a major city, after all, and this particular neighborhood has banners proclaiming, "Come In, We're Open!"

Um. No, No you're not open.

At 8 am on Saturday, the Cosi on 19th Street is not open, though it seems to have a breakfast menu. I tried a Starbucks on K Street. It was not open, either. Some place called Java Green on 19th Street was not open. Nothing with seats seemed to be open until I found a Starbucks all the way at the end of the Golden Triangle at Washington Circle. It was open.

I did my shopping at Reiter's and rode my bike north through Rock Creek. The Golden Triangle had put me in the mood for Burmese food, so I decided that I'd finish my Christmas shopping at Borders and reward myself with noodle salad or basil chicken afterward.

Riding the Creek is much nicer on Saturday than on a workday. Parts of Beach Drive are closed to motor vehicles and the traffic in the rest of the park is lighter. It was a beautiful day, though it started off on the very, very cold side (Let's face it: it was 30°F (-1°C)). I was smart enough to layer and even remembered to remove a layer as I started to get overheated. What a good way to end my bicycle riding for 2004, I thought, with a sunny day and Mandalay!

I wandered through Borders, feeling guilty as always. I'd waited too long to order from an independent bookseller. But I piled up on stuff and made my purchases. Then, I walked my bike over to Mandalay for lunch. Did I mention how very much I'd been looking forward to eating at Mandalay?

Mandalay was closed.

A sign on the door proclaimed a gas leak caused the closure and the restaurant would open as soon as it was resolved. I even saw Aung sneaking out the side door and jumping into a van, probably running off to Majorca or something. So, I was stuck with a boring Indian buffet.

After lunch, I rode back to Greenbelt, a trip I had not made before. Once again, I find that bike route recommenders are more averse to traffic than to hills, and I rode along quiet roads with steep hills.

Oh, and remember this little piece of advice: a book store is just about the last place you want to go with a bicycle, especially if you've got a ten mile or so ride home. Books are heavy!



Took my bike on the Metro down to see the old DC Convention Center implosion this morning. It was not terribly dramatic -- it took all of 35 seconds or something -- but there was quite a party atmosphere and the rumble rumble rumble of the charges was something to hear/feel.

The crowd clapped, cheered and sang after the building collapsed, though the singing seemed to be more from protestors who were trying to catch the eyes of the cameras with handmade signs and songs about Mayor Williams' Christmas spirit. The crowd dispersed more quickly than the dust. <cough> <cough>

The first train out of Greenbelt on Saturdays is at 7, so I was nervous about the timing, but I got to the corner of 9th and Massachusetts just as the warning sound went off -- hence no "before" shot.

FW: Notes

You might remember my thumbdrive that survived a trip through the washer and dryer. It turns out that survived was too strong a word. The little tyke gave up the ghost yesterday. At least it had held on long enough for me to save my files...

The Brunette has wandered off to St. Louis for the weekend and I'm so melancholy I could eat an entire Cheesecake Factory cheesecake. And I'm not talking about the low-carb one, Bub. I'd follow that feat with a couple sacks of Little Tavern burgers and a gorge-fest at The Melting Pot. All that weight I lost over the last six months? Welcome home.

I've set my laptop's screensaver to randomly show my saved pictures. A good number of the two thousand pictures are from our two years in Scotland. It's mesmerizing. I'm never going to get anything done...

Isn't that Precious?

Isn't that Precious? Mom, not usually prone to syrup, sent us a new Nativity set. It's nice to have one that the cat can't damage, but it isn't clear which little guy is supposed to be Joseph.

Mary and Jesus, we've got figured.

News from Newport News

Actually, it's news from Norfolk, but close enough, eh?

It has been quiet here because I've been away to Norfolk for to do work and stuff. Therefore, and ipso facto, yadda yadda yadda: I've not been able to do my duty here. Ah,well. One must pay the bills and all, neh?

At any rate, we'll have a nice book tale tomorrow at the latest. So sit tight and stop staring at your brother or I'll stop this car right now, mister. Don't think I won't do it.

With Apologies to Real Poets Everywhere...

Sitting on Metro

I'm sitting on Metro
Nearing my stop
You stumble in and
On my bench plop

You're smelly and scuzzy
All unaware
Of the discomfort you're bringing
By sittin' in my chair

My station draws nearer
I'm most polite
"Excuse me...Excuse me...Excuse me"
I don't want to fight

But you cannot notice
You've blocked the world
I quietly object

Needs work, I guess.

Why did the Chicken...?

A Game Review

Maybe I'll replace this later with a little fiction like the restaurant and book tales, but for now, I'll just gush.

We spent the weekend playing games. We fell with maniacal glee into the Why Did the Chicken...? trap. Oh, you see it time and time again. Two innocent waifs wander into a coffeehouse where some local game company is demonstrating games. The waifs are drawn into a game and everyone seems to be having fun until fourteen hours have passed, two small forests have been cleared for paper production, and even the game designers shout, "For the sake of all that is holy and good, please stop playing this game and let us go home to our families and/or loved ones!"

Oh, and we did it to ourselves twice. We tried to sample the other fare available, but we ended both sessions late for another appointment because we just had to scribble one more little, itty-bitty punchline, even when we knew it wouldn't be funny enough.

Well, it would have been funny enough, if it was delivered in that evil voice.

Why Did the Chicken...? is a party game. The game flow is much like Apples to Apples. In each round, one player takes the role of questioner. Everyone else is a joke writer. The questioner draws a joke set up (like "What do you get when you cross blank with blank?" or "Why was blank envious of blank?") and two nouns to fill the blanks (like "airplane pilot" and "rutabaga"). The erstwhile Bob Hopes spend two minutes writing punchlines. When the time is up, the questioner sets up the joke and one of the players tries to sell each joke.

This is where the game can really take off. When the comic sells each joke, there is merriment galore. The questioner is given the unenviable task of picking the two funniest punchlines. I'd like to see the game played with less talented joke deliverers, though, to say whether this format will always succeed. Many of the winning punchlines were chosen more for presentation than content, but there was nothing wrong with that.

Like Apples to Apples, winning this game requires you to tailor to your audience (one table of players was full of pre-teens, so the word "poop" came up a lot in their punchlines). But this game is one step more advanced, requiring more depth and creativity. When the answers are random, it's generally because the player intended it to be random. On the other hand, a general feeling of goodwill and party atmosphere tends to liven up even the most tedious of groaners.

Highly recommended.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Mark Haddon), plus Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (Susanna Clarke)

There's a wooded circle near one of the playgrounds in our Co-op community. I must circumscribe the plot -- or at least an arc of it -- to walk from the town center to our home. I often stop to watch the frollicking squirrels and wonder how they can be so fat.

On this imaginary day, I notice that I'm not alone in observing the squirrels. That kid from down the street -- whose name refuses to stick -- sits on a bench with his wee friend Prasad. Both are staring intently at the rodents. They have their notebooks out and are carefully making entries at intervals. I wander over to inquire1 about their diligent work.

I look over their shoulders to peer at their writing, but it consists of sets of data and crossed out formulae.

I think it safest to steer clear of the formulae, so I say, "Gentlemen! Read any good books lately?"

I suppose I say this with a bit too much boom, because Prasad falls right off the bench. The squirrels disappear. Geoffrey looks up from his book.

I set my bag of groceries on the ground to give my fingers a rest.

"We are very much admiring The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time," Prasad says, after he retrieves his notebook and straightens his tie.

"Ah, yes," I say. "I suppose it is safe to say we all wish we were a bit more like Adrian Mole."

"Autistic?" Jeff says, after a moment. There are always these strange pauses in our conversation, usually after I make a statement.

"I'm just saying," I reply, "that it would be nice to keep everyone from touching me. And if I could make people leave me alone simply by putting forehead to ground and groaning..."

The boys look skeptical.

"Actually," Jack says. "We thought you would have a particular empathy with his inability to properly interact socially --"

"Oh?" I say. "I must say I missed that bit. Why would I --"

"At any rate," interrupts Prasad, "We were thinking that it was nice to have a book with footnotes and an appendix with a mathematical proof --"

"Yeah," I say uncertainly. "Though sometimes -- in other books -- that footnote thing is a real problem."

"How is that?" Prasad asks before Joe can stop him.

"Well," I say. "for example, I found it difficult to know what to do with footnotes in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I mean, do you read all the text and go back to the footnotes later, or do you break the stream of narrative to read them?"

"We liked that book," says Prasad. "Though it isn't heavy with narrative drive."

"It's just heavy," says John. "She coulda used an editor."

"And then, if you do the latter," I go on, "what do you do with the bookmark?"

"Bookmark?" Jay asks.

"At least one of the footnotes was four pages long," I say. "If you leave a page midway through to follow a footnote that's four pages long, where do you put the bookmark if you decide to go to sleep in the middle of reading the footnote?"

They obviously had not considered this problem, because their little faces are filled with something that looks a lot like awe. As they sit trying worry their way through my little nugget of wisdom, I watch one of the squirrels return to playing in the trees. Three-quarters of his tail are missing, perhaps chomped by some stray coyote. We call him Nub-butt.

"Actually," Prasad finally says. "We're more interested in the study of magic presented as serious study, like history or science."

"Although we would like to have seen more magical interaction with the animal kingdom," Jeb adds.

"Oh," I say, surprised. "Animals. Pah. They're just dumb beasts. I couldn't believe a story with intelligent animals."

I would like to go further, but I notice a rustling at my feet. I reach down for my grocery bag, but Nub-butt pops out carrying my dried wasabi peas on his back. He runs off toward the trees. I follow as best I can, but he darts left and right so quickly, I have little luck in reacquiring my wasabi peas. Nub-butt is quicker than his girth suggests.

The two boys sit on the bench and solemnly record each of my movements.

1 Just as an aside, what is the difference between "inquire" and "enquire" anyway?


I tried to make a comment on dcist, but I was given the following cease and desist notice:

Your comment was denied for questionable content

In the interest of free speech, I'm going to let you be the judge. (If you have small kids, you might want to make them look the other way.

The non-fastfood versions (D&B, etc) don't count. They're just not the same. Krystal burgers are as good, but the closest seems to be in North Carolina.

Little Tavern still exists and sells burgers in Laurel and in Baltimore. The shops are not nearly so clean as White Castle shops (which is not saying much at all), but the burgers are great.

There are some good pictures here and here

Oh, It's Okay for SOME People, I Guess...

I hate to whinge about Metro when so many other people do it so well, but I mean, really. The Washington Post tells us that a majority of the Metro Board have never ridden a bus?

[Metro Board Member Gladys] Mack said her schedule is too busy to rely on public transportation. "My travel, my destinations and my time frames make it very difficult for me to use the system," said Mack, who lives near the Friendship Heights Metro station and works near Howard University. "I would have to take two trains and two buses. . . . It just makes it very inconvenient for me to depend on the system on a regular basis."

Maybe she meant two trains or two buses? Metro's own planning guide gives one train + one bus from Friendship Heights to Howard University:

Traveling from FRIENDSHIP HEIGHTS to HOWARD UNIVERSITY on December 03.
Itinerary #1
Rail : Departs from Board Arrive
Bus : Departs from Board Arrive
Walk 0.28 mile E to HOWARD UNIVERSITY
Fare Total (Senior/Disabled) : $2.30 ($0.95)

And there is a "Howard University" stop on the green line, but perhaps this isn't anywhere near Howard University?

Getting Geeky

We finally got around to purchasing our tickets for next year's World Science Fiction Convention last night. We've never been to such an event, but the Brunette is associated with the Glasgow Science Fiction Writers Circle and the Con will be held in Glasgow. (Just look at me say "con" like a pro!) It'll be nice to get back to Scotland for a visit, and I hope that the timing is right for us to catch the Edinburgh Book Festival on the same trip.

Also, I am hoping that the dollar rebounds a little bit and the Americans are still allowed to travel to foreign lands next summer.

By joining the Convention, we'll be allowed to nominate and vote for the Hugo awards. I intend to take that responsibility quite seriously (welllllll, as seriously as I'm able) and will keep track of the process here. I don't think I get enough exposure to the entire field to make the nominations, but I'll certainly read all the final nominees closely and make my musings available here. If you have recommendations, let me know.

I don't know if we've ever planned anything this far in advance before.

Just Wondering

Is it right that the author Han Jin wrote two different stories with the same name? Shouldn't that be illegal or immoral or something?

Is it right that Metro workers can walk around Rosslyn station with paper cups of coffee? Okay, I only saw one employee with one cup and I don't know if it was coffee. But it was sloshing around while he rode the elevator.