Category Archives: Research

This Is Not A Movie Review Of “Safety Not Guaranteed”

“It’s about a time, and a place…do you have a favorite song? …. It’s that time and that place and that song and you remember what it was like when you were in that place and you listen to that song and you know you’re not in that place anymore and it makes you feel…hollow.”

doyouhaveafvoritesong

I’m watching Safety Not Guaranteed and there’s a conversation about how people feel about memories and favorites, and I think, I don’t have the same favorites now that I used to..

Favorites are useful shorthands to have. We ask people their “favorites” as if we can divine from their personality the things that will define them, define their character. It’s convenient to have favorites.

Favorite movies, favorites bands, favorite songs, favorite television shows, favorite restaurants, favorite foods, favorite drinks, favorite beers, favorite wines, favorite actors and actresses, favorite books, favorite writers, favorite animals, favorite colors, favorite memories. Favorite jokes. Favorite achievements, favorite opportunities and lenses through which to experience the world, favorite nights lying out on the dock staring up at the Milky Way and favorite theater productions you did with your cousins when you were eight. Favorite nights up wandering the city streets, favorite mornings when you woke full of peacefulness and warmth.

Favorites are naturally transient. I used to tell people my favorite song was Mysterious Ways, by U2, and the reason I knew that was because I had never fast-forwarded past the song when it played. But shortly after this observed fact, reality changed: now conscious of the song and my proclaimed affection for it, it no longer seemed boundless and limitless and full of infinity. By framing the idea for someone else, I limited what, in expression, it could be. And Mysterious Ways by U2 was no longer my favorite song.

Life changes, inevitably, and the favorites most worth having are the ones you never anticipated in the moment. Favorite afternoon with sun on your face among the springtime flowers in Green Park.

Favorites are full-body snapshots of a singular moment in time and space; reflecting snowglobes within neurons.

Favorites are moments, precise and crystallized.

Easily shattered, growing with geological constance.

ROBOTS ATTACK! Boston Blog

2013-01-20 13.25.58A couple weeks ago, I was visiting a friend in Boston and he asked what kind of writing I was working on right now.

When I said I’d started thinking back to my robot/AI anthology, his response? “Then we should go to the MIT museum.*” (*not a direct quote.)

Which was how, in the space of a day, I went from walking the decks of the oldest ship in the U.S. navy to wandering through examples of the robots of the latter half of the 20th century.

The visit was a kick in the pants. A reminder of where the study of artificial intelligence started, and how far the field has come in fifty years.

2013-01-20 13.41.42

Also a strange reminder of gender imbalance in the sciences I most love (there were no women participants in the conference held at Dartmouth in 1956, as far as I’ve been able to find, and the school didn’t start accepting women until 1972). And of the incredibly intellectual and creative capacity of those men who did take place in the conception of artificial life.

(One of those men, John McCarthy, wrote this story (“The Robot And The Baby“) about a robot and a baby, which is utterly specific in its representation of how an artificial ntelligence (each word being taken at its face value) might weigh options and make decisions.)

Another participant in the conference, Marvin Minsky, was (according to Wikipedia) referred to as one of only two men who Issac Asimov acknowledged as being smarter than him. The other was Carl Sagan.

The visit gave me both inspiration on old drafts and ideas about the potential shape of my AI Anthology, and set my brain buzzing with new possibilities for themes and research.

Now for the fun part: applying them.

 

P.S. If you’ve got $2.99 USD to spare and an Amazon account, click on over to the page for Sassy Singularity and read my short story Sweetheart.

Let’s Talk About Guns

Thank you to ponsulak via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

photo credit: ponsulak via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What is there to say about guns?

I don’t own one. I never have. My grandfather owns what I think of as a rifle (although given what I’ve learned about how I think about different types of guns, that may not be a specific enough term*) and the running joke is that when he has stories about crows, deer and other animals getting into his garden, you can always bet the story will end with, “And then I shot it.”

It didn’t make sense to me that one of the reasons people defended the use of “assault weapons” was because they were necessary for hunting. So I did what any self-respecting geek does.

I asked about it on Twitter. The tweet has, of this writing, had 111 retweets and 59 favorites. It also sparked a storm of replies, the answering of which has sent me over my rate limit three times in the last 18 hours.

 

 

A lot of replies were from angry NRA members and tackled one of my favorite topics – the specificity of language, and how we make it impossible for ourselves to communicate. As it turns out, the phrase “assault weapons” is read as an umbrella term by those who know their stuff – and it covers both legal semi-automatics (which can be modified into full automatics, although this is illegal) and illegal, expensive fully automatic rifles.

And a lot of people do use legal, semi-automatic guns for hunting. First surprise of the night. But hardly the last.

While some people replied to the tweet and discussion with blatant trolling, others stopped to get involved in the chat. I’ve been trying to keep track of those people, and have made a public list called “Discussing Guns” on twitter; I’ll update that list as I go.

After the first day or so of discussion, there are some points we seem to have found consensus on, from both sides of the debate. They are:

1. The 2nd Amendment right to bear arms is as fundamental to the US as the right to free speech, or the separation of church and state. Some gun owners had fast reactions to the conversation that came out as, “Don’t take away my gun.” My interest in the discussion was in no way related to the idea of taking away any guns that are already in the hands of responsible gun owners.

2. More gun control is not the same as better gun control. There was widespread consensus that what we need are more effective laws, not more regulation.

3.  Participants had vastly different opinions on what steps can be taken to achieve better gun control in America. This is an area where we need to have further civil discussion/brainstorming, and where innovative responses may be required. Thus far the conversation has included ideas from policewomen, volunteer fire fighters, ex-military and other NRA members, as well as hearing those who do not own or participate in a culture that includes guns as part of their everyday life. Suggestions have included SROs and arming teachers, better mental health checks, the idea of “ammo cards” and more. I raised a question about what kinds of penalties are currently in place for people who own guns but don’t secure them properly, since there are cases where guns are stolen from licensed users. It was pointed out that there are already background and mental health checks in place, although a statistic was brought up regarding gun sales for cash at shows. Statistics were presented on gun deaths vs. other kinds of deaths, although they were from 1997.

One serious issue I’ve noticed in this region of the debate is that for many people who don’t use guns, having children in close proximity to guns makes the children less safe, whereas those who are familiar with “gun culture” feel that there is more safety with guns around than not. This is an area where compromise might be challenging. Many on one side feel it is there right not to be in the presence of guns. I personally agree with that point of view. I can’t scream “fire!” in a crowded building despite having free speech – where does the limit of one person’s freedom end, and another person’s freedom begin? I don’t know how we can dig into this area of the discussion, and we may not be that far along yet, but it’s definitely something that needs to be looked at by both sides if progress is going to be made.

4. Mental Health Care is coming up over and over again. Everyone seems to agree that more care needs to be available for those with mental illness, as part of a responsible culture that includes gun ownership and use. So far there has been no notable resistence to the idea of developing a system in tandem with increased access to mental health care, although there is not consensus on what form that might take. Some have raised the question of how mental health care services could be improved while also being paid for. Definitely an area worth further discussion, and as both NRA members and mental health activists have an interest in providing better care to our country’s mentally ill, it might be worth it for them to have a narrow discussion around that issue.

This has been a long discussion that shows little sign of slowing down, and the way in which people are participating is, for me (and hopefully others) clearing up a lot of the questions I had about why there aren’t easy solutions to what seemed, until yesterday, to be an obvious no-brainer. I’m grateful for the participation of those who’ve joined in so far and looking forward to seeing where this conversation goes.

Finally, since this is a summary of an extended and multi-faceted discussion, I encourage you to come over to twitter and check things out if you want to take part or have a fuller understanding of the live discussion. If you’ve been taking part and feel like I’ve missed a nuance, please point it out in the comments or let me know on Twitter and I’ll make an edit.

And finally, because we all need a smile right now, check out this BuzzFeed article: Moments That Restored Our Faith In Humanity This Year.

 

 *EDIT: 12/17/2012) Are there solutions we overlooked in our initial conversation? Do you have new ideas about how to explore some of the areas of consensus found above? Please join the discussion via the comments, below; I ask that everyone take part civilly and in the interest of a useful exchange of ideas.

*EDIT 12:58 EST – Just spoke to @Texasartchick, a police officer and firearms instructor who has offered to provide a more specific definition about types of guns mentioned in this article at her earliest opportunity. Check back/subscribe for comments. Thank you! And BuzzFeed is on a role with this new post.

Stuff That’s Worth Your Time

Invisible Nursing Woman
Shoshana Rachel (great middle name!) talks about breast-feeding, cleavage and invisible women over at GirlBodyPride.

I Review Tear The Curtain
Earlier this month, I had the chance to interview one of the creators of a supposedly-groundbreaking new Canadian theatre piece. Schedules allowed me to chat with co-creator Kevin Kerr, and this weekend just gone, I was able to see the production in one of its final performances. My review is available through The British Theatre Guide, where I’ve been a contributor since 2003ish.

A Fan Letter To Certain Conservative Politicians
From @scalzi on Twitter. A letter to anti-choice politicians from a satirical rapist. Triggering, yet scathing on the order of Jonathan Swift’s  A Modest Proposal. A skilled piece of writing, whether or not you agree with his political views.

Climate Change
I’ve been following the campaigns, and one thing I’ve noticed is that the major candidates have refrained from significant discussion on the topic of climate change. Earlier this year, I did a project called Hot Mess: speculative fiction about climate change and I’d like to take this opportunity to suggest that sometimes, fiction can be an effective way of starting conversations on a grassroots level. Short stories include work by Sare Liz Gordy, RJ Astruc, Miranda Doerfler and Eric Sipple.

Trailer – Celeste Bright
I’ve mentioned a web series project in previous posts, and have to thank @thepowerobject for pointing me to this trailer. Gorgeously shot, the editing and music take you along for the ride – I’m going to pop in the first episode and see what I think of the product. This is part of my research on form and webseries; while I’m still trying to make it through Aidan 5’s full season, learning the language of a quality webseries is coming to the front in my ever-revolving priorities binder.

Ack. I just said binder, didn’t I.

We’re about ten days away from Election Day and voters in key swing states are already heading to the polls. If you spend time on “Twittah“, you already know my views, so I won’t bore you. Politics are, however, relevant, because of my new writing project.

Electalytics.

Back in June, I had the idea for a novella that would look at the mechanics of a modern-day election, in scifi-punk terms. Having read a lot of cyberpunk in my teens, and growing out from the ongoing progress of my AI Anthology, Electalytics was meant to give me a chance to express some anxieties about the current election cycle, as well as the framing of political action/content within what I felt (and still feel) to be outdated models – all within a technopunk framework.

Electalytics started off as a challenge – could I write 30K words in a month? By July, I was still shy 2.5K, but I had the solid basis of a piece – and since then, I’ve been editing and refining the story. It’s lost mass and gained focus, and I’m excited to be offering a free look at the first chapter to the first 50 people who sign up on my mailing list. We’re about halfway to our subscription goal, so sign up for the free promo.

Also, come November 6th? Vote.

The Favorites: 9/12/2012 Edition

I mark a lot of things as “Favorites” on Twitter, hoping to get back to them and see them later. Here are some of the pieces that wound up being quite interesting:

http://write-shoot-cut.com/2012/09/01/short-film-38-kinetic-edinburgh-2012-walid-salhab/|
@Neil_Rolland made this clip available after it was screened at Write, Shoot, Cut in Edinburgh. A gorgeous panoramic in stop motion photography, by Walid Salhab, a lecture at my Alma Mater (now Queen Margaret University, they’ve dropped the College). A captivating series of images. No narrative structure, but as a test piece for a film Salhab hopes to make in the future, it certainly shows off the dreamy, atmospheric qualities of the shooting technique.

Edinburgh’s landmarks – Waverly Station, the castle, the Balmoral Hotel, Leith, and the breathtaking views down closes and campuses make one choke up a bit. Salhab’s sample footage combines familiar landmarks and different lighting states, with recognized events including the Hogsmanay fireworks and traffic running over Arthur’s Seat in the daylight, into a montage of Kinetic Edinburgh’s view of this exciting city.

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/31/obama-clint-eastwood_n_1845457.html?utm_hp_ref=politics
The most retweeted joke of the Republican National Convention didn’t come from your run-of-the-mill tweeter – it was this graphic posted by the @BarackObama twitter feed in response to Clint Eastwood’s speech to an empty chair.

 

http://theferrymanswife.blogspot.com/2012/08/promo-prep.html?spref=tw
A fellow Queen Margaret student has recently released the above title, “The Ferryman’s Wife” (by Georgina Merry) via Kindle. Here’s her blog entry about the process of getting out word about the piece. Good for those looking at others’ experiences in self-publishing. The book itself looks like YA fiction with a supernatural slant.

 

And finally (because that’s enough interesting stuff to look at for one day’s entry), a great piece of information I snatched off Twitter the other day:

 

 

Thanks for reading.

Homework Takeaway: There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza…

I finished reading The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene, a week or so ago, and meant to post about that with some summary thoughts. Instead, I reached the end the week of the discovery of the Higgs-Boson, and suddenly the last few pages were no longer conjecture, they were likely fact.

It’s amazing how easy it is to take something seriously once it’s been proven.

At the beginning of the year, I joked on Twitter that if The Elegant Universe was my homework, well, I was an Honors Student and I’d be doing some extra credit, as well. So I’ve started reading The Fabric of the Cosmos.

Already, I’m struck by the change in Greene’s tone – or the change in the tone of the tenor of my reading of it, perhaps? The writing has a deep narrative quality. Greene wrote this before the discovery of the Higgs-Boson, so maybe the tone is due to the increasingly advanced matter of its subject? Past a point, science and art follow many of the same intuitions.

I’m glad to have read The Elegant Universe, as frustrating as I found some of its metaphors, because I’m now confident with how Greene may intend to lay out this new story. Having ended The Elegant Universe with discussion of of temperature transference theory at the time of the Big Bang, Greene is now talking about basic physics experiments again.

Issac Newton’s bucket. Concave and convex surfaces.

Which has brought the song behind the lyrics of this post’s title to mind.

There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza,
There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza; a hole. 

Inspirational Poetry 101: Ithaca by Constantine Cavafy

I was talking to a friend and brought up an allusion to a poem they were unfamiliar with: Ithaca, by Constantine Cavafy.

I’ve had a printout of this poem on my door at my parents’ house, probably since I was about thirteen years old. Every time I went into my room I saw it, every time I came out I saw it. I didn’t always read the whole thing. Sometimes my eye would just catch a line as I walked by. Other times I’d miss the oval-shaped paper cutout entirely, focusing on one of the other bits of paper I’d stuck up with blu-tack to give my door some personality.

When I was living in London, I remember my mom saying, as we talked about homesickness and missing each other, she’d read the poem on my door for the first time. I think she was suprised to see it there.

In this line of work called writing, payoffs are hard-won and oft-delayed. As I said to my friend, the best we, as authors, can hope for is that a) we’ve picked the right language to be born into or learn and b) X-thousand years after we die, somebody might read and be affected by our words.

At any rate, Ithaca is one of those poems that’s worked its way into the canon of my historic and literary references, so I wanted to share it with all of you. Below is the text of the translation of Ithaca from the Wikipedia page above. You can also check out this link for a reading in the original Greek (link also gakked from Wikipedia.) Written over 100 years ago.

ITHACA
By Constantine Cavafy

When you set sail for Ithaca,
wish for the road to be long,
full of adventures, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
an angry Poseidon — do not fear.
You will never find such on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, and your spirit
and body are touched by a fine emotion.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
a savage Poseidon you will not encounter,
if you do not carry them within your spirit,
if your spirit does not place them before you.
Wish for the road to be long.
Many the summer mornings to be when
with what pleasure, what joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time.
Stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase the fine goods,
nacre and coral, amber and ebony,
and exquisite perfumes of all sorts,
the most delicate fragrances you can find.
To many Egyptian cities you must go,
to learn and learn from the cultivated.
Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your final destination.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better for it to last many years,
and when old to rest in the island,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to offer you wealth.
Ithaca has given you the beautiful journey.
Without her you would not have set out on the road.
Nothing more does she have to give you.
And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithacas mean.
Edit:
This has become one of the blog’s more popular posts: so much so that I decided to look for a photo to add to it. In addition to that, I came up with this video, which is a lovely reading and I encourage you to take a moment and watch it. This and many more of his poems are available to listen to here.

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