Archive for October, 2003

Drabbles and Preferences

Thursday, October 23rd, 2003

Jade’s Voyager fic “Human Interaction” is now up, along with her BRAD story and a new fic, “One Time Too Many.”  See her home page for links. As announced yesterday in the FicML News blog, all of Jade’s fic was converted to FicML. Her pages were output automatically using an XSL stylesheet. Now they all include the preference picker, which you can use to set font size, background color and more.

I’ve been catching up on Season 1 of Stargate, so now there are five new drabbles listed on my fic page.  Two last Season 1 drabbles and a Stargate/Voyager crossover are coming soon.

Here kitty, kitty, kitty

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2003

Word count: 100
Weird link of the day: Hummingbirds reenact the Book of Genesis (by way of my friend Kendice)

According to Apple my copy of Panther has shipped already, but the FedEx site can’t find my tracking number. It’s a sly OS, sneaking around their warehouse, pouncing on unsuspecting Windows users and eating them for lunch…

I’ve been using Safari since I got the new mac, but this week I finally discovered something that Camino does better. Its XML+CSS is better than Safari’s - I spotted a few font substitutions in Safari that didn’t happen with Camino (which means the font is on my system, though I knew that already). Also, Camino has basic XLink support and Safari has none.

Safari has at least one HTML+CSS issues as well, which I spotted while playing with Jade’s stylesheet: it doesn’t seem to support font-variant: - at all. Camino does.

I’m not saying I’m going back to Camino or Mozilla, but the old pointy-planet icon is back in my dock now.

[P.S.] The Big Mac at Virginia Tech achieved a preliminary ranking of 4th fastest supercomputer in the world. Wired claims it may hit #2 soon.

[P.P.S.] New iBooks are out!


Tuesday, October 21st, 2003

Word count: 200

Yesterday I was chatting with some fellow BOFQ’s about the general public’s perception of fandom. They think we’re a bunch of obsessed plagiarizing pornographers giving fic away for free. And they’re more or less right about that.

So the question I asked myself was, would I have gotten involved in fandom if I’d realized at the time (in 2000) what it would be like today (in 2003)? Would I want to be associated, in even the slightest way, with a genre that is mostly smut, mostly badfic, mostly mary-sues, mostly slash - pick your poison - and where there is an ever-present, if , danger of plagiarism of my own fic by other fans? Would I want to be involved in a community that supports your right to write RPS and twincest?

I’m not necessarily talking about moral qualms here. Consider slash, for example - even for people who like it, it’s not usually something they got into fanfic for. It’s more of an acquired taste. Even smut is something most fans work their way up to writing rather than the thing they came to fandom looking for. People come for the show.

So the inside of fandom is not at all like the outside. Back in 2000, there was no easy way for a new fan to see the seamy underside of fandom, but now there’s LJ, where anyone who does a little research can find out that fandom is really distasteful or contentious or meta or low-quality - pick your poison again. Now instead of a seamy underside, we have a underside of good, clean, gen, deep, literary (pick your preference) fic almost completely obscured by the notorious public face of fandom.

I think this change in the face of fandom is having an increasing effect on what kind of people get involved - more young rowdy people, fewer adults stumbling into fandom by accident - but it could just be that I’m a BOFQ and I’m not meeting the promising newbies.

I’m certainly not trying, either - my answer to whether I’d get involved in fandom today is a definite “no.” Though I write Stargate fic, I don’t go out of my way to post it or meet other Stargate fans. I don’t have time for LJ or fic taxes - the sheer size of fandom today drives people away as well. Anyone who doesn’t have lots of time to dedicate to fandom is marginalized.

I’ll see you in the margins.

Last Rites

Monday, October 20th, 2003

Word count: 500

For those of you not following the story of Terri Schiavo, the woman being starved to death in Florida, here’s the latest news: a Catholic priest was forbidden to administer last rites to her. She collapsed under mysterious circumstances thirteen years ago - her father suspects the husband. Her parents want her kept alive and her husband wants her feeding tube removed.

[Midnight update:] The Florida legislature has passed a bill tailored to the case, allowing the governor to have Terri Schiavo’s tube reinserted.

Garbage Strike

Monday, October 20th, 2003

I’ve been having Emacs crashes lately, though I didn’t notice the problem when I first built Emacs. According to the Emacs for MacOS X guy, this is a garbage collection problem that’s been going on for a few weeks and has now been fixed in CVS. So I updated my tree and I’m about to rebuild. Wish me luck.

Otherland IV, Fine Prey

Sunday, October 19th, 2003

Besides the title titles, I recently spotted that cool top-bound edition of Philip K. Dick’s “The Minority Report” in the library. I have to say, I liked the plot of the movie better. In the original short story, John Anderton pre-kills an army general and ends up in the middle of a conflict between a power-hungry army and the equally suspicious police force. The story rolls along at a faster pace than its internal logic can handle - no surprise for Golden Age sci-fi. (The original copyright was 1956.) I did enjoy the resolution, but the movie wins on technical merit.

On to the real books: My seven-month struggle with Tad William’s Otherland behemoth is finally over. I read I in the spring and II and III over the summer. Volume IV, Sea of Silver Light, brought the series to an end, but it didn’t resolve my problems with the books.

I’m not saying the books sat on my windowsill for months with bookmarks in the middle - far from it. Each was an engrossing read; only their length (3270 pages total in paperback) kept me from finishing them in a day or two as I would any other good sci-fi novel. At no point in Otherland did I experience the eternal suffering of Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars. I will pass the books on to other people, rather than shuffling them off to the sell-to-a-gullible-used-bookstore pile.

Despite the wonderful characterization and vivid VR worlds, I let months go by between volumes. I cared what happened to the characters, especially Orlando and the Aussie policewoman, but not enough to pick up the next volume in the infinite series. I wasn’t getting something out of the individual volumes, and having finished the series, I haven’t gotten that same thing out of the work as a whole.

Though nominally sci-fi, Otherland wandered, as fantasy tends to, across the vast tapestry of its own setting. The quest was there and did succeed in the end, so I wondered whether it was the structure alone that put me off. I’ve complained already about the plot shifting in every chapter from one set of Our Heros or Villains to another. If those chapters had been grouped together Lord of the Rings-style, however, it would have become even more obvious that nothing was happening. Yes, the characters went from place to place, collected clues, met one another or were accidentally separated, etc., but nothing of sufficient plot-significance happened in books I, II, or III to make me want to see what happened in the next volume.

Otherland is certainly days of reading enjoyment, but it’s too big and diffuse to be a novel. The action at any particular time isn’t quite important enough to the plot - there’s a different proportion of action to meaning than I’m accustomed to. (There was also a gun on the mantle the whole time that was never fired - the little construction robots on Mars. I was really looking forward to them.) If like me you prefer the lean style of most sci-fi (Kim Stanley Robinson always excepted), you may not want to commit to a long-term relationship with Otherland. If you’re the sort of person who reads or writes trilogies, though, this is the series for you.

I’d like to coin a new term, to add to the novelette/novella/novel sequence, that signifies this trilogy style of writing. Novelogy is unfortunately taken, and refers to a series of short stories, probably by different authors, that together form a novel (more or less). Trilogy itself is from the Greek and refers to three dramas, rather than one drama taking up three times the space. Maybe novelitis or noveloma

Anyway, on to Fine Prey, a novel of the usual length by Scott Westerfeld. It was in the first person, and it took me chapters to figure out what gender the main character was. I suspect it took the author a while, too. I turned out to be a she. In no way did Our Hero ever act like a woman. In fact, I suspect she started out male and got neutered somewhere in the editing process.

We meet Our Heroine at the approximate age of seventeen. She has been cloistered at an alien school for most of her life, but she likes to spend her summers participating in an up-close-and-personal blood sport involving alien animals killing one another while she’s wired directly to the predator’s brain. Just what I’ve wanted to do since I was five years old!

On this particular summer off, Our Heroine gets addicted to drugs as part of her involvement with a sado-masochistic woman. I’m not calling her a lesbian because no mention (never mind motivation) was made of anyone’s sexual orientation. Our Heroine and her lover are the only people in the book who appear interested in sex at all, and even their relationship was just filler.

All along, Our Heroine retains her abiding interest in language, especially the alien language Ayan which is all she studies in school. She knows next to nothing about human culture, except for her favorite blood sport. The parts of the novel which deal with the alien language are a bit overdone, but still quite interesting, and the resolution is about language. It’s a good read, marred only by the fact that Our Heroine isn’t male.

The story would have made a whole lot more sense if she had been a he. When Our Heroine falls for Miss Right, she behaves like a male teenager, not a woman. (I didn’t know her gender at the time, and the scene did not entirely clear it up.) Soon afterwards she has a fit of teen rebellion in which she blows off her lifelong blood sport ambitions with no particular new goal in mind. Under the influence of Miss Right, she starts doing drugs, neglecting her summer reading, and running with the bad boys. All of it would have made much more sense if she had been a boy. Because women (of any age) are so much less likely to (1) sleep with women, (2) kill animals for sport, (3) dive headfirst into the bondage scene with a strange lover, (4) get addicted to recreational drugs, (5) blow off school, or (6) alienate their entire social circle than men are, Our Heroine requires that much more motivation for doing all these things. As a Hero, she would still have been largely unmotivated, but many times more believable.

In Defense of Marriage

Friday, October 17th, 2003

It’s been Anti-Marriage Week in the LJ world, so I just wanted to be contrary and say something in defense of the oldest institution.

Seema blogged some nice Marriage Protection Week links and somehow inspired the Anti-Marriage Protection Week Contest. Any sort of argument in defense of traditional marriage has been shrugged off.

Marriage Protection Week itself is dedicated to “Preserving the Sacred Institution of Marriage.” This approach is doomed to fail (and be laughed out of LJ) - you can’t defend a sacred institution to a secular society. There’s also a huge loophole there - if a church makes gay marriage a sacrament, it becomes its own sacred institution.

The secular argument for marriage is, basically, that it’s a cornerstone of our (and probably any) society. The institution is in a bad way right now and diluting it with gay marriages will only make things worse. If we don’t want our nation to fall to pieces in a starry-eyed social experiment with the same chances of success Communism had, the line must be drawn here.

Is that unfair? Sure it is. Marriage didn’t get in the state it’s in because of gays. Divorce laws and the welfare state are the biggest culprits. Economic prosperity, which broke down the extended family, has now made even the nuclear family obsolete. I’m a perfect example - here I am, living the single life in Boston, with very little incentive to get married. I’m not important, but multiply me by several million and I begin to have an effect.

Maybe you like that effect. As a writer, I think it’s interesting. Socially, I think it’s ominous. The point, however, is that wanting to preserve marriage as-is is not equivalent to prejudice against gays. I don’t expect you to agree, since most of my readers put individual rights above sociological concerns.

I also think the defense of marriage is too little, too late, because the bigger problems like divorce and economics will never be addressed. But I admire the little Dons Quixote defending their Dulcineas to the bitter end, even when they get it mixed up with sacraments.

I have to keep rooting for the underdog - it’s in my blood.

The Curse

Friday, October 17th, 2003

Cool link of the day: Directions to Mordor (by way of RJ)

Mac perversion of the day: Country Song Generation 1.0

People are staggering home. You can tell the game is over by the sudden ambulance activity at an hour when Bostonians are usually in bed. Will we never learn? It’s been 85 years since the Sox won a World Series - I bet there’s no one alive today who’s seen them win.

We started watching in the bottom of the seventh, after CSI was over, so we got to see the Sox do what they do so well: snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Dr. Deb wanted to turn it off at 5-4, but I’m a real Boston fan - I watch to see them lose, because it’s not whether you win or lose - it’s how spectacularly you lose. Turning a three-point lead into bupkes, then dragging the game out to the bottom of the 11th, is a new low for the Sox. I enjoyed every minute of it.

iTerm Tab Customization

Wednesday, October 15th, 2003

Word count: 200
Weird science of the day: an ancient frog - thanks to Seema for the link

With my new mac, I can take full advantage of all the iTerm tricks out there. iTerm itself is easy enough to download, but after that, things get hairy. Here’s a report on my struggle.

I’d already installed iTerm on the new mac, so I went straight to the iTerm tab customization instructions. From there I downloaded the file custom_iterm.dmg.tgz. None of the other links on this page are important, and the instructions themselves leave much to be desired.

I needed to download pos to the new mac. There was a version of it in the file above, but I wanted the fink version. Unfortunately, there are three files with the same name on that page, and no instructions anywhere on installing an unsupported fink package. I downloaded all three and diffed them to see which had the bug fixes - it seemed to be the one labelled “version 3″ so I went with that.

I’ve installed unsupported fink packages before, so I knew to sudo mv ~/Desktop/ /sw/fink/dists/local/main/finkinfo/utils/ from the command line in iTerm. (I added the utils directory myself - it’s not necessary.)

For some reason I don’t quite understand, the traditional fink install pos still didn’t work - it kept telling me Failed: no package found for specification ‘pos’! Eventually I tried fink selfupdate, and after that fink install pos worked. The basics of pos, the little program that passes the directory name between the Finder and a terminal like iTerm, are explained on the Terminal-Finder Interaction page also maintained by wgscott.

So next up was installing that lovely Finder icon. I went to the fink-dependent folder in the disk image I downloaded earlier. Besides the link to, it contained an application and an applescript. Needless to say, there were no instructions. I copied the app, simple_iterm_cdf_fink, to my /Applications/Utilities folder and renamed it iTermer for brevity. Then I dragged it up into my finder toolbar, right next to the View options. It worked!

Next up was the Holy Grail of my iTerm efforts, the promised iterm tab customization. I was pleased to see that this step, at least, was well documented. I use tcsh, so I took the iterminal_custom.tcsh file from the Tab_title_customization folder in the disk image and put it, as advised, in ~/Library/Scripts/. Well, actually, there was no Scripts folder so I made one first. I put the .sh file in there, too, just in case I have a shell change-of-heart in the future. I added the line source ~/Library/Scripts/iterminal_custom.tcsh to my ~/.tcshrc file. Note that it should be all on one line.

I didn’t even quit iTerm - I just opened a new tab (command-t, if you haven’t figured it out) and voila! My tab had the directory name on it. It certainly beats a row of tabs all saying “Default session,” but with a little more documentation it would have been a lot less work.

There was one last issue - my prompt had been changed to the rather pedestrian test>. I opened ~/Library/Scripts/iterminal_custom.tcsh and the instructions for fixing that were right inside. I commented out the line with the boring prompt in it, and all was well with iTerm.

Mac Minute

Tuesday, October 14th, 2003

Word count: 100

New on the Mac: I installed wget from fink and Adobe Reader 6 (formerly known as Acrobat Reader). I also set up my webserver with a copy of my website so I can read and play with it locally.

I’m posting this with the latest NetNewsWire beta.