Sunday, July 26, 2015

Hugo Vote ends shortly

I've done my voting for the Hugos.

I'm not going to put my votes here as I'm not a fan of slates, and even though the readership of this blog is infinitesimal, it could be construed as such. However, I will say that, as promised, I did put each puppy nominee below "no award". If I thought they were not worthy of consideration at all I left them off entirely. There were some non-puppy nominees that got below "no award" too. I'm thinking it wasn't a bumper year for science fiction. The novels, dramatic presentations and Campbells (not a Hugo) were a pretty good selection, though. Plenty of good reading there.

Here's where to find each nominee in your voter's packet, if you have one. And if you haven't got one, better hurry! Voting ends on July 31st.

I'm still vaguely wondering if I can make it up to Spokane so I can go to the business meeting. It's still a possibility.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Generation Jones

At long last, I learn I'm not a "Baby Boomer" after all. I'm a member of Generation Jones, a sort of mini-post-boomer generation. Not named after Greatest Generation's Bob Dylan's Mr. Jones, who did not know what's happening, but apparently named after the fact we're "jonesing" after the success of the older boomers, which we were destined never to emulate. Boomers, who are people born from 1946 to 1964, comprise a huge and silly group of people.  Splitting them into real boomers and people like me makes sense.

I left college after ten years of industrial unrest, directly into Thatcher's first term.  The West literally collapsed into neo-liberalism the day I graduated from college. I've always hated being lumped in with the people who went to Woodstock, merely on the basis of a handy label, and now I have an even more handy label to get out of it. I'm Generation Jones, someone born from 1954 to 1965, or as some people say, born from 1957 to 1965.

Suits me. However uncomplimentary All The Young Dudes is, it's our anthem.

Video: The Kinks in Swinging London

"Are you a boy or a girl?" is a refrain that's accompanied my life. Here's a video of the Kinks suffering the same inquisition, in Swinging London.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Lyle's Golden Syrup - Out of strength came forth sweetness

Had a wonderful day out yesterday with a couple of friends I hadn't seen in quite some time.  One of them, C, had a couple of questions she must have been burning to ask me: "Why are you called Lyle?" and "Someone gifted me a can of Golden Syrup. What is it for?"  Strangely enough, the answers are related.

The two cans of treacle pictured above are from my own pantry. One is just a couple of years past its use-by date and the other is a good decade old. So it's not that treacle gets a great deal of use in the Hopwood Household, but they do get used eventually. (I've just read the back of one and it says to discard after the date on the can, but I think I'll ignore that. What could possibly happen to treacle, which Google says is,

British term for molasses.
cloying sentimentality or flattery.
"enough of this treacle—let's get back to business"

and Wikipedia, more correctly, defines as:

Treacle is any uncrystallised syrup made during the refining of sugar. The most common forms of treacle are golden syrup, a pale variety, and a darker variety known as black treacle. Black treacle, or molasses, has a distinctively strong, slightly bitter flavour, and a richer colour than golden syrup.)

Treacle is a key ingredient in Yorkshire's national food, Parkin. (It's also a key ingredient in Yorkshire's other national food, treacle toffee.) The BBC have a recipe for Parkin on their cooking page, which I haven't tried but looks about right.  Parkin (and Treacle Toffee) are eaten on Bonfire Night, which C  (who is American) guessed is the day after Christmas when you break down all the cardboard boxes.  It's actually New Year's Day, November 5th, when English people throw red and gold fake banknotes into the river Thames for the spirits of our ancestors so they can pay their afterlife expenses. When you're American, though, as I am now, you can eat it on any day.  And you can use black molasses since getting black treacle requires a co-conspirator in the UK. British people weigh ingredients (except for sub-teaspoonful amounts) instead of messing with 1/4 cups and 1/2 flagons and 2 1/2 sticks and so on but you get used to it. And 140C is 285F. 

BBC Yorkshire Parkin recipe
110g soft butter
110g soft dark brown sugar
55g black treacle
200g golden syrup
225g medium oatmeals
110g self-raising flour
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground mixed spice
2 medium eggs, beaten
1 tbsp milk
Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 140C/120C fan/Gas Mark 1. Grease and line a 20cm x 20cm square cake tin.
In a pan, over a gentle heat, melt the butter, sugar, treacle and golden syrup. Don't allow the mixture to get too hot or bubble. When they have melted together remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
In a large mixing bowl sift in the dry ingredients and make a well in the centre. Gradually add the melted butter mixture and fold together. Pour in the beaten eggs and milk and combine together.
Pour into your baking tin. Bake for 1 1/2 hours, however keep an eye on it as parkin can easily become dry and over baked.
Remove from the oven and leave in the tin for 20 minutes. Tip onto a cake rack and leave to cool completely.
Store the parkin in a cake tin and wrapped in greaseproof paper. You must keep it in a tin for a minimum of 1 day and up to a week before you cut it. Leaving it to develop will give it a moist and sticky texture, as well as making the flavour richer and deeper.
I first came across treacle in the book Alice In Wonderland, which has a riff on treacle that I memorized as a kid, but here I have used the modern version of memorization, ctrl-c ctrl-v. The Hatter is describing his poor relationship with Time:

'And ever since that,' the Hatter went on in a mournful tone, 'he won't do a thing I ask! It's always six o'clock now.' 
A bright idea came into Alice's head. 'Is that the reason so many tea-things are put out here?' she asked.
'Yes, that's it,' said the Hatter with a sigh: 'it's always tea-time, and we've no time to wash the things between whiles.'
'Then you keep moving round, I suppose?' said Alice.
'Exactly so,' said the Hatter: 'as the things get used up.'
'But what happens when you come to the beginning again?' Alice ventured to ask.
'Suppose we change the subject,' the March Hare interrupted, yawning. 'I'm getting tired of this. I vote the young lady tells us a story.'
'I'm afraid I don't know one,' said Alice, rather alarmed at the proposal.
'Then the Dormouse shall!' they both cried. 'Wake up, Dormouse!' And they pinched it on both sides at once.
The Dormouse slowly opened his eyes. 'I wasn't asleep,' he said in a hoarse, feeble voice: 'I heard every word you fellows were saying.'
'Tell us a story!' said the March Hare.
'Yes, please do!' pleaded Alice.
'And be quick about it,' added the Hatter, 'or you'll be asleep again before it's done.'
'Once upon a time there were three little sisters,' the Dormouse began in a great hurry; 'and their names were Elsie, Lacie, and Tillie; and they lived at the bottom of a well—'
'What did they live on?' said Alice, who always took a great interest in questions of eating and drinking.
'They lived on treacle,' said the Dormouse, after thinking a minute or two.
'They couldn't have done that, you know,' Alice gently remarked; 'they'd have been ill.'
'So they were,' said the Dormouse; 'very ill.'
Alice tried to fancy to herself what such an extraordinary ways of living would be like, but it puzzled her too much, so she went on: 'But why did they live at the bottom of a well?'
'Take some more tea,' the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.
'I've had nothing yet,' Alice replied in an offended tone, 'so I can't take more.'
'You mean you can't take less,' said the Hatter: 'it's very easy to take more than nothing.'
'Nobody asked your opinion,' said Alice.
'Who's making personal remarks now?' the Hatter asked triumphantly.
Alice did not quite know what to say to this: so she helped herself to some tea and bread-and-butter, and then turned to the Dormouse, and repeated her question. 'Why did they live at the bottom of a well?'
The Dormouse again took a minute or two to think about it, and then said, 'It was a treacle-well.'
'There's no such thing!' Alice was beginning very angrily, but the Hatter and the March Hare went 'Sh! sh!' and the Dormouse sulkily remarked, 'If you can't be civil, you'd better finish the story for yourself.'
'No, please go on!' Alice said very humbly; 'I won't interrupt again. I dare say there may be one.'
'One, indeed!' said the Dormouse indignantly. However, he consented to go on. 'And so these three little sisters—they were learning to draw, you know—'
'What did they draw?' said Alice, quite forgetting her promise.
'Treacle,' said the Dormouse, without considering at all this time.
'I want a clean cup,' interrupted the Hatter: 'let's all move one place on.'
He moved on as he spoke, and the Dormouse followed him: the March Hare moved into the Dormouse's place, and Alice rather unwillingly took the place of the March Hare. The Hatter was the only one who got any advantage from the change: and Alice was a good deal worse off than before, as the March Hare had just upset the milk-jug into his plate.
Alice did not wish to offend the Dormouse again, so she began very cautiously: 'But I don't understand. Where did they draw the treacle from?'
'You can draw water out of a water-well,' said the Hatter; 'so I should think you could draw treacle out of a treacle-well—eh, stupid?'
'But they were in the well,' Alice said to the Dormouse, not choosing to notice this last remark.
'Of course they were', said the Dormouse; '—well in.'
This answer so confused poor Alice, that she let the Dormouse go on for some time without interrupting it.
'They were learning to draw,' the Dormouse went on, yawning and rubbing its eyes, for it was getting very sleepy; 'and they drew all manner of things—everything that begins with an M—'
'Why with an M?' said Alice.
'Why not?' said the March Hare.
Alice was silent.
The Dormouse had closed its eyes by this time, and was going off into a doze; but, on being pinched by the Hatter, it woke up again with a little shriek, and went on: '—that begins with an M, such as mouse-traps, and the moon, and memory, and muchness—you know you say things are "much of a muchness"—did you ever see such a thing as a drawing of a muchness?'
'Really, now you ask me,' said Alice, very much confused, 'I don't think—'
'Then you shouldn't talk,' said the Hatter.
This piece of rudeness was more than Alice could bear: she got up in great disgust, and walked off; the Dormouse fell asleep instantly, and neither of the others took the least notice of her going, though she looked back once or twice, half hoping that they would call after her: the last time she saw them, they were trying to put the Dormouse into the teapot.
'At any rate I'll never go there again!' said Alice as she picked her way through the wood. 'It's the stupidest tea-party I ever was at in all my life.'
The treacle well is apparently in Binsey, Oxfordshire. The things you learn while blogging.

For "Out of strength came forth sweetness" see Judges 14 and the story of Samson's wife. Trigger warning - like many bible passages it contains sex, violence, sexual violence, death and bees.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Pop Will Eat Itself Kick a Hole in the Speakers

One reason why I don't get mad when I'm rickrolled is because I quite like Rick Astley.

I know many people loathed him, including my beloved Pop Will Eat Itself. But Rick, pay them no mind. You're ok.

PWEI with full hate on.  Astley's in the noose, hang loose kid.

They were my favorite band in the late 80s to early 90s.

Superworm tip

Ever been afraid to give a big, lively, scary superworm to a little, slow gecko? Drop the worm in mango juice and it'll be dead in 30 seconds.  Even if you fish it out and try to clean it.

I admit I found this out totally by accident and was slightly pissed at myself before I realized Fatty the Geico Day Gecko might still eat it, which he did with gusto, relish, and mango juice.

Robert Palmer, Lowell George and The Meters

Northern Soul: Robert Palmer was from my home town in Yorkshire. He doesn't sound like it; he sounds like he's from New Orleans. In this case it's because he's backed by The Meters, with the unmistakable sound of Lowell George (of Little Feat) on slide guitar.

This startling album opener consists of Sailin' Shoes, Hey Julia  and Sneakin' Sally Through The Alley. My hometown has never been as funky (and never has been since).

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The intersection of Beyoncé and Bioinformatics - modification by dissent

A friend brought up this article on the "evolution" of popular music. Scientists' revolutionary findings on pop music.

I think most of us are at least a little bit aware of the arguments about cladistics, and how DNA sequencing has revolutionized it into ever more argumentative factions, and given the above I would imagine that proudly declaring you've proved scientifically that there were only 3 new varieties of American pop introduced after the 1950s, namely:
1. The British Invasion, 
2. The Eurythmics
3. Hip-Hop

- would be at least a little bit contentious. (Though I can easily imagine this as three populations of animals - R&B, gated snare, and poetry-over-drumbeat-with-no-melody, so he's not entirely wrong.)

Anyway, the bit I like is that the semi-literate journalist makes a number of mistakes, my favorite being "It's the process that Darwin spoke about, modification by dissent [..]"

Ah, yes, the famous Darwinian theory of modification by dissent. I know it well. (It's actually "descent with modification by means of natural selection".)

I read a little bit more about Armand Leroi and he's worked with Brian Eno and generally seems to know a bit about music and a lot about evolutionary biology. Comparing sequences of DNA - or even phenotypical traits -  to make a "map" of where creatures fall in terms of similarities is a fairly common thing in biology, and he's using the same type of maths to look at short sequences of music, which seems like it might be a reasonable thing to do, in theory.

What does it all mean? 

I doubt if his results "mean" anything concrete as obviously, unlike genes, today's music landscape isn't literally descended from chunks of previous music that have been sorted and then sent off into the wild to be naturally selected. I can see that a map of popular music since 1960 could be drawn as British Invasion R&B, gated snare and synthesizer 80s pop, and the no.melody-kick.drum-sample-poetry music of today, but it's certainly not the way I would have described it before reading the piece - and looking at the vast list of assumptions in his paper, there's probably 10,000 different equally "mathematical" ways to draw the map.

Still you can't fault a scientific paper where the caption to Figure 1 is "Data processing pipeline illustrated with a segment of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody, 1975, one of the few Hot 100 hits to feature an astrophysicist on lead guitar."

Here's his original paper. Beware: math

Han Solo, shooting first, in the original Star Wars cut

Just for youngsters, i.e. anyone under thirty-five, here is a clip from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, showing that Han shot first, and indeed was the only one to shoot, because he hit Greedo, obviously, and there was no return fire. (Thanks to uploader Daniel M Kobayashi.)

Whenever this one comes up, there's always a few people who don't care who shot first. They don't care that Greedo (in the Special Editions) missed at point blank range, and they don't care that Han waited for him to shoot first, a non-survival trait that really seems out of character for him as we first meet him.

As far as I'm concerned, Han not only did, but must have, shot first because he thinks only of himself - which he continues to do for some time.  That's why he's an interesting character. When he starts thinking of others, and even helping other people for free, that's when you know the character has grown.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

"Do you mean to throw a level playing field under the bus?"

In an impassioned argument against the proposal for a Hugo for "Sagas", a professional SF writer writes:

"Do you mean to throw a level playing field under the bus?"

I don't know whether that fantastic image makes me more likely to buy their work or less.

I've been thinking about the phrase to throw someone under the bus recently, as it was used approximately 16,993 times in the discussions about publisher Tor's open letter disavowing Irene Gallo's Facebook comment, which, since it referred to her by name, was widely considered to be throwing her under the bus.

To throw (someone) under the bus is an idiomatic phrase in American English meaning to sacrifice a friend or ally for selfish reasons. It is typically used to describe a self-defensive disavowal and severance of a previously-friendly relationship when the relation becomes controversial or unpopular. (Wikipedia)
But what bus? Does it refer to the enemy's bus, in order to slow it down, or provide a sacrifice for it? Or does it refer to our own bus, and if so, why would we want to throw one of our own under it?

It turns out nobody knows. It's quite a new phrase, apparently coming to prominence in politics in 2008, and probably not more than 20 years older than its first citation.

The first times that phrases like it were used, they were more of the form "it's better to tour in the bus than under the bus", a reference, I think, to travelling with the rock stars (or sports stars) on the bus versus travelling in the luggage compartment under the bus.  Cyndi Lauper's name often comes up with this non-thrown usage.

When it comes to being thrown under, rather than just being under, the bus, it's even more modern and the range of possible origins is huge. Is it a reference to being sacrificed to a juggernaut as opposed to making the sacrifice yourself? Is it true that Vietnamese women used to throw newborn babies under a bus in order to collect insurance payments from Americans? (Ecch. I hope not.)  Does it owe its origin to a debate in the New Zealand parliament, where it was discussed how to provide for someone's dependents should they fall under a bus? Is it really from The Trolley Problem, where a psychological subject is told that a trolley is on a track that will kill an entire family, and is asked if he would be prepared to throw a diversion lever that would save the family by sending the trolley down a different track where it would kill a single person?

Or was it all from a Charles Bukowski book?:

In Septuagenarian Stew (The Life of a Bum), published in 1990, the Charles Bukowski character Harry pushed his friend Monk in front of a bus, and then stole Monk's wallet while Monk lay unconscious and probably dying in the street. After taking the wallet, Harry went directly to a bar and, using Monk's money, bought himself two double whiskeys. Later, Harry went to the Groton Steak House and, again using Monk's money, bought two beers and two Porterhouse steaks with fries ("go easy on the grease"). (Explanation by Thursagen.)

I don't know. But I love the phrase "Do you mean to throw a level playing field under the bus?"

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Water lily blossom

I bought a bare-root water lily back in March. I didn't have much hope for it, as commercial bulbs of exotic plants in my estimation always tend to the condition of Venus Fly Traps - i.e. dead within six months. However this one has thrived, or perhaps thriven. It's in a pot with clay soil in it, and yes, I do give it aquatic plant fertilizer, which has turned the entire "pond" a fetching shade of algae-green.

Still, it's a pretty lily, and it's been flowering for a while now.

(The tiny fish are the ones the Vector Control people hand out - mosquito fish, or Gambys, which eat the mosquito larvae. If you're in California and you don't have any Gambys in your pond, call Animal Control or Vector Control for your county. They're free and they're nicer than getting giant swollen mosquito bites, West Nile Virus etc.)

Monday, June 22, 2015

Johnny Pneumonic

I'm not surprised to see this - 'pneumonic' for 'mnemonic' - as the people at work all pronounced it that way.  (In a health care setting, and for all I know elsewhere, people have to learn keyboard shortcuts for lengthy technical terms, and the IT word for these short cuts is 'mnemonics'.)

I pronounce the p-one nyooooMONick and the mn-one nimMONick, but at the lab, both were noooMONick. That was in So Cal. The writer of the page imaged below is from London, so maybe I'm just wrong and they're both the first one.

Anyway, since it is a medical term, a story about Johnny Pneumonic would be pretty interesting. Johnny Mnemonic was about a data courier, Johnny, who has to transport double his standard 160 gigabytes of data in his brain implant to a customer in order to be given a cure for his nerve disease, whereupon Japanese gangsters get into the act. Mnemonic is from the word for the Greek personification of memory, the Titan Mnemosyne. It means to aid the memory, in particular a sequence of letters or images that help you remember.  It was originally a short story by William Gibson, and made into a movie starring Keanu Reeves which I quite liked, although it was roundly panned.

'Pneumonic' just means 'pertaining to the lungs' originally from pneuma, which can either mean vital spark or breath of life, or just breath, or air, for short, and eventually refers to a 'lung'. (Not to be confused with pneumatic, which means something filled with or operated by compressed air, unless you're reading Brave New World, in which case it means bootylicious, except when describing the chairs.)

The most frequent use of the word pneumonic is in Pneumonic Plague. This is caused by the same bacterium as Black Plague or Bubonic Plague, but instead of infecting the lymphatic system (and causing it to come up in lumps, or buboes) it infects the lungs. Because it can be coughed out by the infected and inhaled by those around, it is far more infectious than flea-spread Black Plague and more virulent. At least until antibiotics were developed, it had a kill rate of close to 100%. As antibiotics fail over the next couple of decades, it could make a comeback.

If Johnny Pneumonic were to be hired to carry airborne plague across the globe, it would make a fine short story. (As 12 Monkeys already did, in fact.) You could tell Johnny he'd been infected with the cure for cancer. He'd never know the difference, at least until it was too late.

Octopus adorabilis, the adorable octopus

This isn't a Dumbo octopus - it's ears are smaller, for a start. (Dumbo octopuses are of the genus Grimpoteuthis, and this one is of the genus Opistthoteutis.) But it is at least as cute as a Dumbo, so cute in fact that Stephanie Bush of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, who is describing it for the literature, suggested calling it "adorabilis", the adorable octopus.

All octopuses are adorable, though.

Bob Thiele & The Forest Rangers - “Trying To Believe (ft. Alison Mosshart)” (Official Music Video)

Alison Mosshart with Bob Thiele & The Forest Rangers or rather the other way round, but I'm a Mosshart fan first, with "Trying To Believe".

This is a seriously gnarly video (so intense I had to close my eyes a couple of times) with actors from Sons of Anarchy -  Mark Boone, Jr. (Bobby Munson), Niko Nicotera (Ratboy), Dayton Callie (Wayne Unser), and Michael Ornstein (Chucky) - comprising a Russian Roulette game with Alison and Bob Thiele. The song's pretty good too. I love Alison's smoky voice.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Lyle Hopwood's 115th dream (at least)

I dreamed I was back at college, surrounded by the usual cadre of odd friends and hangers on. There were a few instances of my normal dream tropes – for example, at one point we had to avoid zany Japanese killers who could apparently hide in tiny boxes which were cunningly set into the floor – but a lot of it was normal college.

I really wanted to go an hour long lecture on artificial life starting at 11 am, but to get in, you needed to show a commemorative coin issued by the university. I didn't have mine with me and had to go back to my rooms (while my friend went into the lecture, with my coffee) to search for it. For some reason I had all of my valuable coin collection outside my rooms in the cupboard in the corridor. I had my friends search the rooms while I looked through the cupboard. Eventually I found a coin (though I wasn't sure it was the right one) and went back to the lecture. It was ten to twelve, the talk was over and no-one even looked at my coin as I walked in. My coffee had gone cold and my friend said I could have another cup from the buffet table, if no one had seen me come in. But they had seen me come in.

So I went to the bar instead. My friends were there. I had that odd dream feeling that I didn't really know them well and they would leave me if I wasn't entertaining. I proposed we should all go to the local good restaurant, Jan, and I'd pay. We got to Jan. They had big red-cover menus with a pasted-on front plate. The place had used to be called Japan but they'd shortened the name because that's modern. We ordered, but it turned out there was a Yakuza hit on the place. The servers disappeared and the fight didn't end until one of the gangsters saw me and collapsed in fright. Apparently I'm a big cheese in Dream Yakuza-land.

There was something I'd recently found out that I wanted to tell my friends. I remember telling two separate groups of them during the dream, but only remember one time clearly. It was some sort of prank day, like April the 1st, except I remember clearly it was August, and we watched people fill a Camaro with pies, and other people order ten courses of a gourmet meal to be delivered to a public telephone. I told my friends that I'd completed my first year at college, but had never taken any of the exams. This didn't upset them much; I suppose it happens to a lot of people. Then I said I'd been going to classes all this (second) year, and had just realized that I'd never been sent a course brochure. I wasn't enrolled in any classes! It hadn't made any difference to my attendance, as I suppose they were used to people auditing classes, and anyway I had my commemorative coin, when I could find it. So I'd been going to lectures for months, having completely forgotten I hadn't received any communication from the college and was almost certainly not a student. We were walking back past the Camaro at this time and everyone agreed the pie joke was funny. The public call box and the gourmet meal, not so funny, they said. A lot of people had found the food and were eating it, though, which wasn't true of the pie-filled Camaro.

When I woke up, as I became aware again, I remembered I'm retired, so in a way I'm really auditing a course I'm not enrolled in. Spooky.


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