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May 27th, 2015
11:09 am

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3 lost pages from A Wrinkle in Time
The desire for security is a lot of how Camazotz happened.

The pages themselves.

Links thanks to nwhyte-- I substituted my first link for his because the WSJ link was paywalled.

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May 19th, 2015
10:08 am

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A new spin on self-reference


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May 14th, 2015
02:11 pm

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The Bad Moon Rising Emotional Spectrum
Very sinister from Peter Dreimanis



Steady and reasonable advice from the original Credence Clearwater, included to prevent emotional whiplash



Absurdly cheerful, and including a chipper Scottish reel. An ideal modern version would include dancing zombies. And a werewolf band.


First link from Marie Brennan at swan_tower.

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May 13th, 2015
08:14 pm

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The Hot Equations-- a puppy worth reading
There's been a recent controversy about the Hugo slate, and unfortunately, there's a good piece of writing which might get lost in everything else that's going on. Ideally, people nominate for the Hugos based on their personal enthusiasm, but this year's promulgation of slates meant that there were a number of successful nominees which don't have huge amounts of personal support and a movement to vote all those nominees below No Award.

Most of what was on the slates was mediocre fiction (I've read some of it and "mediocre" was generous) or so famous (Jim Butcher, Guardians of the Galaxy) that the Hugos controversy isn't going to affect whether it will be seen.

However, The Hot Equations by Ken Burnside is by a new author (new to sf writing-- he's been a game designer for some time), buried down in Best Related Work, and important for the field. It's a tightly written piece about the thermodynamics of space combat, and has plot and world-building implications for hard sf. While I'm not qualified to judge the physics, it got the Seal of Approval from Project Rho, and I hope that's good enough evidence.

The article is built on the assumption of no new physics.

The main points are that stealth is impossible in space for anything that can carry humans. Hopeless, hopeless, hopeless. Give up on plots that depend on sneaking your soldiers into place.

I see some possibilities in subverting the opposition's instruments. I wonder whether there's anything worth doing with very small and nasty devices, but I'm not sure how much they can do if they're that small.

The rest is about the constraints caused by the limitations of rocketry. You need an advanced technological base for your rocket to take off. You can't just land on an uninhabited[1] planet and then leave. Sorry, Heinlein. You can't change your destination in the middle of a trip. Delta V is expensive.

Good orbits are rare-- Heinlein got that right with bunches of rockets relatively close to each other in The Rolling Stones. Everything has to be thought out long in advance.

You can read "The Hot Equations" for 99 cents at the link above (the money doesn't go to Vox Day). "The Hot Equations" will be included in the Hugo voting packet, which will also get you a bunch of other reading material (I'm not sure whether all the novels are included) for $40 from Worldcon.

[1] Corrected from "uninhibited'-- it took me hours to realize why people were making those jokes

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08:07 pm

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Medieval Chant and Polyphony by Anonymous 4


I liked it a lot, and if you're part of the "I don't need much melody if the harmony is good enough" club, you might like it, too.

Name of group found in the comments here, by way of Marginal Revolution.

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May 11th, 2015
11:42 pm

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On insults
I try to avoid insulting people, and one of the things I like about my button business is that it's a way of demonstrating that you can be funny without being nasty.

One reason to not insult people is that while insults are a good way of getting attention, it's very likely that the attention will go straight to the insult, and anything else you were trying to say doesn't get noticed.

Also, insults run the risk of having the behavior you don't want getting incorporated into the person's self image. Someone does something stupid. What you want is for them to be more alert, better informed, and/or better at deduction. If you call them stupid, they might believe you, and give up on thinking. Or they might hate you, and only think when they aren't doing something you want. (See first point.)

Michael Vassar came up with a plausible reason for identity-based insults. They may well be useful for breaking one kind of defense. If someone has stolen and you call them a thief, it's a way of saying, "It was really you who did it. Don't pretend it was some momentary lapse that doesn't matter." However, the first two drawbacks still apply.

One thing I've learned from the current difficulties with the Hugos is that people wildly underestimate the effects of the insults which come out of their own group. Insults which seems like good fun, the simple truth, and a pleasing exercise in group bonding are remembered in detail and with fury by the other group.

However, while there are good reasons for not insulting people, I do have a another reason-- a gut-level belief that I wouldn't be good at it. My expectation is that the other person would just insult me back and I wouldn't have a good fast reply. I have no idea whether this is a good enough reason. Perhaps I should practice.

I've wondered whether there's a biological basis for this sort of aggressiveness or lack of same. Usually, I have a sense that other people are human spirits, and should not be bent, folded, spindled, or mutilated. Occasionally, this feeling has evaporated. It's just not there. Fortunately, I have enough investment in my reputation that I don't do more than get slightly snippy, if that much. (I'm talking about my online behavior.)

Anyway, I'm curious about other people's experience with using insults. Have you found insults to be a reliable tool for getting people to do what you want? Or if not reliable, no worse than other methods? If you've changed your level of insultingness, why did you do it and how has it worked out?

Thoughts about getting attention without using insults?

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May 9th, 2015
11:25 pm

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Elizabeth Warren and the very bad study
It isn't true that auto dealerships cost consumers 26 billion a year, but Elizabeth Warren has said it a number of times. The number comes from one ill-constructed study.

I'm not going to expect Warren to retract what she's been saying-- this seems like a lot to expect of any politician-- but I'm curious to see whether she stops using the number.

The Washington Post holds politicians responsible for the quality of the sources they cite. This seems reasonable, especially considering that politicians have staff members who can check on whether sources are accurate.

Meanwhile, if you'd like to see studies being poked at for whether they make sense, I recommend Slate Star Codex.

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May 6th, 2015
03:18 pm

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How about trying to propaganda-proof kids?
There's persistent worry about people being recruited for islamist terrorism, and I admit that it seems to be unnervingly easy. There are efforts at counter-propaganda, and that's not a bad idea.

On the other hand, seeing this reminds me that people are pretty gullible in general. I think I believed a few of those false claims myself, like that GoLean might actually be healthy in some sense. I tried it and gave up on it because it had no flavor.

In any case, it would be a good idea to teach children to ask "what is this ad trying to get me to do?", "what evidence do they have for their claims?", and "what methods are they using to increase their emotional effect"?

I have heard of parents working to make their kids less vulnerable to ads, and I *think* I've heard of that sort of thing in schools. I didn't get it from either source, though I've ended up with a generalized disgust at advertising and I tend to think that anything which is heavily advertised is overpriced.

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12:31 pm

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Science fiction and the future
Yes, I know.... science fiction is about the time when it's written.

However, I still get a kick out of it when science fiction gets something thing right (as I recall, there were approximately half a dozen pretty good predictions in The Door into Summer-- I'm especially fond of the classified ads (oh, well) where the man from the past can't even guess what most of the jobs are), a little sad when science fiction misses something fairly big (I believe no one guessed that tattooing and piercing would go mainstream), and kind of amazed when science fiction gets something right (The Machine Stops (1909)-- people use something like the internet to chat with each other, and they get obsessed with keeping up), and then everyone forgets it until it happens in the real world. (Typical computer networks in sf were highly centralized rather than being used for communication between people.)

While it's impossible to predict the future accurately, it's plausible that science fiction gains some mental flexibility by trying. I haven't seen discussion anywhere about the effects of trying to predict.

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May 4th, 2015
09:50 am

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Just as bad
I recently read a news story about a policeman who was forced out because he reported a beating by other police, and I was reminded of the common saying that if you don't stop other people's bad behavior, you're just as bad as the people doing it. This is sometimes backstopped by "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing".[1] Lately, I've been hearing a lot of "There are no good police because none of them are stopping the bad police."

However, I don't think this is a reasonable standard. Martyrdom shouldn't be the minimum standard for virtue, and the fact that there aren't enough good police to stop the bad ones doesn't mean that individual decent treatment of the public is worthless. Maybe we need more categories than good police and bad police-- perhaps include pretty good police or semi-adequate police or somesuch.

Also, I don't get the impression that the "just as bad" formulation actually moves people to do heroic opposition-- I think they oppose at high risk to themselves because they're angry at what they've seen and/or because they want to be good people, which I think is not quite the same thing as not wanting to be bad people. From the link: "That night, Crystal called his parents and told them what happened. The two former cops didn’t mince words. “You know what you’re going to have to do,” his mother, Madeline, told him. “Once you lose your integrity,” said his father, Robert, “it’s gone.”

[1] Commonly attributed to Burke, but there's no solid evidence that he said it.
All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
This is probably the most quoted statement attributed to Burke, and an extraordinary number of variants of it exist, but all without any definite original source. They closely resemble remarks known to have been made by the Utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill, in an address at the University of St. Andrew (1 February 1867) : Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing. The very extensively used remarks attributed to Burke might be based on a paraphrase of some of his ideas, but he is not known to have ever declared them in so succinct a manner in any of his writings. It has been suggested that they may have been adapted from these lines of Burke's in his Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents (1770): "When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle." [2](see above)
This purported quote bears a resemblance to the narrated theme of Sergei Bondarchuk's Soviet film adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's book "War and Peace", in which the narrator declares "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing", although since the original is in Russian various translations to English are possible. This purported quote also bears resemblance to a quote widely attributed to Plato, that said "The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." It also bears resemblance to what Albert Einstein wrote as part of his tribute to Pablo Casals: "The world is in greater peril from those who tolerate or encourage evil than from those who actually commit it."
More research done on this matter is available at these two links: Burkequote & Burkequote2 — as the information at these links indicate, there are many variants of this statement, probably because there is no clearly definitive original by Burke. In addition, an exhaustive examination of this quote has been done at the following link: QuoteInvestigator.

[2]Perhaps the answer is that good police need to organize-- they have no way as individuals of effectively opposing the current pathological police culture.

Link thanks to Carol Kennedy.

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