How can it only be Wednesday? Yesterday felt like it was 8 days long in and of itself. Sigh.
What I've just finished
What I'm reading now
Still on Abaddon's Gate. I like it but not as much as the first two books so it's taking me longer to read (the fact that I haven't been getting a seat on the train hasn't helped). I feel like the new characters are not nearly as interesting as Avasarala and Bobbie, though I like Anna and Bull just fine. Melba, otoh... On the plus side, ( spoilers ) I'm about a hundred pages from the end so I'm guessing there's still some excitement to come.
What I'm reading next
Regardless, I did pick up the next book - Cibola Burn - because I do want to see what happens next. I just also wish we got the POV from the others on the Roci instead of all Holden all the time there.
Leaving aside everything else that is wrong and immoral about this proposed ban, at the moment there are something like 11,000 trans people currently serving openly in the US services and reserves. They are there legally, and it is currently their right to serve openly. Trump’s ban, at first glance, appears to take away their right to serve their country, and takes away their jobs, their incomes, their benefits for themselves and their families — for no other reason than something which yesterday was not illegal nor an impediment to serving their country with passion and distinction.
Make no mistake: Trump is affirmatively and explicitly taking away a right from American citizens, a right they already had and enjoyed. This is a big right: The right to serve in one’s military openly, without fear of punishment for who you are.
If Trump will take away one right from Americans, he’s not going to have a problem taking away other rights as well. Why would he? Trump is the living embodiment of “If you give a mouse a cookie” — if he gets away with one thing, he’ll go ahead and try to get away with something else. He’s already trying, of course.
I don’t think it will come as a surprise to anyone that I support the right of transgender people to serve openly in the military, a thing they already have done, any more than it will come as a surprise that I support the rights of transgender people generally. But as important as it is for me to explicitly say I support transgender rights, I think it’s also worth asking people who oppose these rights, or other rights enjoyed by people not exactly like them, whether they are comfortable taking away fundamental rights these American citizens already have — and if so, what leads them to believe that their own rights, rights they already enjoy, are not also placed in jeopardy by that precedent.
If the answer boils down to “well, that will never happen to me,” as it inevitably will, it’s worth examining why they think they will forever be immune. The answer will be instructive for everyone.
And also, they’re wrong. If you can take away an existing right of an American simply because of who they are, then you can take away a right of any American simply because of who they are — or what they are, or where their ancestors came from, or what they believe, and so on.
I said on Twitter this morning, “Today, as has almost every day in this administration, offers each us of a chance to understand the dimensions our own moral character.” And so it does. And so it will, every day, I expect, until it is done.
Coke announced today that it’s rebranding Coke Zero to “Coke Zero Sugar”:
Coca-Cola Zero Sugar is the new and improved Coke Zero. We’ve made the great taste of Coke Zero even better by optimizing the unique blend of flavors that gave Coke Zero its real Coca-Cola taste. Coca-Cola Zero Sugar is our best-tasting zero-sugar Coca-Cola yet, and it will be available across America in August.
Basically, it’s the same new formula it’s been introducing in foreign markets as “Coke No Sugar” but Coke is keeping the “Zero” branding here because it’s been successful and they don’t want to confuse us poor Americans any more than we already are in these trying times. Or something.
As I noted previously (see the second link, there), I am perfectly fine with Coke attempting this revamp — by all reviews I’ve seen the “Zero Sugar” version tastes more like standard Coke than Coke Zero, and since “actually tasting like regular Coke” is why I drink Coke Zero in the first place (Diet Coke shares its flavor profile with the late, unlamented New Coke), I’ll willing to give this new version a shot. If it turns out I hate it, well. I guess then that August 2017 will be a fine time for me to drastically cut down my soda drinking. I suspect I’ll probably continue calling the new stuff “Coke Zero” rather than “Coke Zero Sugar,” because it’s two fewer syllables and I’m all about efficiency.
So in effect, I think that this is less like Coke Zero dying than it is Coke Zero regenerating, timelord-like, into its next iteration. And I suspect I will remain its constant companion.
Yesterday bluemeridian posted a batch of MCU and Wonder Woman recs.
"‘Wrath of Khan’ Returning to Theaters for 35th Anniversary".
"Orbit Turns 10: Take a Look at a Decade of Milestones". [The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog]
Via misbegotten, the Cincinnati Zoo has successfully reunited Fiona-the-hop with both of her parents. Adorable hippo pictures ahoy!
From 2014, but via Twitter today: "BitchTapes: American Protest Music". [Bitch Media]
"The Fourth Messenger at the 2017 New York Musical Festival". [ViennaTeng.com] (Includes purchase links for the soundtrack and script.)
On Atlas Obscura:
--"NASA Just Released Hundreds of Historic Space and Aviation Videos".
--"These Endangered Pygmy Rabbits Survived a Wildfire by Heading Underground".
--"Why It Took Scientists So Long to Figure Out Where Babies Come From: Human conception was still basically a total mystery until as recently as 1875".
--"The Odor ‘Wheel’ Decoding the Smell of Old Books".
--"The Dormouse-Fattening Jars of Ancient Rome".
--"People in 1920s Berlin Nightclubs Flirted via Pneumatic Tubes".
--"Found: Never-Developed Photos of Mount St. Helens Erupting".
--"These Maps Reveal the Hidden Structures of ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ Books".
On Mental Floss:
--"The Golden Girls Are Starring in Their Own Version of Clue".
--"This Illustrated Periodic Table Shows How We Regularly Interact With Each Element".
What I read
A novella by Heather Rose Jones, Three Nights at the Opera (2014), prequel to Daughter of Mystery.
There was indeed a new Catherine Fox, Realms of Glory, delivered to my Kobo well in time to beguile my journeyings. Very good.
Alex Hall, Glitterland (2013): m/m contemporary romance, which was an absolute page-turner and I will even give it a degree of pass on the phonetic rendering of Estuarine speech, on the grounds that this might be down to the first-person narrator's attempt to depict Difference.
Charlie Jane Anders, All the Birds in the Sky (2016): I had a bit of a problem with the rather gender-stereotypical allocation of science vs magic, and also with the way that both of them, in particular Patricia, are shown as coming to their powers as a result of familial dysfunction and school bullying (are US high schools really quite so generally toxic as literature would have me believe?), which is not that dissimilar in its rather Spartan overtones to the ethos of the military school to which Laurence is briefly sent. But I read on.
Helene Wecker, The Golem and the Djinni (2013) - there were parts where I thought this was a bit slow, and possibly about showing off the author's research, but then it all came together with all the threads meshing at the end.
On the go
The end is almost in sight with Prince of Tricksters. Also continuing with Rejected Essays and Buried Thoughts, as and when.
Well, I have lately had delivered to my Kobo Kate Elliott's Buried Heart (2017), conclusion (?) to the Court of Fives series. But I've also, finally, received Monica Ferris's cozy mystery, Knit Your Own Murder (2016), at last a) out in paperback and b) actually in the mailer received from the seller.
The tv show cut or compressed various characters and slimmed down events, and given that they do two books per season so far, that's not surprising. But even if they took a longer time, I think some of the changes and cuts were to the narrative's benefit. For example: Cornwell has to come up with some pretty convoluted circumstances and far-stretched plots to have a teenage Uthred who is still with the Danes secretly present when Prince (not yet King) Alfred confesses about his carnal lapses to Beocca. In the book, he needs to be because he's the narrator and neither Alfred nor Beocca would have told him about this. The tv show dispenses with said circumstances and just has the scene between Alfred and Beocca, without Uthred secretly listening in, because he doesn't need to be in order for the audience to get this information about the young Alfred.
Mind you, dispensing with the first two times Uthred meets Alfred and letting their first encounter not happen until after Ragnar the Elder's death creates one important difference between book and show relationship that's worth mentioning. Book Uthred lies to Alfred (and Beocca) these first two times and point blank spies on them for the Danes, so the later "why do you keep distrusting me?" indignation rings a little hollow in this regard. Show Uthred does no such thing, so Alfred is accordingly less justified in his lingering ambiguity.
Another cut that somewhat shifts perception: the first novel has Uthred participating in a few Danish raids led by Ragnar, including one on Aelswith's hometown (though she doesn't know he took part). Now, in the show we go from Uthred the child to adult Uthred directly and adult Uthred is solely seen at Ragnar's home, with the deaths of Ragnar & Co. impending, but given adult Uthred later is shown to be already a skilled fighter, it stands to reason he practiced these skills. But I suspect the show avoided showing Uthred fighting against Saxon civilians this early on deliberately. Both show and books have Uthred loving the Danes but staying with the Saxons post Ragnar's death because various circumstances (and then Alfred's machinations) make it impossible for him to do otherwise. Only the book, though, spells out that Uthred doesn't start to feel any kind of identification/emotional connection to the Saxons until he sees them winning a battle (until then, narrator Uthred says, he hadn't thought Danes could lose, which makes sense given that throughout Uthred's childhood and adolescence, they were winning), when before he regarded them as weak and didn't want to think of himself as belonging to them. Which makes sense given Uthred is raised in a warrior culture and is a young, arrogant adolescent at the time, but again, I suspect the tv version avoids spelling this out in order not to make him off putting early on when establishing the character.
Otoh, the scenes the tv show adds in the two seasons where Uthred isn't present all serve to flesh out the characters in question more and work to their benefit, whether it's Alfred, Hild, Aelswith or Beocca. The notable exception is Guthred in s2, whose additional scenes make him look worse, not better than the novel does. Possibly, too, because in the novel Guthred is described having an easy charm that makes Book!Uthred forgive him even the truly terrible thing Guthred does to Uthred, and the actor playing Guthred on the show doesn't have that at all, and instead comes across as nothing but fearful, easily influenced and weak. (And show!Uthred while coming to terms with him doesn't forgive him.) I have to say, lack of actorly charm aside, given that Guthred ( does something spoilery to Uthred ), I find the tv version more realistic.
The push-pull relationship between Uthred and Alfred is there in both versions, but in the tv show, it comes across as more central. As my local library has it, I also read "Death of Kings", the novel in which, Alfred dies, not without manipulating Uthred one last time into doing what he wants him to do, and Uthred's thoughts on the man later, summing him up, are Cornwell's prose at its best:
I stood beside Alfred's coffin and thought how life slipped by, and how, for nearly all my life, Alfred had been there like a great landmark. I had not liked him. I had struggled against him, despised him and admired him. I hated his religion and its cold disapproving gaze, its malevolence that cloaked itself in pretended kindness, and its allegiance to a god who would drain the joy from the world by naming it sin, but Alfred's religion had made him a good man and a good king.
And Alfred's joyless soul had proved a rock against which the Danes had broken themselves. Time and again they had attacked, and time and again Alfred had out-thought them, and Wessex grew ever stronger and richer and all that was because of Alfred. We think of kings as privileged men who rule over us and have the freedom to make, break and flaunt the law, but Alfred was never above the law he loved to make. He saw his life as a duty to his god and to the people of Wessex and I have never seen a better king, and I doubt my sons, grandson and their children's children will ever see a better one. I never liked him, but I have never stopped admiring him. He was my king and all that I now have I owe to him. The food that I eat, the hall where I live and the swords of my men, all started with Alfred, who hated me at times, loved me at times, and was generous with me. He was a gold-giver.
Last Yuletide I added a Last Kingdom request at the last minute because I'd seen it had been nominated, and accordingly it was short, but this Yuletide I think I'll also offer, and will request in more detail and more characters. While the other historical tv shows I consumed during the last year were entertaining in various degrees, this was the only one which was also good.
Lately I've been thinking about "optionality" as it relates to syntactic alternations. (In)famous cases include complementizer deletion ("I know that he is here" vs. "I know he is here") or embedded V2 in Scandinavian. For now let's consider the English verb-particle construction. The relative order of the particle and the object is "optional" in cases such as the following:
1a) "John picked up the book"
1b) "John picked the book up"
Either order is usually acceptable (with the exception of pronoun objects — although those too become acceptable under a focus reading…)
1c) "John put it back"
1d) *"John put back it"
For something like (1a) and (1b) the semantic interpretation seems largely the same, and so the "optionality" refers to the grammar allowing the generation of more than one syntactic variant. In practice however, even if multiple syntactic arrangements are permitted only one can actually be produced at a given time in a given context. Acceptability judgments tend to be more delicate or varied than would be desired here. So if we'd like to investigate what factors govern the production of one form (particle-first) over another (object-first) we may examine the overall rates of use of either variant in a corpus under different conditions. Much has been written about these sorts of phenomena, including particle placement in particular (Stefan Gries has written a whole book on the topic), yet technical constraints often limit the scope of such investigations.
For instance, two factors which have been found to correlate with/against particle-first order are the heaviness of the DP-object (heavy objects tend to follow the particle), and whether or not the object had been recently referred to in context (discourse familiar objects tend to precede the particle). Stefan finds these effects over a few hundred sentences, but because the space of lexical combinations is so large there's simply not way to control for word-level effects which may be co-variate to NP-heaviness of discourse familiarity.
To get around this I wrote a script which extracts instances of verb-particle constructions from the spoken portion of COCA and tags them for particle-order. This requires a few hand-written heuristics so as not to erroneously include prepositional phrases whose order is in fact not option (e.g. "Walk down the path" is possible but not *"Walk the path down"), but nothing too technically involved. Overall, I find a particle-first rate of approximately 60% over a very large sample of roughly 50,000 such sentences. This is in line with previous work dating all the way back to the late 1970's on this topic. However, if we zoom into rates within various predicates, things appear far more varied on a lexical level. Below is a plot showing the rates of particle-first order for the twelve most frequent verbs (each verb appearing in a few thousand sentences in my sample.) The red vs. blue colors simply represent the particle-first ratio being below/above 50%.
Some verbs (Pick, set) show nearly categorical particle-first order, while others (help, get) are majority object-first.
Subsequently zooming in to look at the behavior under "bring" (since it shows a good split around 70/30), the picture remains varied. For instance, there is a near categorical gap in ordering for "bring about" compared to "bring over".
Notice that "bring back" is roughly 50/50, so conditioning on that and splitting over the head of the object DP there is again frequently categorical split in particle ordering. There are between 10 and 100 sentences for each condition below.
None of this of course explains what's driving these large, lexically conditioned gaps, but it would be interesting to keep digging into it.
Dear Captain Awkward,
What do you do if your significant other thinks that you will go no where with your dream?
My boyfriend is a well known, local photographer. He does mainly fashion photo-shoots and is honestly, very talented at what he does.
I’m newly, discovering modeling. I had tried it before when I was younger; but, it didn’t workout since I had acne. I didn’t get my face cleared until I was almost 30 (ancient in modeling years). But I enjoy my hobby. I have discovered this new passion of mine. Walking on the runway feels great and I get a lot of compliments on my walk! People want to book me for shows, work with me in photos and I even try their new designs! Its very exciting.
I even came up with a concept for a photo-shoot. I made a head-piece, found a makeup artist, made sure to communicate how I want the lighting and am going to see my idea come into fruition. I would have never believed, I could bring that many people together to make an image. But, I can!
It all sounds great… but, my boyfriend doesn’t believe I’ll go anywhere. He’s made so many comments about the photos we’ve done together. He’s literally told me, “You’re not Naomi Campbell,” and he’s even tried to hide a photo-shoot he was doing with a couple of models from California… saying, “You would only be jealous of their careers.” And then invited me to hold the lights.
I have no idea what to do. I told him, I’m not jealous of anyone, but the fact that he got nervous about telling me was odd. I honestly, thought it was because he was going to flirt with them; not because “You’ll be jealous of their careers.”
I’m not sure where he would get a comment like that in the first place? And I’m tired of him trying to put me down with his harsh criticism. He told me, he would say things like that, because he works in a an industry where its normal for people to say those things… However, he’s had a TON of other photo-shoots and has never told anyone else these things? I guess, I don’t understand.
I know, he doesn’t believe I will walk in New York Fashion Week. He’s reminded me that I’m 5’7″, on a daily basis, saying he’s just giving me a “Realistic perspective.” But I never asked him. I also, didn’t even have that as a goal… I just, honestly like what I’m doing. Its inspired me to create things, to try new adventures and meet new people.
My heart is kind of broken because he’s the one person, I thought, would believe in me. Or at least, be proud of me…. instead, all I get is “You’re not Naomi Campbell.”
I told him he could no longer take my photos. We can no longer work together. And I have no time to doubt myself. I work a full-time day job. I have shows booked until November and I want to plan more things! There should be no time wasted on being self-conscious.
We have talked about this issue a lot over the last few days and we worked out some resolutions we are both happy with; along with boundaries of not working together anymore…
But there is still this pain, knowing that he doesn’t believe I can do this. I tell myself, I never needed anyone before, why would I still want his approval?
What should I do?
Half of me, thinks that we can still be together despite this. Because I am quite old, it’s too late to walk the New York runways. I wouldn’t even qualify for them at my height. He has a point…
But there is that other part of me, that still wants to continue. That never wants to place a ceiling on my passion… And that part, is extremely hurt, the love of my life wants to give me a “reality check.”
Thanks in Advance,
The Independent Model
Dear Independent Model,
If you want to talk “reality checks” I checked with Reality and it said “Hey, you’re already a model!”
You’re already a model. You are creating photo shoots. You are walking runways. You are being booked for work. You are already doing it. You have a gorgeous attitude about the work and the adventure of meeting new people and making beautiful images. You have me kind of dying to see your photos because you sound so positive and cool and I want to see the face of the person who makes me feel this excited reading about her work! Just from your letter I can tell that you are stunning and striking and that people want to be around you.
Your boyfriend is right about what people sometimes say about and to models in the fashion industry. In a student film I made long ago there is a scene where two women pick apart the appearance of a third (the scene starts around 5:40). The actresses who play the stylists both worked as models a lot and their dialogue was improvised 100% out of things people have said to them in real life. They were expected to stand there and not react because “professionalism.” It’s shitty and hurtful and objectifying, and just because it happens in real life doesn’t mean you have to internalize and live it like it’s the truest thing about you. And it doesn’t mean that your boyfriend has to contribute to it, to participate in it. Is this how he talks to all the models he knows? Or does he save it all for you, the woman he supposedly loves? Either way, misogyny and cruelty are not a good look, dude.
It’s okay to not collaborate with your romantic parter even if you are in the same field. It’s actually smart to put boundaries around that sometimes. I need my husband and I to to love each other even if we never make another movie or write another word, or even if we make stuff that’s terrible. If the relationship only goes well when the work goes well, then there’s a fear that if the work goes badly it will make the relationship go badly. So, it’s okay to decide not to cross the streams of work and also smart for you to seek out other photographers. That’s not even the problem here.
The problem is that I think his comments about you being jealous of other people’s careers are him projecting all over the place. He’s jealous of other photographers and their careers. He’s jealous of you, for launching into the space he thought was his alone, the space where he has authority and gets to pretend he’s a gatekeeper of some sort, the space where he thought his giant lens gave him power to decide what’s beautiful enough. He’s jealous of you for blowing the doors off the illusion that he’s some sort of tastemaker. He’s jealous of you for not accepting what he thought were the rules of your industry. He’s jealous of you because you’ve already surpassed his expectations and he can tell that you are about to surpass him. He’s jealous of you because you’re not jealous when he works with other models, and it would be cool if that made you sort of jealous, because it would make him feel powerful. He’s jealous of you for being braver than he is, and instead of sitting with that discomfort and deciding, whoa, my girlfriend is AWESOME, he’s chosen the path of “Well, don’t get your hopes up, babe.”
Go ahead and get your hopes up, lovely Letter Writer. Get your hopes up about creating new work and expressing yourself and enjoying what you do for as long as you want to do it. And get your hopes all the way up about finding a partner who will celebrate you and believe in you. Your boyfriend is not that guy. He is a small man with a limited vision and a smaller heart. You, on the other hand, are a g.d. Valkyrie. It’s never going to work, I’m sorry. You’ll never be able to make yourself small enough to fit into the box he thinks is marked “girlfriend.” You’ve already outgrown it, and him.
Break up. Be sad for a while. Keep going with your dream. Keep doing your work. The world holds all the “reality checks” and rejection and doubt and failure any of us will ever need. We don’t actually need any of that from people who say they love us.
Edited to Add Because I Like Visual Aids:
This is the incomparable Stanley Tucci playing Paul Child, Julia Child’s husband in the movie Julie & Julia. He’s looking at his wife, who found her passion quite late in life. He’s wearing a giant heart on his jacket and toasting her at a Valentine’s Day celebration. Look at how he looks at her:
THAT’S how we look at the people we love when they shine at doing the thing they love. Like we might explode from how proud and excited we are. Imagine this guy saying “I don’t know, television’s a really hard field, and you’re no Grace Kelly.” Imagine the world where he said that and where Julia let that stop her. Who wants to live in that shitty world? Not me. Not you. Not ever.
The interview starts at about 1 minute in, and runs about 30 minutes.
This was recorded on Day 4 of ConVergence, earlier this month. (Which seems longer ago than that, already.)
posted by Lois McMaster Bujold on July, 24
I finished The Railway Children! asakiyume had acquired a copy of the most recent movie for us to watch, which gave me extra impetus, but it was a real pleasure to read so I probably would have galloped through it anyway. Highly recommended if you like early twentieth-century children’s books.
Also highly recommended: the 2000 film version of The Railway Children, which is quite faithful to the book - it cuts a couple of scenes (and one of the cut scenes is the one tragically sexist scene in the book, which is otherwise so good about letting the girls be just as heroic as their brother) but doesn’t add much, which IMO is generally where adaptations go wrong, adding in scenes that don’t suit at all. The biggest addition, I think, is that the film draws out some of the stuff about class relations which is latent in the book - but it doesn’t become overbearing or anything; it’s still quite secondary to the fun adventures.
Also Jerry, by Jean Webster - who is most famous for writing Daddy-Long-Legs - and this is definitely a case where I can see why that’s the book she’s remembered for, although Jerry is not without charms. A young American man - and, as a side note, his name is Jerymn, which I have never seen before and would be inclined to take as a misspelling of Jermyn except Webster spells it that way every single time. Has anyone else run across this name? How do you pronounce it?
Anyway, Jerry - to give him his easily pronounceable nickname - Jerry is vacationing in a dull Italian country town when he meets a beautiful American girl. To get closer to her (and enliven his dull days), he masquerades as an Italian tour guide. She sees through him at once, but doesn’t let on, and the rest of the book consists of the two of them gleefully upping the ante of the masquerade.
What I’m Reading Now
I’m almost done with Jane Langton’s The Astonishing Stereoscope, which sadly I think is not nearly as good as either The Fragile Flag or The Fledgling, although also not nearly as bad as The Time Bike. A good middling Langton! And I will continue to search for The Swing in the Summerhouse, which is about, I think, a magical swing, which I think is just perfect and delightful and I hope the book lives up to it.
There are also a couple of post-Time Bike books in this series, but I am a little leery about reading them. Still, if I do run across them…
What I Plan to Read Next
My next reading challenge is coming up! It is “a book published before you were born,” and the only challenging part of this will be fixing on just one. The library has kindly purchased Kate Seredy’s The Chestry Oak for me (this is the first time I have made a purchase request at a library! I feel so powerful!), so perhaps that; but there is also the possibility of reading more Nesbit...
Court of Fives by Kate Elliott was too nerve-wracking and painful for me to read right now; I finished it, but the sequels will definitely have to wait. The race and class issues were very well-depicted, I thought, and the suspense was excellent. I am just too stressed about the world to handle this sort of thing in fiction right now.
The Furthest Station by Ben Aaronovitch was, alas, much shorter than I had hoped. Abigail was so great! I want all the Abigail stories!!!
I was happily surprised that Apprentice in Death by J.D. Robb, 43rd in the series, was much better than several of the previous volumes. There were a lot of twists and barriers to solving the mystery, capturing the perpetrators, and bringing them to justice, and remarkably little checking in with the huge recurring cast, which can become tedious. I read this partly because mysteries are comforting (justice wins!) and partly for purposes of analysis. I need to write down notes on its structure and character types and things like that.
Maybe he ate something while he was out at his doctor appointments yesterday? We only talked for about two minutes this morning between me and Cordelia getting up and him going to bed. He said he didn't know what was causing the problem, and I didn't want to keep him just to ask more questions.
Cordelia decided to stay home today in order to see her grandparents and uncle who will be arriving around 11:30 to take us to lunch. The main complication of this is that I now don't have anywhere to put the junk that I need to move out of the living room so that people can sit down. Scott's asleep in our room, and Cordelia's asleep in her room. That pretty much leaves the basement.
Scott won't join us for lunch. We decided that it made more sense for him to keep sleeping. We have our biweekly game session tonight, and he's supposed to GM. I kind of think it might be better for us to play board games, but I guess it will depend on he's doing at 7 tonight. We'll also need to stop a bit early because he needs to leave shortly after 10 in order to get to work by 10:45.
I got a lot of chores done yesterday-- Five loads of laundry; filling, running, and emptying the dishwasher; making dinner; cooking two packages of breakfast sausages; breaking down some boxes for recycling; getting the recycling and trash to the curb for pick up; changing the sheets on our bed; rearranging and dusting my bedroom bookshelves; and moving two shopping bags of books from our bedroom down to the basement plus shelving about a third of them.
Oh, and I sprayed a set of clothing for Cordelia to wear at camp. We bought some prometherin (sp?) which is a spray on tick repellent that's specifically for clothing. She's only wearing a t-shirt and long shorts plus underwear and footie socks, so it only helps a very little bit, but a little bit is better than nothing. We're not spraying her underwear or socks (footie socks don't come up past the top of the shoe). The spray bottle doesn't work very well. The only way to get anything out is to hold it sideways, and the stuff is very bad to breathe, so the spraying has to be done outside and then the clothes left hanging outside to dry for a few hours (how long depends on the humidity).
Needless to say, I was ready to sleep pretty early. I didn't end up doing so, but I should have, could have. Part of not going to bed early was that I had trouble making myself stand up to deal with getting ready to sleep.
Scott sleeping during the day really disrupts my routine because I can't really listen to music or watch anything due to noise. I dug up some earbuds, but they turned out not to work well because one gave no sound at all. We'd had them for years without ever opening the package, so either they were defective when we bought them or they deteriorated in storage. I can watch things with the sound off if there's captioning, but I like to be able to hear the dialogue, too.
I also have to be sure that I have all of the things I need out of the bedroom before Scott goes to bed. If I go in there for something, it will wake him. Tomorrow, when the cleaning lady comes, will be interesting.
I'm thinking that I might move the bags of stuff we want to get rid of to the garage. If that stuff gets stolen, well, at that point, we wouldn't have to haul it anywhere to donate it. But I kind of think that someone looking for quick cash isn't going to dig through garbage bags full of old clothing, not when there are things like the snowblower and Cordelia's bike. I'll shut the door, but Scott tends to forget, and he's the one who mostly opens the door (lawn mowing, grilling, etc.).
Both links go to the first chapter of the story in question. Neither story is anywhere near complete.
And I've gotten a comment on Auguries of Innocence that labels is as (good) crackfic. Are long, plotty darkfic AUs generally considered crackfic? I've always found the term a bit slippery in that I know when I read something that I would call crackfic but couldn't define the term apart from pointing at examples. I usually expect short and humorous, though.
Monsters are monsters, but do they always have to be so… monstrous? Vivian Shaw considers the fundamental nature of these terrible creatures in Strange Practice, and how she came to look at them from another angle entirely.
What’s my big idea?
The facile answer is, of course, sensible monsters. An idea which doesn’t seem to have found a great deal of traction thus far in any genre, classic or contemporary, and so offers a wide-open opportunity to play with readers’ expectations — but the real underlying answer goes back a lot further than that. It has to do with the contrast between ordinary and extraordinary, and what that means in terms of storytelling.
I’ve been writing novellas and novels of varying quality since I was about ten or eleven, but I did National Novel Writing Month for the first time in 2004, right after spending a lot of time on urbex websites, and the big idea behind that first NaNo was how many characters from classic vampire lit can I get into one story while exploring the weird and wonderful subterranean world of London? The answer turned out to be between five and eight. That first draft featured not only Lord Ruthven and Sir Francis Varney, but also Dracula and Carmilla (only spelling herself Mircalla, because vampires and spelling are such a thing). On the human side I had Greta, descended from Van Helsing, and August Cranswell, descended from the family that put paid to the vampire of Croglin Grange.
I decided to put vampires in the NaNo novel because I’ve always been fond of them — even as a kid I loved reading the classics, even if I had to stop every now and then to look up the words. The way in which the Western vampire mythos evolved from age to age, gathering often-contradictory detail with each well-known story added to its canon, fascinated me. But in all the stories, all the retellings, I couldn’t get away from the fact that most of the vampires did really stupid things. Their behavior was practically designed to attract the attention of the pitchfork-and-flaming-torch brigade, and just for once I wanted to read about vampires who just got on with it — vampires who were monsters, yes, but also people. Vampires who didn’t have to have geographically unplaceable accents and go swanning around in evening dress all the time for no reason. Vampires who didn’t need to be hypersexualized edgelords in leather trousers, or spend all their time moping about their cursed eternal fate, woe. Vampires who’d rather write nasty letters to the Times than tear throats out (unless the latter was really necessary), and who used their powers to watch over the city and stop other monsters ruining everything. Vampires who were sensible.
And because I wanted to read it, I had to write it first.
That book was called The Underglow, and it sat around on various hard drives for a decade while I borrowed characters from it and played with them, letting them evolve into much more nuanced and interesting individuals. In 2014 I dusted the book off again, looked at it properly, and determined it would need to be stripped to the skeleton and rewritten almost from scratch.
And this time the big idea wasn’t about cramming in as many recognizable characters as I could shoehorn into a plot, nor was it limited to vampires alone. This time it was about the individuals themselves — a more diverse cast, given more opportunity to shine — and what it actually meant to them to be what they were, extraordinary creatures in an ordinary world. I didn’t just have sensible vampires. I had sensible were-creatures, and mummies, and ghouls, banshees, bogeymen, a whole spectrum of monsters to play with, a richer world to explore.
It was this second iteration of the book that would end up becoming a series starring Greta as the central character, set in this peculiarly overlapping supernatural-adjacent world. With my editor’s help, I continued to refine the text into something that explored that particular aspect of storytelling: both the contrast between the ancient monsters and the modern day, and the fascinating difficulties encountered by people who necessarily spent their time in the liminal space of that boundary between natural and supernatural. What their experience would be, as creatures who had to coexist either covertly or overtly with ordinary humans, keeping their natures as quiet as possible — and what it might be like as a human to witness that experience, and to take on the responsibility of offering care across species boundaries. What kind of person would you have to be, to do a job like that?
Without really intending to, all those years ago in the throes of NaNo, I’d done myself an extraordinary favor in inventing the character of Greta Helsing. In the previous version, Greta was much less important a character; in this one, I could take much more advantage of her highly specialized role to portray those monsters as her patients, people she cared for, whatever sort of creature they might be, and what that meant to her. As a human physician to the supernatural, she necessarily encounters an enormous variety of complaints, and so I get to write about so many fascinating problems seen both from the human and the clinical standpoint. It gives me endless pleasure to apply scientific protocol to the realms of the unreal — there’s the contrast thing again, ordinary and extraordinary balancing each other — and I love writing about listserv arguments over the relative merits of different embalming fluids in zombie tissue stabilization, or the practice of creating perfect bone replacements for mummies via 3-D printing from a laser scan.
So it’s contrast, and it’s the experience of that contrast, of being a stranger in a strange land, that really drives the book (and, in fact, the series). The concept of found family echoes throughout, as well — it’s a natural consequence of the transposition of individual and environment, and one of my favorites.
But if, in the end, all you take away from Strange Practice is sensible monsters…I’m gonna be well-pleased with the work of my hands.
As I mentioned last month ("My summer", 6/22/2017), I'm spending six weeks in Pittsburgh at the at the 2017 Jelinek Summer Workshop on Speech and Language Technology (JSALT) , as part of a group whose theme is "Enhancement and Analysis of Conversational Speech".
One of the things that I've been exploring is simple models of who talks when — a sort of Biggish Data reprise of Sacks, Schegloff & Jefferson "A simplest systematics for the organization of turn-taking for conversation", Language 1974. A simple place to start is just the distribution of speech segment durations. And my first explorations of this first issue turned up a case that's relevant to yesterday's discussion of "significance".
In Neville Ryant and Mark Liberman, "Automatic Analysis of Speech Style Dimensions", InterSpeech 2016, we found systematic differences among individuals and contexts.
In that paper, we found that speech segments generally tend to be shorter in spontaneous/conversational speech than in fluent reading. The graph below compares density plots for speech-segment duration in three sources of read text and three sources of conversational speech. The largest read collection is LibriSpeech, 1,571 hours of text reading by 2,484 speakers. The distributions for Bush and Obama are from their weekly addresses, about 14 hours in total. From spontaneous/conversational speech, we have 8.5 hours of the interview program Fresh Air, with the data for the guests and the host (Terry Gross) plotted separately; and 14 hours from YouthPoint, a radio program produced by students at the University of Pennsylvania in the late 1970s.
This should not be a surprise — there are several sources of shorter speech segments specific to spontaneous/conversational speech, including backchannels and evaluations ("mm-hmm", "yeah", "right", "I know", "no kidding", "OK", "maybe", …), and pauses that reflect the process of composition, often with repetition or self-correction across the gap.
If we look more closely at individual conversations, we see some where the participants' distributions of speech-segment durations are pretty much the same, and others with significant differences. Here are the distributions for two two-party conversations from the Fisher (English) collection:
In the second case, Speaker A is doing most of the talking: 412.5 seconds in 200 segments, compared with 269.9 seconds in 213 segments for Speaker B.
This reflects an asymmetry in conversational roles — much of the dialogue is like this:
103.70 110.54 A: (( )) here and we have i think it's more healthy too you know the fat and more veggies greens
110.99 111.52 B: yeah
111.65 112.52 B: yes yeah
113.07 115.40 B: certainly more so than like the fast food
116.02 119.18 A: yeah i mean i i gained here uh
119.47 125.98 A: how many like thirty poun- uh pounds or so but then i started on this diet eating
123.29 123.62 B: yeah
126.33 127.96 A: in a at home and
128.39 129.89 A: lost lots of weight even i'm
130.02 130.76 A: thinner than
131.08 132.65 A: than when i came here you know
132.77 133.08 B: yeah
This naturally raises the question of how to quantify such differences, and how to relate them to individual characteristics and social or conversational roles. The Fisher collection is fairly large (23398 conversational sides) and relatively uniform in interactional context (short telephone conversations between strangers on assigned topics). There's no variation in interactional role, and our information about individual characteristics is limited (sex, age, years of education, region), but some of those characteristics are stereotypically related to speech styles.
The simplest way to parameterize the distributions of speech-segment durations is just to look at their means or medians. And if we look at the median length of speech segments by sex in the Fisher dataset, we see something interesting.
The mean value of the median speech-segment durations of women talking with women is longer than the comparable value of men talking with men. This difference is highly significant (in statistical terms), p-value = 6.734e-05 according to Welch's t-test, or less than one chance in ten thousand that the difference is due to sampling error. But the speech-segment durations of women talking with men and men talking with women are essentially the same by this measure (p-value = 0.2211):
And the differences between the Same Sex and Cross Sex conditions are also "significant". At this point we could wave our hands at various gender stereotypes and talk about accommodation theory.
But if you've looked at the numbers on the y-axis, you'll realize that this is an excellent object lesson in the difference between "(statistically) significant" and "meaningful", as discussed a couple of days ago. The differences, although unlikely to be the result of sampling error, are tiny — and also are small relative to within-group variance.
If we re-plot everything with a y-axis that starts at 0, this become clearer:
There's plenty of interesting and meaningful structure in conversational dynamics — but the effect of speaker and interlocutor sex on the distribution of speech segment durations is not a good example.
( Works in Pandemic Legacy: Season One, A Ladies' Guide to Collecting Mermaid Love Songs - Aimee Picchi, and Aliens (1986) / Alien (1979) / Alien Series )
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