That was disappointing

May 2nd, 2015

Ann Leckie’s first novel, Ancillary Justice, hit the SF field in a big way, winning both Hugo and Nebula awards last year. Because her latest book, Ancillary Sword is nominated for a Hugo this year, I decided to read Ancillary Justice first. I gave up half way through.

There are a lot of interesting ideas, but I couldn’t make any sort of an emotional connection with any of the characters. The story never drew me in to the point where I could feel that I was living in the society. It reminds me of C. J. Cherryh’s later work, which is not a good thing,. I haven’t been able to read anything she’s written from Cyteen on. And this had much the same feel – a lot of pointless plotting and details  with the occasional jewel of a scene. Kind of like a bad raisin pudding. It’s too bad – I really wanted to like the book, but I just could not get into it.

I will take a look at Ancilliary Sword, but if it’s like Ancillary Justice, I won’t be voting for it.

More Bad News for U.S. Science

May 1st, 2015

And the hits just keep on coming. A House panel has proposed a budget that guts NASA’s earth sciences research. These are the programs that study weather, deforestation, crop yields, and so on from space. It’s science that’s vital to many people and a bunch of Neanderthals want it cut because it conflicts with their biblical world view. Jesus wept.

There’s no other way to put this, so I’ll be succinct: A passel of anti-science global warming denying GOP representatives have put together a funding authorization bill for NASA that at best cuts more than $300 million from the agency’s current Earth science budget.

At worst? More than $500 million.

The actual amount of the cut depends on whether some caps enacted in 2011 are removed or not. If they are, then Earth sciences gets $1.45 billion. If not, it gets $1.2 billion. The current FY 2015 budget is $1.773 billion.

Compare that with the White House request for FY ’16 of $1.947 billion for Earth sciences. The bill will be marked up (amended and rewritten) by the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee today.

This, for the space agency which has a critical role in understanding climate change and its effects on our planet.

Teaching Scientists How to Write

April 29th, 2015

Being able to write well is becoming an essential skill for scientists. Just to name one example of why it’s important, consider grant applications. If the reviewers can’t understand the purpose of the research, they may be unwilling to approve the grant. Now there’s a course that specializes in teaching scientists the basics of clear writing.

The students tried not to look sheepish as their professor projected the article on the whiteboard, waiting for their work to be devoured by their classmates. It was the second class for the nine students, all of whom are Ph.D. candidates or post-doctoral fellows. Their assignment had been to distill their extensive research down to just three paragraphs so that the average person could understand it, and, as in any class, some showed more aptitude than others. The piece on the board was by one of the students, a Russian-born biologist.

The professor, the journalist and author Stephen Hall (with whom I took a different writing workshop last year), pointed to the word “sequencing.” “That’s jargon-ish,” he said, circling it on the board. “Even some people in the sciences don’t have an intuitive understanding of what that means.” He turned to another student in the class, an Italian native working on his doctorate in economics, for confirmation. “Yes, I didn’t know what was going on,” he said, turning to the piece’s author. The biology student wrote something in her notebook.

Alan Lomax Recordings Archive Now Online

April 29th, 2015

Alan Lomax was a folklorist who specialized in field recording. He recorded thousands of people and groups from all over the world. Now many of his recordings are available online. If you are into folk music or world music, this archive is going to blow your mind.

The Sound Recordings catalog comprises over 17,400 digital audio files, beginning with Lomax’s first recordings onto (newly invented) tape in 1946 and tracing his career into the 1990s. In addition to a wide spectrum of musical performances from around the world, it includes stories, jokes, sermons, personal narratives, interviews conducted by Lomax and his associates, and unique ambient artifacts captured in transit from radio broadcasts, sometimes inadvertently, when Alan left the tape machine running. Not a single piece of recorded sound in Lomax’s audio archive has been omitted: meaning that microphone checks, partial performances, and false starts are also included.

io9 Guide to Discworld

April 28th, 2015

Despite their popularity, I never got into Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series – light fantasy just isn’t my thing. But if I change my mind, I’ll use io9’s Guide to Discworld for reference. It does a good job outlining the major themes and characters and offers guidance on where to start if you’re new to the series.

Summer is coming

April 27th, 2015

Summer is coming and so is the usual lineup of summer blockbusters and SF movies.  With movies like The Avengers: Age of Ulron and the Jurassic Park. Mad Max, and Terminator remakes, it’s going to be a busy summer at the movie theatres. Gizmodo previews 28 movies you may want to see. If I had to pick one that I’m most interested in seeing, it’d be The Man from U.N.C.L.E, which was, bar none, my favourite TV show from the early 60s.

And if you don’t want to get out to watch something, there’s a whole bunch of TV shows coming.  If I only see Sense8 and The Expanse, that will probably be enough to keep me happy.