Saturday, August 19, 2017

MAKE YOUR BED

The large achievements of a lifetime depend on many small daily accomplishments. That is the first lesson in this collection of insightful advice from a Navy SEAL admiral. Of course, there is a lot of good advice floating around. It is the flotsam and jetsam of philosophers and various “great men” who are sometimes, perhaps oftentimes, misquoted.  (See “Fools, Cowards, and Thucydides” on this blog.) This book is straight from the original author. The ten lessons are easy to understand and apply.

Making your bed is Rule #1: “Start the day with a task completed.”  The admiral points out that if nothing at all goes well for the rest of the day, at least when you come home, your bed will be nicely made and waiting for you. Allow me to add that we all really must achieve many small tasks to start the day. But making your bed is optional. So, if you set that as your daily task, you will have begun the day by doing more than the minimum to get by.
 
Grand Central Publishing,
April 2017
Rule #4: “Life is not fair—drive on!” This ties in to Lesson #5: “Failure can make you stronger.” In SEAL school, the instructors pick on you. They harass you. You can do everything right and for no reason whatever, you will be ordered to do punishment duty. Most often, you become a “sugar cookie.” You run into the surf fully clothed, get completely soaked, and then roll around in the sand until you are completely covered and look like a sugar cookie. You stay like that the rest of the day. It is unarguably unfair because it is meted out to anyone at all for absolutely no reason. The purpose is to teach the best warriors that life is not fair. You can fail for no fault of your own. And you have to carry on anyway.

The book is easily available and affordable. Amazon and Barnes & Noble have identical pricing for print and electronic versions. I borrowed it from the city library. At 130 pages, widely set on 5-1/4 x 7-inch pages, it cannot take one hour to read aloud. The commencement address that launched this runs about 20 minutes on You Tube here. William H. McRaven currently serves as the chancellor of the University of Texas system.  

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Sunday, August 13, 2017

ARMADILLOCON 39

On August 4-5-6, 2017, the 39th annual Armadillocon science fiction convention brought possible futures and alternate pasts to Austin. A friend of mine said that it is “a very literary con” and it lived up to that. On the second night, I saw a couple in Steam Punk dress, but there were no other costumes, no t.v. or movie stars, just books, authors, artists, editors, publishers, and, of course, readers. We had a great time.

Armadillocon prides itself on introducing the best new talent. The GoH (Guest of Honor) was Nisi Shawl. Her steampunk novel, Everfair, is set in an alternate Belgian Congo that is – going on the reviews; I have not read it - inclusive to minorities of gender and color. In addition, as is customary, there was a Fan GoH (A. T. Campbell III). Other special guests were Mark A. Nelson (Artist GoH), and Trevor Quachri of Analog (Editor GoH). Fantasy writer Tamora Piece was the Special GoH.
The panel discussions were all about the craft and business of writing, from how to get an idea, to how to turn an idea into a story, to how to sell to Analog (or anyone). Laurel and I attended several panel discussions together and split up for others. 
 
Brad Foster of JabberwockyGraphix.com
Artist, Panelist, and Pictionary player
“Writing Golden Age Fiction Today” (billed as Lou Antonelli, Alan J. Porter, James Reasoner, Adrian Simmons, but with Shane Friesner and Keith West filling in for Adrian Simmons) was interesting to me because I have an unfinished anthology, Millennium Wonder Stories, set the present, but as if written in 1937-1939.  Like any good story, the action must be plot driven, fun, and adventurous, with a touch of romance. It has to be “a story that moves.” Introducing a new world is key. A weird menace with “a Scooby-Do ending” (unmasking the threat) is one way to frame those.  A point made in other panels was that a plot is not “an extended conceit.” In a Golden Age story, there are no moral ambiguities. We get the future we deserved, not the one we got.
 
One of Many Panel Discussions
(Barbara Ann Wright was inspirational.)
Also on the first night, I went to “Timeless versus Tired Tropes.”  Like a riff in music, a trope is a recurring shorthand: the plucky girl, the evil corporation, the mysterious elf, star-crossed lovers, coming of age, bad-assed robot, first person smartass, alien invasion, the dream sequence.  Panelist Ari Marmell said, “A trope is a cliché done well.” Steven Brust suggested subverting the trope, changing the reader’s expectations. Panel chair Shawn Scarber offered the city as a character.

Friday night closed with an investigation into the sidekick, “Frodo had Samwise, Han had Chewie…” with Michael Ashleigh Finn, Josh Roundtree, Patrick Sullivan, Rhonda Eudaly, and Skylar White. The sidekick can be relatable or inspirational, a friend whose presence relieves the author of writing interior dialog. It opens the opportunity for a story about the friendship. The relationship can be unequal or equal. The sidekick can also be a stand-in for the audience. It is also possible to “subvert the trope” as was done in Without a Clue in which Dr. Watson is the protagonist.
 
Kurt Baty built a replica of the Antikythera Device with LEGO
Saturday opened with Kurt Baty’s presentation on the Antikythera Device. The topic was a little far afield, though science is essential to science fiction. Kurt focused on the machine. I noted that the Antikythera Device does open up both alternate history and lost history as story devices. What would “wine punk” science fiction be like? A world of Daedalus hang gliders, mirror-and-lens burning rays, bronze gear calculators, for a society that speaks of geometry and astronomy. In the real world of the time, a legal slave could be a lawful millionaire.

Laurel and I went to “Writing 101.” They suggested taking a common domestic event and twisting the story, and other advice.

I went to the Guest Editor interview while Laurel was at “Pantsing versus Outlining.”  (“Pantsing” is writing by the seat of your pants, not the now-criminal harassment we suffered in our childhoods.)  I followed the Guest Editor interview with “How to Sell to Analog (and other Markets)” while Laurel attended “Sitting Pilates for the Sedantary.” We met up again for “You Have a Great Idea for a Story—Now What?” Laurel went to “Serial Killers: Books that Ended a Series” while I walked out of “Technology – Art – Business” which was supposed to be about how recent advances in graphic arts technologies have changed the markets, but turned out to be about where to get free copies of programs that let non-artists find out why they are not artists. 
 
Tristan Thorne of Sinister Smile, local publisher of
eBooks, Paperback, or Hardcover
on Demand or Otherwise.
I bought one their scifi anthologies and
showed him my "Millennial Wonder Stories."
We both attended the session, “Novel or Short Story?” chaired by Louise Marley, with T. Eric Bakutis, Urania Fung, Michelle Muenzler, Patrice Sarath, and William Browning Spencer. We both took a lot of notes. Among the good information was an introduction to where to find markets. Laurel does more reading than I do, but we both benefited from learning about the meta-lists of markets. That was all explored again in depth on Sunday with “Short Story Markets.” That presentation started off rough with the panelists just naming markets in random conversation until another frustrated guy in the audience finally pointed to the easel and flipchart.

The same problem struck the presentation on Cartography which I walked out of. I completed my master’s degree with two classes in geographic information systems. I was looking forward to this. But I was astounded (and not in a Golden Age way) by a panel on Cartography without any graphics.

On Sunday, Laurel was at one of the very many readings by authors that are the structural skeleton of the convention.

Meanwhile, I attended “Clarke Centennial: 2001: A Space Odyssey.” I had a few problems with their opinions. It seemed a common assumption that HAL 9000 typified “technology out of control” a harbinger for petroleum which will kill us all with global warming. Quoting Dr. Chandra, I replied, “HAL was told to lie, by men who find it easy to lie.” Then, I lost my cool over global (even-if-it-is-real-so-fucking-what?) warming. However, I did meet panelist David Afsharirad who edited three volumes of “Year’s Best Military SF” for Baen Publishing Enterprises. I found him later in the dealers room. (He was buying at a table, not selling from one.) I bought all three volumes. He autographed them for me, inscribing them to my units in the Texas State Guard, the Maritime Regiment, and Domestic Operations.
Hard SF
From New Atlantic Industries.
Find them on Facebook, 

and of course, at 
http://www.newatlanticindustries.com/
Laurel and I closed out the show with “What is This Thing Called Plot?” The panelists were Lou Antonelli, Michael Bracken, Urania Fung, Joe R. Lansdale (chair), Louise Marley, and Barbara Ann Wright. They recommended Blake Snyder’s “Save the Cat” website for screenwriting (http://www.savethecat.com/) and his “15 Beats” that pace a story.

We picked up a ton of art cards, bookmarks, and other freebies, including self-published little stories. I bought a cool t-shirt, “Book Wyrm” in rich colors depicting a dragon in front of stacks of books. I also was happy to find a spin-off X Files/Star Wars poster (“I want to believe” with the Millennium Falcon for the flying saucer) from Vyktohria, who also draws pin-ups (website here). This was Laurel’s first scifi con. I went to a trekker con in Livonia, Michigan, back in the 20th century. All in all, we both benefited, and we brought home a lot to talk about, even a week later. One reason for this write-up is that we are still transcribing our notes in order to facilitate discussing them. We don’t do that for computer security conferences.

Previously on Necessary Facts
2017 Austin Energy Regional Science Fair

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Antikythera Device

The wonderfully complex mechanism that predicted eclipses, the positions of the planets, and the dates of Olympic games may have been a collaboration among Archimedes, Eratosthenes, and Apollonius.  Eratosthenes was the Librarian at Alexandria. Apollonius was the best geometer of the time. Or maybe Archimedes built it himself. Although this device is singular, its intricate gearing suggests that it must have been the result of a long series of development. But all the others are lost.
 
from the Freeth Presentation at Stanford
The best citation we have to the mechanical works of Archimedes come from De Re Publica by Marcus Tullius Cicero. You can find the citation archived at “Spheres and Planaria” at NYU Math here:
“Cicero (106-43 BC), De Re Publica, Book I, Sections 21-22
(In this passage Cicero writes of a discussion that takes place in 129 BC among a group of learned Romans. One of them relates an incident in 166 BC in which a Roman consul, Gaius Sulpicius Gallus, is at the home of Marcus Marcellus, the grandson of the Marcellus who conquered Syracuse in 212 BC.)
. . . he [Gallus] ordered the celestial globe to be brought out which the grandfather of Marcellus had carried off from Syracuse, when that very rich and beautiful city was taken, though he took home with him nothing else out of the great store of booty captured. Though I had heard this globe mentioned quite frequently on account of the fame of Archimedes, when I actually saw it I did not particularly admire it; for that other celestial globe, also constructed by Archimedes, which the same Marcellus placed in the temple of Virtue, is more beautiful as well as more widely known among the people. But when Gallus began to give a very learned explanation of the device, I concluded that the famous Sicilian had been endowed with greater genius that one would imagine it possible for a human being to possess. For Gallus told us that the other kind of celestial globe, which was solid and contained no hollow space, was a very early invention, the first one of that kind having been constructed by Thales of Miletus, and later marked by Eudoxus of Cnidus (a disciple of Plato, it was claimed) with the constellations and stars which are fixed in the sky. He also said that many years later Aratus, borrowing this whole arrangement and plan from Eudoxus, had described it in verse, without any knowledge of astronomy, but with considerable poetic talent. But this newer kind of globe, he said, on which were delineated the motions of the sun and moon and of those five stars which are called wanderers [the five visible planets], or, as we might say, rovers, contained more than could be shown on the solid globe, and the invention of Archimedes deserved special admiration because he had thought out a way to represent accurately by a single device for turning the globe those various and divergent movements with their different rates of speed. And when Gallus moved the globe, it was actually true that the moon was always as many revolutions behind the sun on the bronze contrivance as would agree with the number of days it was behind in the sky. Thus the same eclipse of the sun happened on the globe as would actually happen, and the moon came to the point where the shadow of the earth was at the very time when the sun . . . out of the region . . .
(Translation by Clinton W. Keyes in Cicero: De Re Publica, De Legibus, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1928.)”
The Google Doodle for May 17, 2017  celebrated the 115th anniversary of the discovery of the device.  Sponge divers found it amid the treasures of an ancient wreck. Among these are some of the finest bronze statues we have from that context.  Archeologist Valerios Stais (1857-1923) was the first to suggest that the gearing was evidence of a clockwork, but his theory was discounted at the time. The next significant studies were the work of Derek DeSolla Price.
 
PBS NOVA Presentation
Derek John De Solla Price (1922-1983) held two doctorates, one of them in the history of science. You can find 23 one-hour lectures Neolithic to Now from Yale on his honorary blog site. Also there is the full text of Babylonian Science also on his honorary blogsite.  
Derek spent from around 1951 until about 1959 figuring out what that lump was and in a June 1959 Article in Scientific American he first announced to the mass public his theories on the device.” Price DeSolla worked with Charalampos Karakalos who used x-rays and gamma rays to create images of the 82 fragments.  They published 70-page paper, “Gears from the Greeks. The Antikythera Mechanism: A Calendar Computer from ca. 80 B. C.” in the November 1974 issue of Transactions of the American Philosophical Society New Series, 64 (7): 1–70.
 
from Epigraphy.org the lettering styles help to
place the time of construction
In our time, Dr. Anthony Freeth speaks for the team that has decoded much more of the Antikythera device.  Their papers are here:
You can view a 2-hour lecture delivered November 6, 2015, at Stanford.  (I did it in three sittings.) This link takes you to a lead-in article which provides links to their YouTube channel presentation (here) and Apple Store podcast. Freeth answers the basic questions: What, How, When, Where, Who, and Why.
 
Kurt Baty built a faithful LEGO model
That no other similar mechanisms are known is troubling. It is easy to underestimate how much was lost over the centuries of the slow decline of Rome. We know from other citations that the wife of the emperor Claudius was Etruscan. For her, he wrote a history of her people, perhaps in their own language. Not only is that work – the creation of the most powerful citizen of Rome – lost, so is knowledge of the language. We can read the inscriptions we have found, sounding out the letters. Except for the names of some gods such as Minerva and Mercury, and other smatterings, we know nothing. As a weapon of war, a single thermonuclear bomb, exploded 50 miles above the surface will create an electro-magnetic pulse that erases just about all of our electronic storage.  In the wake of even a “limited” nuclear exchange, the subsequent nuclear winter might force us to burn our books to keep warm. Civilization is fragile.

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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Irene Louise Babos Marotta Joseph

Today would have been her 86th birthday. My mother left me with two enduring learning points.
  • Good music is cheap and cheap music is expensive.
  • It does not matter how much money you have as long as you are educated. 
5th Grade Buhrer School
Miss McGovern, 1941
There were many others. She was given to maxims, glittering generalities, and statements of opinion as fact. From my point of view, she had about 12 or 13 good years, and then slid downhill for about 25, though she enjoyed a couple of counter-trend peaks. After she died, we cleaned out her apartment and two salient facts gave me pause:
  • She had no mirrors (except for the one that is standard in the bathroom). When we were kids, we used to make Transylvania jokes about being Hungarian; maybe it was not so funny. 
  • We found a candle that had been burned at both ends.

 
c. 1964
Mom played the piano and owned a couple of them over the years. She taught my brother, Paul, and me to play, though I soon stopped because he eclipsed me. Nonetheless, I learned to read music, and later did not learn to play the coronet and French horn. We had classical (mostly Romantic) music on high fidelity 33-1/3 rpm records. Interestingly enough, Mom was supportive of rock ’n’ roll. Mindful that good music is cheap and cheap music is expensive, she still paid for 45s of hit songs from Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, mostly at my brother’s request. I was not much for pop music until 1966, when I had my own favorites.

Cleveland Dental Manufacturing 
is now a residential loft space
Her best years started in 1956 to 1961 working for Walter S. Smith’s Cleveland Dental Manufacturing Company. Cleveland Dental did some overseas business, and Mom brought home envelopes with foreign stamps. She tried to get us interested in stamp collecting, but neither of us had much passion for it.

When Mr. Smith retired she worked a year or so more for the new president, but after the sale to Cavitron, she found another job. She then went to work for Dr. Robert Morgan Stecher who had offices at Cleveland Metropolitan General Hospital from its days as City Hospital. He was not a practicing physician, but an academic researcher whose passions included early horses and the genetics of arthritis. He was independently wealthy. His father, Fred W. Stecher, was a pharmacist who invented Pompeian Massage Cream  and built his home in Lakewood on a natural gas well that brought lease income.
 
No longer interested in politics.
City Hall Chambers 1998.
Working for Dr. Stecher broadened her horizons. She took us to the Cleveland Health Museum, bought me memberships in the Natural Science Museum, and split season tickets to Severance Hall with neighborhood doctors. (Our home was two blocks from City Hospital. Some of the rentals, ours and others, went to interns and residents. I benefited from a lot of extra-curricular education and exposure to the research labs at the hospital.)  She wrote Dr. Stecher’s international correspondence and prepared his journal manuscripts. Their office was next to the hospital library; and I bought some discards for a dime each.
After Dr. Stecher retired, she worked as an office temporary until she met her second disastrous husband. That marriage lasted no longer than the first, but the comparison is between the harsh voyage of the Mayflower and the gaiety of the Titanic.

When it became clear that neither Paul nor I was going to graduate from college, she took over management of our sister’s education and got Kelly through Baldwin-Wallace with a major in English and a minor in Biology, including a field trip to the Galapagos Islands. Mom did not live to see Paul and me go back to graduate with honors.

However, she did participate from the audience in the Cleveland punk music scene hanging out with Paul’s band, and billing herself as “Irene Styrene.”  

Her last job was as a full time administrative assistant at Cleveland City Hall. By then, she had lost her passion for politics. Forty years earlier, she had sent me to school with a Nixon-Lodge pin and the next time around, it was AuH2O in 64, which is how I ended up in Young Americans for Freedom in 1965, and ultimately wrote a blog.

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