Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sea Lion Caves 2012-03-25

Today we ended up at the Sea Lion Caves.

They're on the Oregon coast, underneath about 180 feet of basalt cliff.  If I'm remembering the signs correctly, the sea lions we saw were mostly cows and calves.  The bulls hadn't come back yet, or were too busy somewhere else figuring out how to get a herd of cows for later in the spring.

These sea lions were mostly keeping out of the rain and the storm (and earlier in the week the snow) that was outside the cave.

I'm trying to remember when I was in the caves last.  I have a hazy memory of walking down a set of stairs that leads to a viewpoint now.  In any case, what these pictures don't convey is the smell, which was salty, sea lion poopy, and dead-fishy.  It sounds worse than it actually was; we got used to it quickly and it really wasn't all that bad (although I wouldn't want to eat a snack there).  The pictures also don't give a sense of the noise: the barking, the wailing, and occasional squeaking; and over everything the splashing of the breakers against the cave rocks.

The cave has been a sea lion hang-out for a very long time; a Captain Cox found this skeleton around 1880 (the head was stolen in the 1950's).

We stayed for a while, then went back up to the visitors' center to look at touristy gifts.  The whole set of photos is HERE

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Notes: Ursula K LeGuin

Talk at the Eugene Library.
(any misquotes, typos or mistakes are my own)

Le Guin:  [I want to focus on the question]  What happens when the the people in charge say hide or burn the books?

Reads excerpts from "The Telling."

All fictions writers dread the question, "Where do you get your ideas from?  The answer is, "Out of my crazy head.   But now and then you know where the crazy ideas get into your head.  I got the ideas for "The Telling" from China and Chairman Mao and the suppression of Dauoism.  The process was ruthless and methodical and went on for 40 yeas.  Around 1982, they opened up the temples as tourist attractions.  A religious practiced for 2000 years was erased in my lifetime.   But and I didn't know about it at the time.

Ignorance is what allows such things to happen and keep happening.  Ignorance is what despots and ideologues want.  Ignorance will allow or applaud violence against what it doesn't understand, which is by definition everything and anything.   I was ashamed by my ignorance, by writing a novel maybe I was trying to atone.  I don't know.  In the book I wanted to show a theocratic state and a secular state [both suppressing free thought],   To me theism and atheism are equally dangerous.


I also want to say the more we fudge on the separation of church and state, the more we check our powers to check bigotry and demogrogary.  To say that we are a Christian Nation is an ignorant statement if not an outright lie.   America is a secualr democacy in which Christianity is one of the largest religions out of many which the government supports equally.  We've been drifting away from that neutrality.  We should activelly trust toloerance to keep from losing our freedom.

(Self observation/question what is it about Library of Alexandria, Library of Trantor, Asimov's Nightfall, Feihrenheit 451, and The Telling  that compels certain readers -- is it a form of bibliophilia, a Reader's version of The Fall, or something else?)

You started writing at SF at  age 11.  What drew you to the genre?

Le Guin:  I just have a weird mind.  At 9, 10 and 11, my brother and I were reading Astounding SF and Amazing Stories.  So , I liked these short stories, and I thought, maybe I could write one of these.  So I submitted.  And I got a rejection slip that lasted me 20 yaers.

MODERATOR:  What challenges did you face publishing?

Le Guin:  When I got into my 20 I was seriously writing for 6 or 7 years without acceptances.  Finally, within the same week I sold to a SF and a literary magazine.  The SF magazine paid and the literary one didn't... so I had a certain bias for that.

MODERATOR:  [Lists various awards]  What do you think about literary awards?

Le Guin:  Its a big and complicated topic.  I think the trouble with literary awards. They are wonderful for young and first writers.  My first awards gave me a confidence that  I really did have readers out there.  The nebula and hugos are voted by writers and readers, not judges.  I think a problem with a lot of the Big Literary wards is that they are  selected by a panel of those judges.  In the US, the judges are predominately from the Eastern half of the US and they don't care so much about what happens in the West.  Too few awards are are Really BIg.  The Newbury Award is the only really big award for children's lit; but there are no other children's awards.  There aren't runner-up for Newbury .   We put ay too much weight on our book awards.

MODERATOR:  What experiences have you had with censorship?

Le Guin:  I havnt had many experiences that effected me directly.  What hit fantasy very hard started back in the 70s was fundamentalis Xtain decsion that Fantasy was Evil (witches).  So a lot of school baords got members etermined to get SF/F away from the kids.  Its censorship through the schools, which is dangerous.  And here I did run into it directily a couel of times.  I went to a hearing on my Books, because the studens to fhte High chlass stood up and defened The Lathe of Heaven (Iwant to decide that LoH is really stupid myself).


Le Guin:  The LoH in 1980 which is perfectly available still... I was in on the scripting and everything that I could b on.  I think we did a pretty good job.  Good acting... the script is so  so.. After that it was down hill all the way.    ... Its hard I didnt have to .. (makes face)

MODERATOR:  What do you think about listening to audio-books?

Le Guin: Hearing books read aloud is different agreement [than reading them].  I think audio-books are great if you can't read; [and I think we all love to be read too I like to be read to].

MODERATOR:  What are your observations about E-books, publishing, and print?

Le Guin:  Can we stay here for a week?   Ebooks are another way of doing books.  Now we have two big ways of doing books.  They each have their virtues and I hope we keep them BOTH (because they complement each other).  Yay for Libraries which have to keep up with the technology.  It s a difficult job for them to do.

MODERATOR:  You moved from Berkeley to Portland.  When did you move, what's the thing you like best about Oregon?

Le Guin:  The rain.  :-)  1959.  I have a list of things I like; Oregon is a great place to live.

[The moderator opens up the microphone to the audience]

AUD:  What would you say to a younger writer to encourage them?

Le Guin:  Its kind of rough to to encourage them.  The print publishers are thrashing.  The ebook world is in flux.  Therefore, a lot of bad things have happened.  A lot o the commercial publishers are demanding security.  Things are _harder_ now.  I can say, "just say hang in there, it will be wort it."

AUD:  How do you write; are you an actor in the story or a watcher of the story?

Le Guin:  I'm a listenier, especially if it the story has one person's point-of-view.  My novels come with a voice... :-) I hear voices in my head.

AUD:  I've been reading you for years... what are the books you go back to over and over and over again?

Le Guin:  I have read voraciously and constantly ever since I was five... many, many books.   ... Dickens, Woolf, Patrick O'Brian.  there are so many good writers.

AUD:  "Love does not just sit there like a stone, it has to be made like bread... " (quote from "The Lathe of Heaven")  How does that thought inform your thinking?

Le Guin:  The reason for that sentence in LOH:  "I'm not going to tell you how they make love"  If you want to read about lovemaking, there's a lot of that.  I think the actual act at the moment isn't interesting:  ITS DIFFERENT EVERY TIME.

AUD:  What ideas do you walk away from, OR what do you step away from?  How do you cut things?

Le Guin:  The filter is just there.  I never think of writing something I don't want to write.  My filter must be through temperament or experience built in. [Sorry, that probably doesn't help you too much.]

AUD:  What's your favorite thing you've written?

Le Guin:  The one I'm thinking about at the moment.

AUD:  Did you have a cat in the past who inspired Catwings.

Le Guin:  No, we've had and have cats.  But the idea came from doodling on a fridge list.  I drew a cat flying and looking smug.   And I looked at the drawing and asked, "What if you had a family of cats with wings?" [...] It was like the cat flew into my head.

AUD:  Some say there should be no copyright; some say copyright should be indefinite.  What's your stance?

Le Guin:  Most authors have a stance.  It think both positions are incredibly wrong and wrong-headed and unthought-out.  I am in favor of copyright because it is how authors make money.  If you don't own the rights to your work so you can sell it, how are you going to live?  [Without copyright] You have to find a patron; that is what they did up to the 18th C.  Copyright saved authors and gave us 150 years of the ability to make a living.  What went wrong was the Disney Law.  Copyright should be the author's lifetime + 25 years for their heirs.  DISNEY keeps extending copyright, which will destroy it.  Copyright encourages pirating.

AUD:  As a writer, is there a criteria that you hold yourself to when writing?  Do you apply those criterion to others' works of art?

Le Guin:  No... the criterion is too complicated.  To set up any list of criterion of excellence immediately becomes a straight-jacket.  You have to wing it.  You have to [be able to look at what you're working on and say "This needs more work" or  "Yeah, I think I got it."

AUD:  IS Science Fiction in a negative rut?  Is every future is a distopia?  Is the World is doomed?  Is this a sympom of the times?  Can SF writers do anyting about it?  Is it possible for SF to make a difference?

Le Guin:  Its a pendulum swing.   In the 30s we would have stories about a bright, democratic galaxy.  [...]  my trouble with [science fiction] right now is that it's unpleasant, it's highly intellectual and has no emotional vitality.  It's a sort of "Brainiac" mentality.  In order to speak to people on a deep level, it has to include more than just negative emotions.

AUD:  (Tesseract faux-pas).  How do you see SF/F as being an integral part of education?

Le Guin:  But I don't know ... if literature isn't a part of education....

AUD (a couple):  We live in a householf of writers and artists and you're our patron saint. (Presentation of Poems)    ... and thanks for helping me to become a whole human being.

Tiara Mania

Tiara Mania: Who knew?  Now I'll have to make sure to tell Alethea Kontis about it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

March 2012 Snow

It's the second day of spring.

It's snowing:


I think this is the most "artsy" photo I took.  And I'm being called back outside...

Monday, March 19, 2012

Hieroglyphic Name...

I'm having way too much fun at

generating my name.

This reads, "King of Upper and Lower Egypt, the Good God, John, given life, stability, and wealth, beloved of Hathor."

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Printing the Scarab

When I'm not writing, I play with Blender. Blender is a 3-D rendering program, sort of like AutoCad. It has a programming language, Python, that it can use to make mathematically precise models (and, goodness knows, you have to be precise when you're making 3D virtual star tiaras).

Over the winter, I've focused on geometric designs, but the latest project has been a scarab.

It turns out that Blender objects are pretty easy to export to files that MakerBot can use. So when Mark Wild said that he was going to visit the Eugene Maker Space and play with their 3D printer, I tagged along.

The setup took a little longer than we expected. But once everything started up, we were able to load a STL file of the scarab onto the MakerBot's rendering engine. Our first big surprise was how small the scarab was; we had to increase its size by four times.

Our next snag was discovering that the MakerBot G-code build (the set of instructions that actually make the MakerBot printer extrude plastic) wanted to save to my RAMstick, which I'd write-protected.  Once we figured that out, the software took about five minutes to figure out the best path for the plastic printer head to take to create the scarab.   And then another ten minutes to print it out.

The end result didn't come out as solidly as I thought it would, although it is recognizable as a scarab.

What I learned:

  • The scarab design was too detailed and small. The parts that came out the best were the circular solar disk element and the dung beetle's carapace. What seemed like huge chunky bits to me when I was creating the scarab model turned out to be itty-bitty when printed. We probably would have had a cleaner print job if we'd expanded the model one more time.
  • I should have put down a base to build upon. To make the wings' feathers stick out, I put all of them on the zero Z plane and then varied their thickness so the leading feathers were thicker than the trailing feathers. The feathers probably confused the MakerBot G-code because there were about fifteen, they overlapped, and by design they weren't all able to touch the printer's bed.
  • I think next time rather than build a complex objects out of multiple overlapping ones, I'll see how much leverage I can get with a simpler design and one object with multiple Boolean difference "cuts" out of it. I also suspect that the procedure I followed to clean up the model didn't catch interior planes and vertices, which resulted in some, um, non-intuitive printer head paths. use Boolean difference on the overlapping feathers.
  • The MakerBot print head will approximate its print path in an attempt to fill an odd shape with plastic. It's not so much a limit on the printer head so much as it's a limitation of the melted plastic coming out of it. Which means you may or may not get the coverage you thought you might. An analogy would be trying to use a tube of toothpaste mounted on an etch-e-sketch to sign a check.

But, even though it looked a little like something Spiderman might make out of his webbing, I love it and have something to put on my forehead when I say, "Almighty Isis (Isis-Isis-Isis)!"

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Higgs Bosons?

I wish I knew a little more about this to be able to write a short story about the Higgs boson.  I can imagine writing something whimsical, like a boson leaving behind a trail that says, "Hello!" I have a more difficult time imagining writing something hard science fiction, like a submarine powered by a Higgs boson.

Higgs Boson May Be Indicated in New Data - Physicists from the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Ill., say they have found a bump in their data that might be the long-sought Higgs boson, a hypothesized particle that is responsible for endowing other elementary particles with mass.

Although, looking at a picture of the Tevatron, maybe Higgs bosons could be used to propel a space station... or maybe there's something about the Earth's mass that requires Higgs bosons to be more easily formed outside Earth's gravity well.

Monday, March 05, 2012

It's Worse Than That...

It's art.

Last October we visited the Portland Art Museum, and we were encouraged to dress like the art.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Critiquing Memoir

Every now and then someone submits a memoir to the Wordos.  This is usually confusing to the table because A) memoir is typically an idea plot hidden underneath a event plot, and B) it can be difficult to look at just the text of a memoir and critique protagonist in the memoir as a well-written character and not the author as a person.

One of the things that I learned from a memoir writing class was that a good memoir has a rhythm or procession of symbols that can be discovered within individual vignettes, and this rhythm is mirrored in the overall memoir.  In general, the vignette follows the form stasis, discovery, tension, more tension, crisis, conclusion.  This was extremely helpful to realize when I went to see the movie, "Before Night Falls," based on a posthumous memoir of Reinaldo Arenas.  The movie was much less confusing once I realized that every little story (and the entire piece) was using the metaphor of a rising above everything in a balloon which is out of control and subsequently crashes.

It was suggested by our instructor that the events, settings and people we write repeat -- sort of like the same way the same symbols would aggregate in a dream journal.  She further suggested that we write stories about ourselves to explore a question we are asking ourselves.   For example, in my class assignment, it was pointed out to me that I chose to retell events involving attempts at expansion by ignoring rules of physical safety (a canoe stunt, trancing out on the dance floor, a near-accident skydiving, and an automobile-bicycle collision).  My memoir was organized around self-identity and boundaries.

If you choose to cast a life event as a memoir, you might want to ask, "What does this event (or series of events) mean to me?"  Or you might look for emotional similarities.  Or you might ask, "What have I learned at the end of this that I didn't at the beginning?"   Also, truth is stranger than fiction.  It may be true that X happened in real life, but it still needs to be plausible in a manuscript -- so for the sake of readability, an author can and will take poetic liberties with events.

In terms of critiquing memoir -- or any manuscript for that matter -- it's also helpful to keep in mind the narrator of a manuscript is a character created by the author, and that an author is not one of their characters.  In memoir, it can be easy to lose track of the boundaries between the author as a person, the author's persona, and characters in the manuscript.  Address the text, not the author.

The American form for memoir was set by Frank Conroy in "Stop-Time." (It's not always cheery reading.)  An interesting look at author, persona and memoir may be found in Ruth Reichi's "Garlic and Sapphires."

Friday, March 02, 2012

March 2012

It's March.

I am coming out of hibernation mode.  A sense that there is something that I should be doing is building, and I expect that I should be back into the writing, editing, and submission routine soon.  Oh, and blogging.

One of the trends that happened over December, January and February is that I seem to be posting to Google Plus more than blogging here.  I'm hoping to discover a method that will let me post here and in Plus.

In the mean time, I've been playing with Blender and other graphic tools.  I don't know what it is about this time of year, but as I was saying to a Wordo the other day, this is when I want to think and write about religion, explore geometry, and draw pretty pictures -- so rather than fret and stress about the Verbhounds gnawing off my legs, I enjoyed the writing down time.