A Bigger Gamble Than Ever

Oh, this is not good.

State-sponsored gambling, which faced long odds in past legislative sessions, might not be viewed so negatively this time around as legislators look everywhere for a few dollars to help solve the state’s massive budget problems.

A cross section of state legislators are expected to introduce a wide spectrum of gaming bills in coming weeks.

I get the appeal. I really do. Voluntary revenue for the state, in a world where “tax” has become an epithet meaning “sodomy,” is about as sexy as it gets, especially when the word makes our governor blink slowly and say, “But I made a promise.”

The problem is that gambling isn’t free–and all the calculations of how long it would take to pay off start-up costs and bring in revenue are more than a year old. Normally that wouldn’t be a big deal, but what a year it’s been. You’ve heard about Atlantic City.

“Over the last two years, about $600 million in gross gaming revenue has disappeared from Atlantic City,” said Joseph Weinert, senior vice president of Spectrum Gaming Group.

Also gone during that period: 3,330 casino jobs.

Atlantic City has tried to blame the decline on growth in other gambling and, of all things, a smoking ban. But that doesn’t explain Las Vegas.

Recently, the Nevada Gaming Control Board released “win,” or revenue, figures for the month of October. The results showed a significant decline in state-wide revenue from gambling, which slid 22.33% in October when compared to the same month last year. Las Vegas Strip revenue was down 25% year over year.

Clark County, Nevada reported a gambling win of $757 million, falling from just over $1 billion in October of 2007. The change represented a drop of 24.34%, among the largest declines in the state. Casinos on the famed Las Vegas Strip reported $475 million in revenue in October, down from $639 million year over year. That percent decrease amounted to 25.77%. North Las Vegas saw its revenue tumble by the largest reported percentage. October gambling revenue there dropped from $28 million in 2007 to just $18 million in 2008, a slide of 34.53%.

Nor does a casino have to be a plane flight away to be in trouble.

The Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority announced Sunday that effective Feb. 1 it will cut pay for all employees, with salary rollbacks of 10 percent for vice presidents and above, 7.5 percent for middle managers and 4 percent for all line and hourly employees.

In addition, it will eliminate annual raises and merit-based salary increases and is scrapping its matching contribution to employee 401(k) plans.

The announcement comes a month after the casino’s parent company reported a double-digit percentage decline in net earnings, primarily due to a drop in gambling revenue. For the year ending Sept. 30, Mohegan Sun reported $1.36 billion in net revenue, down about $68 million from the previous year.

Only state lotteries are seeing any increase in revenue, and not even all of them. New Jersey isn’t getting any of it.

Officials say their sales slipped by 4 percent between July and the end of November compared with the same period in 2007.

The sales slump runs counter to what other states are seeing. Scientific Games, which makes scratch-off tickets, says revenue is up for scratch-off and daily games in 25 of the 42 states with lotteries.

Neither is New Hampshire.

Lottery sales were down 11 percent in 2008 over the previous year, according to Rick Wisler, executive director of the New Hampshire Lottery.

Whatever may have been the case in the past, gambling is not recession-proof, not this recession. And with all the other demands for funding, now is not the time to be gambling state money on the chance of future revenue.

A Bigger Gamble Than Ever

Science and Fiction–Recommended Reads

This is my last summary of responses to the questions Peggy and I posed in November. Today’s question was posed to both science bloggers and science fiction writers.

Are there any specific science or science fiction blogs you would recommend to interested readers or writers?

The short answer is “yes.” Here’s the long answer:

Science and Technology
Astrobiology Magazine Science news relevant to the possibility of life on other worlds.
Astronomy Picture of the Day
Bad Astronomy Phil Plait on astronomy and general skepticism.
BBC News One of the few large media outlets that still has broad science coverage.
Biology in Science Fiction Peggy Kolm finds the science in science fiction and vice versa.
Blogging on Pseudo-Science Database Aggregating skeptical posts on junk science.
Carnival of Mathematics Blog carnival: mathematics, including math in pop culture.
Carnival of Space Blog carnival: space and astronomy.
Centauri Dreams Paul Gilster looks at peer-reviewed research on deep space exploration, with an eye toward interstellar possibilities.
Cocktail Party Physics A group blog lead by by Jennifer Ouellette that looks at interesting science and pop culture.
Cognitive Daily Fascinating peer-reviewed developments in cognition.
Cosmic Variance A group blog of physicists and astrophysicists talking about whatever interests them.
Deep Sea News All things wet and wild. At least those found underwater.
denialism blog Stamping out anti-science.
Dinosaur Tracking Brian Switek finds dinosaurs everywhere.
Discover Blogs Discover‘s blog swarm.
DrugMonkey A primer in the politics of funding and publishing in biology.
Encephalon Blog carnival: neuroscience and psychology.
Four Stone Hearth Blog carnival: anthropology and archaeology.
Geoblogosphere Feed A combined feed of geobloggers.
The Great Beyond The Nature news feed (many blogs also listed individually).
The Giant’s Shoulders Blog carnival: history of science and classic science papers.
Greg Laden’s Blog Archaeology, anthropology, evolutionary biology, politics. Oh, and robots.
Highly Allochthonous Chris Rowan is a geologist specialising in the dark arts of paleomagnetism.
Knight Science Journalism Tracker A review of science news stories as they make the MSM rounds.
Laelaps Brian Switek blogs about evolution. With cool pictures.
Mendel’s Garden Blog carnival: genetics.
Mind Hacks Neuroscience, psychology, and the workings of the brain.
More Grumbine Science Robert Grumbine looks at climate science and whatever other science strikes his fancy.
NASA’s Image of the Day
Nature News The latest science news from the journal Nature.
Neuroanthropology Encouraging exchanges among anthropology, philosophy, social theory, and the brain sciences.
New Scientist The magazine’s online home.
Pharyngula Read PZ Myers. Everybody’s doin’ it.
Real Climate Climate science from climate scientists.
Research And Media Network Bringing people together to improve communication of research findings.
Research Blogging Aggregating posts on peer-reviewed research.
SciDev News, views and information about science, technology and the developing world.
ScienceNOW The latest science news from AAAS & the journal Science.
SciTalk UK organization that hooks up writers with scientists.
Science Not Fiction The science of futurist technologies—and cool TV shows, books, movies, toys, and video games.
Seed Magazine Science and culture.
Seed ScienceBlogs The sciborg (many blogs also listed individually).
Sentient Developments George Dvorsky’s blogs about transhumanist perspectives on science, philosophy, ethics and the future of intelligent life.
Slashdot The great repository of all things geeky.
Space.com Putting all your space news in one place.
Tangled Bank Blog carnival: science and medicine.
Technovelgy Database of technology in science fiction, and news about science and technology related to SF.
Tetrapod Zoology Darren Naish talks about dinosaurs and whatever other creatures fascinate him today.
Thus Spake Zuska Suzanne Franks highlights the position of women in the sciences and engineering.
Uncertain Principles Chad Orzel, physicist and SF fan.
Universe Today Space news and home of the Carnival of Space.
Wired Magazine Not your grandfather’s tech news, unless you’re my niece.
why I hate theropods Nick Gardner finds the paleobiology news that others miss.
Worldchanging Collecting news and resources on environmental sustainability.
xkcd If you don’t know why, you haven’t read it yet.

Science Fictio
AboutSF.com A science fiction resource center.
The Alien Next Door Musings of Nina Munteanu, SF writer and ecologist.
Ambling Along the Aqueduct SF from a feminist point of view.
Angel Station Walter Jon Williams, author, game designer, kenpo maven, scuba fiend, and fantasy Iron Chef.
Beyond the Beyond SF writer Bruce Sterling blogs at Wired.
Charlie’s Diary Writer Charlie Stross on, well, everything.
Cyberpunk Review Robots and cyborgs in news and entertainment.
Eat Our Brains A different brain (and writer) for every day of the week.
Ecstatic Days Writer and editor Jeff VanderMeer.
Feminist SF–The Blog! Books, movies, comics, games, reason, & ranting.
Feminist SF Blog Carnival
Futurismic A group blog about near-future science fiction and fact.
GalacticMu SF with an extra dose of snark.
Hero Complex The LA Times genre blog, with an emphasis on TV and movie news.
Hindi Science Fiction In Hindi.
io9 Attack of the 50-foot blog.
Lablit Dedicated to the portrayal and perceptions of real laboratory culture in fiction, the media and across popular culture.
Lakeshore Prolific writer Jay Lake blogs slightly less prolifically.
Mike Brotherton SF writer and astronomer.
No Moods, Ads or Cutesy Fucking Icons (Reloaded). Peter Watts keeps the focus on science and fiction.
People of Colour SF Carnival
Post-Weird Thoughts News, reviews and interviews.
Schlock Mercenary The comic.
Science and Entertainment Exchange Providing entertainment industry professionals with access to top scientists and engineers.
SFNovelists A collective of professional speculative fiction writers write about writing.
Sf Signal News, reviews and the Mind Meld (including several relevant to this discussion).
SF Writer Writer Robert J. Sawyer.
Tobias Buckell Online
tor.com The publisher provides a place to geek about all things fantasy and science fiction.
The Ultimate Science Fiction Web Guide It’s not pretty, and hasn’t been updated recently, but it’s still an excellent way to find SF with specific themes.
Whatever Writer John Scalzi talks about science fiction, politics, geekery and, well, you know.

Science Art
The Art Department Blog of Tor Art Director Irene Gallo.
bioephemera A miscellany of incredibly cool stuff.
BLDGBLOG Finding a remarkable amount of science in architecture.
The Filter Art, video and other media “to help you, help others ‘get’ science.”
The Flying Trilobite Glendon Mellow’s art in awe of science.
Gurney Journey An art blog by the writer and illustrator of Dinotopia.
Paleo-Future Futurist predictions from the past.
Pruned Landscape architecture and urban planning.
Raptor’s Nest Paleobiologist Manabu Sakamoto sketches his subjects.
seedbyte Garden design, garden organizations and individuals who stand out in the garden community.
Warren Ellis A steady stream of art, science and weirdness.
When Pigs Fly Returns Zachary Miller on dinosaurs, art and dragons.

As always, links to all the responses and the summaries to all the questions can be found at the conference wiki. And a huge thank you to everyone who participated.

Science and Fiction–Recommended Reads

Technical Difficulties

Usually, when a radio show fails to go on the air due to technical difficulties, those difficulties happen in the studio–sometimes on the phone line.

This morning, they happened on the freeway.

Anyone looking for the podcast of today’s interview with Todd Allen Gates is going to have to wait, probably two weeks, although we’re still finalizing the arrangements. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that he’s willing to return to the show. Anyone less committed to rationality would be considering us cursed by now, since his first time on Atheists Talk was marred by a button in the studio with an indicator light that came on even when the button wasn’t fully pressed.

Today’s story is a little different. It started out perfectly. I’d just hit Send on an email when the doorbell rang. I had my show notes and hot drink sitting ready and grabbed them as I headed out the door. The streets were a little slushy from last night’s snow but not slippery. We got on the freeway and headed for the studio.

We were on an overpass the first time it happened. I didn’t even feel it, but Mike said, “Whoa,” and the car slowed down. “Maybe the roads are a little icy.”

Everything seemed okay after that, and once we were off the overpass, Mike slowly went back up to speed. We were good for another mile or so.

I felt it the second time the car jerked, and the third and…. I could see the wheel twisting in Mike’s hands. We pulled over to the side of the road.

“I think it’s the tires.” Mike opened the door.

“I’ll call Ben.” I got out my cell phone. “Hi. We’re on 35, and the car is doing bad things. Can you get us to the studio?”


Mike stuck his head back in. “The wheel well is packed with ice and snow. I’m going to see if I can clear it.”

Ben and I speculated about the various problems it could be if not ice–while Mike was out of earshot, of course. Then Mike got back in the car, started it up, and drove cautiously on the shoulder for a bit. No problem. I let Ben go.

We lasted a few miles the second time. Then the car jerked hard to the right again. Its timing was excellent, as we were going around a curve under an overpass with concrete barriers a couple feet to our right.

Needless to say, we slowed way down again, but there was still far to go until we were out of the construction zone and to someplace with a shoulder again. We didn’t hit a barrier. We didn’t get hit by a car doing the speed limit. The only thing that took damage was our nerves.

By now, between the stop and the slow periods, we’d already hit the time when we should have been at the station. We had buffer time, yes, but not enough to make it there going 20. Not enough time for any of the backup transportation or hosting plans to work either, not once Mike was willing to take his hands off the wheel long enough to pull out his phone, where people’s numbers were.

So we called the Todd, who was wonderful about it (and possibly more rational that we were by then), and called the engineer at the studio, who reran an already recorded show for us. Then we concentrated on figuring out where we could get Mike’s car looked at on a Sunday morning.

Final results for the morning? We had disappointed listeners, Mike has a sheared axle boot, and I have a bunch of numbers to add to my cell phone. All in all, it could have been a lot worse.

Technical Difficulties

Atheists Talk–Todd Allen Gates

It has been said that an atheist is a person who disbelieves in one more god than everyone else does. Our guest this Sunday, Todd Allen Gates, explored that idea in his book, Dialogue with a Christian Proselytizer.

The author’s description from Amazon:

Dialogue with a Christian Proselytizer is a Socratic dialogue between a skeptic and a Christian apologist. The skeptic does not address atheism, but accepts the premises–for argument’s sake–that there IS a Creator of sorts, that this said-Creator has made some sort of communication effort with mankind, and that the fundamentalists are correct in their assessment that “one religion is from God, the rest are man-made.” The two characters then discuss non-Christian religions, and reach agreements on specific reasons why such faiths fall into the “made-by-man” category: (a) they’re pieced together from pre-existing religions, (b) their holy laws are often based on irrational prejudices and erroneous conclusions about cause and effect, and (c) their stories contain inaccurate and earth-bound descriptions of the universe. The discussion then turns to examining the Christian religion in the same light as the non-Christian. Their conversation remains a respectful exchange of ideas, but is no longer harmonious.

The book’s two themes:

(1) “If you understand why you reject all the other religions, you’ll understand why I reject yours.”

(2) A marveling at humans’ handiwork in the creation of the world’s religions: the stunning range of creativity, cruelty, compassion, ingenuity, and absurdity. Included are scriptural passages from Bahaism, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Sikhism, Taoism, and Zoroastrianism; as well as mythology and folklore from the Aztecs, the Babylonians, Egypt, Greece, Japan, Kenya, the Native Americans, Nigeria, the Pygmies, the Sumerians, the Vikings, and more.

Programming Note: Todd was our guest in November (show #045), and we have invited him back.

Produced by Minnesota Atheists. Directed by Mike Haubrich. Hosted by Stephanie Zvan.


Podcast Coming Soon!
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Atheists Talk–Todd Allen Gates

Science and Fiction–Writers Respond #3

Here we continue on in our look at the relationship between science and science fiction (see my posts here and here and Peggy’s here and here). Today’s question for science fiction writers:

How important is it to you that the science be right? What kind of resources do you use for accuracy?

As always, the full list of respondents is on the ScienceOnline09 conference wiki, and all the answers are worth reading in their entirety.

There was a very wide range of opinion among writers about the importance of accuracy in the science. Some felt it was paramount.

The science has to be right. Science our best determination of how the universe works, and has certainly outlined many ways in which it doesn’t work. Getting it wrong is the same as getting anything fundamental wrong in a story, like misplacing New York City in Iowa, or having Brazilians speaking Spanish rather than Portuguese. If it’s wrong, you are too ignorant of the world to write about it correctly.
Mike Brotherton

Science must not only be right it should be rightly put forth also .Otherwise there are chances that it may transgress the limits of sensibility/rationality and may plunge into the realms of pseudo science.
Arvind Mishra @ Science Fiction in India

For my own science fiction work, paralyzingly so.
Kelly McCullough @ Wyrdsmiths

It’s vital that the science be right, and I research it exhaustively, all the more so as I’m not a professional scientist. Sometimes you get to the point where you just have to speculate, of course, but the question is how far you can inch your way forward before you have to take that leap. . . .
David J. Williams @ The Mirrored Heavens

For others, it wasn’t quite as much a priority.

I wouldn’t knowingly leave an error in the books, and I do check whatever I can. For example, I had a scene where a robot is trapped in a vacuum at a distance from its spaceship, and uses a gas cylinder to push himself back to safety. I just wasn’t sure how to research that one. Then, a couple of weeks ago I saw an old Jon Pertwee episode of Doctor Who where he pulled the exact same stunt, so now I can point to that and say ‘hey, they thought it would work too …’

Not that I’m going to claim Doctor Who as my one and only resource …
Simon Haynes @ Spacejock News

I’ve been reading every magazine I can get my hands on for general idea conglomeration, because far-future large-scale SF sort of makes science debatable. How can you predict tens of thousands of years in the future? Just fling everything together and go crazy. 😀

This flippant attitude is probably part of the reason I haven’t been able to create a decent SF story yet.
JesterJoker @ Sa Souvraya Niende Misain Ye

Most writers, though, thought accuracy was important but second in priority to the needs of the story.

To me getting the science right is not that important, but a reasonable check should be done by any author wanting to right a science fiction story. But once again the story needs to dictate what and how things happen; for instance, if a character needs to travel to the asteroid belt in a certain amount of time, I’ll calculate if it’s possible to travel in the allotted time by a legitimate propulsion system, just to give credence to the story. But I’m not going to go into a lot of detail about the propulsion system, speeds, and artificial gravity or relativistic affects, unless they are important to the story.
Robert Evans @ SciFiWriter

There is some poetic license, but for the most part, the closer to accurate science you get the more reliable your extrapolations will appear to the reader. If you’re sloppy about your science, then you might be sloppy in your observations about people and your story may suffer as a result.
Nina Munteanu @ The Alien Next Door

Getting the science right is important. But no more important than getting the characters, the personalities, the personal stories and the details of plot right.
David Brin

To me getting the science right is not that important, but a reasonable check should be done by any author wanting to right a science fiction story. But once again the story needs to dictate what and how things happen…

What those that are in the science and research fields need to take away from science fiction is the sense of imagination. Science fiction is not meant to be an easy to read text book for physics. It is to tell a story and initiate imagination.
Robert Evans @ SciFiWriter

More important than it should be; my formal training has left me scarred with the usual need to cover my ass against nitpickers and professional rivals. That said, though, I think too strict an adherence to the known scientific state-of-the-art is a straitjacket that constrains the imagination. There’s a reason they call it science fiction; to keep all your stories within the realm of today’s established science is to suggest that there are no more breakthroughs to be made, that we pretty much know everything already. That’s a profoundly antiscientific attitude.
Peter Watts

…I do think it’s important to be pretty faithful to science. I don’t think you have to be a zealot about it, though. We have to remember how quickly science can change in this world. Not too long ago everyone was telling us that the whole panspermia thing was a load of crap. Now a lot of folks aren’t so sure. Same with the exoplanet thing. Science changes, so there’s nothing wrong with taking a few liberties here or there as long as they try to keep with the general truth of things. When it comes to the basics, though, I think one should stick with what is accurate. Physics should still work in one’s science fiction story.
Shaun Duke @ The World in the Satin Bag

This is a question that I’d answer very differently on a case-by-case basis. In the end I owe my loyalty to the story — but I’ve got a whole mess of scrapped fiction where an inability to make the science
work with the fiction led me to abandon a piece.

But in the end, my feeling is the more accurate the better. Given two stories of comparable literary value I will strongly prefer one over the other if it has accurate scientific content.
Sean Craven @ Renaissance Oaf

Most of the writers use a variety of resources for scientific information, online and personal. The greatest differences seemed to be among opinions of Wikipedia, which proves that writers do have something in common with the rest of the world.

I can access pretty much any scientific journal I want, thanks to some connections in the University community. Also I get telepathic messages from my cats.
–Peter Watts

I use a wide variety of resources ranging from a personal library to the internet — and no matter what I do I’ll always feel guilty for not having done more research. What’s really thrilling is that scientists are frequently very generous with their time and advice — and you can track them down on the internet. When I was working on a film script set in the Jurassic I received a great deal of advice from working paleontologists — and it was great to see them argue with one another over such issues as whether cabeza de sauropod was a good taco filling.
–Sean Craven

When I need to check accuracy I tap the rather large academic network of scientists that I’ve developed through my wife and my own work in science education as well as various online resources and an extensive personal science library.
–Kelly McCullough

For me, when I write about science-rich topics, I have it easy. Easier than most, anyway. I have degrees in physics, electrical engineering, and a PhD in astronomy. I have a lot of basic knowledge and assimilate new findings quickly. I can read the scientific journals on the latest findings if I have too. Still, basic resources are usually more valuable and useful as a writer. I’ve compiled some resources that I use: the Hard SF Writer’s Bookshelf and Online Astronomy Resources for Writers, for instance. When I need to learn some science for a story outside my expertise, I will usually start with online resources like wikipedia, which continues to improve in breadth and quality. If I need to know things more in depth, I usually identify a popular science book that covers the topic and read it. I have a lot of contacts with other science fiction writers, and networking can put me in contact with someone who can answer my questions (I wind up helping other writers when it comes to astronomy).
–Mike Brotherton

My number one resource is the web in order to check the accuracy of my work. If I can’t prove what I want, and my assumption is turning in to being a science fantasy then I leave it at that.
–Robert Evans

I use a lot of resources: anything from Google and Wikipedia to text books and scientific journals in the local library. I frequently read the popular science magazines to keep abreast of what’s new (e.g., Scientific American, Discover, etc.). I’ve gotten several short story ideas from an article in one of these.
–Nina Munteanu

As for resources, I find that Google is enormously helpful for finding accurate information. But you have to be careful. Wikipedia is a great way to be misinformed. I know this first hand as a student. Wiki is often wrong and the problem with Wiki is that other sites now cite it as if it were a legit source. It’s not. The best places to find out things, such as different aspects of science, are university websites or actual science websites. They’re easy to find and there are hundreds of them, if not thousands. Another thing to do is to ask people who would know (mainly for things that are a bit complicated and very specific).
–Shaun Duke

David Brin, however, uses my favorite method.

I find that it is easy to get expert opinions from top scientists, for the cost of some pizza and beer.

For my own work, I agree with those who believe that whatever a writer can get right should be right. However, because much of what I write is social science fiction and because if we could predict where science will take us, we wouldn’t need to do the science, I’m willing to take some leaps. I do try, though, to either give an idea of how unlikely we consider something to be (alien races that can communicate effectively with humans) or to avoid giving any explanation that would make things seem plausible in the universe as we know it (interstellar travel).

For resources, I’ve used all of those listed by the other writers: internet, reference books, journals, pop sci magazines, my own science education, bribing scientists to wax enthusiastic about the details. That last one really is one of the perks of writing SF.

We’re coming up on the end of our summaries, just in time for the conference. Peggy has one more set of answers from the scientists. Then, coming Sunday, I’ll have a guide to the science and science fiction blogs recommended by our respondents.

Science and Fiction–Writers Respond #3

The Gravity of the Situation

In my 2008 roundup, I mentioned that I had some plans for my blog for the new year. One of the things I’ve been wanting to do is post some of my short fiction. For various reasons (including that it is a bunch of tedious no-fun), I’m terrible about submitting my stories for publication. However, this doesn’t mean they have to go without an audience.

In honor of my co-moderating a session on science fiction at ScienceOnline09, here is one of my science fiction stories. I hope you enjoy it.

The Gravity of the Situation

Daria clung to the rope ladder, her knuckles white. Her arms and legs shook. Her eyelids were screwed shut, but tears still squeezed through.
This shouldn’t be this hard, she pleaded, but she knew no one was listening.

Her baby brother, Yuri, never had any trouble with the ladder. He loved swinging on it. He’d jump out of the tree house if Mom hadn’t forbidden it. So would his best friend, Timofy. They were having a blast up there now, laughing and shaking the ladder as hard as six-year-old arms could move it.

Daria knew she was barely three feet off the ground, but it made no difference. A chasm gaped below her feet, and the feeble swaying of the rope felt like an earthquake. She couldn’t let go. She couldn’t open her eyes. She could barely even breathe.


The ladder shook harder. She gripped it tighter, her arms cramping.

“Daria, please!” Continue reading “The Gravity of the Situation”

The Gravity of the Situation

Delicious Madness

March will be great music month. Among other things, Madness will be releasing their new album, The Liberty of Norton Folgate.

“Madness?” ask those of you in the U.S. “Didn’t they do that throwaway, ubiquitous pop song way back, ‘Our House’?”

Well, yeah. That too. But even at that point, as odd a set of boys as they were, they weren’t all fluffy fun.

Tomorrow’s (Just Another Day)

I hear them saying it gets better every day.

Since then, they’ve only gotten better. They broke up, went and did other stuff, and came back better than ever. Of course, they were still making great songs about criminals and other marginal people. This one features Ian Dury in one of his last performances before he died.

Drip Fed Fred

We’ll take pity on your souls and only cap your knees.

The only problem with Madness these days is that they go so long between albums. Their last, a return to their roots covering ska and reggae songs, was released in 2005. It contains a great cover of “Lola,” but this one is my favorite.

Shame and Scandal

Son, I have to say no. The girl is your sister, but your mama don’t know.

I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Delicious Madness

Science and Fiction–Writers Respond #2

Continuing from Monday’s post, I’m summarizing the responses of science fiction writers to the questions Peggy Kolm and I asked about the relationship between science and science fiction to help us prepare for our session at ScienceOnline09. Peggy has started with the scientists’ answers.

Links to all the responses are listed on the wiki page for the session (if we screwed up and missed you, please tell us). The quotes below are excerpts. You can follow the links to each writer’s full answer.

Today’s question:

What is your relationship to science? Have you studied or worked in it, or do you just find it cool? Do you have a favorite field?

A number of the respondents have no “official” background in science but have studied on their own.

I consider myself a science enthusiast…

…I have studied bits and pieces of science. I think I know a bit more about biology and evolution than I do about, say, complex subjects such as the eleven dimensions or string theory or quantum theory. I have a lot of sociology-type experience in college primarily because I wanted to be an evolutionary biologist before I decided literature and writing was more up my alley. I really find myself fascinated by primates and how close they are to us (and if you researched you’d be absolutely astonished at how intelligent and “human” they really are).
Shaun Duke @ The World in the Satin Bag

I just find it all cool as #$#, but I have no professional standing in it whatsoever. I was trained as a historian, and I’m a recovering management consultant. So when it comes to science, I’m a generalist, and probably a dangerous one at that.
David J. Williams @ The Mirrored Heavens

At this point in time my wife is the chair of a physics department. When we met, she was a senior in high school planning on becoming a physics professor and I was a theater major in college who had always had an interest in science. We are very close and in many ways I shadowed her through grad school, helping to write papers, design research studies, and work on curricula.

My involvement was strong enough that I developed a close friendship and intellectual bond with her adviser that led to my own work in science education, writing and editing various curriculum projects in physical science. I have a broad field interest in science though my work in science education is most deeply rooted in basic physical science.
Kelly McCullough @ Wyrdsmiths

I know enough to be able to get myself into trouble. I come off as knowing more than I actually do. I can talk to scientists — and I can get way, way over my head. (As an aside, I thought creative writing and art classes were stocked with weirdos until I took some science classes intended for non-science students…)

While I try and keep an eye on things in general, I do have a strong bias for paleontology and evolutionary science. And if I am fortunate enough to be able to make a living with my writing and art, I’d like to stay in school and give the sciences another serious shot. I may never do real research but I do want to be able to write popular science works at some point in my life — we need to improve the level of scientific knowledge in the general population and this is the only way I can contribute to that.
Sean Craven @ Renaissance Oaf

I almost got a minor in computer science but didn’t quite complete it. I’m researching some things on my own at the moment – neuropsychology, mind control, and absolutely everything that involves the impact of chemicals on the body… for one thing, as the people around me age, it gets a little more personal.
JesterJoker @ Sa Souvraya Niende Misain Ye

There were also quite a few writers with backgrounds in biology.

I’m a limnologist. No, that isn’t someone who studies limbs. It comes from a Greek word limnos, which means fresh water. I study fresh water (e.g., lakes, rivers, ponds), and everything that’s in it and around it. Heck, I even received a masters of science degree in it. I worked for a while in several universities and colleges, teaching biology courses, then decided to get out into the “real world” and became an environmental consultant. It means that I get to zoom around in speed boats, take water and sediment samples then analyse them and write reports for clients that teach them how to be good environmental citizens….
Nina Munteanu @ The Alien Next Door

I’m a marine biologist in a former life; I tried to revisit molecular genetics in the current one, but sucked at it.

It’s all cool until you actually have to learn the nuts and bolts, at which point it becomes drudgery. While my field of (former) expertise is the behavioral ecophysics of marine mammals, my current favorite field is neuroscience— partly because it really puts that arrogant little homunculus in its place, and partly because it’s easy to pan for sf gold in that stream without actually knowing very much.
Peter Watts

I am a PhD in fish genetics from the Oxford of the East –Alahabad university ,India –so have a penchant for scientific contents especially genetics ,behavior and so on.
Arvind Mishra @ Science Fiction in India

And of course, we have the golden age SF standard, the writer with a background in physics, engineering or computers.

My masters was in electrical engineering and my Ph D was in astrophysics. I have also published papers in psychology and evolutionary biology.
David Brin

I am a working scientist, an associate professor of astronomy at the University of Wyoming. I’ve worked at National Laboratories and Observatories as well, and get to play with all the best toys like the Hubble Space Telescope and the Very Large Array in New Mexico. It’s a science fiction lifestyle at times, and when I’m not in a faculty meeting or similar activity, I love the job. It pays better than the fiction gig, too.
Mike Brotherton

My background is in business, computer and electronics. I do have a Bachelor of Science degree, and I have worked in the electric transmission and distribution field for many years and have a strong understanding of electrical engineering.

…My favorite fields in science are related to propulsion systems and space elevators.
Robert Evans @ SciFiWriter

I have a computer science degree, and
I’ve been working as a self-employed programmer for two decades now. And yes, it’s cool. I don’t bury my fiction with excessive detail about computers or programming, but I do like my robots: after all, they’re the ultimate in mobile computing …

Humanoid robots and self-aware computers please!
Simon Haynes @ Spacejock News

As for me, my degree is in psychology. If you look at my interests on my Facebook profile, it will tell you that I’m specifically interested in “Perception, persuasion, subversion, irrationality and identity.” As if that weren’t enough, I’ve also studied physics at a fairly basic level, am working at correcting a deficiency in my biology education, and corner any specialist I can get my hands on to make them explain what they do.

So, answers to the next question will be posted on Friday. Find out what everybody said.

How important is it to you that the science be right? What kind of resources do you use for accuracy?

Science and Fiction–Writers Respond #2

Looking Like a N00b

It’s always a little strange when I’m out in the blogosphere and run into someone who really ought to know better but persists in acting like the n00biest of n00bs. You know, someone with their own blog. Someone who runs around under their own (full, easily Googled) name, making bold assertions about contentious subjects.

Someone who still doesn’t understand that you don’t get to have things both ways. For example:

  • If you use a theory to support argument, and someone goes to the trouble of finding a critique of the theory, you don’t get to say, “Nah, I don’t want to read it right now. I don’t really want to talk about the theory.”
  • If you want to talk about the biology behind a social phenomenon, you don’t get to complain when people talk about all the social layers one has to dig through before one can even begin to think one has hit biology.
  • If you want to base your objections to someone’s statement on your personal opinion, you don’t get to object when your opinions become a topic of conversation.
  • If you call women the “weaker sex,” you don’t get to complain that they’re calling you names or that (irony of ironies) they’re too mean for you.

Okay, the usual caveat about rules applies. The blogosphere is a freewheeling, anarchic place. Subject to the whims of the blog administrator, you can do any of these things. You do have choices–but they have consequences.

What you can’t do if you insist on breaking rules is expect anyone to think you’re anything but a dishonest troll. Dishonest because you’re not following the rules you tried to set up for the conversation. Troll because you tried to insist the conversation only happen the way you wanted it to.

Now the rest of these rules only apply under the assumption that you don’t want to be called a n00b or a troll.

  • Don’t assume the blog owner is on your side. Comments thanking you for adding to the conversation are not the same thing as an endorsement of your position. Opposition keeps discussion going.
  • Don’t retreat to your own blog to announce that you’ve brought your toys home with you. This only emphasizes that you were losing.
  • Don’t try to carry on the conversation by email, where you think no one else can see how badly you’re losing. I am now in possession of a whine that outshines anything you’ve put into the public eye, and you’re trusting my ethics and the blog owner’s (which you complain about in the email) to keep it private. Think about this.
  • Don’t complain that comments you made on a public blog were quoted later on the same blog. Public is public. If you want to clarify, do it in public.
  • If you’re going to send me an email that says you feel personally violated, don’t include a snippet of a private email from the blog owner to you. Private is private.
  • If you’re going to send it anyway, certainly don’t make it a snippet that makes it clear that you’ve been suggesting he should help you somehow because I’m a meanie. I will call you a wuss. Wuss.
  • When I tell you I won’t post your email but you should because you may not like how I characterize it, listen. It’s not a threat. It’s not intimidation. It’s just basic internet education.

Kind of like this post.

Looking Like a N00b

What Peggy Said

I’m going to miss David Tennant as Doctor Who. Really, really miss him. I could go into great detail as to why, but y’all don’t really need that information. Suffice it to say that I have a thing for enthusiastic tall guys who always look like they’re thinking. And Scottish accents. And–


Peggy at Biology in Science Fiction put up a great post about one of the other reasons I’m disappointed to see Tennant replaced–the replacement himself.

Some of the rumors were that the eleventh Doctor might be played by a black actor such as Chiwetel Ejiofor or Paterson Joseph (who would have been my pick) or a woman like Alex Kingston or Catherine Tate. It doesn’t take more than a glance at Smith’s photo to realize that he is neither a woman, nor black. Maybe he’ll be the greatest Doctor ever, but even if he is, I’m still a bit disappointed that he’s a super young white dude.

Peggy’s post digs into the history of Doctor Who to show that there’s no reason that a Time Lord can’t regenerate with a different gender or skin color. It’s just stodgy conservatism on the part of the producers. They could have deliberately set out to make a more interesting choice, something that would have changed the dynamics of the show in interesting ways, but they didn’t.

Bored now.


What Peggy Said