Monday, August 31, 2009

Abandoned Japanese Sites

One of the links I posted yesterday was chosen because it linked to a fascinating series of photos of an abandoned amusement park. I looked around a bit more, however, and found that it's part of a much larger site full of photo essays of abandoned sites. Some of them are quite striking, such as the collection of pink chairs in this abandoned hotel lounge. Not all of them are rural and remote: this one looks like an old multi-level restaurant in the middle of a city, with living space above. The unfinished apartment building has some very nice shots. (One word use a few times transliterates to "mansion", which in Japan is a single-room apartment. I've never been able to figure out if that's a joke)

Some quick notes for browsing using the buttons at the bottom:
目次 will bring you back to the main page
次へ will bring you to the next page of photos
戻る will bring you to the previous page of photos

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Big Step

I am deeply impressed by the Japanese election -- they've thrown out the LDP[1], which has been in power almost continuously since 1955, the end of the American occupation. It's funny -- I started studying Japanese in 1997, a mere three years since the "interregnum" (1993-1994) so to me it has always vaguely seemed plausible, and yet, having just screwed up their first chance at power, the DPJ has always seemed vaguely comical to me: they're the ultimate "those other guys," who it seems to me served as the stick half of the LDP's carrot-and-stick approach to the voters.

The "carrot" of course is the large-scale spending programs, particularly road construction. Japan has a lot of concrete. There are a lot of "bridges to nowhere" -- and even entire new towns on the other ends of those bridges. (Ghost towns are also not uncommon.) People who are better economists than I am have alternately railed against the construction regime as a drag, and hailed it as keeping the Japanese economy afloat, though I gather that the former opinion has more currency. Either way, the DPJ is surely going to put a halt to it, as they have said they intend to focus on the social safety net, and find ways to encourage Japanese people to have more children.

I'll be watching with a lot of curiosity. I still have a soft spot for Japan after my semester there, and I do hope the country does well. I suspect that the DPJ will have an easier time organizing itself this time around (it basically fell apart in 1994, like a dog that never expected to catch its car) but it's not clear that they actually have a mandate. They have an outright majority in the legislature, which is nothing to sneeze at, but they're going to face an entrenched bureaucracy that the LDP will surely try to make use of: after all, it's going to look to them that the shortest path back to power will be to make the DPJ look just as incompetent as they are. (And hey: Better the fool you know, right?)

[1] Note, by the way, that I don't bother to spell out the party names, as I consider them meaningless. They seem to be not so much descriptive as the result of that particular East Asian combination of eagerness and earnestness that can sometimes be very hard to describe. If you've ever met a South Korean Evangelical Christian, or seen a Japanese rapper, you probably know what I mean.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Hard Part III: Out the door

Well, my manuscript is out the door and on its way to Mr. Van Gelder at F&SF (Well, probably to Mr. Adams, who I gather reads the slush pile) I picked S&SF for a couple reasons: they explicitly take long stories, and in fact earlier this year had an issue that I think was nothing but novelettes. They've published sci-fi/mystery type stories recently (I think this is a plus, hopefully they're not sick of them). And, I've run across GVG and JJA online a few times, and both gentlemen seem to be pretty classy -- in other words, the thought of them reading it doesn't fill me with visions of my bescissored manuscript being set on fire to the sound of gleeful laughter.

I'm still not sure about my cover letter. I've read a lot of conflicting advice online, so I would up briefly describing the piece ("murder mystery set on a space station where certain implications of faster-than-light travel represent a critical plot point"), mentioned that this is my first fictional work but that I've had scholarly work published in a scientific field. Etc, etc. This leads me to the last reason I sent to S&SF first: GVG has said that he reads the cover letters last. :)

Having spent the last few days psyching myself up to firmly believing that it will be accepted, I'm now trying to convince myself that it is certain to be rejected, and indeed added a folder to my filing cabinet for "Rejection Slips". Seemed like the prudent thing to do.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Hard Part, II - where do you sell the survivors?

In the bright light of morning, I'm still determined to sell this beast. According to Robert Heinlein, I've followed three of his rules already! (Actually, I've already started following Mr. Sawyer's sixth rule. "Midnight Train" is well underway, with two thousand words already written and copious notes about tidally locked planets, coffee ceremonies, and Paul Krugman's paper on calculating interest rates when traveling at near-luminal speeds)

In a way, I'm lucky: the length of the piece severely limits its market, but leaves open a couple options that I'm happy with. I'm adding a further constraint: I would like to be eligible for SWFA membership. Of the Big Three SF magazines, Analog and Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine look like my best bets. (Asimov's, whose submissions guidelines apparently are not linked to from the site itself and must be Googled, discourages works over 15k words, but does not refuse them) F&SF explicitly takes works up to 25k words, so mine fits nicely, and they're specifically asking for more science fiction.
There are relatively few other choices. Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show is one possibility. I'd kind of like to avoid web-only publications, for the simple reason that I rarely read them myself (with one exception). However, OSCIMS *is* one that I've read in the past, and it looks like a decent place to publish. (No, I'm really not interested in discussing OSC's politics in the comments to this post)
And... that's pretty much it. That's a distressingly short list. But given the wait times involved, it could well take a year to work through it, so I'm not going to worry about it right now.

Sadly, I do not qualify for Sheep! Magazine, published out of Trout, WV. Maybe Inspector Crandall's next case will be more appropriate.

Also, the Writer's Market website is freaking useless. I have NEVER seen a search utility so horribly broken in my life. I type in "science fiction novella", terms that I have seen for myself in their listings, and it comes up with exactly one: a listing specifically saying "no science fiction". (It also says "no detective fiction" -- it read my mind!)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Hard Part

Well, it's done -- my first completed novella, a science-fiction mystery. At 22,000 words (a little more than a quarter the length of my PhD thesis) it's going to be a tough sell. (Double-spaced at a 12-point font with a 1" margin it's about a hundred pages!) I've only come up with one professional market so far for which the length is within their published guidelines. But I'm optimistic: I've read it and re-read it, and it's good, I'm proud of it.

The title, if you're curious, is "Where Do They Bury The Survivors?" I'll post updates as they happen. (I'm not going to post it publicly online for a number of reasons.)

Exhibit A

I remain firmly convinced that Tarn Adams, in Dwarf Fortress, is really creating a Lord of the Flies simulator. In support of this hypothesis, I submit the last week's development log.

Also, I resent Blogger's morality-based poll editing constraints. I can change the end date of the poll at will, but I can't change the options because "someone already voted"? It is not for you to prevent me from mucking with my readers, Blogger! If I want to change the poll option from "I heart kittens" to "I heart Pol Pot" and then rant about how my readers have poor taste in overlooking henry Kissinger, that's my business! Fooey.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Fun with Transliteration

One of the things I like most about studying Japanese is that there is a significant role being played by transliterated words from other languages, particularly English. And because there is a whole alphabet devoted to these words (katakana, the more stark and angular of the three character sets) it's easy to pick these words out. However, there can be subtle distinctions between words, particularly when vowels are lengthened. For example, when reviewing a little bit this morning, I came upon, ハロウィーン [+ party]: ha-ro-wi-i-n. I'm pretty sure, in retrospect, that it's "Halloween", but I can't swear it's not "heroin".

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Examined Life

I have two jobs, as I've mentioned before. The common thread in the two of them is to use software to hold up a mirror to one's life in some aspect or other, and learn what it really looks like. "What is normal?" is the big question I find myself attempting to answer.

Now, like most people, I can answer specific questions to describe myself: I am 5'10" tall, weigh *cough* pounds, have black hair (mostly black, anyway), brown eyes, and a goatee. I wear glasses to correct for nearsightedness and astigmatism. These are all physical properties. Let's call it a 0th-order description of myself.

These things change over time, in ways that can be measured. My hair is getting progressively whiter as time goes on. My height is more or less constant, my weight is, er, not. Let's call this a 1st-order description of myself. This is harder to measure, but can be done with some simple note-taking.

I could go further. My hair gets longer and shorter in cycles, according to my visits to the barber shop, for example. These cycles in turn may be lengthening as time goes on. This sort of thing is harder still to measure.

What about my behavior? Assume for the moment that the word "behavior" is well-defined, although it is not. I am sitting and using a web browser right now. Specifically, I am updating my blog, a 0th-order behavior. One could get a 1st-order behavior out of this by looking at my blog history, but this would at best be an approximation, under the assumption that all of my posts spring fully-formed out of my head and take only as long to write as they take to type, and that I do not throw away any half-written posts. (If only I threw away more, some of you complain...)

There are ways to capture this behavior a bit more exactly, and related behaviors besides. I could run network monitoring software of the type I write, which records open sessions between my laptop and the server and plots them according to time. I could do this for Kingdom of Loathing, the New York Times, and other sites that I like. (In fact, I have, and if anyone's interested I could post graphs) People trying to make changes in their lives frequently look at this sort of 1st-order behavior as an impetus for change: "I drink how much?", &c. Similarly, it's hard to indicate progress in a running or diet regimen without this sort of measurement.

So, why not a more holistic way of measuring oneself? I'm constantly amazed by how many people think the idea is somehow creepy. We all own mirrors, despite what we look like at 6am. But then, maybe we'd shy away from it if we had to use photographs instead of mirrors. (We'd probably also shy away from shaving) Me, I'm curious.

Other people and groups have been thinking along these lines too, by the way. There was an excellent interactive graphic in the NY Times recently, the result of minute-by-minute surveys of people. Fun to poke around with, I wish I had a graph like that for myself.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Strange Horizons

For all you science fiction/fantasy fans in the audience, here's a reminder that Strange Horizons exists -- it's a free weekly online magazine, funded by reader donations. They just blew through their yearly fund drive goal halfway through the drive month, which should tell you something about how well-regarded it is. If you don't believe me, here's a gem from their archives.

It's a unique magazine, one I keep forgetting about for long periods of time, then kicking myself for forgetting. It publishes a lot of poetry (a lot of it bad, to be honest), a lot of fiction (much of it good), and reviews and other articles, the entire body of which can best be described as eclectic.

From the business side of things, I gather that they are well-regarded, paying what's considered professional rates. The 9,000 word limit is a result of that -- I think they just can't pay for longer works, running as they do on donations rather than subscriptions.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Bug of the week

In the code I'm working on, I need to sort observations according to various criteria: weekday vs. weekend, inside network vs. outside network. etc. All of them worked, except the one where I sort according to whether the observation is during the workday, 9 to 5. Everything was marked as being outside the workday. But the code was crystal clear: if the observation is after the start hour and before the end hour, mark it as working hours.

I must have looked at the method call a dozen times, "isWorkingHour(time, 9, 5)" before it finally dawned on me that I had been returning the times for a 24-hour clock for a REASON.

Is it 5PM yet? I'm ready to go home.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


In the later years of my graduate studies, I scored a real treasure: a faculty parking pass from an outgoing friend who had been a research associate.  I could park anywhere on campus, including right next to the building, where I would get puzzled glances from the (real) faculty.  Little did I know at the time that I would inherit something else from my friend: the need to wake up early.

Dartmouth's War on Parking has continued at a brisk pace throughout my time in the area.  They took out dozens of spots when the new Engineering building was built, took out a hundred to build a new dormitory on the other side of campus, and with the same project took out a convenient access road to one of the remaining lots.  In other words, they appear to be winning this war.  As casualties, employees of the college (that is, those who are not waging this war; those who are have assigned spots) have to come in increasingly early to get a parking spot.  During the normal school year, if you have not arrived by 8:15, you are playing chicken with fate, and more literally with that other car circling the lot.  I always beat BMWs, they're just not believable under these circumstances.  And the Volvos, you can tell their hearts aren't in the game -- they'd be happy to park across campus and walk, you just know it.

As a result, I have joined the ranks of the early risers.  I am generally at my desk by 8:30 in the morning, depending on which office I'm going to.  (My office in Lebanon, where I spend half my time, has a much saner parking setup)  However, sometimes I just get ready quickly in the morning and am at my desk before 8am.  This is not boasting, I am not proud of this.  But there are those who are.  You know who these people are, the earlier-than-thous, the people for whom there is apparently no greater virtue than waking up early and doing things.

They don't even have to accomplish much, either.  At this time of day, "I walked my dogs", "I already had my coffee", "I played squash", "I responded to all my email" -- these things are accomplishments that we are expected to nod appreciatingly at, acknowledging that these people are indeed earlier than us, and therefore better people.

I found myself among these people this morning.  I cannot tell which bothers me more, being looked down on by these people as I arrived, or being accepted with tacit approval (and some irritation) if I am already here when they arrive.  Either way, I found myself wondering where the phrase "earlier-than-thou" comes from.  The earliest mention I've seen so far this morning is from an excellent article from Time magazine, 1969.  It's worth reading while you enjoy your morning caffeine.

(I can mostly vouch for the method of putting the alarm clock on the other side of the room, by the way.  There are few inventions more useful and yet more evil than the snooze button, apocryphally invented by Lew Wallace, Civil War General, and author of Ben Hur.  I still don't know where the 9 minutes comes from, but my private theory is that when you are groggy, it's just too difficult to figure out when you will be woken up again should you push the button, and that little extra indecision helps you wake up again.)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

But not as tasty as real crayons

I have to say, playing Crayon Physics with a Wacom tablet is a LOT of fun. It's a lot like I remember crayon sketching being as a little kid, a matter of process, almost story-telling, rather than proceeding logically toward the mentally-pictured end state. Maybe that's why I kinda suck at this game.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

This means war.

Uh-oh. The Roomba committed the unforgivable crime: it ate a cat treat. So much for our dreams of watching the cat ride ride around on it. *sigh*