Puppies Blanked; Hugos Intact

I read a fair amount of scifi as a kid, but am still bewildered by the vast array of speculative fiction writers. Seeing the Hugo Award medal on a book used to be a decent indication that it would be worth reading, but I had been wondering if the Hugos would be heretofore suspect. According to an informative article from Wired, all is well for the moment.

Briefly, Larry Correia, Brad Torgerson and some other authors were upset that Hugo winners included progressive voices, and started the Sad Puppies to push for more traditional storytelling:

… Correia had some serious complaints. He felt that the Hugos had become overly dominated by what he and others call “Social Justice Warriors,” who value politics over plot development. Particular targets of Puppy derision include two 2014 Hugo winners: John Chu’s short story, “The Water That Falls on You From Nowhere,” in which a gay man decides to come out to his traditional Chinese family after the world is beset by a new phenomenon: whenever a person lies, water inexplicably falls on them; and Ann Leckie’s debut novel Ancillary Justice, whose protagonists do not see gender. Leckie conveys this by using female pronouns throughout.

BTW, Correia lost out to Leckie in 2014.

An even more right-wing author named Theodore Beale started the Rabid Puppies, and swears he will be controlling the nominations process from now on:

“I have 390 sworn and numbered vile faceless minions—the hardcore shock troops—who are sworn to mindless and perfect obedience,” he said, acknowledging that his army wasn’t made up solely of sci-fi fans. On the contrary, “the people who are very anti-SJW said, ‘Okay, we want to get in on this.’” When I asked him how he might deploy those people in the future, he continued, “It’s very simple. The dark lord speaks, the minion acts.”

But while the puppies certainly did control the nominations, other authors like George RR Martin urged fans to show up and vote to defend the integrity of the Hugos. Over twice as many fans voted as ever before, and blanked the puppy-endorsed nominees. In categories stuffed with puppy-approved authors, fans chose, “no award”. Five categories ended up with no award in 2015 – as many as had been given since the awards started in 1953. Pyrrhic, but effective.

A more comprehensive victory would include taking the nominations process out of the hands of anyone’s minions, but we’ll have to see what the Hugo committee can do about that.

Paying for the Internet

On some evenings I used to watch Conan’s show (from the night before) on teamcoco.com. I had to watch a fifteen second opening ad, and several three or four minute ad breaks during the replay. I always watched the monologue and first skit. Sometimes I would watch the guest interviews, sometimes I would skip to the closing musician or comic. I didn’t mind that there were ads because Conan is TV and I’m used to ads with TV. I also watched The Good Wife online, and some other shows that were on too late, and all those commercials.

I’m not sure if I’ll be watching those anymore. In the last week or two, I can’t get full episodes of Conan to play in Firefox or Opera. The opening ad plays perfectly, then I just get a spinning circle. Reloading just starts a new commercial, which plays perfectly, then the spinning circle. I run Linux, so it might be that the show’s video app wants too much permission. Or it might be another Flash issue. Or it might be a popup issue.

A lot of pundits predicted that the open, wild and woolly internet would become more like television, would replace television, or that the two would merge. In some ways, television has become more like the internet, though nowhere near as immediate. Videos and selfies are making it onto local or national news a day or so after going viral on the internet. So now Mom-mom and Pop-pop can see the bears in the swimming pool – that their grandkids told them about – without going on facebook or twitter. And they also see plenty of commercials.

Internet media giants are certainly trying to be as vapid and predictably profitable as TV, but are struggling to find a business model that overcomes the control that tech-savvy users have over how much advertising they are forced to watch. Every page one reads becomes fodder for targeted advertising at the fringes of the actual content, but sponsors want to engage our retinas and eardrums, too. Because of that, most of us install adware and popup blocking software as a matter of course. Because of ad blockers, the people paying for advertising don’t believe internet users are actually watching their efforts. They may also realize that it is damned easy to take off headphones and not listen to the loud ads that preface almost every video.

The so-called content providers are looking for a more direct source of income. More and more websites open with an instant popup asking you to subscribe, or give your email, so they can bombard you with requests to subcribe. This is the problematic business model. Given the cost of internet access, many people simply can’t afford to subscribe to all the sites that they have become accustomed to reading for free. Instead they will read them less, or give them up and find free sites.

I’m not sure what the answer is, but I suspect I won’t like it.

Riding a girl’s bike

My folding Xootr Swift is being serviced, but we’re waiting on some parts, so they gave me a loaner. Light Street Cycles is an A2B dealer, and Penny let me try out a Ferber electric bike for the weekend.

A2B used to be called Ultra Motors, and a few years ago was known for the Metro electric bike, which looks like a tiny motorcycle. That model is now called the Octave, after Octave Chanute, an engineer who pioneered the use of wood preservatives and who, in retirement, contributed wing designs to aviation. Other A2B models have names like Alva, Galvani, Shima and Ferber – all named after experimenters in electricity or transportation. Ferdinand Ferber was also in aviation, Hideo Shima was behind the bullet train, Luigi Galvani explored bioelectricity and Alva is Thomas Edison’s middle name. A2B is now part of India’s Hero Eco.

When I showed the Ferber to my wife, she said, “that looks like a girl’s bike.” Well, yes, or maybe like a skinny scooter. The Ferber is a step-through bike with 26″ wheels, assisted by a 350w motor powered by a 36V 8.8 Ah battery. The Galvani / Male has the same set of components on a retro step-over frame. Even with an open frame the Ferber is 48 lbs to the Galvani’s 50 lbs. Both models are strictly pedal assist (PAS) with no throttle.

I rode the Ferber home and even though the motor stops helping above 20 mph, I was passing all the traditional cyclists while pedaling easily. Once I found the buttons for levels 2 and 3, it became very easy to climb hills, even with only eight gears. The A2B torque sensor is great, but you must be careful to shift down while stopping. The riding position is very upright, and the handle bars have flat, ergonometric rests so that your palms don’t start to feel numb after several miles. At one point I accidentally turned the bike off, but was able to fiddle with the battery button and get it restarted. Apparently you are supposed to turn the battery on, as evidenced by some faint led displays, then push and hold a button on the handlebar. If you hold the battery button too long, you might turn it off again.

I was down to 10% charge, and the recharge took the rest of the evening and a half hour in the morning. According to the manual, charging to 80% is fairly quick, but the last 20% can take some time. Some batteries should not be topped off, but there are no warnings in the manual against doing so.

The Ferber suggests a 40 mile range, but I’m a 250 lb man, and riding the hilly ten miles into Federal Hill on Saturday took the battery from a full charge to 67%. Fortunately the elevator was still on, and since no one was around I parked the Ferber next to my desk. One of the partners showed up, and noticed that the bike seemed a lot bigger than what I usually bring to work. Bill takes spinning classes for the exercise, but had no idea that electric bikes were even a thing.

Someone turned off the elevator, and wrestling the bigger bike down the u-shaped exit stairs was a tight fit. Riding uphill back to Mt Washington (with two icepacks, yogurt and pork chops in an insulated pack) in the afternoon took the battery down to 12%, so my range seems to be about 25 miles. In all fairness, I hardly broke a sweat going either way.

I’ve seen the Ferber priced at about $2,400 and the Galvani at about $2,300, which is very competitive for 350w lithium-ion battery bikes. Add that the bikes already include lights, disc brakes, fenders and a kickstand, and either would be a great deal.

Genetically-Modified Copyrights

In, Unhealthy Fixation, William Saletan defends GMOs :

I’ve spent much of the past year digging into the evidence. Here’s what I’ve learned. First, it’s true that the issue is complicated. But the deeper you dig, the more fraud you find in the case against GMOs. It’s full of errors, fallacies, misconceptions, misrepresentations, and lies. The people who tell you that Monsanto is hiding the truth are themselves hiding evidence that their own allegations about GMOs are false. They’re counting on you to feel overwhelmed by the science and to accept, as a gut presumption, their message of distrust.

And then he talks up Papayas with viruses, staple crops with Bt and Golden Rice with Vitamin A. Somewhat late in the article, Saletan does admit that the extent to which pesticide-resistant GMOs lead to increased pesticide use is a problem:

Two factors seem to account for the herbicide increase. One is direct: If your crops are engineered to withstand Roundup, you can spray it profusely without killing them. The other factor is indirect: When every farmer sprays Roundup, weeds adapt to a Roundup-saturated world. They evolve to survive. To kill these herbicide-resistant strains, farmers spray more weedkillers. It’s an arms race. …

As weeds evolve to withstand Roundup, farmers are deploying other, more worrisome herbicides. And companies are engineering crops to withstand these herbicides so that farmers can spray them freely.

He also admits that monoculture is a problem, but claims that monoculture is thousands of years old, therefore not GMO’s problem.

Saletan hammers home the point that GMOs are not really a group of like things, therefore shouldn’t be labeled as such. As all pro-GMO astroturfers point out eventually, homo sapiens have been altering the genetics of its plants and animals through selective breeding for centuries. Saletan uses, ‘Genetically-Engineered’ (GE), and that or ‘transgenic’ organisms would be more accurate terminology, but most people use GMO for organisms modified using biotechnology rather than breeding.

In the comments is the interesting theory that anti-GMO activism is a false flag operation intended to discredit those who are actually opponents of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), The TransPacific Partnership (TPP) and Big Ag’s tendency to slap a patent or copyright on anything with DNA.

As a recap, ACTA is law in the US, but was rejected in Europe. The proposed TTIP and TPP include much of the same corporation-friendly intellectual property legislation as does ACTA. Seeds have been patented for quite some time, and now GMO seeds are being copyrighted. Patents expire after about twenty years; copyrights are supposedly the life of the author plus fifty or seventy years, but as my former coblogger Jim Marino has noted, valuable copyrights seem to be extended routinely.

GM I dunnO

Suddenly Republican representatives prefer federal oversight to state’s rights.

In, Food fight! Congress, consumers battle over GMOs, McClatchyDC covers Kansas’ Representative Mike Pompeo’s efforts to protect conventional agriculture from state laws that would require them to label GMO products.

So far, three states – Vermont, Connecticut and Maine – have passed mandatory labeling laws for genetically modified food. At least fifteen other states are considering similar regulations.

Pompeo’s “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act” would nix those laws and instead set up a voluntary nationwide labeling system overseen by the federal government.

A lot has been written back and forth about GMOs being safe or not. Less has been written about the safety of the workers handling GMO crops that are doused in pesticides. Even less has been written about the possibility that some pests will eventually become resistant to glyphosate.

For my money, the produce I get from organic producers seems to taste better. It also seems to be better for my teeth, weight and sleep. It costs more, but I consider it a worthwhile investment in my family’s well-being.

First Peoples

A week after posting The Ugly Little Boy, I ran across First Peoples on PBS. There are five episodes: Americas, Asia, Africa, Australia and Europe. I find it worth watching, though I expect that in ten or twenty years some of the theories presented will be superseded as more discoveries are made.

Wall to Wall Television includes brief, illustrative scenes of both archaic and early modern humans, and to my eyes, they seem to have tried hard to cast appropriate-looking actors. East African modern humans, like Omo-1, are played by dark-skinned African-looking men and women, while the Neanderthals are somewhat lighter-skinned with bushy hair and heavy prosthetic facial features. Eva of Naharon, found in the Yucatan, looks like a dark Latina woman and the woman from Tam Pa Ling, found in Northern Laos, looks like a dark Eurasian woman. Oase Boy, found in the Carpathian Mountains, looks like a modern Caucasian. The Clovis Makers in Northwest America are shown just about as light-skinned as present day native Americans, while Kennewick Man (the Ancient One) is somewhat darker.

While discussing how interbreeding between modern and archaic species may have occurred, some scenes show a small group homo sapiens nervously moving through a landscape, then meeting up with a group of homo erectus and sharing some food. Later another group of sapiens meets up with homo neanderthalis and shares a campfire. Such meetings did (sometimes) happen between European trappers and native Americans, so it is possible that archaic and modern humans met peacefully, traded goods and either intermarried willingly or sold wives.

It is also possible, though, that one group may have wiped out another and taken women and children as captives. Or perhaps one group may have raided another for the express purpose of stealing women. But watching dark-skinned invaders overwhelm lighter-skinned tribes would certainly be fodder for race-baiting in today’s racially-charged atmosphere.

Speaking of Kennewick Man, after nineteen years of study, it seems about time for the Corps of Engineers to let the Umatilla, or some other tribe, bury him with some dignity.

Sucker Punch

Amid the dispiriting news of droughts in Pakistan and the Western US, Greece’s stranded economy, three almost simultaneous terrorist attacks, escaped convicts and shark bites, two stories caught my eye:

Molycorp — sole U.S. rare earth producer — files for bankruptcy

Molycorp Inc. — the only U.S. producer of rare earth elements used in high-tech communications, transportation and industrial products — filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection amid competition from China and waning demand.

A North Dakota Oil Boom Goes Bust

In a field of brittle yellow grass and clotted mud about five miles north of Dickinson, North Dakota, stands a cemetery of sorts. Drilling rigs stretch into the sky like tall skeletons. … Similar graveyards have been popping up across the western half of the state since the price of oil sharply declined last fall. …

In both cases we see business models that were predicated on artificially high prices overseas: rare earths from China and oil from OPEC. In response to China’s limiting the export of rare earths, investors revived an old rare earth mine in Colorado. In response to a long run of high prices set by OPEC, US oil companies expected that tight oil from shale formations in North Dakota and Texas would eventually turn a profit.

Then both China and OPEC changed the rules. The Middle Kingdom suddenly relaxed restrictions on exporting rare earths, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia led OPEC to decide against holding up high prices. Investors failed to consider the influence that a swing producer has over the market.

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