Beware, Writer

I manipulate you, you know.

I lay out a path of words to take you where I want you to go. And you go, fitting your steps to the rhythm of my words.

I wave a hand over here to keep you from looking over there. If you see what I want you to ignore, you turn away.

I tell you I am humble. You build me up, disregarding the arrogance required to assume my thoughts and words would be of interest.

I make you cry, each word hitting you in the same painful place. You call it beautiful and send others to weep.

I decide the effect I want, then plot and scheme against you to achieve it. You applaud and ask me to do it again.

I carefully calculate just how much return I must give you, then give a sliver more. You thank me for my generosity.

As a reader, I am one of you, kin. When I write, you are mine.

And I am at your mercy.

Response the First

A big thanks to Simon Haynes for being the first person to jump up and throw in his opinions on the relationship between science and science fiction. Simon is the author of the Hal Spacejock series, which is currently available only as imports in the U.S. (grrr). However, you can download his first book to get a taste before diving in.

As you can probably guess from the name, Hal Spacejock is a hoot, but how about the science?

Humanoid robots and self-aware computers please!

I’m writing novels based in the far-future, where humans are the same cantakerous self-centered beasts they’ve always been, but robots and computers are intelligent, wise and caring. I’ve seen reviews declaring that my human characters are bastards one and all, while my robots represent the ideal I’d like humans to aim for. Not far wrong, that.

Simon’s a long-time computer programmer, so he presumably has a better grip on how to manage to integrate self-awareness and selflessness than I do. Read the rest of Simon’s answers and find out more about him at Spacejock News.

I’ll get more links and highlights up soon, but thanks again, Simon, for being first.

About the Name

In case you’ve ever wondered where the blog name comes from, here’s a video from one of my favorite artists. I bet you’ll never guess what the song is called.

Don’t read too much into the lyrics, though. There’s a lot more to this not being a place of diamonds, including the fact that I just don’t like diamonds. Who wants to be that hard, that pure, that transparent, that flawless? Give me a beautiful colored stone any day, and if it’s just a little more fragile, then so be it.

In fact, I prefer it that way. Where do you go from perfection?

Out and About

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Me? I’m off hanging out where I can wear shirts like these and not feel like a complete slob or, you know, twelve.

Of course, it helps that they now make these things in women’s cuts. Nobody’s going to mistake me for twelve in one of these.

A slob, on the other hand? Maybe. But that’s what weekends away are for.

Science and Fiction–An Open Call

ScienceOnline09 is an annual science communication conference that brings together scientists, bloggers, educators, and students to discuss promoting public understanding of science. Peggy Kolm and I will be moderating a session on science fiction as a tool for science communication. We’re looking for input on the topic and to start an online conversation between science fiction writers and science bloggers.

Participation is easy:

Questions about science and its relationship to science fiction are posted below and at Biology in Science Fiction. Send us a link to your answers on your own blog or post the link the comments at either site. If you’re a writer without a blog, you can post your answers directly at either site.

We will then collect links to the posts on the ScienceOnline09 conference wiki, as well as our own blogs, and facilitate a discussion on the different ways science and science fiction are used.

Questions for Science Fiction Writers

  • Why are you writing science fiction in particular? What does the science add?
  • 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?
  • How important is it to you that the science be right? What kind of resources do you use for accuracy?
  • Are there any specific science or science fiction blogs you would recommend to interested readers or writers?

Questions for Science Bloggers

  • What is your relationship to science fiction? Do you read it? Watch it? What/who do you like and why?
  • What do you see as science fiction’s role in promoting science, if any? Can it do more than make people excited about science? Can it harm the cause of science?
  • Have you used science fiction as a starting point to talk about science? Is it easier to talk about people doing it right or getting it wrong?
  • Are there any specific science or science fiction blogs you would recommend to interested readers or writers?

Thanks for taking part, and we look forward to your answers!

Proposition 8

It’s been more than a week, and I still can’t talk about it. The growl in the back of my throat isn’t going to come across well on a blog. Luckily, some people still have use of their voices.

Monica has the Olbermann video. Watch it if you haven’t. This should be on 24-hour continuous loop in every state that has voted down gay marriage–and 23-hour rotation in those that haven’t made it fully legal.

Dr. J is also bringing the righteous, taking religion to task for its role in this travesty.

If marriage is to be defined by religion then there is an obvious extension of this argument…any heterosexual people who are not religious should also not be allowed to get married. I can just see the ‘moderate’ ‘liberal’ religious people out there squirming away at this, saying I’m just being ridiculous. Well why? It is time you faced up to the fact that it is YOUR religions that are the source and fuel for most this sort of hatred and division and you by being part of it are totally complicit in this.

My friend Catherine takes a more forgiving and optimistic view than I do.

That said, Proposition 8 passed in California, other marriage bans passed in other states and Arkansas outlawed “unmarried people” from adopting and fostering kids. My partner and I have seen our share of changes, good and bad, in the 15 years we’ve been together. This year, her Mormon family fully acknowledged me as her partner; it took them 14 years but back in the spring, I was actually told that I was “part of the family.” It was a lovely grand gesture, even if we still can’t talk to her aunt about her forty year long relationship with her “roommate”; that remains off limits.

We’ve also seen the the possibility of legal marriage fail more times than pass, but the fact remains that we’ve seen it pass at all. We’ve seen churches change and families embrace what they wouldn’t or couldn’t before.

And then she gives us just a little more to celebrate. Congrats, guys.

Comrade PhysioProf is also in a rare celebratory mood. He’s bringing good news, so I’ll even forgive him for not swearing as much as the issue deserves.

A judge in the state of Connecticut has just entered judgment for the same-sex couple plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking the right to wed, based on the Connecticut Supreme Court ruling on Oct. 10 that same-sex couples have the constitutional right to wed rather than accept a civil union.

Dr. A reminds us that the election may be over, but that doesn’t mean the fight is. Want to do something to help? Of course you do.

I’m a post-doc with many responsibilities. You are too. Or you are running a lab, making lesson plans, grading papers, changing diapers, walking dogs, paying bills, traveling the world, treating patients, changing tires, writing books, cleaning toilets, catching criminals, or whatever it is you do. We are all busy, but we can take an hour out of our Saturday and unite to show the world we will not stand for Proposition Hate.

Go learn how you can help. Find your voice.

Tagged!

I woke up this morning to discover that Glendon (of the amazing Flying Trilobite) had tagged me with a meme. In thanks for his not tagging me with all three of them, here is my prompt response.

The 5 Things Meme
5 things I was doing 10 years ago:
1. Starting to think that writing was something I should take seriously.
2. Regrading the yard and putting in window wells to keep the water out of the basement.
3. Being a landlord.
4. Writing specifications for and testing a Y2K compliant GUI to replace a mainframe system.
5. Browsing at dial-up speeds.

5 things on my to do list today:
1. Find bread at the bakery that will handle grilled cheese, PBJ and pot roast.
2. Research just how much the crappy economy is trickling down.
3. Finish butchering a deer.
4. Shoehorn in quality snuggling time with boy and cat.
5. Get to bed a non-obscene hour.

5 snacks I love:
1. Apples.
2. Smoked almonds.
3. Candy corn.
4. String cheese.
5. Gin-Gins.

5 things I would do if I were a millionaire:
1. Give away more than I do now.
2. Pay off the house to be completely debt free.
3. Squirrel some away for cushion and additional income.
4. Write more.
5. Decide what my next challenge will be without regard for pay.

5 places I’ve lived:
1. Georgia.
2. Oklahoma.
3. In a trailer park in a rich suburb.
4. In an apartment when I already had a dorm room paid for.
5. In the hood, by choice.

5 jobs I’ve had:
1. Selling seashells, but not by the seashore.
2. Physics teaching assistant.
3. Psychology research assistant.
4. Team lead (twice, not happy either time).
5. Analyst (of three different sorts).

5 people I’ll tag:
Five people I don’t know enough about. Only five?
1. Betül, because her answers will be very different than mine.
2. Muse142, because she isn’t blogging enough right now.
3. Juniper, for the same reason.
4. JLK, because I can be the first to tag a new blog.
5. R.E.S.E.A.R.C.H.E.R.S., because I can cheat and get a twofer.

Red Touches Yellow

When I was little, my doctor worked in a clinic that had the coolest entryway. I didn’t much notice the entryway when they reopened the clinic in the middle of the night to deal with my pneumonia-induced 104 degree fever and delirium, but that’s another story. Usually, I loved the place.

We entered through a fully-enclosed glass walkway over a large-scale terrarium. There were lots of plants, a few turtles, and fish in the small pond directly under the walkway. My mother figured out, eventually if not right away, to leave some extra time before our appointments so we could just stop and stare for a while. No, we couldn’t wait until we were done.

The most exciting day was the one with the snake. It was the cutest little scarlet kingsnake, just tiny and absolutely adorable.

It was, by far, the mostly brightly colored thing in the entryway. It wasn’t doing much, but we stared anyway. It was just so pretty.

Then my mother was hustling us inside and into chairs in the waiting room. She didn’t go up to the desk to check us in as normal. No, she went back out to the entryway. Without us. We might have rebelled if she hadn’t come back in quickly. Everything proceeded as usual then, right up to the end.

It wasn’t until we were on our way out that she leaned over the reception desk and said, very quietly, “You might want to know that the snake in your entryway is a coral snake. Those are poisonous.” Then off we went.

We never saw the snake again.

An interesting postscript: As I was looking for pretty snake photos, I discovered that the U.S. no longer has an approved manufacturer of coral snake antivenin. Wyeth decided to get out of the business. It’s okay, though. They just extended the expiration date of the old stuff, so we won’t be completely SOL until this time next year.

Photos: Baby Coral Snake by cordyceps. Some rights reserved. Lampropeltis triangulum elapsoides from Wikimedia. Some rights reserved.

The Personal and the Political

I lost a few friends this election season. First time it’s happened, and I’m not altogether sure how I feel about it.

One of them I cut loose. She was someone I’d hung around with in junior high and hadn’t heard from between then and me joining Facebook. I didn’t feel it was much of a loss to let her go when she used her status update to swear about how a particular political candidate shouldn’t be allowed into a particular town.

Sure, it was my candidate, but it was really the choke hold she wanted to put on political speech that made de-friending her an easy choice. Of course, the fact that she only ever used Facebook to tell people how cute her kids were helped too. I mean, cute kids are cute and all, but I want to talk to grown ups.

The other two are a little weirder. This is a couple with whom we’ve usually gotten together a few times a year. We still don’t have much in common except history, but that’s always stretched far enough for everyone to have a good time.

I’m not even sure what happened, really. I can tell when it happened, because with my memory for numbers, I could tell when my Facebook friends count dropped. I assume it’s the election, because I’ve always known they were conservative and, really, what else has there been for the last several months? But I don’t know what the trigger was.

Did I mock too much while watching the debates? Was adopting Hussein as my middle name for the duration beyond the pale? Or was I just part of an unbearable anti-McCain, anti-Palin tide? Was it something I did, or was this election somehow even more contentious than even 2004?

I’m not likely to find out anytime soon. I’m not the only friend they dropped, as word is that “no one” has seen them in ages. But it doesn’t stop me from asking.

What happened?

Coming Out

In case the new addition to the sidebar doesn’t say it loudly enough, I’m an atheist.

This won’t surprise anyone who knows me well, but this blog is here in part because few people know me well. It may not surprise regular readers of the blog. I do, after all, use rationality as a label for posts. It’s utterly unlikely to surprise anyone I’ve argued with online. But I think it’s still important to say, because a lot of people don’t think they know any atheists, which leads directly to the kind of idiocy we saw in North Carolina.

What does this mean for you? Aside from having a face (or another face) to put to atheism that is hopefully prettier than Christopher Hitchens‘, not much–necessarily. Yes, if you’re religious, I think some of the things you do and believe are irrational, but this is coming from someone who built a shrine for a jar of expired jelly (another story). Humans are irrational critters, and there’s something deeply satisfying about being irrational sometimes.

So, Why Atheism?
Nobody comes to atheism because it’s the popular choice. They come to it because none of the gods are any less silly or self-contradictory than the rest. They come to it because a non-arbitrary world is what they see when they open their eyes and look around them. They come to it because faith requires so many mental accommodations that it uses energy better spent on living. They come to it because every idiot they know (as opposed to just some of the smart people) is telling them to jump on the bandwagon.

Me? I was raised atheist, although it disturbed my mother somewhat when I told her so.

I was born to parents raised in a strict Methodist tradition. How strict? They got married because they wanted to have sex. No exaggeration. They had their big church wedding all planned and went through with it as scheduled, but they eloped a few weeks before because they were tired of waiting.

By the time I was born, they seem to have figured out that this was problematic (and thus, I may owe my existence to religion), because they decided to raise their kids outside any church and leave it up to us to choose once we grew up. I attended church services fewer than a dozen times as a child, mostly weddings and funerals, a couple of times after sleepovers with friends.

There were no prayers, no grace at meals. Christmas and Easter were strictly secular holidays (with the standard cartoony adopted pagan trappings). There was a bible in the house, but it had been a confirmation gift or something and lived in its gift box. It was never read.

So, Super-Rationalist Baby, Then?
Uh, no. The Christmas after I turned two, I was taken to see The Nutcracker ballet. I was mesmerized. (Christmas is still largely a mix of The Nutcracker and the Island of Misfit Toys for me.) This was followed by a long, late-night car trip to a destination coated and shiny with ice from a recent storm. I’m told that as I looked around me, I declared to my parents that I believed in magic.

Okay, I was two. Magic was probably a bit abstract for me to understand. I probably meant beauty. I conflated the two for a very long time, but I kept believing in them.

Oh, what didn’t I believe in? I believed in faeries and mermaids, trolls and djinn. I believed in Norse and Greek and Egyptian and Japanese gods and in tricksters from just about any tradition. I believed in beasties under the bed. If it was in my books, I thought I might just find it in the real world if I turned the right corner or opened the right door or found the right place in the woods. That’s how it worked in the books.

I believed longer than most children, I think, at least in those things. Even after I gave up believing in specifics, I had reasons to need to believe in a different world, and I didn’t know yet that adulthood would be that world.

So, What Happened?
I stopped needing to believe so much some time in high school. I still can’t tell you how I ended up changing, since my circumstances didn’t, but I did. Blame it on hormones, maybe. I got happier, even amid all the drama, and I started living in this world.

I still thought it was cool that there was real weird stuff out there, like ghosts and glimmers of ESP. I’d never seen them, not really, but they were in books that weren’t fiction. I looked forward to science figuring out how they worked. Oddly, though, even then I knew that I could make myself see them if I wanted to, just like the Ouija board could spell out something other than nonsense if I was half-willing to make it happen.

I went off to college around then, hung out at the pagan desk in the student center. With my dawning understanding of the role that desire played in belief, I was with the pagans but not of them. They were just a cool group of weirdos.

Then my favorite of the weirdos gave me Flim-Flam! as a present right around the time I was really getting into research design, and I realized that not all “nonfiction” is created equal. The whole experience rather shook up my standards for “proof.”

So, Then You Were an Atheist?
Nah. I considered myself a militant agnostic for a long time–when I thought about it at all. Being raised without religion, my beliefs on the subject didn’t seem terribly important. They still don’t, really, except when someone else’s views intersect with my life. But over time, I came to realize that I wasn’t exactly agnostic, either.

I call myself a practical atheist. I don’t believe we can prove there is nothing that we would ever call a god. However, every attempt at defining a god I’ve seen is either disproved or of no general human relevance or consequence whatsoever. On that, I am not agnostic. I’m not ignorant, either, as I spent a good chunk of my life reading all the world mythology I could get my hands on.

Nor am I agnostic on the question of whether religion should have any influence on important decisions. The ideas and philosophy of any religion must stand on their own, without the shield of religion, or they must be ignored in public life. The only weight that religion should be given is its cultural weight, and that only with all possible consideration for the question of privileging the culture of the majority. There is some use in recognizing that many of us want Christmas off from work because of family rituals that have sprung up around it but none in assuming everyone has these same family rituals.

It’s the question of privilege, really, that’s making me join the Out Campaign. It’s too easy to denigrate and mistreat people based on their minority status when no one knows who they are. If you read my blog, you know me, at least a bit. So now you know an(other) atheist.