New tools for bowdlers, part 1
April 8, 2023
These are heady times for bowdlers and censors of all stripes. Not only is there a surge in demand by culture warriors on the far right and woke left to revise histories, lived experiences, and everyday language they deem unsavory or incovenient, but there are great new tools to get the job done. This post looks at the market for ‘bowdler-tech’, a fast-growing specialization within the broader repression-tech industry.1 Follow-on posts look at nifty gadgets for bowdlerizing at scales never seen before.
The quiet courage of Olesya K
March 25, 2023
On December 26, 2022, Russian police stormed the apartment of nineteen-year-old University student Olesya Krivtsova, threatened her with a sledgehammer, then arrested her for terrorism. She’d been denounced to the FSB by fellow students and a vigilante troll. Her crime? An Instagram post questioning the war in Ukraine. But this isn’t a story about a teenager’s naive mistake; it’s a story about the courage to speak truth to power even in the face of its wrath, gently, and without rancor.
AIs lose their copy rights
March 18, 2023
AI’s can’t copyright their own work, nor can their human (ab)users, according to a recent ruling by the US Copyright Office (USCO). The ruling applies to both artwork and text. It expands on an earlier one that revoked a copyright registration granted to Kristina Kashtanova for her and Midjourney’s collab on a comic book called Zarya of the Dawn. For this posting, I asked two AIs for their opinions.
Teaching the face of history
January 25, 2023
Teachers can be exciting, frustrating, boring, and many other ‘ings’, as all students know. So can teaching, as all teachers know. Teachers are also chronically underpaid and overworked. In the West, we don’t often think of them as heroes. And they don’t often face a violent death for their work, as they do in Afghanistan. Yet even in the US, teaching is a profession that calls for courage.
Note! This posting contains reproductions of beautiful Islamic paintings of the Prophet Muhammed.
December 25, 2022
Artificial neural network techniques like stable diffusion and online tools like Stability.ai’s DreamStudio are fun to play with, but are there practical uses? Decorative ones are the first that spring to mind. And people have already come up with some cool decorative–not to mention commercial–ideas, like this voice-controlled service to create wallpaper on the fly: Shopify’s AI wallpaper.
Artificial Space Pirates
December 16, 2022
I’m not the first to play with ChatGPT, maybe not the millionth, judging by all the awe-struck articles and the red warnings: “We’re experiencing exceptionally high demand” and “Request timed out.” But I did want to see ChatGPT try its hand at space pirates.
Political action heroes
November 12, 2022
Browsing the shelves of Foyles while in London this week, I was intrigued to see a couple of books by NYT bestselling author Andrew Shaffer: Hope Never Dies and Hope Rides Again. These political thrillers feature Barak Obama and Joe Biden as action heroes. Reviewers describe them as “escapist fantasy for liberals”, and “bromantic buddy-cop noir.” Prominently displayed cover-out, in the YA SFF section of Foyles. In London. Cool. I looked for a YA MAGA hat romance for balance, but didn’t find one. Probably sold out.
The Penguin-Sower chimera that wasn't
October 31, 2022
This pumpkin season, readers and writers can celebrate the abortion of an ill-conceived chimera: the attempted merger of publisher Penguin Random House–the largest trade publisher in the US–with Simon & Schuster, a smaller but formidable rival. The US Justice Department sued a year ago to block the merger, arguing that the creation of a single publisher that controls half the US market would be anti-competitive.
The Unproblematic Wizarding World of Barnes & Nobel
December 1, 2021
An article in the Advocate mentions an amusing skirmish in the TERF war embroiling author J.K. Rowling: a stand of Fantasy books in the Union Square Barnes & Nobel flagship store labeled ‘The Unproblematic Wizarding World’ in which the Harry Potter books are conspicuous for their absence. My guess: it’s a gentle, mischievous poke by a staff member or three, well-meant and harmless.
Arriving at Ard's Girdle, Part 2
April 15, 2021
Short days–that’s what I wanted. The days in Jasper’s world should be an hour long. How is the topic of this post and the previous one. Why is another story. The previous post described the physics and writerly problems with a quickly-spinning planet. This one describes how Ard’s Girdle of The Gem Merchant’s Son and the godlands of the Clanmarks series came to be.
Arriving at Ard's Girdle, Part 1
April 14, 2021
Short days–that’s what I wanted. Jasper’s world should have days about one hour long. How is the topic of this post and the next. Why is another story.
What’s hard about short days, you ask? The Gem Merchant’s Son is a fantasy. I could have said “let the days be one hour long” and be done with it. But I’ve never been a fan of ‘just magic’; I like there to be a system to it, even a science to it. Both The Gem Merchant’s Son and the Clanmarks series, which are set in the same world, are as much SF as F, and I like my SF hard as old cheese.