Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Belated Christmas

The Wife just gave me my final Christmas present of the year--mainly because the post office just delivered it. It's a new secondary mirror holder for my telescope. The old one, you may recall, has deteriorated over the years (it's close to 30 years old, after all) and no longer adjusts for collimation. It also doesn't hold the secondary mirror securely, which introduces a good bit of wobble and shiftiness to it. None of these things are good.

The replacement is a nice model from Astrosystems, which features four-point collimation adjustment. This ought to make lining up the mirrors much simpler. The only downside is that the old secondary holder is so deteriorated, I'll most likely have to destroy it to take it apart and remove the mirror. The trick is to not scratch the mirror in the process. Fingers crossed...

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Death of journalism goes mainstream

I'm stumbling across this disturbing bit of new a little bit later than other folks (although not many seem to have talked about it, so maybe nobody cares) but it strikes me as a serious development in the world of journalism: the newsroom at the Dallas Morning News now answers to the advertising department.
Anyone who thinks advertising will influence news copy is "so far off-base. That's not going to happen at all," said Rich Alfano by phone. Alfano starts Monday as a general manager at the Morning News. His responsibilities include the sports department, as well as health care and education.

That's very reassuring and all, except for the fact that it's a bald-faced lie. Look, I worked in this environment for the year I spent with Prime Time Newspapers in San Antonio. I, too, was assured of editorial independence and the non-interference of advertising and promised puppies and bunnies and my very own DVD of "All The President's Men." The reality was very much different. From day one, advertising sent me a steady stream of story "assignments." Part of my mandate was to increase circulation of my two magazines, which--call me crazy--meant producing dynamic, interesting stories, but my initiative normally earned not kudos, but complaints from advertising folks because I hadn't "cleared it with them" first. Advertising regularly made editorial changes without my knowledge, deleting sources and quotes if that particular person/business hadn't bought a prerequisite amount of ad space. And--forgive the appearance of hyperbole for this next bit--but I felt very much like a prostitute (or what I imagine some prostitutes must feel like) whenever I was required to write a positive, ad-driven feature article on some topic or business that appeared little more than quackery to my eye. Any type of counterbalancing view was, of course, forbidden inclusion in the article, lest our advertisers complain.

Why didn't I simply resign rather than whore myself and allow any sense of journalistic integrity to be trampled? Simple: I had a family to feed, and the economy was sour. Job prospects were few and far between. Sometimes you have to bite the bullet, no matter how soul-numbing it becomes.

I found an interesting section deeper in the article:
Who decides conflicts between advertisers and journalists? Whose values prevail?

Kelly McBride, ethics group leader at Poynter, said the editor-publisher relationship works well "when you have two people who are respectful and understand the other's responsibilities and (who) listen well."

"I'd be looking for training for both the section editors and the general managers," McBride told me by phone. "The section editors will need to understand more about how the business side works. And business people will need to understand the principles of independent journalism."

This sounds good on the surface. But in my direct experience, the ad reps and business managers have no journalism background, and what's more, they have zero interest in learning anything about editorial. I can't count how many times I've heard "Advertising drives this train. Without ads, there wouldn't be a paper for your stories." Well, yeah. But without editorial content, your paper is the Thrifty Nickle or, in this cyber age, Craig's List. Last time I checked, they didn't award Pulitzers for "Ad Rep of the Year." I clearly recall the few times I tried to explain some editorial decision to an impatient ad rep, they listened in a sincere, earnest manner then promptly asked when I could make the changes they wanted in such a manner that made it clear to me they hadn't actually heard a thing I'd said.

The difference, now, is that 50,000 circulation monthlies and 25,000 circulation dailies are bush league compared to the Dallas Morning News. But I guess that's no longer true. The Dallas Morning News is now bush league as well. How long before the Washington Post and New York Times follow?

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Friday, December 25, 2009

Friday Night Videos

It can't really be Christmas without the Kinks, can it? "Father Christmas" is one of the most poignant, subversive holiday songs ever written, and puts to shame all those self-important, ham-fisted trainwrecks such as "Christmas Shoes" to shame. Almost brings a tear to my eye.

"Have yourself a very merry Christmas, have yourself a good time,
But remember the kids who got nothing, as you're drinking down your wine."

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Greg Lake.

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A Christmas gift of fiction

I hope the holiday season is treating you and yours well. In the spirit of the season, I'd like to offer you a Christmas gift of fiction. Apostate Treasures, LTD. is now live and ready to be read over at No Fear of the Future. It's not exactly a Christmas story, but I feel the themes are relevant to this time of year. I hope you enjoy.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday Night Videos

Here's the obscure holiday classic, "I Believe in Father Christmas," from Greg Lake, he of Emerson, Lake and Palmer fame. Coming from this group (and a re-recording being included in the ELP box set "Return of the Manticore") you know it has to have complex arrangements and be rife with symbolism. I don't think I was prepared, however, for the bludgeoning of Vietnam-era imagery that fills the latter half of this 1975 video. It's somewhat surreal watching today, with our current wars in the Middle East juxtaposed by the peaceful scenes that open the clip. Enjoy.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Ray Stevens.

Now Playing: Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass Christmas Album

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Climate change is, like, hot air

Is it just me, or is Sarah Palin's assertion "Climate change is like gravity – a naturally occurring phenomenon that existed long before, and will exist long after, any governmental attempts to affect it" akin to saying "Flooding is like gravity - a naturally occurring phenomenon that existed long before, and will exist long after, any governmental attempts to affect it" whilst standing on a dam as people upstream abandon homes to the rising waters?

Now Playing: ZZ Top El Loco

Monday, December 14, 2009

Joe Haldeman named Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master

CHESTERTOWN, Md. – Joe Haldeman will be honored as the next Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master for 2010 by Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. The Grand Master represents SFWA's highest accolade and recognizes excellence for a lifetime of contributions to the genres of science fiction and fantasy.

SFWA President Russell Davis announced the decision after consulting with the Board of Directors and participating past presidents. The presentation of the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award will take place at the SFWA Nebula Awards® Weekend in May. The Nebula Awards weekend is available to the general public with advance registration.

“Giving the Grand Master is one of the true pleasures of serving as the President of SFWA,” said SFWA President Russell Davis. “Being able to give it to Joe Haldeman--a past SFWA president, an extraordinarily talented writer, a respected teacher and mentor in our community, and a good friend--is not just a pleasure, but a genuine honor. I can think of no one more deserving that I’d be more pleased to recognize.”

The author of 20 novels and five collections, Haldeman remains one of the most popular science fiction writers working today. His landmark novel, The Forever War, won the Nebula, Hugo and Ditmar Awards for best science fiction novel in 1975, and spawned two follow-up novels, Forever Peace and Forever Free. In total, his writings have garnered him five Nebulas, five Hugos and a host of other awards as well as numerous nominations. Other notable works include the novels Camouflage, The Accidental Time Machine and Marsbound as well as the short works “Graves,” “Tricentennial” and “The Hemingway Hoax.” His latest book, Starbound, is scheduled for a January release.

Haldeman is the 27th writer recognized by SFWA as a Grand Master. He joins Robert A. Heinlein (1974), Jack Williamson (1975), Clifford D. Simak (1976), L. Sprague de Camp (1978), Fritz Leiber (1981), Andre Norton (1983), Arthur C. Clarke (1985), Isaac Asimov (1986), Alfred Bester (1987), Ray Bradbury (1988), Lester del Rey (1990), Frederik Pohl (1992), Damon Knight (1994), A. E. van Vogt (1995), Jack Vance (1996), Poul Anderson (1997), Hal Clement (1998), Brian Aldiss (1999), Philip Jose Farmer (2000), Ursula K. Le Guin (2003), Robert Silverberg (2004), Anne McCaffrey (2005), Harlan Ellison (2006), James Gunn (2007), Michael Moorcock (2008) and Harry Harrison (2009). Until 2002 the title was simply "Grand Master." In 2002 it was renamed in honor of SFWA's founder, Damon Knight, who died that year.

About SFWA

Founded in 1965 by the late Damon Knight, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America brings together the most successful and daring writers of speculative fiction throughout the world.

Since its inception, SFWA® has grown in numbers and influence until it is now widely recognized as one of the most effective non-profit writers' organizations in existence, boasting a membership of approximately 1,500 science fiction and fantasy writers as well as artists, editors and allied professionals. Each year the organization presents the prestigious Nebula Awards® for the year’s best literary and dramatic works of speculative fiction.

Now Playing: The Heads No Talking, Just Head

Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday Night Videos

What would Christmas be without Ray Stevens? Well, I suppose it'd still be Christmas, but I suspect it wouldn't be as much fun. Here's the piano-playing funnyman with his remake of "Santa Claus is Watching You" from his album "I Have Returned." I have to say, "I Have Returned" is one of Ray's most inspired efforts top to bottom, and the inclusion of "Watching..." (which is, oddly enough, a remake of Ray's own classic from the 60s) is just icing on the cake.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Eartha Kitt.

Now Playing: The Beach Boys Christmas With the Beach Boys

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Bunny love

With the trauma of losing Holly the kitten last week, Fairy Girl had started neglecting her bunny. She hadn't been playing with it and letting it out of its cage as much as she should for some time now, but last week she stopped interacting with it completely, beyond giving it food and water. I gradually realized this because said bunny, at one point pretty tame and affectionate, had grown aloof and skittish. After her initial denials, Fairy Girl admitted to ignoring the bunny. She set up a baby gate in her doorway and let the bunny out for the night so that it might get some exercise.

Around 11 p.m. I walked past her room and stopped when something caught my eye. I looked closer into the dark room, and realized the bunny (a mini rex) had somehow climbed onto the bed and was cuddled up next to the sleeping Fairy Girl, watching me alertly. I rousted The Wife out of bed to see, as nobody would believe me otherwise. Later, around 1 a.m. when I finally shut down and turned in for the night, I checked in on them again. The bunny was still there, fast asleep.

Now Playing: Vince Guaraldi Trio A Charlie Brown Christmas

Friday, December 04, 2009

Friday Night Videos

Holy Happy Holidays, Batman! What's Catwoman doing singing Christmas carols?

Easy, Boy Wonder. Julie Newmar, Lee Meriweather and Michelle Pfeiffer are the only women of ferocious feline perfidy we need concern ourselves with.

What about Halle Berry?

Old chum, some evil is simply too menacing even for the Dynamic Duo. Enjoy the song.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Exile.

Now Playing: Andean Fusion Christmas Classics vol. 2

Unexpected houseguest

Last night--with the possibility of snow, yes, snow, in the forecast for today--I brought in some of my potted passion flower plants, because, you know, I didn’t want them to freeze. I didn’t check them over too thoroughly at the time, because it was cold, I was tired, and with the stress of losing our kitten still weighing heavily on the family, plants were pretty far down the list of things I wanted to concern myself with.

Lo and behold, this morning I found this little fellow had set up shop on the window blind of my office where I'd stored the plants overnight. The caterpillar must've been sheltering under one of the leaves, and the warmth of the house revived him enough to start looking for a nice place to pupate.


I counted half a dozen chrysalises outside this morning, and those caterpillars may take months to complete the metamorphosis because of the cold weather, but because of the warm, cozy conditions this one's found, I expect it to emerge as a beautiful Gulf fritillary butterfly sometime within the next two weeks. By the time I return home tonight, it'll have fully shed its skin and fully turned into a chrysalis. I'll post pictures when I can.

Now Playing: Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass Christmas Album

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

A traumatic day

The neighbor's dogs killed our kitten. The girls discovered her as they were heading out to school. Of all the ways for your children to start the day, this one I would recommend the least. I physically ache from the relentless stress, am exhausted from the emotional toll.

She wasn't technically a kitten. Santa brought her last Christmas, but she was unusually small and still acted kittenish. Therefore she was our kitten. There was an extended sequence of events that happened last night--which I won't bore you with here--that if any single thing had gone even slightly differently, the kitten would still be with us.

We've never been on particularly chummy terms with these neighbors--their uncouth dogs have been destroying the fence between us for several years now--but this pretty much puts a capper on it. Had I the money available, we'd be moving post-haste.

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