The Panel Not Taken

Aug. 16th, 2017 08:51 pm
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[personal profile] mrissa

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

One of my friends was recently talking in Slack about his role as a moderator at a Worldcon panel, and one of the things people agreed was a moderator’s role was keeping the panelists on topic.

And I wanted to put a word in for the times when that doesn’t happen.

The times when you have all sorts of keen ideas–either as a moderator or a panelist–about what this panel will be, and you get up on the panel, and it’s interesting, and it’s active, and it’s going places, people are engaged, discussion flows freely…and the places it’s going are not where you thought. Sometimes really not where you thought. And you have to use good judgment, because when you have a panelist who has already been bloviating for five minutes about book five of their own fabulous off-topic series and takes a breath to start in on book six, it’s time to jump right on in and get that panel back on track.

But when you’re having a really good discussion among lots of people, and it just doesn’t happen to be the good discussion you thought you were going to be having? Square your shoulders, take a deep breath, and wave goodbye to the panel not taken.

It might have been a beautiful panel. A lovely panel, an insightful panel. It might have been such an important panel that you can propose it again under a different name. (Or y’know, the same name. Sometimes audience members notice that there is more–or something in the first place–to be said.) But it is not the panel you are having right now. And taking a panel that is full of inspiration and ideas and energy and turning it into a panel that has been stopped in its tracks and wrenched around is not a success condition. It’s just not.

I was on a panel at Readercon where Maria Dahvana Headley was the moderator, and she asked the panelists a question, a good question, an insightful question, a question that might have taken us interesting places. And Max Gladstone said, “I’ve been reading about hyperobjects.” I think I blurted out something encouraging like, “Good!” so this is also on me. (I have been known to encourage Max. Maria has been known to encourage Max. Random passersby…well. You get the idea.) And then Max kept talking about hyperobjects, and it was interesting, and everyone in the room was interested, and…I caught Maria’s eye…and we could both see her question disappearing over the horizon. We traded little smiles as we saw it go. Goodbye, little question, goodbye! Because then we went from Max’s hyperobjects to whatever else that made the other panelists think of and then whatever questions the audience had and then the audience still had questions but the panel was over…and it was fun and everybody was talking after with thinky thoughts…and saying, “Stop, Max, stop! do not talk about this interesting thing! Talk about the other interesting thing!” would have made everybody feel stifled and weird and the total number of interesting things talked about would almost certainly have been fewer.

Sometimes there is still time to say, “Wow, cool, that was really interesting, but I wanted to get back to this idea Maria had twenty minutes ago/the panel description/that question Beth asked that I don’t think we fully answered/whatever.” But often there really, really isn’t, and that’s okay.

And this is true in less formal conversation, too. Extremely often I come home from my monthly lunch with one friend, I think, we didn’t even get to this bit, I forgot to tell him that–or I’ll be driving him back to his office and trying to quick hit the highlights of major life areas the leisurely lunch conversation missed. The Minnesota Long Goodbye is legendary in these parts, possibly because of this, possibly because it just takes us a long time to put on winter gear and you might as well catch up on how auntie is doing in the meantime, but possibly because there are always going to be The Conversations Not Taken, and oh crud now that you’re leaving it occurs to me what they were.

I think we all know about not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good, and that’s relevant here, but there’s also not letting the good be the enemy of the other quite good. And you can tell yourself you’re not aiming at the perfect panel, you’re just aiming at the on-topic one, and that’s all very well, but writers and fans and sometimes editors and agents and artists being what they are…goodbye, panel that might have been, farewell, you were interesting, on to the panel that is and how it can be its best self.

[me] Update

Aug. 16th, 2017 09:23 pm
siderea: (Default)
[personal profile] siderea
I have made a heap of all my spoons and then set the heap on fire.

Which is to say, I am at a conference. So far it's been a really good conference.

Imma gonna fall over into my bed momentarily.

(no subject)

Aug. 16th, 2017 05:42 pm
skygiants: the princes from Into the Woods, singing (agony)
[personal profile] skygiants
It's hard for me not to unfavorably compare every Isabelle Hollington Gothic to Trelawny, the one with the identical non-identical constantly-swapping twins, but The Marchington Inheritance runs a reasonable second for batshit plot resolutions.

Our Heroine is a children's book illustrator named Avril, which would be fine if she were not ALSO notable for her family reputation as a Strung-Out Sulky Counter-Culture Fight-The-Power Teen Rebel with constant Rage Against the Preppy machine, which meant that I had "Complicated" and "Sk8er Boi" stuck on rotate in my head for the entire duration of this novel. THANKS, ISABELLE HOLLAND.

spoilers are full of hilariously plausibly annoying children )


Aug. 16th, 2017 05:05 pm
jimhines: (Snoopy Writing)
[personal profile] jimhines

I was testing the solar filter for the camera, in preparation for Monday’s eclipse. We won’t be seeing the total eclipse, but I’m hoping to get some good shots of the partial.

As I was processing the results, I realized I’d captured sunspots!  (Those dark spots in the upper left.)

Sun with sunspots

Click to embiggen.

For those who wonder about such things, this was taken on the 100-400mm lens, fully zoomed to 400mm. ISO 640, f/10, with a 1/3200 shutter speed. I had to set everything manually, because the camera overexposed the shot if left to its own devices.

I think next time I’ll try to reduce the ISO down to about 100 and see if that gets rid of the minor graininess.

Processing involved cropping the shot, noise reduction, and an orange overlay.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

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Posted by John Scalzi

I have a piece in the Los Angeles Times today about the difficulty of writing science fiction in today’s world, and no, it’s not just because one has to wonder if the world is going to be here tomorrow. Here’s the link. Enjoy!

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Posted by Ann

So, Provenance will be out in a bit more than a month! I can’t wait for folks to read it, honestly.

Not long ago, you had a chance to read the opening, oh I’d say half first chapter, for free online. And maybe that just whetted your appetite and now you have to wait until nearly the end of September for the rest?

Well, if you sign up for my newsletter, you can get all of Chapter 1, plus chapters 2 and 3! You might see a black banner across the top of my website asking you to sign up for the newsletter, with a text box for entering your email. You can use that, or if you’ve dismissed that click this link to go to a form you can fill out–a text box for your email, and then under that are checkboxes for which newsletters you’re signing up for. You want to check the “Ann Leckie” one, and you might or might not want to check any of the others, depending, but it’s the Ann Leckie one that will get you the chapters.

Here’s the deal–I hardly ever use my newsletter so I guarantee you won’t be spammed. What it does get used for is things like this. And for announcements of upcoming publications and such. Folks who are already signed up probably already have the chapters in their inboxes. If you aren’t signed up yet, you’ll get the chapters when you do. So, if you want to read the first three chapters early, there you go!

The post Provenance Preview! Read the First Three Chapters Now! appeared first on Ann Leckie.

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Posted by Eric Fidler (Contributor)

Historic preservation is an important way to save buildings that make major aesthetic or historic contributions to our communities. But sometimes, it can be used as an excuse to stop future development from occurring. That’s what two groups are doing in Friendship Heights.

Two groups, the Tenleytown Historical Society and the DC Preservation League, are trying to get historic designation for nine, four-unit apartment buildings at 4315-4351 Harrison St NW, which lie across the alley from a WMATA bus garage the same groups have tried and failed to landmark since 2012. They argue the buildings, built in 1936, satisfy several landmark criteria, including that the buildings “are significant for their arrangement around a shared central hall.”

What the applicants don’t say is that the row of apartments sits on the edge of the RA-2 zone, which permits medium-density apartments. In fact, a builder recently redeveloped one of the four-unit buildings, 4343, into an eight-unit condo built entirely matter-of-right. Perhaps this redevelopment and densification sparked the applicants’ mysteriously sudden interest in these buildings.

Harrison Street apartments, outlined in red, lie at the edge of a medium-density zone. Image by the author.

4343 Harrison Street was redeveloped from a four-unit building into an eight-unit building. Image by the author.

The historic landmark application reveals the buildings display a few nice decorative elements, but do they merit historic protection?

The arguments for historic preservation don’t add up

The groups make several arguments for why these buildings are historic, but they don’t tell the full story. For instance, the application states the apartments are “representative of early housing in Friendship Heights.”

But a closer analysis of historic building permits reveals 60% percent of permits for housing in Friendship Heights were issued before these apartments’ permits, and not a single one of these permits shares the Harrison Street apartments’ designation of “Attached.” In fact, 87% of residential permits issued before the Harrison Street apartments were for detached or duplex houses. The Harrison Street apartments are not representative of early housing in the neighborhood.

The application states that the builder, Michael A. Mess, was inspired by the Washington Sanitary Improvement Company and the Washington Sanitary Housing Company (WSHC), which were two philanthropic builders that limited investor dividends to make housing more affordable for working class residents. It’s true that Mess rented his new apartments below the market rate for similar apartments, but voluntary rent control in the 1930s hardly merits historic designation today.

This building type, sometimes called a “mansion apartment,” was really common in the DC area during the 1930s and 1940s. The applicants say these buildings are significant for their “outward appearance and sense of scale of single-family homes arranged as flats on the interior,” but that’s something one could say about any small, four-unit apartment building in the District. It’s unclear whether these buildings have something else that sets them apart.

One common argument for historic preservation in DC is landmark criterion C-10, which includes “Buildings that are the work of skilled architects, landscape planners, urban planners, engineers, builders, or developers.” Prolific DC architect Appleton P. Clark (1865-1955) designed the row of apartments, but he designed 530 buildings in the District, many of far greater historical significance. And the Harrison Street apartments rank among Clark’s least ornate and representative works, which include  Riggs National Bank, Imani Temple, or Heurich House.

Imani Temple (1891) Image by Elvert Barnes on Flickr licensed under Creative Commons.

Riggs National Bank addition (1922) Image by NCinDC on Flickr licensed under Creative Commons.

Clark designed the 1914 and 1923 additions to the Heurich House Image by David on Flickr licensed under Creative Commons.

Both the Comprehensive Plan and the existing zoning map allow this section of Harrison Street to contain denser housing. That’s what should go here. We have seen this tactic before, where anti-neighbors abuse the historic preservation system to zone for lower density instead, which means fewer housing opportunities and higher prices for everyone. Historic preservation is important, but saving these buildings isn’t worth giving up scarce, transit-adjacent land.

Top image: Are these apartment buildings on the 4300 block of Harrison Street NW historically significant? Image by the author.

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NIF: eps 47-9, Xia Jiang's Attack

Aug. 16th, 2017 09:30 am
sartorias: Mei Changs (MC)
[personal profile] sartorias
This is the second climax, as tense and emotionally powerful as the Hunting Lodge battle--and there is a third to come.

One of the many things I love about this series is that now, so near the end, it could easily have descending into all grim all the time, but first there was Nie’s surprise reappearance, and then Lin Chen strolls in, and proceeds to tease absolutely everybody with his insouciant wisecracking and unruffled competence.

The result is, the serious scenes still hit with resonating impact, carrying all the emotional velocity of the storyline so far, but we get these delightful moments of relief and delight that keep emotional reaction swinging from bright to dark and back again.

Read more... )
sovay: (Sydney Carton)
[personal profile] sovay
The news remains unspeakable (except that once people start saying things that should not be said, they have to be faced and spoken against), but it is sunny outside and [personal profile] selkie tagged me a bathtub full of Jeremy Brett and I don't know how I'm going to sleep during NecronomiCon, but I hope I'm going to have fun. Everybody take care of themselves.
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Posted by Kate Rabinowitz (Contributor)

Nightlife in DC has grown dramatically in recent years, from just over 800 bars, restaurants, and nightclubs in 2008 to just under 1300 in 2016. While the conventional wisdom that most restaurants don’t survive their first year is far from true, nightlife in DC hasn’t been all boom—even in this period of rapid growth there were many short-lived bars, restaurants, and nightclubs. 

The chart below tracks how many new liquor licenses were created for each year from 2010 to 2015 and how many liquor licenses remained active in the following years. In 2010, for instance, there were 165 new liquor licenses granted to restaurants, bars, and nightclubs; by 2016, just under half of those same businesses remained.

Roughly ten percent of nightlife doesn't survive for each year of business

Number of new DC liquor licenses, 2010-15, and their survival rates. Image by the author.

Roughly 10 percent of bars, restaurants, and nightclubs exit each business year, but openings and survival rates seem highly cyclical: 2011 saw many new openings (198), but nearly 15 percent of those businesses didn’t survive the first year. The following two years had markedly lower new liquor licenses, suggesting an unsustainable boom in 2010-2011 followed by an initial higher closure rate and a shift to more conservative expansion with fewer closings. There is another peak in 2014, with the highest number of new liquor licenses across the period. However, a large uptick in closings across the board in 2015-2016 potentially signals oversaturation of the market, suggesting that the District’s nightlife and restaurant boom could be coming to an end. 

Nightlife business entry and exit patterns vary across the city, reflecting each neighborhood’s character and nightlife maturity. The infographic below shows the opening and closing of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs through the number of new and ended liquor licenses.

High nightlife churn along central nightlife corridors

New and closed nightlife liquor licenses in DC, 2008-16. Neighborhoods organized roughly geographically. Image by the author.

The first period of data, 2008-2009, shows almost no activity across DC, possibly due to the uncertainty and pullback in loans during and after the Great Recession. There’s a bounceback the next year, particularly along central corridors. The area encompassing Dupont and the K Street corridor saw the greatest number of new licenses in early years as well as the greatest number of closed licenses, making it the area with the most nightlife churn. Downtown and Chinatown also experienced markedly high churn rates.

The Northeast side of Capitol Hill experienced early growth in liquor licenses, largely driven by H Street, and then a later spike with the opening of Union Market. Neighborhoods more on the periphery of nightlife in 2008, such as Bloomingdale, Brookland, and Ivy City, have seen a slow, steady growth in nightlife options. Spikes in closures in 2016 are seen across Georgetown, Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights, Dupont, Shaw, and Chinatown, suggesting this nightlife boom may not last much longer.

Technical notes: Data was obtained from the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration via FOIA. Years shown above refer to specific reporting months: December 2008, December 2009, November 2010, October 2011, December 2012, August 2013, August 2014, July 2015, and August 2016. Neighborhoods are defined by D.C. Office of Planning's Neighborhood Clusters. You can find complete code and data for this post on my github page.

This article is a part of an ongoing series of studies from the DC Policy Center.

Top image: The pop-up "Cherry Blossom Pub" in Shaw. Image by Ted Eytan licensed under Creative Commons.

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The Big Idea: Stella Parks

Aug. 16th, 2017 02:18 pm
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Posted by John Scalzi

I’ve eaten Stella Parks‘ desserts, and, oh, man, they are so good. So I’m delighted to give her space today to let her tell you about her debut cookbook BraveTart, which examines and celebrates a branch of America’s culinary tradition Parks thinks is overlooked and underappreciated. Is she right? Read on.


When people hear that I’m a classically trained pastry chef or that I work at a place called Serious Eats, most everyone will ask how I got my start. I can’t help but imagine they want to hear about a magical summer in France or else how I learned to bake at my mother’s side. Maybe they want me to say that I always loved Julia Child, or that I saved up my allowance to buy my first croissant. Trouble is, it didn’t happen that way at all.

I grew up in suburban Kentucky, my summers spent with Puddin’ Pops on the porch, my winters passed one mug of Swiss Miss at a time. I loved the tongue-scorching sweetness of a McDonald’s apple pie from the drive-thru window and the muffled scrape of a plastic spoon against the bottom of a chocolate pudding cup (the tinfoil lid curled back and licked clean, natch). At the supermarket, I learned the heft to a tube of cookie dough, the lightness in a bag of marshmallows, and the rattle of rainbow sprinkles in a plastic jar. That’s how I got my start—somewhere between the milk-logged squish of an Oreo and the snap of a Crunch bar.

Sure, it sounds a little trashy compared to that whole Proust thing with madeleines and tea, but I find those bites are just as transportive, little triggers that send me flying back through time. Chances are, if you grew up in America, you’ve got some memories like that as well. Maybe it’s the a dollop of Cool Whip on pumpkin pie, the sticky fingered bliss of an ice cream sandwich, or that familiar slab of birthday cake on the conference room table. Those shared experiences, however mundane, connect us across most every demographic.

It’s a common phenomenon, but a culinary tradition we pay little respect—we call it junk food. Truth is, mass produced snacks have a lineage as respectable as any other. Animal crackers, vanilla wafers, and Fig Newtons all date back to the 1800s, and even newcomers like Rice Krispies Treats, Reese’s Cups, and Milky Way bars are nearly a hundred years old. For anyone raised in America and alive today, these sweets have always been a familiar part of life. Yet they’re not really ours; industrial formulas are subject to change or even cancellation outright (RIP, Coke Zero; adios, Magic Middles).

So when I set out to write a cookbook about American desserts, I knew I couldn’t leave the “junk food” behind. It had damn well earned a place at the table—right alongside “proper” American desserts like devil’s food cake, chocolate chip cookies, and apple pie. With that mandate in mind, I spent nearly six years writing, researching, and developing recipes for everything from Snickers to snickerdoodles. In the end, I don’t think of it as a cookbook so much as a culinary time capsule, stuffed full of recipes, vintage images, history, and photography to tell the story of American desserts as a whole.


BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the author on Serious Eats, Twitter, and Instagram, or on tour.

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Posted by David Alpert (Founder), Canaan Merchant (Contributor)

New York's elevated railroads brought transit to farmland and sparked development of a city. China still does this. But in the United States, today, transit projects are expected to bring massive ridership instantly or risk being shut down or criticized.

Governing Magazine editor Alan Ehrenhalt writes about Judge Richard Leon's ridiculous ruling that blocked Maryland's Purple Line light rail. Leon halted the project because, he said, initial projections of its usage hadn't accounted for Metro's ridership declines. Never mind that the Federal Transit Administration said enough people would ride the Purple Line if Metro shut down completely; there wasn't enough data to prove to Leon, beyond a shadow of a doubt for a man evidently skeptical of the transit project, that it was worthwhile.

Leon's ruling came in a case brought "by some suburbanites living in the vicinity of the project" who, Ehrenhalt writes, "had no legitimate environmental concerns; they just didn’t want a transit line in their neighborhoods. But they knew how to take advantage of the giant loophole that NEPA had become." (An appeals court has temporarily allowed the project to resume work while the litigation is resolved.)

NEPA is the National Environmental Protection Act, which has a noble goal: to protect the environment. But it requires such detailed analyses not just of whether a project will actually pollute water or kill wildlife but impact "the quality of the human environment" in any way, including "an enjoyable harmony between man and his environment."

Under the law, Ehrenhalt explains,

It soon became a common requirement for communities and developers planning any new transportation project to justify it by predicting how it might be used 10, 20 or 30 years later, even though no such prediction stood much chance of being accurate. Planners often had to thread the needle when it came to feigning clairvoyance. If the usage they forecast for a project was too heavy, the project could be halted on the grounds that it would lead to unacceptable congestion. If the forecast came in too low, a judge could declare it to be an unnecessary intrusion on the pristine land around it.

Even though there's no way to predict the future perfectly, transit projects have the Scylla of NEPA lawsuits on the one side if their ridership projections are too low. And then, if the projections are too high, the Charybdis of articles like this recent one in the Washington Post.

The 2004 environmental study for the Silver Line predicted, for instance, 3,803 riders per weekday at McLean; there were only 1,618 per day in May. But the areas around the Silver Line stops are still mainly suburban office parks ringed by parking, separated by nearly-uncrossable mega-roads. Fairfax County is slowly—slowly—making the roads more walkable, and development is (fairly quickly, now) transforming the parcels.

WMATA planning head Shyam Kannan explained what's going on to reporter Lori Aratani.

“I can’t stress enough that ridership is a product of land use,” said Shyam Kannan, managing director of planning at Metro. He said that the ridership projections came at a time when the economy was booming and were based on “heroic assumptions” about how quickly development would take place around the five new stations. These assumptions failed to materialize, he said, because of a combination of factors, including the 2008 recession, 2013 global economic collapse and, closer to home, sequestration and cuts to the defense budget. Those factors cooled the appetite for new construction.

“The good news is that things did unfreeze,” said Kannan. “If you head out to Wiehle, you’ll see nothing but construction cranes. All of that portends many thousands of trips on Metro.”

It took more than five years for Rockville Pike to transform around Metro. White Flint station has been open 33 years, and it's just now getting walkable urbanism. Clarendon, Fort Totten, Congress Heights—the list goes on. The Silver Line is catalyzing Tysons' transformation; it's unrealistic to expect it to happen overnight.

And yes, some ridership estimates did predict that, but perhaps only because the way environmental law is interpreted (and because of limited, competitive funding), transit projects have to get an A+ or it's as good as an F, at least in the minds of some judges. It's a perversion of the intent of laws like NEPA when most road projects move along a steady path to approval and the much more environmentally friendly transit projects have to run an endless gauntlet of unpredictable and potentially fatal obstacles.

Meanwhile, in China, they build subway stations like this:

This is Caojiawan station in Chongqing, photos of which went viral recently for being oddly in the middle of nowhere, without even roads to the area. This isn't so crazy; the line is going out here in anticipation of urban development to come.

Maybe putting it in before even a road is unusual, and the state of environmental protection is much, much different in China, but building transit before the other buildings makes a lot of sense. Most of New York's early elevated railroads went to what were then at most lightly populated areas of Manhattan, or opened up new parts of Queens and Long Island for development, and so on. Same in many other cities. Streetcar lines were part of building communities like Takoma Park.

The Flushing line (now 7 train) in Queens, 1917.

But imagine what Judge Leon would say if someone wanted to build transit to a yet-to-be-developed area. Or what would appear in the news five years later. 

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Wednesday Reading

Aug. 16th, 2017 08:44 am
oracne: turtle (Default)
[personal profile] oracne
I seem to be on a nonfiction binge.

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman by Anne Helen Petersen is a series of essays on various "non-conforming" female public figures from Serena Williams to Caitlyn Jenner. Each essay shows how perceptions of their public personas interact with American cultural norms and the backlash than ensues. I liked that each chapter focused on a different type of non-conformity. It was a fast, entertaining read, though I did bristle at one passing reference to "Harlequin romances," a phrase which appeared to be used as metonymy for the Romance genre. Really, honey?

From the introduction: this book considers the costs and benefits of smoothing one's sharp edges just enough to make it onto the cover of Vanity Fair or into the pages of GQ, multiplexes across America, or the White House--and the implication that unruliness is still largely the provenance of women who are white and straight.

Favorite quote: It's one thing to argue that you belong--it's another thing to actually believe it. As [Jennifer] Weiner's experience makes clear, part of the difficult, essential work of unruliness is shaking the status quo so thoroughly, so persistently, so loudly that everyone--even the very women behind that agitation, many of whom have internalized the understandings they fight so tirelessly against--can see their value within it.

The Supergirls: Feminism, Fantasy, and the History of Comic Book Heroines (Revised and Updated) by Mike Madrid traces the history of female superheroes from the earliest days of comics to the present. The social history is fairly shallow, but if you're looking for an overview of the topic and a host of characters to research in more depth, you could do worse. Caveat: it's full of observations such as Thorn was as tough as they came, but dressed in a green leather halter-top and micro miniskirt with thigh high boots, she looked more like the entertainer at a bachelor party than the terror of the underworld.

I'd been reading Black and Brown Planets: The Politics of Race in Science Fiction, edited by Isiah Lavender, off and on since maybe January. I'd originally picked it up for the essay about Octavia Butler's short story "The Evening and the Morning and the Night," but the essay I found most rewarding was "Questing for an Indigenous Future: Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony as Indigenous Science Fiction" by Patrick B. Sharp, as it described and connected some historical events of which I'd been ignorant when I read the novel, and which added quite a bit of depth to my understanding of it.

"Monteiro Lobato's O Presidente Negro (The Black President): Eugenics and the Corporate State in Brazil" by M. Elizabeth Ginway, "Mestizaje and Heterotopia in Ernest Hogan's High Aztech" by Lysa M. Rivera, and "Virtual Reality at the Border of Migration, Race, and Labor" by Matthew Goodwin all brought me new insights and new information. High Aztech was a DNF for me back when it was new, so I'm glad I got to read about it from another perspective.

I'm about midway through the Rosa Parks bio, and hope to finish it before I leave on vacation.


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