New Books and ARCs, 2/22/19

Feb. 22nd, 2019 10:23 pm
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Posted by John Scalzi

Got a big stack of new books and ARCs this week for you to peruse and consider. What here looks like something you’d enjoy? Tell us all in the comments!

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Posted by Sumana Harihareswara

two snowflakes made out of gold paper"The Art of Python", the one-night arts festival about your experience of programming, is still open for proposals, till February 28th.

What experiences do we want to explore? We want variety -- because there are so many experiences we don't usually see! I hope we get a range of tones -- humor, awe, melancholy, anger, joy, and so on. And I'm curious about ones we often don't discuss factually in public, because they're embarrassing or because we have non-disclosure agreements.

But also: there are so many missing stories -- even when movies, shows, books, plays, songs, etc. include programmers/programming, I so rarely find that they speak to the joys and sorrows of our experiences.

I listed, as inspirations, some of the ones that get it right, and asked for prior art. But -- admitting that I'm nearly entirely limited to English-language media -- I'm taking a moment here to reflect more deeply on what we usually get, and don't, in mass-media art about programming.

Movies and TV shows: There are a ton of movies that get the Internet hilariously wrong, and movies/shows "about programmers" are often much more about spies or tycoons. We tell a lot of dramatic stories about penetrative hacking and hockey-stick startups, and then a few workplace comedies like Dweebs, The IT Crowd, and Silicon Valley. I never saw Code Monkeys, which may have resonated more.

Halt and Catch Fire, which I enjoyed, is the only TV show I know of that is realistic about programming and its social and economic context. An important relationship starts, and is repaired, when people help each other recover from data loss. People who think that just making good hardware/code is enough for a good career find that, unless you pay attention to intrapersonal, interpersonal, organizational, economic, and social issues, you might still be able to make a living, but your work is far more likely to go into the trashbin where no one will ever use it. And: so many office/work shows are basically about people who do the same jobs for a super long time. Halt and Catch Fire reflects the reality of how you run into the same people over and over in different companies and jobs and configurations, teammate, boss, investor, competitor, family, conference co-panellist, and you bring your past to it but you can also grow, especially thanks to the healing power of making stuff together.

several snowflakes made out of gold paperWritten fiction: I know of no novel-about-programming as magnificent as Ellen Ullman's amazing 2003 debugging detective novel The Bug. One of its point-of-view characters is already a programmer when the story starts, and The Bug helps us understand Ethan's bug-hunting fugues, obsession, anxiety, and volatile bounces between certainty and insecurity:

Step, step, step.

Some part of him knew that he should get away from the debugger. He should get away from the machine, stop and think on a yellow pad, a whiteboard. He wasn't making headway like this. He kept beating against the same certainties--here, else here, else here. Writing and sketching might break his thinking patterns, force him into other channels. But there was something seductive about the debugger: the way it answered him, tirelessly, consistently. Such a tight loop: Step, he said. Line of code, it answered. Step, line of code; step, line of code. It was like the compulsion of playing solitaire: simple, repetitive, working toward a goal that was sure to be attained in just one more hand, just one more, and then one more again.

And so the paradox: The more the debugger remained the tireless binary companion it was designed to be--answering, answering, answering without hesitation or effort late into the night--the more exhausted and hesitant the human, Ethan Levin, found himself to be. He was sinking to the debugger's level. Thinking like it. Asking only the questions it could answer. All the while he suffered what the debugger did not have to endure: the pains of the body, the tingling wrists and fingers, the stiffness in the neck, the aching back, the numb legs. And worse, the messy wet chemistry of the emotions, the waves of anxiety that washed across him, and then, without warning, the sudden electric spikes of panic.

The other is Berta, an academic-turned-tester-turned-programmer who looks back on the mystery -- and on her journey towards greater engineering skill -- with the wisdom of decades in the industry.

There might have been a hundred better ways to talk to a computer, but Ethan Levin had copied the Mac, which had copied the Xerox Star, which was later copied by Microsoft Windows. Who knew our mistakes would prove so durable? ....

And that was it: a tester found a bug, a programmer ignored a tester, a bug report went to the top of a pile on a programmer's messy desk -- nothing could have been more normal than what had just happened.

The Bug is Ullman's attempt to write "a historical, technical, Gothic mystery" about the debugging process, and I think it's terrific, and not nearly enough people in our industry have read it, and I urge you to do your bit to change that.

Music: MC Frontalot and Dilbert and Jonathan Coulton used to mean a lot to me. I am literally in the documentary about Frontalot. On reflection, a lot of Dilbert is generally about corporate office work, and a bit of it (such as "I'm gonna write me a new minivan!") is particularly tech-specific. Frontalot and Coulton sing a lot about being nerds, but somewhat less about being nerds who make technology. (Some of Coulton's work that's applicable: "Code Monkey" of course, and "A Laptop Like You", "Robots.txt", and "The Future Soon" -- often ruefully discussing alienation and the way we sublimate our anxieties into our making.)

And Barcelona still holds up in depicting the way that computers can feel like friends, how we make software that feels like a companion, how we make friends across networks and then use those same networks to get back at them ("I Have The Password To Your Shell Account"), how dreary the troubleshooting treadmill feels ("Bugs Bugs Bugs"). Paul Morris talked with me about how some of Radiohead's work gets at the narrowing-field-of-vision experience of being deep in a debugging session, with the long droney periods punctuated by surprises.

Comics: And there's a whole huge conversation I probably need to find about programmer narratives as told in webcomics over the past 20 years. Randall Munroe's tagline for xkcd is "A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language." and that attention to emotion ("romance") is part of the secret of its success. Ryan North's progression from Dinosaur Comics to Marvel's The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl -- which is partially about studying CS and using programming to solve problems -- succeeds at illuminating programmer experiences in ways that literature researchers have probably studied!

Stand-up comedy: I think the only major stand-up comic who ever talks about anything close to programming is Brian Malow, who jokes much more about physical and biological sciences.

several snowflakes made out of gold paper, plus some scrap gold paper, plus a purple ribbonWhat I want: We put several ideas in this part of the play creation guide. But also, I'd love art about, for instance:

  • the joy of your architecture decision being validated because a new need comes up and it is easy to fulfill (Leonard thought of this one)
  • dealing with obstreperous code reviewees
  • dealing with a code reviewer who knows less than you
  • arguing well about a technical issue -- being intellectually rigorous regarding the ideas at play, and kind and generous in the conversation with colleagues
  • the paranoia/uncertainty of being more careful about security than those around you
  • the despair of trying to work with broken systems (Jason mentioned this one)
  • the jelling, communication, and camaraderie of a project coming togther well (Jason again)
  • per this tweet, the pride of a small thing done well that nearly no one will notice (Jason again)

I asked Siderea, a programmer-turned-psychotherapist whose essays I enjoy, what stories art about programming often misses, and what experiences she'd like to see reflected in art:

I would like to see art about programmers dealing with the things that can suck about being a programmer:
  • Programmers dealing with unreasonable, deceitful, and manipulative management, in the ways which are specific to "overtime exempt" programmers (i.e. if you are not willing to work 120-hour weeks, you aren't really a team player)
  • Programmers who are minorities dealing with broism
  • Programmers realizing that what they're working on is immoral or illegal, and deciding what to do about it; programmers not realizing the moral/legal implications of what they're working on until too late
  • Programmers dealing with difficulties without help because non-programmers don't even understand what the programmer is trying to say
  • Programmers dealing with the stresses of writing life-impacting code (e.g. embedded systems in vehicles, medication administration systems, etc.), especially in the situation of being without managerial support for adequate QA.
  • I would add something about work assignments and junior or unpopular people getting tasked to do awful or impossible tasks. Coding equivalents of Augean Stables. "Oh, we don't really have a role for you any more, so, uh, why don't you refactor this core business system for the web written in C with FORTRAN plug-ins by the most disgruntled employee we ever had."
  • Ooh, here's a thing: I'd like to see art about programmers not working in software development companies. In particular, about the (sometimes disturbing) things programmers learn about other industries when they take jobs, e.g. at insurance companies, in health care systems, with the government, in the space program, etc.
Sumana doing stand-up comedy in a cafe, in front of a few attendees, several years ago So please take a look at "The Art of Python", the one-night arts festival about your experience of programming, and consider proposing your art before February 28th. (And you can submit performance-style art to !!Con by March 3rd.)

And if you blog somewhere about what tropes you see in art about making technology, let me know and maybe I'll add those links to this post!

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Posted by Bruce Schneier


After years of "making do" with the available technology for his squid studies, Mooney created a versatile tag that allows him to research squid behavior. With the help of Kakani Katija, an engineer adapting the tag for jellyfish at California's Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), Mooney's team is creating a replicable system flexible enough to work across a range of soft-bodied marine animals. As Mooney and Katija refine the tags, they plan to produce an adaptable, open-source package that scientists researching other marine invertebrates can also use.

As usual, you can also use this squid post to talk about the security stories in the news that I haven't covered.

Read my blog posting guidelines here.

Follow Up Oscar Predictions, 2019

Feb. 22nd, 2019 08:29 pm
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Posted by John Scalzi

When the Oscar nominations came out this year, I did my first-pass guesses as to who and what would take the statuettes home, and noted I would follow-up closer to time, because things change. And this year, yow, did they — A Star Is Born, the film I suspected would take the win, appears to have faded considerably in the last few weeks as it was passed over again and again by the various other awards ceremonies. At the same time, no one film has emerged as a frontrunner in any of the run-up awards.

Which means: Surprise! No one knows anything, least of all me. So for this year, I’m officially announcing that I don’t have much confidence in my predictions — use for your home Oscar pool at your own risk. That said, here are my best guesses as to who will in this Sunday:

Best Picture: I think Roma has the best chance, as everyone at least seems to like it, a lot of people love it, and at least a few think it’s stunning. For an award that is decided by instant runoff, that should be enough to get it over the line. It’s possible Green Book will come up from the outside, but if it does, expect a lot of post-ceremony kvetching about it. Maybe A Star is Born will still pull it out? But it really does feel as if its star has fallen.

Best Director: Still think it’s Alfonso Cuarón, although at this point the only director I’d say I’m absolutely sure won’t take it is Adam McKay. I’d personally give it to Spike Lee both because the film merits it and as a career award, but then again no one’s letting me vote (I think Lee still has a chance at an Oscar, however, in the screenplay category, screenplay often being the consolation Oscar for directors).

Best Actress: Still think this is Glenn Close, although outside shots from Olivia Colman and Melissa McCarthy (who I didn’t think had a chance when the noms came out) are still possible. Honestly, though, I don’t know why anyone would deny Close at this point.

Best Actor: Everyone seems to think Rami Malek has it, while my own previous guess (Willem Dafoe) doesn’t seem to be part of anyone’s conversation. At this point, unless Bradley Cooper makes a surprise comeback, I think everyone is probably right.

Best Supporting Actress: Buzz seems to be on Regina King, although I think Amy Adams still has a chance. Either is perfectly deserving.

Best Supporting Actor: Star’s fade means that the sure bet I thought existed in Sam Elliott may not be that great of a bet, and people seem to think Mahershala Ali might get his second Oscar in two years. As may be, but I’m not going to throw the towel in on Elliott yet. I think he might surprise folks. We’ll see!

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Posted by Dan Malouff (Board of Directors, Editorial Board)

A version of this article was first published on May 22, 2013.

Arlington Memorial Bridge opened in 1932, amidst the very depths of the Great Depression. It was a major event in Washington, which drew President Herbert Hoover, the first lady, and the vice president.

This vintage newsreel illustrates the excitement. The newscaster is particularly enthusiastic that the bridge is wide enough for “four cars to pass abreast.”


Video from British Pathe.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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Posted by Fred Clark

The authors’ Jesus, in other words, corrects what they perceive as the errors of the Jesus of the Gospels. Jesus 1.0 rejected the temptation of power. Jesus 2.0, they say, will return to seize power with relish.

Flight of the Fantail by Steph Matuku

Feb. 22nd, 2019 08:00 am
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Posted by Octavia Cade

I’ve been lost in the bush before. Some years back, I was tramping in Southland, through a really quite overgrown track in the Longwood Ranges. It was so overgrown that, at one point, the track seemed to disappear. I could just perceive two possible paths before me in the undergrowth. The map wasn’t much help, so I took the one that looked slightly more trampled than the other.

It was a mistake.

A couple of hours later it was getting dark and I was lost. The Longwoods used to be mining country, back in the day, and I’d been warned about holes suddenly opening up in the ground—so I wasn’t about to keep walking around in poor light. I didn’t have a tent, so I built a lean-to out of giant fern fronds and spent the night in my sleeping bag. I had plenty of food, and the New Zealand bush is thankfully free of bears and wolves and what have you. I wasn’t afraid. The next day I packed up, and navigated myself across country to the hut I was supposed to stay in. It was lovely.

Then again, I wasn’t dealing with radiation poisoning, alien spacecraft, and a dead schoolmate who, having impaled himself on the local vegetation, had come back to life as a zombie.

You could say I had it easy.

In Steph Matuku’s Flight of the Fantail, a school bus full of teenagers crashes off the road and into a river, deep in the New Zealand bush. Both adults aboard die, as do most of the students. A handful are left alive, waiting for rescue. And, river aside, the environment they’re lost in might as well be the Longwoods. It’s familiar to me, is what I’m saying, and it’s a lovely treat to have a horror story in a setting that’s so very recognisably Kiwi. (When you’re from a small country, you don’t get that often.) Plants, animals, environment … I was excited to read about all of them, and to see what these kids would do with them.

And they’re pretty resourceful, those kids—or at least one of them is. (I’ll get to Devin later.) Hunger is a deeply unattractive prospect, as is dying of exposure, so they hole up in an old mine and eat eel. Well, fern fronds too, and on one occasion even a kiwi, which was the real moment of abject horror for them and me both: “it had been stringy and tasted gamey, and everyone had felt like they were breaking some sort of sacrilegious code eating their national bird” (p. 225).

That’s the thing about survival. You do what you have to do, adapt to the situation that you’re stuck with. Survive a plane crash in the Andes, then, sure, you might end up eating a person. A kiwi seems more awful somehow (thank goodness it wasn’t a kakapo, I don’t think I could have kept reading!); but perhaps starvation could drive a person to it.

And if it sounds familiar, this story—a group of young people in the wilderness, and there’s something unnatural, something abnormal picking them off—well, it’s a horror staple, isn’t it? We know lots of stories come out of this basic conceit. That’s what makes it fun. This particular trope is so popular because we know what’s going to happen. We know there are going to be more deaths—and bloody, terrible deaths at that.

There’s something satisfyingly voyeuristic about it. It’s no coincidence, I think, that stories with this structure are often movies. It’s such a visual narrative: all those looming trees, the darkness and the terror. And something hiding in those trees, waiting to snatch you. In this case, what they snatch is mostly sanity, but the shocks and the deaths are still cinematically vivid. (If this book doesn’t get the NZ Film Commission drooling over it I’ll be genuinely amazed. It’s perfect for the big screen.)

Another kind of adaptation is what this story is really about. The ability of the stranded kids to adapt to their environment is key to their survival. They are stranded for the long haul, with rescuers not coming—or coming with their own agenda, which isn’t always that of survival—and that first, basic adaptation to living in the wilderness is difficult enough. The ecosystem they’re used to is, after all, so very different. All the real adaptation they’ve had to perform in the past has been social—navigating the currents of high school, for example—and a lot of what they confront in those contexts can feel more lethal than anything in New Zealand’s bush.

Take Liam. Seems like a good kid, initially. Strong, brave. After the bus has toppled into the river, he keeps his head and drags out one of his schoolmates, saving his life. Then he risks himself again, going back to try and save the others. He does it thinking of his dad, who used to serve in war zones, who did so because helping others mattered to him. It matters to Liam as well, but then he discovers that the only person left to save is a kid who he just can’t stomach. And for good reason: it turns out that Eugene has been harassing Liam’s thirteen-year-old sister:

“He ripped her dress and everything. Lucky Dad had taught her a few moves. She smashed Eugene in the nuts, socked him in the face and took off. I was trying to figure out how I could nail him without getting sprung. And then the chance came, and I took it. I left him there.” (p. 82)

Left him to drown, left him pleading for his life. School kids aren’t innocent here, and the survivors aren’t always nice. Some of them are, but every environment has its predators. Every environment evolves predators, in fact—and you might drop them in a remote area of the bush but the capacity to hunt, to hurt, survives.

Sometimes that’s positive. If you’re stuck in the forest and need to hunt, need to hurt, the animals around you in order to survive, well. Hunting and hurting are useful skills. It’s horrible to say, but they are. Devin, that kid I mentioned earlier, is particularly good at this sort of thing. Raised by a single dad who takes living off the land to extremes, Devin comes from a school environment characterised by ostracism. She’s called “Dozy Devin,” is the target for every bully, because she can’t quite adapt to school life, can’t quite get the hang of the cutthroat interaction of wealthy urban teens. Her dad seems a bit dozy himself, frankly, and sealed his daughter’s fate early in her school days when it got around that he fed her roadkill. Some hedgehog stories don’t need to come to light, and the culinary fate of one particular hedgehog has for years isolated Devin from her peers, when all the poor girl wants is to have a friend and achieve her modest dream of becoming a plumber. That’s the kind of ambition that gets her laughed at and looked down on by those peers, but it turns out that Devin, lost in the woods, has found the environment she’s best adapted to.

In the bush, being able to adapt gives you worth, as rugby star Rocky makes very clear. “‘Dozy Devin,’ he said, through gritted teeth, ‘saved me from drowning, got you across the stream, built a fire, caught breakfast and has just finished sewing up my leg. Dozy Devin deserves a little more respect’” (p. 42). She catches eels, catches fish, guts and cooks them. This is hunting, this is hurting, and in this environment she’s good at it. Hunting and hurting are adaptations for school life, too, but she never quite got the hang of them there. There were always other kids who did it better. Other kids who got by without being targets, whose social camouflage was more effective. Kids like Rocky himself, who rose to the top of the heap without even trying.

Environment influences behaviour. These kids live through the crash, some of them. They live through the monstrous abnormality turning the bush into something even more unfamiliar. They don’t always live through each other. Liam might not actively have beaten Eugene to death, but he’s not the only opportunist among these kids, and he’s certainly not the worst. Some people adapt quicker and more efficiently—and in different ways—than others.

Starvation and shock might lead to eating endangered birds or covering yourself in the blood and brain matter of classmates, but there’s more to adapt to here than nature—human or otherwise. That alien spacecraft I was talking about earlier? It’s half-buried in a hillside, and what comes out of it is … strange. Not aliens themselves, but a radiating kind of force that gives headaches and nosebleeds and hallucinations. That forces changes in behaviour, that makes vicious kids more homicidal, that makes lonely kids fall into dreams of romance. It resurrects the parts of them that have been previously buried over, ruthlessly exposes the parts they hide in order to fit in better. It strips them of their adaptations, and it creates new ones: Rocky’s leg, healing faster than it should; Jahmin, realising that he’s been dead for days, and has somehow been brought back, without the need to breathe, without the capacity for pain, with the ability to just … go on.

The balance of events and relationships between these kids is so well done. They read like teenagers, too, not like adults pretending to be younger than they are. And because the alien craft is, apart from its mysterious effects, almost tangential to the text, the story is closely focused on the horrific imagery of isolation and adaptation, and on how insanity and environment affect the two. It’s strange and claustrophobic and nothing like lying in the Longwoods, looking up at sky and knowing that morning is coming and you can get yourself out. It’s the bush turned unfamiliar, uncanny, an ecological estrangement that undermines all previous encounters with the environment. I wish the focus had stayed on that, but there is a thread running through of what’s happening outside this affected wilderness, and it’s not nearly as successful.

For a start, it’s simply not as believable: suddenly, this horror trope of kids killed one by one in the wilderness is smack up against the evil corporation trope … and, look, New Zealand is small and top of the anticorruption charts but it’s not perfect. My country has its fair share of dodgy companies, but this one’s been studying the ship for generations and has enough clout to see off Search and Rescue, as well as the Department of Conservation. When the zombie kid sneaking up on the alien ship, and the murderous schoolmate who’s dancing naked before it, is more credible than the search and rescue efforts, that’s a problem. And try as she might, Matuku cannot convince me that New Zealand has adapted to the point where S&R and DOC rangers don’t look severely askance at a company saying, “Don’t search for your missing kids here!” To quote a national beer billboard: “Yeah right.”

But everyone goes along with it! The media, the government, the parents. The general public. I get that this is a device to keep the kids from being rescued too quickly, but I think there might have been a better one. This is an element that not only feels like it comes from a different country (and everything else here is so recognisably Kiwi, from the environment to the speech patterns to the metaphors—hello, fantail of death, you ill-omened creature!); it feels like it comes from a different story, one focused on mechanism rather than mystery and horror, and on how individuals adapt to mystery and horror. That adaptation is a strong and scary thing, and when Matuku focuses our attention on it, which in fairness is most of the time, her novel is genuinely compelling.

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Posted by Jeff Wood (Contributor)

Why Rotterdam in the Netherlands is such a unique and modern place. The complicated legacy of the home improvement show This Old House. One transportation app to rule, er, connect them all?

Europe's funky, modern metropolis: Rotterdam, Netherlands, was almost completely leveled during World War II. From the rebuilding effort came a city unlike London or its sibling Amsterdam. Full of concrete, steel, and glass, it emerged as its own quirky modern city. Beyond its unique architecture, you can expect amenities like barley ice cream, cube homes, or the Natural History Museum's odd exhibit on “freakish” animal deaths. The postwar effort intended to not simply rebuild Rotterdam as it was, but to create a modern metropolis from scratch. (William O'Connor | Daily Beast)

Start of the home improvement TV revolution: The PBS home improvement show This Old House first premiered in 1979, when it remodeled an old Dorchester, Boston Victorian home over 13 half-hour episodes. 40 years and several Emmy nominations later, it is credited with creating the expansive home renovation genre and “do-it-yourself television.” Marella Gayla breaks down how an experimental show went from a story of humble guys in flannel to the narrative of gentrification that the glossy, homebuyer-focused genre became today. (Marella Gayla | Curbed)

One app for all transport: Instead of navigating multiple apps to unlock bikeshare, hail a car, or buy a train ticket, the Jelbi app will let you do it all in one place. The app will launch this summer in Berlin, which has eight different bikeshare companies in operation, each requiring its own app. Some private companies, including Lyft, which recently started offering transit, bikeshare, and scooter sharing information in its own app, have also started using the platform. The developers hope to work with other cities worldwide. (Adele Peters | Fast Company)

Oregon's ambitious density push: State Senate President Peter Courtney proposed a bill requiring cities to allow greater density around transit, outdoing a bill proposed in December to make Oregon the first state to do away with single-family zoning. The bill would require Portland-area cities to allow 75 housing units per acre within a quarter mile of frequent transit, and 45 units per acre within a half mile of a light-rail station. Under current zoning, single-family homes near transit mean eight or nine housing units near transit, or up to 18 with accessory apartments. (Rachel Monahan | Willamette Week)

Why voters are wary of building housing: In a Los Angeles Times survey of 1,200 Southern Californians, only 13% blamed the housing shortage on “too little homebuilding.” Rather, respondents cited lack of affordable housing funding or lack of rent control. Rick Jacobus explains how the segmented submarkets of housing and top-down housing policy influence public opinion. He posits that policy should not only support new development, but should also change who benefits from it. Otherwise, voters may continue to vilify all new housing as exclusive luxuries or bastions of gentrification, despite the need to build more. (Rick Jacobus | Shelterforce)

Quote of the Week

“I think [job polarization] speaks to our politics. Cities are different places than they used to be. They're much more educated now, they're much higher-wage, and they're younger. They were distinctive before in the set of occupations they might have, and now they're distinctive in extreme levels of education, high levels of wages, being relatively youthful, and being extremely diverse. You can see how this creates a growing urban, non-urban divide in voting patterns.”

David Autor on the topic of economic polarization in MIT News.

This week on the podcast Sean Northup of the Indianapolis MPO discusses plans for bus rapid transit and transit funding efforts through the state.

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Open Thread: Ice Berries

Feb. 22nd, 2019 10:03 am
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Posted by chris the cynic

It is, by now, well attested that all ice is harvested from the fruit of the ice berry plant.


We often have special open threads set aside for discussing various movies, said discussions including plain text spoilers.  At the moment this is the only one:
   ● Into the Spiderverse


Friday Recommendations!  What have you been reading/writing/listening to/playing/watching lately?  Shamelessly self-promote or boost the signal on something you think we should know about - the weekend’s ahead of us, so give us something new to explore!

And, like on all threads: please remember to use the "post new comment" feature rather than the "reply" feature, even when directly replying to someone else!
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Posted by Malcolm Kenton (Contributor)

All but 63 miles of the 457-mile DC-Boston Northeast Corridor higher-speed rail line are served by commuter or regional rail trains, while Amtrak intercity trains cover the route’s entirety. If commuter trains were extended to fill these gaps, it would be possible to travel inexpensively from DC to Philadelphia with one change of train, from DC to New York with three changes, or DC to Boston with six changes.

In May 2018, Cecil Transit (Cecil County, Maryland’s regional transit agency) started offering a dedicated shuttle to fill the shortest of the two gaps: 20 rail miles from Perryville, MD to Newark, Deleware, which is just over two miles from the Maryland state line.

The Cecil Transit bus stop at the Perryville station parking lot entrance onto Broad Street. Image by the author.

A 20-seat mini-bus makes three daily round-trips, two in the morning and one in the evening, designed to connect Maryland Area Rail Commuter (MARC) trains at their northern terminus of Perryville with Southeast Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) Regional Rail trains at their southern terminus of Newark.

The Cecil Transit van-bus having arrived at the Perryville station parking lot entrance. Image by the author.

Interior of the Cecil Transit van-bus. Image by the author.

The service only operates on weekdays, excluding holidays, and MARC Penn Line trains do not run north of Martin Airport. SEPTA does not operate beyond Wilmington on weekends and most holidays.

The Maryland Transit Administration started advertising the connection in the November MARC Penn Line timetable, also showing connecting SEPTA schedules to Philadelphia. However, according to the Cecil Transit driver who handles the route nearly all weekday mornings, ridership has been very poor, and buses often run empty. When I used the service for the first time on Tuesday, I was joined by only one other passenger: a Baltimore resident who teaches an art history course twice a week at the University of Delaware in Newark.

The Cecil Transit bus on arrival at Newark station. Image by the author.

The bus trip takes 40 minutes one way, barring congestion on Interstate 95, with one intermediate stop at Cecil College’s main campus just off of I-95 in North East, Maryland. The adult cash fare is $2.00 and $1.00 for children, seniors, and people with disabilities, and discounted weekly and monthly passes available.

This makes the total adult fare from DC to center city Philadelphia $21.00 to $22.00, depending on the time of day. The lowest possible Amtrak Northeast Regional fare is $35.00, with fares typically much higher if purchased closer to departure. The total fare from DC to New York, with SEPTA-New Jersey Transit connection at Trenton, would be about $48.00, which is comparable to Amtrak’s minimum advance-purchase Regional fare of $49.00.

New station facility under construction at Newark, DE. Image licensed under Creative Commons.

The schedule leaves very little time to make connections—sometimes less than 10 minutes. I used the second morning northbound schedule, leaving DC’s Union Station on the 6:10 am MARC train, arriving in Perryville at 7:50 am. With the help of my fellow passenger, I found the Cecil Transit bus stop, marked only by a sign beneath a stop sign, at the entrance to the station’s small parking lot from Broad Street.

The bus pulled up promptly at 8:10 am (despite a live tracker site on my fellow passenger’s phone indicating that it would be delayed by 25 minutes). We had a swift ride east on I-95 and pulled into the Newark station parking lot right on time at 8:50 am, where I found a new station building under construction. The Cecil Transit stop is at the east end of the parking lot, marked by a simple sign. The SEPTA train to Philadelphia left just eight minutes after that, getting me to Suburban Station at 10:10 am.

SEPTA Regional Rail train 2720 boarding at Newark, DE. Image by the author.

While I had a good experience and all three vehicles I used ran on-time, I would not recommend this train-bus-train connection to anyone who is inexperienced with taking public transit. It is absurdly inconvenient to have to use a bus just to cover a 20-mile gap in what would be a 135-mile train trip. MTA Maryland has expressed a desire to extend MARC Penn Line service to Newark, perhaps with a stop in North East or Elkton, and perhaps the station facility being built in Newark is designed to accommodate a MARC-SEPTA transfer.

Even if ridership on the bus connection starts to grow as more riders discover it in the MARC timetable, patronage for an inconvenient connection should not be used to judge how well-used a much more convenient all-rail option would be.

Should you decide to use this service to get between DC or Baltimore and Newark or points north, please note the following:

  • If your train is running late enough that you think you might miss the bus, call Cecil Transit at (410) 996-5295, ext. 2, and the dispatcher can radio the driver and ask them to wait for a reasonable amount of time.
  • Cecil Transit accepts only exact change on board. No electronic fare media or mobile payment is accepted.
  • As of now, there is no station agent or SEPTA ticket vending machine at the Newark station. If you haven’t pre-purchased a ticket or pass from SEPTA, you must pay cash to the conductor on board. Conductors will make change.
  • The only facilities currently available at the Newark station are bus shelters and port-a-johns.
  • The Perryville train station has a 1905-built Georgian-style station building with waiting area, restrooms and a MARC ticket vending machine, but it is only open from 4:15 to 8:15 am and 2:00 to 8:30 pm on weekdays. MARC fares can also be paid using the CharmPass mobile app.
  • Northbound, if you miss the 8:58 am SEPTA train from Newark, the next one is not until 11:45 am. An alternative is to take a DART First State bus or a ride-hailing car to Wilmington, where hourly SEPTA service is available.
  • Southbound, if you miss the 8:30 am MARC train from Perryville, the next one is not until 2:30 pm. In the evening, the 6:25 pm train is the only southbound departure from Perryville and only goes as far as Baltimore Penn Station, requiring a 28-minute connection to another train bound for DC.
  • Ride-hailing services are available, though spotty, at Perryville and Newark, and can be used to cover the rail gap in lieu of a bus for a fare of $40 to $50.

Top image: MARC train 502 from Washington having arrived at Perryville station. Image by the author.

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[syndicated profile] sumana_feed

Posted by Sumana Harihareswara

My latest MetaFilter blog post is "At the beginning I never thought of becoming a candidate myself." Immigrant, math Ph.D., farmer, and judge Dalip Singh Saund wasn't just the first Asian American elected to the US Congress. (In 1956, 10 years after Indians could become citizens. Running against a Republican woman aviator.)

I've known part of Saund's story for years but only a few months ago learned how his farming informed his campaign for naturalization, and dove into the books he'd written.

[syndicated profile] gr8r_gr8r_wash_feed

Posted by Liam Sullivan (Contributor)

Local leaders are mulling a compromise for late night Metro hours

The region's leaders have been at a standoff concerning Metro hours, but DC officials are reportedly considering a compromise where the system opens and closes 30 minutes later. It would open at 5:30 am and close at midnight (currently it opens at 5 am and closes at 11:30 pm) on weekdays, and close at 2 am on Fridays and Saturdays.  (Faiz Siddiqui / Post)

How DC is addressing the sewage problem in Rock Creek

About 50 million gallons of raw sewage and stormwater end up Rock Creek every year, making it inhospitable for aquatic creatures. Now the city is installing green landscaping in nearby neighborhoods to address this problem.  (Jacob Fenston / WAMU)

Another pedestrian is dead in DC after being struck by a driver

A driver fatally struck a person walking on North Capitol Street on Wednesday evening. The victim, who has not yet been identified, died at the hospital.  (Peter Hermann / Post)

Anacostia Riverkeeper is bolstering its water testing program

Environmental nonprofit Anacostia Riverkeeper plans to train and deploy volunteers to test water quality come May, with the help of a $140,000 Department of Energy & Environment (DOEE) grant.   (Sophie Austin / DC Line)

Four more Target stores are coming to DC

DC got its first Target in Columbia Heights about 10 years ago, and now four more stores are coming to Cleveland Park, Ivy City, Shepherd Park, and Tenleytown.  (Nena Perry-Brown / Urban Turf)

What’s the cost and benefit of converting a condo in DC?

Real estate in DC is expensive. UrbanTurf revisited the costs and benefits of converting a single-family home to a condo in DC.  (Nena Perry-Brown / Urban Turf)

Synetic Theater is not going anywhere

Although it's housed in a building that will become Amazon's new headquarters, Synetic Theater will stay put at its current space in Crystal City at least until 2022. The owners thought they might need to find a new space.  (Alex Koma / ARLnow)

A visual history of public libraries in the US

If you're like me, you love your public library, but do you know its history? This colorful timeline lays out how public libraries came to be in the US.  (Ariel Aberg-Riger / CityLab)

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Gen. Nakasone on US CyberCommand

Feb. 22nd, 2019 11:35 am
[syndicated profile] bruce_schneier_feed

Posted by Bruce Schneier

Really interesting article by and interview with Paul M. Nakasone (Commander of U.S. Cyber Command, Director of the National Security Agency, and Chief of the Central Security Service) in the current issue of Joint Forces Quarterly. He talks about the evolving role of US CyberCommand, and it's new posture of "persistent engagement" using a "cyber-presistant force":

From the article:

We must "defend forward" in cyberspace, as we do in the physical domains. Our naval forces do not defend by staying in port, and our airpower does not remain at airfields. They patrol the seas and skies to ensure they are positioned to defend our country before our borders are crossed. The same logic applies in cyberspace. Persistent engagement of our adversaries in cyberspace cannot be successful if our actions are limited to DOD networks. To defend critical military and national interests, our forces must operate against our enemies on their virtual territory as well. Shifting from a response outlook to a persistence force that defends forward moves our cyber capabilities out of their virtual garrisons, adopting a posture that matches the cyberspace operational environment.

From the interview:

As we think about cyberspace, we should agree on a few foundational concepts. First, our nation is in constant contact with its adversaries; we're not waiting for adversaries to come to us. Our adversaries understand this, and they are always working to improve that contact. Second, our security is challenged in cyberspace. We have to actively defend; we have to conduct reconnaissance; we have to understand where our adversary is and his capabilities; and we have to understand their intent. Third, superiority in cyberspace is temporary; we may achieve it for a period of time, but it's ephemeral. That's why we must operate continuously to seize and maintain the initiative in the face of persistent threats. Why do the threats persist in cyberspace? They persist because the barriers to entry are low and the capabilities are rapidly available and can be easily repurposed. Fourth, in this domain, the advantage favors those who have initiative. If we want to have an advantage in cyberspace, we have to actively work to either improve our defenses, create new accesses, or upgrade our capabilities. This is a domain that requires constant action because we're going to get reactions from our adversary.


Persistent engagement is the concept that states we are in constant contact with our adversaries in cyberspace, and success is determined by how we enable and act. In persistent engagement, we enable other interagency partners. Whether it's the FBI or DHS, we enable them with information or intelligence to share with elements of the CIKR [critical infrastructure and key resources] or with select private-sector companies. The recent midterm elections is an example of how we enabled our partners. As part of the Russia Small Group, USCYBERCOM and the National Security Agency [NSA] enabled the FBI and DHS to prevent interference and influence operations aimed at our political processes. Enabling our partners is two-thirds of persistent engagement. The other third rests with our ability to act -- that is, how we act against our adversaries in cyberspace. Acting includes defending forward. How do we warn, how do we influence our adversaries, how do we position ourselves in case we have to achieve outcomes in the future? Acting is the concept of operating outside our borders, being outside our networks, to ensure that we understand what our adversaries are doing. If we find ourselves defending inside our own networks, we have lost the initiative and the advantage.


The concept of persistent engagement has to be teamed with "persistent presence" and "persistent innovation." Persistent presence is what the Intelligence Community is able to provide us to better understand and track our adversaries in cyberspace. The other piece is persistent innovation. In the last couple of years, we have learned that capabilities rapidly change; accesses are tenuous; and tools, techniques, and tradecraft must evolve to keep pace with our adversaries. We rely on operational structures that are enabled with the rapid development of capabilities. Let me offer an example regarding the need for rapid change in technologies. Compare the air and cyberspace domains. Weapons like JDAMs [Joint Direct Attack Munitions] are an important armament for air operations. How long are those JDAMs good for? Perhaps 5, 10, or 15 years, some-times longer given the adversary. When we buy a capability or tool for cyberspace...we rarely get a prolonged use we can measure in years. Our capabilities rarely last 6 months, let alone 6 years. This is a big difference in two important domains of future conflict. Thus, we will need formations that have ready access to developers.

Solely from a military perspective, these are obviously the right things to be doing. From a societal perspective -- from the perspective a potential arms race -- I'm much less sure. I'm also worried about the singular focus on nation-state actors in an environment where capabilities diffuse so quickly. But CyberCommand's job is not cybersecurity and resilience.

The whole thing is worth reading, regardless of whether you agree or disagree.

[syndicated profile] grrm_feed

Posted by grrm

For Best Editor, Short Form:


Of course.


We lost Gardner last May.   A lot of love and laughter went out of the world when he died, and a tremendous amount of talent as well.   He was a gifted writer who did not write nearly enough… and an amazing editor, the single most important and influential editor in our field since John W. Campbell Jr.   It was my privilege  to co-edit half a dozen anthologies with him.   That was a joy and a pleasure, and I will always regret that we can’t do any more.

Gardner loved science fiction with all his heart and soul, and the field loved him as well.   He won more Hugos for editing than any other editor, past or present.   But that does not mean we cannot give him one more.   THE BOOK OF MAGIC, his last original anthology, was published in 2018, along with the final volume of his annual BEST.   Great works, both.

I’ll be putting Gardner’s name on my ballot for Best Editor, Short Form.   I hope you will as well.


Hugo Eligibility – Best Series

Feb. 22nd, 2019 04:41 am
[syndicated profile] grrm_feed

Posted by grrm

I have seen here and there that some people are suggesting A SONG OF ICE & FIRE (by that name, or as GAME OF THRONES) as a possible nominee for the new(ish) Best Series category of the Hugo Awards.   It fits worldcon’s very broad definition of a series, I agree… but as I said below in my post about FIRE & BLOOD, I don’t consider A SONG OF ICE & FIRE a series, and even it was, FIRE & BLOOD is not really part of it.   More a Related Work, the category where it fits best.

WILD CARDS, however, IS a series by anyone’s definition, and is definitely eligible for nomination.

And for what it is worth, WILD CARDS had a hell of a year in 2018.

We published not one, not two, but three new original mosaic novels in the series:  LOW CHICAGO came out in June and TEXAS HOLD ‘EM in November, both in the US, while KNAVES OVER QUEENS was a June release in the UK.   I don’t know any other contending series that put out three new books last year.  And while I am admittedly far from objective, those three books rank among the strongest volumes in the history of the series.   I am very proud of them, and the fans seemed to love them too.

That’s not all, however.   We re-released one of the old books too: ONE-EYED JACKS, volume eight from the original series, was released in August, after decades of being out of print.   But it was not a straight reprint.   We also added two brand new stories to the original text, a Magpie story by Kevin Andrew Murphy and a tale of Lady Black from Carrie Vaughn.

In addition, we had three brand-new stand-alone Wild Cards stories published over on

— “EverNight,” by Victor Milan, published in February,
—  “The Flight of Morpho Girl,” by Caroline Spector and Bradley Denton, published in April,
—  “Fitting In,” by Max Gladstone, published in November.

That’s a huge amount of original Wild Cards content.   If you haven’t tried any of it, you should.   There’s some great stuff there.   I am a lucky editor, and I’ve assembled an amazing team of writers in Wild Cards.

And 2018 was our thirty-first year.   We now have twenty-seven volumes in print, with three more in the pipeline… and probably a lot more to come, especially if the TV shows take off on Hulu.   No other series comes close.

I hope the Hugo nominators will agree.

And the winners are in…

Feb. 22nd, 2019 03:30 am
[syndicated profile] seanan_mcguire_feed

Posted by Seanan McGuire

I’m sorry, y’all; I got snowed in and then I left for Chicago and anyway, the winners got selected late and I am so sorry.  The winners of two ARCs of That Ain’t Witchcraft (one each, obviously), are…

David Kirkpatrick


Jillian (comment #25, no last name)

Please email via my website contact form by Sunday, February 24th; please provide your full address and identify yourself as a winner.  I’m giving the ARCs to Vixy tonight, so you’d better be timely to make sure they hit the mail.

Thanks for playing!

[syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed

Posted by John Scalzi

Just posted a Twitter thread I want to save here for posterity, and also for those of you who don’t bother with that particular service. It involves people complaining about me!

1. So, one of my favorite Hot Takes on Scalzi is the one that goes “I *used* to like Scalzi, but then he went and got all SJW-y” as if this were a new and surprising (and, for me, opportunistic) turn after years of, I don’t know, modest silent neutrality. Well, here’s the thing…

2. I have literally been online for a quarter of a century — my first USENET post was in ’94, and my blog has been up since 1998. I have been spouting off my opinions ALL THAT TIME. I have an electron trail longer than some of these dudes have been ALIVE.

3. And before THAT, I was spouting opinions in print! I was a nationally syndicated newspaper opinion columnist for several years. I have a paper trail that goes along with the electron trail, dating back to ’91 (or ’87, if you want to count my college paper, which, why not?).

4. In all that time, my politics have been — surprise! — pretty much in same area they are now. A few things I’ve moved left on, a few things I have moved right on (no, really), but by and large I’ve been (for the US) mostly-leftish in a petit bourgeois sort of way.

5. And this is checkable because — again — I have a wide and vast trail of my opinions and verbiage going back literal decades. Try it for yourself! It’s all there, somewhere, if you want to bother. Incompleteness will not be a problem for any future biographers of mine.

6. So, when some dude complains that I somehow “went all SJW-y,” the question I’d ask them is: since when? Because I pretty much guarantee you whatever date they pull out of their ass, I can show I was saying largely what I’m saying now well before then. None of this is new.

7. What IS different, perhaps, is that — don’t laugh — I have slightly more humility now, in that I’m willing to accept I don’t know everything, I’m willing to accept that sometimes I show my ass, and I’m willing to at least try to make amends when I do my ass-showing.

8. But otherwise, yeah, this is me, and this has pretty much always been me, as long as I’ve been writing in public. If you think I’ve “gone SJW” it’s because YOU weren’t paying attention before. Which is fine! You don’t have to know my life story. But the issue is you, not me.

9. The thing is, after 25 years online and three decades writing publicly, I’m not going to stop having opinions in public. If this fact bothers you, mute/block me on social media and don’t buy my work. It’s fine, and I don’t need or want your patronage. Read other folks!

10. Just don’t pretend that who I am is something new, or manufactured for sales or cookies. This is me. My track record is long and clear. I’ve been this way for a long time, and will probably be for a while yet. It’s not a surprise, or at least shouldn’t be. Welcome to me.



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