Without My Innate Optimism …

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“A happy person is not a person in a certain set of circumstances, but rather a person with a certain set of attitudes.” -Hugh Downs

“Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.” -Colin Powell

…I can’t imagine where I’d be. We live in a culture of dissatisfaction, designed to make us try to buy happiness, and drama, where we seize unhappiness so we can be “interesting” like the people in movies.

Long ago, I decided you’re happy when you decide to be, and make the most of what you’ve got. It’s worked.

Washed Away by Fluid Pricing

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Amazon.com is getting silly to shop at.

So I tuned in Monday morning with a set budget. My shopping cart told me that a certain doll I like for customizing had been $8.55 but had gone up to $16. Groan of disappointment at missing the super-low price (from a third-party seller). So I go about my shopping, having a temporary fit for getting back to embroidery, then putting that stuff to buy later, getting the X-Acto blades I came for only to find out #16 are no longer made, and so on.

When I’m finalizing the order, I look at some things for later to fill out the total, beads and books and hair extensions, and the doll is $12.55. So I stick him in the basket.

I go to check out, but my total has jumped. The doll is $19.98!

Back to juggling. I take him out. I get a different doll and a pack of doll shoes. Before I buy, I look over my order and see, since he’s right under the total …

He’s down to $11.

Can I mouse fast enough to catch him at the price? I have to remove the other doll and shoes, too. I hit checkout and miraculously the price stays the same through the whole process.

80% jumps every five or ten minutes? What is with this seller? I don’t need the stress and surprises. I just want to buy some things, not do day-trading in the Pink Aisle.

A Peep in the Warehouse

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Okay, so what was the nitty-gritty of SKU for 1000 tree books and 2000 orderly bundles of electrons?

Already, we looked at the database and what fields it needed. At that level, no difference between the two.

In the real world, I had to designate the physical locations by some method. First step was to list the room (bedroom, office, frontroom, kitchen), then where the books stay (say, in the office, Bookcase A or B, the little bookcase on the other side of the room, the shelf in my computer desk, Patrick’s alcove, the music book bag, &c). In a bookcase, there’s the shelf designation, from 1 at the top to 5 on the bottom, and a final small “b” means that it’s in the back row.

Having printed out the partial list I had, I stood at the bookcases, pulling out books and making notes on the backs of anything without any entry. Others, I just updated the location. When things got too messy, I went back to the keyboard, keyed it all in, and printed it out anew. The whole thing is only half an inch/13mm thick, printed prettily and tucked into a D-ring binder of a close size.

Some time I would like to invite the total chaos of storing everything by size. As it is, segregation by project still dominates location. I just wasn’t up to wholesale removals, though I did some shuffling inside a room.

Ordering the e-books was simple and straightforward. Their storage is on the terabyte drive, under “Ebook Library.” Looking at the picture probably tells you the most. After all, I am the promoter of sub-files. Read the rest of this entry

There! E-Books done.

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At least all the non-fiction I can find. Total: a few dozen over 2000. I’m allowing for finding and eliminating a few more duplicates in the database.

That does include a few fiction items, including those that are research. (Some just fell in accidentally, and in SKU you don’t worry about it.) A novel written about a war, while it’s going on, can tell you a good deal about attitudes, if not reality. A novel of a quiet period can give you a hundred details of everyday life, especially when you have several to compare. You need to figure out if someone’s behavior is kind of universally expected, or outré, or simply the author commenting on character. I always hark back to Bulwer-Lytton inadvertently preserving for us the fact that people used to feed their canaries lump sugar as a treat, or Jane Austen the list of Gothic novels not suitable for young ladies.

I am still facing organizing the e-books for Early Dreamers, and that looks like another 300 or so is all. (whimper)

But for now, there’s champagne chilling, corned beef and potatoes in the foodbot, and a Krispy Kreme cake to bake. Celebrate the little victories along the way, or you’ll never keep your hand in at popping corks if you only wait for big ones.

Woman Warriors

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Most women fought in wars because they decided to, not because someone let them. The modern armed services can be seen as a concatenation of one law and reg after another to keep women out of combat, where they would otherwise go, until the 21st C unwound this.

“The first history”, Herodotus’, includes the record of woman warriors. There is Tomyris of the Massagetae, a horse tribe of the Sea of Grass, who defeated and killed Cyrus the Great (Kurush), and Artemisia I of Halikarnassos, queen regnant and satrap for Xerxes, who was so effectual the Hellenes had a huge bounty on her head even before Salamis.

You can ftumblr_n2n6irTCRz1s7#152783ind a lot of female warleaders, from Æthelflæd of Mercia, daughter of Alfred the Great, to Countess Matilda of Tuscany. (You can find them in, say, Tim Newark’s Woman Warlords) But instead, let’s talk about cultures where women “were allowed combat roles” – cultures where woman warriors were not considered odd. Then we’ll discuss cultures that couldn’t stop the women.

Woman warriors were completely normal among the Sarmatians/Scythians/Sakas who left their kurgan burials across the steppes. A large number of skeletons that could be sexed as female by the pelvis were buried with weapons. Normally weapon burials are assumed to be male. In modern days, a number of “assumed male” burials have been reconsidered, notably the Golden Prince. ( Dr. Jeannine Davis-Kimball, “Chieftain or Warrior Priestess?” in Archaeology, Sep/Oct 1997) The female headdress should have been a tip-off, but weapons meant it just couldn’t be a girl! So in this culture one in five provably female burials were warriors, including the one buried with a young male across her feet for a good time in the afterlife. (Sulimirski, The Sarmatians) That these people lived where the classical Greeks said the Amazons did seems a bit beyond coincidence, no matter how the Greeks warped their stories later.

Frankish women sometimes led their own warband (scara). A notable one was Perhalta, modernized as Bertha of the Big Foot, mother of Charlemagne.

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It’s time to quit being librarians.

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I love libraries. I respect, admire, and sometimes envy librarians. This is because I adore books and all the knowledge and personality preserved in them. So many hours I have spent wandering the open stacks, not even with a particular goal in mind but letting serendipity strike with a book or book cluster that catches my eye.

But it’s 2017. I don’t keep a library card file any more: I keep a database.

This summer, I had the revelation, lowering as it might seem to you, that I had, not a problem of librarianship, but of warehousing.

This applies not only to the nearly one thousand tree books I own (fiction not included), but to the twice or thrice as many ebooks I’m trying to corral, as well. After all, if you can’t lay hand to it when you want it, it’s the same as if you don’t have it.

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Spunky Ladies and Wicked Uncles: A Review

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Castle Wolfenbach: A German Story, by Eliza Parsons (1793)

http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/parsons/castle/castle.html

This is a 19th century adventure story for young women of all ages (yes, written in 18th century, but it’s ahead of its time). The characters speak as for an audience, events are fortuitous, the virtuous heroine does overcome all obstacles, and a certain amount is non sequitur, yet…

And yet, when I quit wincing and swearing at the dialogue, I keep noticing it isn’t as bad as, say, Mrs. Radcliffe. It actually sneaks some stuff in that I wouldn’t expect. The heroine, Matilda Weimar, actually is pretty brave and nervy for the time. She has gotten her own self out of serious peril and on the road when we meet her. She fearlessly explores the haunted wing of Castle Wolfenbach, and deals with what she finds there. Her main concern in finding someone she knew dead is not screaming and fainting, but figuring how to bury the poor woman decently. In short, if you can overlook a need to rely on an old manservant (um, she’s 16 and never been out of the estate, in a man’s Europe), a tendency to be exhausted by days of horseback travel (life with zero phys ed, folks), to burst into tears to relieve her feelings (as well she might) or even faint (corsets!), she actually is quite a spunky young woman. If some of the events seem ridiculous to us, the fault may not lie in the writer, but in our being alien to her world.

You or I would never think to write to our sister and ask her to take in some girl we only just met. We do not have the solid caste solidarity, that a lady is a lady and will not be a crook or a dangerous psycho. We don’t have the family structure, that siblings usually depend on each other as we might on parents, and then some. We don’t have the social structure, that of course a marchioness needs an amusing female companion, who is not a servant, on a trip to a foreign country. We don’t have the loose wealth of their upper classes, to add two more dependants to the household without noticing it.

So look at this as being perhaps just a little Mary Suish, but not in a bad way, while taking you on a trip through a world that has vanished, and is about as alien to most of us as anything we could reach by flying saucer. Take it lightly, let it be fun, and it’s better than reruns for an evening.

There is real evil in this world, and the author uses it. Matilda has been raised by her supposed uncle since some time early in childhood, only to find out, not that he intends to marry her for her fortune (the usual melodrama), but in fact means to force her into being his mistress now that she’s sixteen. This is a genuine peril of the time, for a child could be raised with no contacts outside her own home.

As I said, an alien world for us.

As a result, it was considered one of the seven “horrid novels” inappropriate for young women in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey.

Epic Harbour Destructions

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Oh, sure, they always say it’s to increase harborage and improve the port facilities.

Never mind the wetlands or the natural flow of the harbors. Do any of these old plans to do massive Dutch re-arrangement on American or European harbours look like an *improvement* to you? Especially those who know the areas.

I keep seeing pure hubris — “We can rearrange the heavens and the earth, therefore we should, ’cause we’ll feel almighty afterward.” Think of it as the logical extension of the accomplishments of the Suez and Panama Canals, of Hoover Dam, and other titanic works.

The Reber Plan of 1942 was one of the last of these proposed, filling half of the Bay Area’s bay, providing a potential rival to the Golden Gate Bridge in the barrier blocking the remaining bay from the sea. A ship canal provided salt-water circulation and access, but … why restrict access to a few ships at a time, having to be overseen by a traffic controller, in place of the present huge entry? Read the rest of this entry

What Were They Thinking?

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Having read all the 1819-1918 spec fi I could acquire, I have now fallen into a new reading habit: Popular Science Monthly magazine. It started by way of random research for 1934 and 1937 projects, especially once the first got rolled back to 1931.

Unlike, say, Popular Mechanix, PSM combine everything from articles on the early Rhine ESP studies to building ornate ship models. The covers represent everything from shipyards to air races, but the emphasis is on postulated vehicles — usually on the drawing boards, not often proven to work. But once they make PSM’s cover, they can live on in minds, just as the inventor envisaged them.

But what were they thinking to think of this?


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The Bottom Drawer and the Back Burner

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Authors frequently refer to things in “the bottom drawer.” It may actually be a box in the closet or a CDR in the back of the box, but it is where we keep our projects that are dead in the water. Maybe we got partway through and something horrifically just like it showed up on the book racks: these evil accidents of fashion happen. Maybe the idea didn’t work out, and we decided not to throw good time after bad, so we walked away from it. Maybe it went around to every possible publisher and just didn’t sell. The problem may not have been in the book, but in publishing fashion. Sometimes we are writing the books of ten years ago, and sometimes the market isn’t ready for what we’re writing and sometimes it’s just the wrong spot in a cycle.

The bottom drawer is a place of cobwebs and dust. The “back burner,” on the other hand, is a place to keep things warm and bubbling. It’s often where we keep ideas that haven’t quite jelled yet, possibly for decades. We may have gotten interested again in the idea from reading our own idea books, and this may be the project to work on after the current one. In the meantime, we collect some research now and then or draw some maps or do some conlang work for an invented world. We may have written nothing on it, or it may be a partial needing more thinking-out.

As a writer, your ideas and words are what you have to sell. It makes good sense both economically and emotionally to leave only incurable juvenalia in your bottom drawer.

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