Apr. 6th, 2017 03:42 pm
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I had four works published this year:

* Lazy Dog Out, Asimov's, Apr/May 2016

* Ten Poems for the Mossums, One for the Man, Asimov's, July 2016
* Detroit Hammersmith, Zero Gravity Toilet Repairman (Retired), Analog, Sept 2016

Short Story:
* Belong, Interzone #265, July-Aug 2016

And that concludes the late 2016 deeply-anxiety-provoking self-promo post. :)
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Do not adopt from Big Fluffy Dog Rescue.

I trusted them, and it was a disastrous, costly, and heartbreaking mistake. Zero responsibility or empathy.
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[Poll #2050989]

Yes, this is trying to settle a point of pedantry. (Is there no greater cause?!) Assume for the exercise that the context is that you are an educational professional providing parents with a shopping list for start of school.

Thanks! :)
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This is the stuff-I-wrote-in-2015-you-might-like post. I spend a lot of 2015 revising a novel, and I wrote a few pieces (including a novella) that'll be out in 2016, so again it's not a huge list. I really hate self-promo, so if you do too, I promise not to do this again until next year :)

Short stories:
Tuesdays, Asimov's, March. Strangers in a diner in the middle of the night, middle of nowhere... Science Fiction.

Moogh and the Great Trench Kraken, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #181 (& podcast). My ridiculous barbarian story.

October Leaves, Asimov's, Oct/Nov. Autumn and trees.
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As a note, summer is my insane time of year at work, and at home I have to joy (O rapturous joy!) of being relegated to dialup internet. No, not by choice. (Insert rant about the socioeconomic issues of evil cable corps and rural towns.) So if I'm slow to respond to comments, it's not for any lack of interest or respect for what's being said. It's a bandwidth (human and network) problem.

Ok, carry on.
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This replaces my earlier post about this. Much of the text is the same. However, I had both bad information and missing information that I think is important enough to restart this discussion cleanly. Also, I want to be clear from the very beginning that what I want from this is not to foster recrimination or dwell on my own aggravation, but to look proactively at ways to make this situation better throughout con-going fandom.

So let's talk about this )
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(by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu)

Finished reading this a few days ago. My thoughts:

1. The translation -- as best as I can determine not having read the original Chinese, but having read many translated works of varying qualities -- is clearly superb. The flow was flawless, and given the amount of incredibly complex physics concepts in the book this is an incredible accomplishment.

2. See above. Many really wonderful concepts in the book, enough to keep me reading it to the end, enough to make me consider getting the next book despite... spoilers )

So YMMV. I can't say the novel ultimately worked for me, but I also very much can't say it's not worth reading anyway. And damn, huge kudos to Ken Liu for the masterful translation job.
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Many years back, there was a summer where there were three or four separate news stories about people rolling their cars into ditches and surviving trapped there for a number of days, collecting dew off the windshield, eating old McDonald's sauce packets, etc. I thought about that, and what it would be like to be trapped in my car for days and days, and immediately went and put a book in my car.

(After longer thought, I decided that Ellison's "All The Sounds of Fear" was maybe not the best choice and swapped it.)

Anyhow, I've kept an Emergency Book in my car ever since. I've even finished several, not because of any ditch-related adventures but just the progression of everyday life and a lot of the endless waiting-for-one's-children thing that goes with the parent gig. The key is to find a book engaging enough that it'll sustain you in those long, soul-despairing, crushed-by-your-own-dashboard-amongst-the-shrubbery or waiting-for-the-field-trip-bus-which-is-three-hours-late times (remarkably similar in the toll they take on one's psyche) but not *so* engaging that you'll take it with you back into the house to keep reading. I will not suggest specific authors for that perfect balance of not-too-wow/not-too-meh as I expect everyone has their own list of such, and for the sake of author-universe-harmony it's best to let it go unspoken.

Anyway, I had to clean everything out of my car not too long ago for various reasons, and I forgot to put a book back, and this morning I spent five hours sitting in the ER waiting room* so bored I thought I might cry. Also, I had no McDonald's sauce packets.

So consider this your PSA: have you checked your Emergency Book lately to make sure you have one** anywhere you are likely to become trapped? If not, do so now!

(* everything's fine. Kid fainted and bonked her head on the floor, needed to get checked. Instead of reading I spent all morning tweeting #BoredERHaiku.)

(** yeah yeah yeah, ebooks, feh. You can't live on ebooks.)
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A summary:
* Home computer is attached to the internet via dialup, because that's all that's available where I live.
* Work computer has a nice spiffy fast internet connection.
* When installing Adobe Acrobat Pro at home, whatever massive wad of useless bloat the license activation feature wants to send to Adobe won't fit down a dialup connection.
* So Acrobat offers an offline activation feature.
* You enter your serial number, and it generates a Request Code.
* It then presents you with a box to either enter a Response Code, or click "Activate Later"
* You then take that Request Code to an internet-enable computer, go to the Adobe website, enter it and your serial number again, and you get a Response Code.
* You then go back to your internetless computer and enter the Response Code.
* This should be easy, right? There should be an "Activate my License" menu item, or a popup on launch, or something, right?


So I went to Adobe Online Chat, and entered as my problem that I need to know how to launch the offline activation window to enter my Response Code. I was expecting a two-minute conversation that would consist of something like "Click File --> Preferences --> Some Inobvious Category --> License Activation"

That's not how it went.

Here is the entire transcript:
warning: massive headdeskery )
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Pending: Bear Creek Country Kitchens

Email sent via their Contact Us form on their website:
Hi! I used to love your creamy potato soup, but in the last few years I've developed a potentially fatal allergy to peppers. One thing I've found is that often peppers are lumped under the term "spice" or "natural flavors" on ingredients labels, which means I do not know if I can safely eat them. I'm not the only person allergic to odd, hidden ingredients like this. So I'm writing to ask if you could consider listing the full ingredients on your products instead of using ambiguous, catchall terms. It would certainly make a lot of lives easier, and possibly even save some, too.

No response yet. Will update if/when one comes.

Thus far, companies that have Failed With Excessive Stupid and/or Die We Don't Care are:
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This is the obligatory stuff-I-wrote-in-2014-you-might-like post. I spend most of 2014 either dealing with a broken leg or writing a novel, so I also don't have much to show, but I'm pretty happy with the stuff I did get out. I really hate self-promo, so if you do too, I promise not to do this again until next year :)

I had two science fiction novelettes:
Fly Away Home, Interzone #251, March. Darker than my usual stuff. Deep space mining colony, indentured servitude, corporations as government, stuff blowing up. Quite possibly triggery.

Shatterdown, Asimov's, June. Diving into a gas giant in search of living diamonds... There's also a podcast of this story at Starship Sofa (#346)

I also had a dark fiction/horror short story:
House Party Blues, Black Static #39, March. Ancient evil horror takes over a house, and discovers the neighborhood isn't the quiet refuge it had hoped for.
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Arisia is Jan. 16-19th in lovely winter Boston.

Sat 1:00 PM: Making Makers Make
Sat 7:00 PM: Character Dynamics
Sun 10:00 AM: Reading (with Other Fine Authors)*
Mon 10:00 AM: Memorable Characters
Mon 11:30 AM: Managing Backstory

* So yeah, last year I read you horror, which surprised a few people. This year I'll be reading something much lighter. It may involve Barbarians.
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Also, yes, I'm trying to get back into LJ. It won't load for me at all from home (dialup internet) and at work I tend to be busy, but I'm making more effort to check in here regularly, and not just to bitch about the unsympathetic many-headed beast that is corporate american food corporations. (-:
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I should mention that I had a massive allergic reaction to a Weight Watchers product about six months ago. At the time, I wasn't aware that red pepper could be included under "spice". I called their consumer hot line to find out what was in "spice" and they couldn't even tell me.

I wrote the company a letter about it, and got no response whatsoever. Even though, you know, they could have killed me.

That was sort of the start of emailing cos about "spice" and "natural flavorings". Would love to hear from anyone else out there who has severe allergies to something that falls under either of those umbrellas.

I get that you can't patent recipes, but if you use good quality ingredients and aren't a company of douchebags, I don't think there's as much risk to someone undercutting you as the paranoia seems to think. And. frankly, a great way to build (or increase) brand loyalty is to be seen actually caring about your customers.
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(See previous post):

Dear Campbell's

I am one of many people with a potentially lethal allergy to a common ingredient that is not one of the "big eight" allergens as defined by the FDA. Often, the ingredient I am allergic to (peppers) isn't listed in product ingredients lists at all, but is lumped under the ambiguous, aggregate term "spice". As you can imagine, this makes it particularly difficult to know what foods are safe for me to eat. I am writing to you to request that you consider disclosing the full ingredients of your products on the label, in order to help those many people with non-standard, life-threatening allergies shop safely.

Thanks for your consideration,



Dear Ms. Palmer,

Thank you for contacting us about our Campbell's soup products.

Unfortunately, we're not able to supply you with a definitive list of products that do not contain peppers in natural flavorings at this time.

Product recipes change frequently and ingredients are periodically added and replaced. This makes it difficult to maintain an updated list of products that either contain or lack a particular ingredient. If you have questions about a specific product, please refer to the ingredient statement on the package for the most current information.

Thank you for visiting the Campbell Soup Company website.

Campbell Soup Company Web Team



Hi, I would be glad to reference the ingredients labels on your products if you would so kindly explicitly list all the ingredients ON said label, which was my initial request.


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Letter I've taken to sending out to various companies:
Dear [Company X]

I am one of many people with a potentially lethal allergy to a common ingredient that is not one of the "big eight" allergens as defined by the FDA. Often, the ingredient I am allergic to (peppers) isn't listed in product ingredients lists at all, but is lumped under the ambiguous, aggregate term "spice". As you can imagine, this makes it particularly difficult to know what foods are safe for me to eat. I am writing to you to request that you consider disclosing the full ingredients of your products on the label, in order to help those many people with non-standard, life-threatening allergies shop safely.

Thanks for your consideration,


HEINZ: (bolding mine)

December 8, 2014
Dear Suzanne,

Thank you for allowing us the opportunity to explain our manufacturing processes pertaining to food allergens.

Because we understand how difficult it is for consumers with food allergies to find 'safe' processed foods, we clearly list the FDA Top 8 Major Allergens on our ingredient panels if they are present in our products.

The FDA specifies the Top 8 Major Allergens are as follows: Soy; Wheat; Peanuts; Eggs; Dairy; Tree Nuts; Shellfish & Crustaceans; and Fish. These ingredients are listed specifically within our ingredient statements. They are also called out in bold print underneath the ingredient statement. Older packaging will only reflect these allergens within the ingredient statement itself rather than restating the information in bold print.

Because recipes are not patentable, the terms 'natural flavorings' and 'spices' refer to dried spices and seasonings, which are not disclosed on the label for proprietary reasons. MSG is always called out in the ingredient statement and not hidden within natural flavorings or spices.

We do not list if products are run on lines that also produce products that contain allergens such as nuts or wheat. The reason for this is that we follow very strictly HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) guidelines for food production. Heinz utilizes HACCP systems to monitor specific steps in food production to identify and eliminate potential safety problems. This means that products containing an allergen are scheduled to run last, at the end of the production cycle. This is then followed by a complete breakdown and thorough cleaning of all areas including validation of those cleaning processes, thus eliminating the possibility of cross-contamination.

However, if you would like to have your physician fax us a request on their letterhead with a contact phone number detailing the specific ingredient(s) in question. They can fax that request to: (412) 237-5291.

We hope you will find this information to be helpful. Please be aware that recipes and formulas may change and the best possible source of information is the ingredient statement. Always make sure you read the label every time you buy any product. If you have any further questions, please call us between 8:30 am and 6:00 pm Monday through Friday at 1-800-255-5750.

Heinz Consumer Resource Center

Hi, thanks for your reply.

I don't understand how the ingredients list being my best source of information can be true when you've just told me you won't disclose all the ingredients -- including the one I'm lethally allergic to -- in your ingredients list anyway. Nor how it would be helpful to have my physician fax you a letter informing you I'm allergic to a particular ingredient if you've stated you may change your recipe at any time, unless you would then contact me to inform me which products have changed and become life-threatening each time that they do.

Am I misunderstanding?



No further reply as of yet.
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...because in 2001, the sky couldn't have been more perfect. I viscerally remember sitting on the lawn outside my office building staring up at the beautiful blue and the few clouds, trying to comprehend the enormity of what was happening, absorbing how strangely silent the sky had become. Beautiful September days still make me uneasy.

My September 11th started on September 10th. Or at the start of that summer, depending on how you look at it.

I was working at a tech startup outside Boston. It had started off a very promising company, we'd had one of the top IPOs of 2000, and things looked bright. Then some of our investors decided that rather than continue with our very competent but fairly inexperienced CEO, they ought to bring in some bloated deadweights from Lucent to run the company instead. Upper management tripled in size and handsomely rewarded itself with lots of stock options and compensation packages and expensive office furniture, while engineering started getting cut/ignored. Our IT manager, whose primary crime was not being able to articulate what IT did via powerpoint, was pushed aside in favor of bringing in a new guy as CIO, and a new IT manager, neither of whom seemed to know a damned thing about computers at all.

That summer, the CIO decided he could save a lot of money -- and, coincidentally, take some amount of control away from an IT team he hadn't picked and didn't quite trust -- by outsourcing huge amounts of our financial, hr, and manufacturing systems to an outside vendor. He did not, apparently, do his homework on whether said vendor was itself solvent. A matter of days after he'd cut and they'd cashed the last of several very, very large checks, that vendor declared bankruptcy and, as their sole concession to us, dumped the servers they'd set up to host our systems back on us.

The problem was, the servers were set up full of proprietary software which would not work unless the servers genuinely believed they were still on the vendor's network. A pair of consultants were hired from a firm in Los Angeles to come in and integrate those servers into our own environment. The lead consultant was a man named Pendyala Vamsikrishna, although everyone called him Vamsi. I didn't have a lot of interaction with the other man, who was quiet but pleasant enough. They were out in our offices for an extended period of time (more than a month, I think?) working ridiculous hours, and bearing the brunt of the CIO's impatience and frustration on the situation and, probably, need to distance himself from being the cause of the problem in the first place.

When he first arrived, Vamsi had a bandage on his forehead and some significant cuts and scrapes. Over the course of working together, he told us how he'd been in a bad car accident a few weeks earlier and how it had really scared him, and how this was going to be his last big traveling job and once it was over he was going to stay closer to home so he could spend more time with his wife and they could start a family. He was a really nice guy, and as you can imagine, not only did he work closely with me and the rest of the IT team, he was involved with finance, and hr, and all the other departments whose systems had been initially outsourced and were trying to be pulled back in.

So September 10th rolled around, and the integration was almost done. But the first thing that happened that morning was that a quarter of the company was suddenly laid off, including the old IT manager and my office mate, and a whole lot of other technical and engineering staff. (Management spared itself entirely.) The cuts targeted employees not based on competence or contribution, but mostly on personal politics, and on who had been vocal about doing things the right away. It was a bad, bad day. I helped my office mate pack up her half of the office, and saw a number of other friends out the door. When you're working 60-70 hours a week, your coworkers are your friends, are family, and it felt like a betrayal of people who had given above and beyond to build a successful company only to watch the assets get sucked out of the place by the new management.

I wanted to go home. I wasn't interested in giving anything more to the company, that day.

The integration project was, as I said, almost done. There were a few little cleanup tasks left, some of which needed to be done right there, some of which could be done remotely. There was some documentation that I'd taken on responsibility for, and which involved sitting down with Vamsi for an hour or so to get answers to some questions while we still had him. The plan was to finish that on Tuesday, the 11th, and that he and his coworker would at last be free to fly home to LA that afternoon/evening.

The CIO asked me, as the dust of the layoffs and exodus was settling, if I thought I could get it done sooner. I wasn't going to say yes, but I didn't feel safe saying no, so I said I'd see, and he asked me to check in with Vamsi about what was left.

A short while later I was sitting in Vamsi's cubicle when his phone rang. It was his wife calling.

Over the many weeks we'd worked off and on together, it had become very clear that Vamsi's wife meant everything to him, and that he was entirely sincere about this being his last big travel job. Overhearing only one side of the phone conversation that afternoon, it was so apparent that they were absolutely head over heels in love with each other and missed each other terribly. When he got off the phone he made a sheepish face, actually blushing. "That was the wifey," he said.

I felt so bad for them for having been kept apart doing this stupid project for our a**hole CIO, and I wanted to feel like there had been something positive, someone doing the right thing, to balance out the shittiness of the day. So I stayed late and finished up the project with him so he could go home first thing the next morning. He changed his flight to Flight 11, and only ever made it as far as New York.

His wife committed suicide two weeks later. I believe she hung herself.

The other consultant ended up stuck in Chicago between flights, waiting for the planes to start flying again. The not-at-all-technical CIO decided that some small quirks remaining in the servers was because the software didn't know how to deal with dual CPUs, so one day when none of the rest of us were there he went into the server room, opened up the box, and tried to pry out a CPU with a screwdriver. The server never ran right again.

Meanwhile, a half-dozen people I'd known online just sort of disappeared that day. They were all New Yorkers, not people I'd ever met, but were part of my online communities. The absences were notable. One of the missing's brother posted on our list wondering if anyone could take her cats; it was the closest we came to confirmation of what we all knew, deep down, had happened.

Last year, googling Vamsi's name, I found a whole bunch of conspiracy theorists who latched onto how he'd been a last minute addition to the passenger list and was clearly Not A White Person and how his wife had died and decided it was further evidence of a 9/11 Cover Up Conspiracy. I'm all for imagination and investigation, but fucking with the lives and memories of real people who have died? Is shitty behavior of the worst sort.

It took me a long time to cope with that day. Lots of what-ifs: what if I'd made the selfish decision to not stay late, so he hadn't changed his flight? I never felt responsible, per se, for what had happened, but the knowledge that I had been a part of a chain of events that had ended as it had was disturbing, and deeply uncomfortable. I was grateful that my tiny connection in that chain was based on an unselfish decision.

We think of our actions (most of the time, anyway) in terms of their direct consequences, the logical path we expect to follow on. We stay late, someone goes home early, their day is better. But the truth is, we cannot see, can only guess the path the future takes after each thing we do. It may be that our intents and motivations are ultimately meaningless. Which perhaps makes it all the more important that we do what we do out of kindness and generosity as much as we are able. We can't know the future will be better, that we will make any positive difference, but we can at least know we did our best, or tried to, and that's everything.

I've told this story before, in bits and pieces here and there, in part right here on LJ several years ago, but every year the memory is a thing that must be picked up, dusted off, examined, even if it is set back on the same spot on the same shelf again at the end. It's been another year. Have we learned anything? Have *I* learned anything? At the very least, have I been, if imperfectly, motivated by kindness in how I interact with the rest of the world? And always, another year ahead to do better.
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Two panels, both seem likely to be quite interesting and/or fun. (No reading; pretty depressed about that.)

2014 Hugos: Short Fiction Shortlists Discussion
Friday 20:00 - 21:00, Capital Suite 3 (ExCeL)

Our panel discusses this year's Hugo Award shortlists for Best Short Story, Novelette and Novella. What's good? What's not? What other stories would we like to have seen on the lists?

How To Read Safely in a Science Fictional Universe: Coping With Time Travel Narratives
Monday 11:00 - 12:00, Capital Suite 4 (ExCeL)

In their introduction to The Time Traveller's Almanac, Ann and Jeff VanderMeer note that "time travel stories are devious narratives." Part of this deviousness lies in their variety: they can be mazes or messages, experiments or adventures. What are the challenges for the writer in composing such deviousness -- and for the reader in unravelling it? What are the literary effects of building a story around (semi)-credible science versus entirely invented fantasy?

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