meow, cat, Siamese, catty

New Book Reviews Up

I have six new book reviews up at The Billion Light-Year Bookshelf.

I'm trying to catch back up on my reading, and I'm hoping to have some more up within a month or two. However, book reviewing has to be balanced against work on my various other websites, and particularly my business website, which may well be critical in my ability to get into some winter and spring conventions I really need if we're going to stay solvent next year.
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  • Current Mood: busy busy
  • Current Music: "Fixing a Hole" by the Beatles
meow, cat, Siamese, catty

Puppy Eyes

Dogs are able to give us some of the most wistful expressions on a nonhuman face, looks almost guaranteed to melt your heart. Which leads us to wonder how much of it is anthropomorphization on our part, projecting human emotions on our pets, and how much of it is really there. And if the latter is the case, was it something that facilitated the domestication of the dog, or something that developed afterward?

It turns out that dogs have two muscles around their eyelids that are not found in wolves, the closest extant relatives of dogs. These muscles enable dogs to pull their eyelids further back and give us those pleading looks that loosen our hands on the treat bags. Interestingly enough, breeds that are more closely related to wolves, such as the Siberian Husky, do not have these two muscles, although they do have small bits of muscle fiber at those locations, suggesting a possible evolutionary pathway for their development.
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  • Current Music: "She Blinded Me With Science" by Thomas Dolby
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meow, cat, Siamese, catty

Of Joys and Sadness

It was a great joy to read about the first Mass celebrated at the cathedral of Notre Dame, by the Archbishop of Paris since the devastating fire in April. To be sure, it was in a side chapel rather than at the high altar, and His Excellency had to wear a hard hat instead of his miter, but it's a ray of hope that soon enough one of the most iconic churches of Western Christendom will be restored.

And then I get the news that a blogger I follow had died overnight. Her husband and co-blogger had taken her to the hospital for an illness that, while serious, had not appeared life-threatening -- until things went seriously wrong. I didn't know her well, because she blogged about the very touchy subject of religious violence, so she wrote under a pseudonym and was very careful to avoid personally identifying details, but the loss still comes as a shock.
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  • Current Mood: contemplative contemplative
  • Current Music: "Cast No Shadow" by Oasis
meow, cat, Siamese, catty

Vignette Challenge

There's a new vignette challenge up at Sarah Hoyt's blog. I did one response, with Toni Hargreaves, nee DeVilbiss and her son's budding talents, but when I clicked "post," it seemed to have disappeared.

So I decided to do another attempt, this time a fantasy about an enchanted mother and child. And what should happen, but the first one showed back up.
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  • Current Music: "Paperback Writer" by the Beatles
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meow, cat, Siamese, catty

The New Strategy Against Rats

Rat infestations are probably as old as civilization -- it's generally hypothesized that cats self-domesticated as a response to growing rodent populations in early cities providing them with an abundance of prey, and thus became accustomed to interacting with humans. A number of breeds of dogs, particularly the smaller terriers, were also developed to hunt and kill rats, often under direct human supervision, rather than as independent contractors the way cats work.

But it was the modern industrial city with its enormous population, requiring similarly vast amounts of food to supply its population's daily needs, that led to the modern rat infestation. From the dockyards and terminal elevators full of fallen fruit and grain to the crowded apartment blocks with their dumpsters brimming with trash (even when sanitation workers aren't on strike), it was heaven for rats and their populations exploded accordingly. Which lead to efforts to kill those rats, from traps and poisons to the deliberate establishment of community cat colonies.

However, some urban planners are arguing for a new strategy for fighting rats. Instead of focusing on killing rats when they're identified, we need to be looking at deeper patterns of rat behavior and finding how they move through a city to repopulate an area that has been the focus of extermination efforts. Instead of playing endless whack-a-mole with rats after they've developed a population, we should be stopping rat populations from moving into our cities.
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  • Current Mood: thoughtful thoughtful
  • Current Music: "Fixing a Hole" by the Beatles
meow, cat, Siamese, catty

A Clock for the Ages



I first came across the concept of the 10,000 Year Clock in Neal Stephenson's fascinating novel Anathem. In it, the protagonist was responsible for helping to wind the clock in their concent, a sort of monastery for philosophers and mathematicians. Each day he and the other members of the team wound this huge tower clock, which was designed to control the gates that opened each of the four parts of the concent to the outside world at its appointed time: once every year, every ten years, every hundred years, or every thousand years.

So I was interested when I came across an article on the actual Long Now Foundation and their efforts to build a clock that will be able to run for ten thousand years -- with echoes of the hypothetical ten-thousand year math that our hero's mentor hypothesized in Anathem. It's fascinating to learn their rationales for their various choices -- even the location in an inaccessible part of west Texas, where visitors will have to hike for almost a day to visit, making such an act an Event that leaves a permanent impression upon a person, rather than something done casually.

It really makes a good argument for the idea that much of what is wrong with our present society has its roots in our focus upon the short term. Politicians rarely think beyond the next election cycle. Corporate boards rarely look beyond the next annual report and shareholder meeting. And far too many of us live paycheck to paycheck, pursuing strategies that seem prudent at the moment, but often bite us in the butt months or years down the road.

"For our forefathers ate sour grapes, and our teeth are set on edge."
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  • Current Mood: thoughtful thoughtful
  • Current Music: "Time" by Pink Floyd
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meow, cat, Siamese, catty

A Sad Record of a Mind in Decline

All too many of us have become familiar with the ravages of dementia as we've watched a friend or family member slip-slide away in the Long Goodbye. Whether fast or slow, it's a painful process, as one after another bit of a person's mind slips away.

When William Utermohlen was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 1995, he decided to document the progression of his disease in a series of self-portraits. Working from the baseline of a highly realistic one he'd done in his younger days, we see an increasingly flat and abstract image as his representational skills slip away from him. The colors become darker, with angry reds and despairing blacks dominating the palette, reflecting a self in turmoil, struggling against the disease and slowly but inevitably losing ground. The final two are little more than ovals into which a suggestion of features have been worked. At that point, his abilities failed him altogether, and he ceased to be able to paint.

It as this point that his widow regards him as having died, although his body would linger for another seven years before failing. When he could no longer draw and paint, he was no longer him. An essential spark had slipped away.
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  • Current Music: "Cast No Shadow" by Oasis
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Great News -- A Sword Named Truth Is Finally Out



Almost a year ago I wrote about books in limbo, and particularly two books in series I'd been reading. The frustration of waiting for a book to come out, only to have it suddenly have it delayed for months or worse, indefinitely, as a result of unknown and unknowable events in the publishing house.

However, I'm quite happy to announce that one of the two titles, A Sword Named Truth by Sherwood Smith, is out at last. As in yes, you can actually buy it and have it in your hands.

If you at all can manage to buy it, now's the time, when the publisher is looking closely at the numbers. If we can get a surge of purchases and a sharp spike in sales rank, it'll go a long way to helping make sure future volumes don't spend months or years in publication limbo.

Unfortunately, it appears that Kate Elliott's Dead Empire has slipped even deeper into limbo in the meantime. The listing on Amazon.com has vanished altogether, as has the one on Amazon.co.uk. We can only hope that the publisher has not decided to drop it altogether, because I really wanted to find out what happens to Sarai.
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  • Current Mood: excited excited
  • Current Music: "Paperback Writer" by the Beatles