Jonathan Crowe

Book reviewer, cat photographer, fanzine editor, map blogger, snake whisperer.

Pilot Discontinues Three Iroshizuku Inks, Introduces Three Replacements

Pilot is discontinuing three of its Iroshizuku inks and replacing them with three new ones. Production will end next month on yellow-brown Ina-ho, royal blue Tsuyu-kusa and medium-brown Tsukushi (which we just bought a bottle of). Replacing them are pink Hana-ikada, yellow-green Hotaru-bi and dark teal Sui-gyoko—which maintains the Iroshizuku line at 24 inks. See Pilot Japan’s website. [Fudefan]

The Sex Lives of White-throated Sparrows

Writing for Audubon.org in 2017, Kenn Kaufman looked at the boggling mating strategies of the white-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis), which comes in two morphs: one with black-and-white head stripes, the other with brown-and-tan stripes. “Within each gender, white-striped birds are more aggressive while tan-striped birds are more nurturing. […] Nesting pairs consist of one bird from each morph more than 95 percent of the time, but it’s especially interesting to consider what happens on those occasions when two birds of the same morph pair up. In short, it’s likely to be a bad idea.” The next time I see one—they do turn up around here—I’ll have to look more closely.

Tomoe River Paper: The Next Generation

An update on the Tomoe River paper situation (previously). Last month Tomoegawa sold all rights to the paper to Sanzen Paper, which has begun producing a new version of Tomoe River 52 gsm paper on its own machines. Fudefan has gotten his hands on a sample of Sanzen’s new paper and is impressed. He compared it to both old (pre-2020) Tomoe River and “new” paper produced on a different Tomoegawa machine. “Sanzen’s paper is impressive. It seems to take any ink you throw at it […] In terms of shading, sheen, and vibrancy, Sanzen’s paper consistently outperformed ‘new’ Tomoe River and was mostly on par with the old paper. […] There was slightly less ghosting (show-through) on Sanzen’s paper than on the others. It was also the only paper that didn’t suffer any bleedthrough, even with my ridiculous nibs. An impressive feat.” Stockpiling the old paper may not be necessary, in other words.

‘Twitter Is the Worst Reader’

Having been on the receiving end of Twitter vitriol half a dozen times, sf writer Fonda Lee has some thoughts about being in the crosshairs of the rage machine. “Twitter removes the trust between writer and reader by flattening meaning to the single most offensive understanding and proliferating that version alone. […] For the most part, we authors write for a receptive, open-minded audience, an audience that has paid money for our work and wants to trust us. Twitter is the opposite of that, a twisted looking-glass version of reality in which the readership beyond our immediate circle is poised with hostile scrutiny.”

Two Observations About the Local Results of Yesterday’s Municipal Elections

Municipal elections were held across Quebec yesterday, and with the votes more or less counted, I have a couple of thoughts about the results, at least here in the Pontiac MRC.

First, voter turnout was crazy high in some places. I’m used to turnout for municipal elections hovering somewhere between 30 and 40 percent—and in Quebec’s larger cities that seems to have been the case: 36.6 percent in Montréal, 35.1 percent in Gatineau. But around here the turnout has been a lot higher in some communities—thanks, I suspect, to some closely fought races.

The Electric Company

NPR’s Morning Edition on the 50th anniversary of The Electric Company, which ran on PBS from 1971 to 1977 and was absolutely formative for me in childhood. Things I knew: it was focused on reading and had Morgan Freeman and Rita Moreno in it. Things I did not know: it was written by some of the best comedy writers in the business and it was specifically targeted at kids with reading difficulties. That combo wasn’t necessarily successful. “The Electric Company‘s target audience was elementary school students who were too old for Sesame Street but still needed help learning to read. […] Given that the target audience was kids who were falling behind, [show researcher Barbara] Fowles believes much of the material was over their heads. ‘It was often hard to get the writers to sort of dial it back, to convince them that they were little children,’ she remembers.”

The ‘Better’ Vaccine

Last spring people were turning down the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine because they thought the Pfizer-Biotech vaccine was better. Fun fact: no. A recent study suggests that Moderna may actually be a bit more effective, though the reason—differences in which populations were vaccinated with which vaccines, Moderna’s larger and more spaced-out doses—hasn’t been nailed down. Thing is, both vaccines are more than good enough, and at a population level (which is the level at which public health operates, but is hard for individuals to relate to) we’re much better off having more vaccines in more arms than better vaccines in fewer arms—especially if the differences are this slight.

Full disclosure: I got the Moderna vaccine, and I refuse to be smug about it; it’s what was available.

iPhone Migration Notes (for Future Reference)

It’s about to be new iPhone time for us, but in the five-plus years since we last bought phones—Jen’s still using a first-generation iPhone SE, I’m on an iPhone 7—the migration process seems to have changed somewhat, especially now that iPhones have been disentangled from syncing and backing up to a computer. We could set up our new phones from an iCloud backup, but that won’t copy over all our media files; for that there is now the Quick Start method, which transfers data directly from the old device to the new one. It’s done wirelessly; Apple used to describe a faster wired method involving a Lightning cable and a camera adapter, but they removed that from the support page when they updated it last month, so who knows if it still works. Another critical-but-not-straightforward task is moving over all my Google Authenticator two-step verification codes. There’s a process for that, too, and it involves using the app to scan, with the new phone, a QR code generated by the app on the old phone.

Soup Ads and SF

I did not know until today that German publisher Heyne once had a policy of inserting two-page adverts for Maggi soup (and presumably other products) into the text of their books, and that when Terry Pratchett found out about it he dropped them as his German publisher. It also apparently happened to Iain M. Banks—and to Duane Duane, who discovered similar soup ads in the German translations of her Star Trek Romulan novels. (This seems rather more pervasive than my my German ex-girlfriend’s soup obsession, which I found kind of endearing at the time. Then again, she was an sf reader: maybe the ads burned something deep into her psyche.)

Vancouver Island’s Invasive Lizards

European wall lizards (Podarcis muralis) have invaded Vancouver Island. Traced to a release by a roadside zoo that closed down in 1970, the lizards’ island population is now estimated at between 500,000 and 700,000. While some people enjoy having the lizards around—we don’t have many of them in Canada—it’s still an invasive species capable of doing damage. “Hanke assesses the threat to B.C.’s ecosystems as ‘an eight, if not a nine.’ He worries for native species such as the sharp-tailed snake, the Pacific chorus frog and the northwestern alligator lizard. The wall lizard feasts on them all.”

Movie Night of the Cooters

George R. R. Martin paused his journey into the sun to report that Howard Waldrop’s classic story “Night of the Cooters”—in which the Martians of H. G. Wells’s War of the Worlds invade a small town in Texas whose sheriff has a passing resemblance to Slim Pickensis being made into a short film, with Vincent d’Onofrio directing and starring. Shot on green screen, with effects to follow during a lengthy post-production; I suspect we ought not to expect great things from this. But the fact that any Waldrop story is being filmed in any fashion—that’s noteworthy.

Snakes on a Plane, 15 Years Later

Today is the 15th anniversary of the release of that snakesploitation film masterpiece, Snakes on a Plane. Only it was about as far away from a masterpiece as you could get. On io9, Sean Lussier looks back at the hype, the disappointment and the motherfucking snakes. “The actual ‘snakes on a plane’ part of the movie is great, but the idea itself is so absurd and so small, it takes way too long to set up, and no time at all to fix, leaving a movie with a boring beginning, amazing middle, and disappointing ending.” As I noted at the time, you could tell where the over-the-top bits—the MF-bombs, the nudity, the gross-out scenes—were spliced into what was otherwise a flat and forgettable film.

Transcollines Updates Its Schedules

I noticed when Transcollines revamped the Pontiac bus service that it was making a play for passengers attending school or college; they’ve now updated their online and printed schedules to make that pitch more explicit, with schools and colleges highlighted on each line schedule. Additionally we get detailed maps showing the lines’ exact routes, and bus stops in the city, so it’s much clearer where to wait for the bus. Which is useful for Line 910, the route to/from here, because I couldn’t be certain from the original map where the bus went (especially in the city) or where you should catch it.

Two Maclean’s Pieces

On the eve of another federal election, where we’ll be asked to choose between the feckless, the disingenuous and the mendacious, here are two thoughtful pieces from Maclean’s that offer more light than heat.

Paul Wells looks at Justin Trudeau’s mixed record on the world stage, which was dominated by COVID-19, quarrels with China, and dealing with Trump and NAFTA. “It’s been a brutal half-decade, and the Trudeau government handled much of it with a grim focus that produced good results.”

Jen Gerson questions why Canadian political parties are so quick to ditch their leaders after just one election. “Parties are treating their leaders like pump-and-dump penny stocks. Dear Leader is expected to perform, and to deliver results, with their success measured by whatever metric their membership values; power, influence, material resources, electoral advances, or simple moral chattel. Assessing a leader’s performance by these metrics, on these timelines, is as bloodless and shortsighted as reciting an earnings-before-taxes balance on a quarterly dividend statement.”

Tyrannosaurs Were Multiniche Predators

Albertosaurus diorama
Albertosaurus diorama, Royal Tyrell Museum, 27 Dec 2008.

Riley Black, writing for Smithsonian magazine, reports on new findings that tyrannosaurs dominated their ecosystems because juveniles and adolescents operated in different ecological niches. “The differences between adult and adolescent tyrannosaurs were so great that the animals almost lived like different species, pushing out mid-sized carnivores in a prehistoric takeover.” So instead of smaller carnivorous dinosaurs hunting smaller prey, you had younger tyrannosaurs.

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