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

Author: Jonathan Crowe Page 2 of 19

Jonathan Crowe blogs about maps at The Map Room and reviews science fiction for AE. His sf fanzine, Ecdysis, was a two-time Aurora Award finalist.

The ‘Make-Believe Positivity’ of Self-Help Books

Ed Zitron calls the self-help book industry a “delusional scam”: “[T]hese books are written for and geared toward a very specific audience of privileged individuals who have their life decisions affirmed and their failures explained away. The specific assumption they make is that everybody comes from the same sort of background—that they communicate in the same way, that they grow up the same way, and that, much like the world of advice articles and hustle culture, your failure to succeed is only a result of you not working hard enough.”

Some Weekend Reading

The rekindling of Fireside magazine (Andrew Liptak, Transfer Orbit): “Now, Fireside is looking to right the ship. After the controversy broke, Brian White, the magazine’s original founder and former Editor-in-Chief, stepped in as the publication’s Interim Editorial Director to save the publication, and is now implementing some new changes to try and steer the magazine back to sustainability.”

Queer readings of The Lord of the Rings are not accidents (Molly Ostertag, Polygon): “Revisiting the book in the last year, as someone who has been out for many years and who is deeply engaged in making and consuming queer stories, I was amazed to find a same-sex love story at the heart of the narrative.” Frodo and Sam: obvious in hindsight—and, here’s the thing, it was not necessarily not deliberate on Tolkien’s part.

How Twitter can ruin a life (Emily VanDerWerff, Vox): “In January 2020, not long after her short story ‘I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter’ was published in the online science fiction magazine Clarkesworld, Fall asked her editor to take the story down, and then checked into a psychiatric ward for thoughts of self-harm and suicide.” I’m not sure Twitter is to blame here, rather than an online sf community that’s gotten comfortable with punching down for great justice. On the other hand:

Did Twitter break YA? (Nicole Brinkley, Misshelved): Young-adult writers have turned to Twitter to connect with their audience; this has not turned out well. “Relying on Twitter to shape a culture like YA publishing inevitably leads to a moment where the most vulnerable participants in that industry will break. Either they become part of the rage machine, or the rage machine turns on them.”

We’re a Little Behind on Vaccination

The good news in the Pontiac is that there hasn’t been a single new case reported here since the 18th. The less good news is that our vaccination rates could be a bit better. The Outaouais in general lags behind Quebec: only 66.3 percent have received at least one dose as of yesterday. Compare that to 71 percent of the entire Quebec population, or 80 percent of those 12 and up (who can actually get vaccinated right now).

Here in the Pontiac, only five municipalities have vaccination rates greater than the regional rate of 66.3 percent: Île-du-Grand-Calumet, Bristol, Thorne, Clarendon and Otter Lake range from 72.1 percent to 69.4 percent. Two small municipalities—Chichester and Waltham—have rates under 50 percent. The larger municipalities are in the high fifties and low sixties: Fort-Coulonge is 59.5 percent, Shawville is at 61.6 percent, and Mansfield-et-Pontefract is at 66 percent. Pontiac-the-Municipality, which if you remember is not part of the Pontiac MRC, is at 60.9 percent. Gatineau, for comparison, is at 64.1 percent.

The Art of Swedish Typewriter Maintenance

I have recently become obsessed with Facit typewriters. Made in Sweden, with the most unusual carriage rail and tab mechanisms, they’re impressive machines that are an absolute joy to type on, but they’re not necessarily the easiest to work on. I’ve acquired two Facit portables so far and each has one or two issues that we’re a bit scared to tackle because of the Facit reputation for being difficult to repair. At least neither suffers from the dreaded “frozen Facit” issue (where the typewriter’s original lubricant has hardened and seized up the escapement), but there’s a fix for that, which Nick describes here and Tony has put to use: repeated applications of solvent to dissolve the old lubricant. As for other issues, Ted Munk has posted a PDF copy of a Facit repair manual, which is helpful but doesn’t cover older models or every exigency. Charles has posted tutorials on how to remove a Facit portable’s carriage—which we’d all been warned not to do—and how to remove its platen. All of which help, but more is needed.

Exoplanets Capable of Sustaining a Rich Biosphere Are Probably Rare

Just because a planet is in its star’s Goldilocks zone doesn’t mean it’ll be capable of supporting an Earth-like biosphere. A new study focuses on the amount of radiation in the wavelengths usable by photosynthetic plants; “the team discovered that stars around half the temperature of our Sun cannot sustain Earth-like biospheres because they do not provide enough energy in the correct wavelength range. Oxygenic photosynthesis would still be possible, but such planets could not sustain a rich biosphere.” Red dwarfs—where many exoplanets have been discovered—have only a third the Sun’s temperature; stars that are brighter and hotter than the Sun have lifespans too short for life to have a chance to evolve. In other words, the Sun is in a very narrow sweet spot. [Universe Today]

The Situation Is Much Improved

The COVID-19 situation in the Pontiac is much improved, with five or fewer active cases at the moment and no new cases reported anywhere since last Friday. The outbreak we were dealing with in April was more or less brought under control in May, though there was a bit of a rebound in the Bryson/Campbell’s Bay/Fort-Coulonge corridor. Shawville itself hasn’t had a new case reported since June 7—and that case was the first new case in a month. To date, a total of 393 cases have been reported in the Pontiac RLS: 265 in the Pontiac MRC and 128 in the Municipality of Pontiac (which is, remember, not in the Pontiac MRC).

The Truth About Tomoe River

Recently there have been rumours that Tomoe River paper, prized by fountain pen users because it resists feathering and bleed-through despite being insanely thin, was about to be discontinued. A post at The Well-Appointed Desk seemingly confirmed the rumour, which didn’t help the general panic; but someone contacted the Tomoegawa company directly and got an answer that has clarified things somewhat.

It appears to come down to a confusion between Tomoegawa, which prints the paper, and Sakae Technical Paper, which sells notepads and notebooks under the Tomoe River brand. Tomoegawa discontinued production on the machine that made the paper Sakae used; Sakae declined to use paper from another machine, and announced the discontinuation of their products when their stock of original paper ran out. That doesn’t mean Tomoegawa is getting out of the business: they have plans to keep supplying Tomoe River paper once they work out production issues.

Update: Fudefan has information direct from Tomoegawa that explains what’s going on with the different kinds of Tomoe River paper, and the different machines that produce it. While the machines are being shut down, their plan appears to be to outsource production. [r/fountainpens]

Two Weird Blue Inks

I’ve been using fountain pens on and off since I was in university; about a year ago that interest got a good deal more serious (it was the pandemic and I needed a distraction), and between us Jen and I began accumulating pens and inks at a ridiculous rate. Two of our first bottled inks were blue inks with some unusual qualities; after a year of using them fairly frequently, I have some thoughts about them.

56.4 Percent and Rising

Local radio station CHIP-FM reports that 56.4 percent of the Pontiac’s1 population aged 18 and older has received at least one vaccine dose. The vaccination rate is even higher in age brackets 55 and up (who’ve had more time to get a jab); it’s over 90 percent for people aged 65 to 75, for example. Progress!

The Situation Is Improving

Since I posted two weeks ago that we weren’t doing that well out here COVID-wise, I thought I’d mention that things are now looking a bit better. We only had 14 new cases over the past week, compared to 51 new cases two weeks ago. Almost all of those new cases—11 out of 14—are in the Fort-Coulonge/Mansfield area, whose local outbreak may actually be showing signs of running out of steam. Shawville hasn’t had a new case in a week, Campbell’s Bay longer than that. The special emergency measures come to an end on the 17th, as they do for the rest of the Outaouais, at which point we’re back in the red zone.

Why 50mm Lenses Got Big, Complicated and Expensive

At DPReview, Roger Cicala explores why 50mm lenses—historically the simplest and cheapest lenses available for a 35mm camera—have gotten much bigger, more complex, and more expensive. “Historically, if you bought an F1.2 or wider aperture lens, you expected that it would be soft wide open and even stopped down it wouldn’t be as sharp as a less expensive, slower lens. The modern (and more complex) designs we’re seeing now allow F1.2 lenses be impressively sharp wide open, and just as sharp as a smaller aperture lens stopped down. And that is actually kind of a big deal.” Nikon’s Z-mount 50mm lenses are much larger, have more lens elements and cost three to seven times more than their decades-old AF/AF-D equivalents; that they’re also reportedly exquisitely better isn’t much help if you can’t afford them.

Why Winter Isn’t Coming (At Least Not Yet)

Last month The Ringer suggested that the proliferating projects competing for George R. R. Martin’s time might be why he’s years late in finishing The Winds of Winter. “If Martin really wants to finish Winds, why does he do so much work that doesn’t help him finish Winds—and, in fact, appears to prevent him from doing so? Let’s consider several possible explanations.” Beyond the most likely possibilities—he’s stuck, he’s lousy at saying no or at time management—is an intriguing hypothesis: he’s simply responding to economic incentives. “Martin stands to make a vast sum of money for finishing Winds, but people are already paying him handsomely not to. […] Martin’s HBO deal sure seems like a setback for Winds, but you try turning down mid-eight figures in favor of finishing something that’s already taken 10 years.”

The Pandemic Comes to the Pontiac

Having spared us during the first wave—during which we were behind police checkpoints that turned back non-essential traffic—and being under relatively good control during the second, COVID-19 has just erupted in the Pontiac MRC during the third wave. In the space of one month the number of people who have tested positive has more than quadrupled, from 39 on March 25 to 173 today.1 This is mainly due to a major outbreak in the Fort-Coulonge area: Fort-Coulonge went from fewer than 5 cases2 to 34; Mansfield-et-Pontefract from 7 to 64. Together they make up more than half the cases in the Pontiac MRC while comprising only a quarter of the population.

These numbers may not seem like a lot—a total of 1.2 percent of the Pontiac MRC’s population has tested positive for COVID as of today, compared to Gatineau’s 3.2 percent or Quebec’s 4 percent, and with our small population (14,251 according to the 2016 census) the raw numbers are pretty small in comparison. But to reiterate: more than three-quarters of the our total COVID cases have come just in the past month. Cases are increasing by 30 percent a week—and 30 percent of this week’s numbers is a lot more than 30 percent of a month ago. This is how exponential growth works.

Meanwhile, last Friday the Pontiac Hospital—the front door of which is less than 300 metres from my home—reported an outbreak in its acute care ward: nine patients and three staff members tested positive initially; that number has since risen to 17 patients and 13 staff. For context, the ward has 34 beds. Fortunately some have been vaccinated, and some have tested positive without showing symptoms, so this may turn out to be the best possible version of the worst possible scenario. But still: the whole point of last year’s checkpoints was not only to keep COVID out of our community (which tends older and in poorer health than the Canadian average); it was to keep it out of our hospital.

So yeah. We could be doing better out here.

Winnipeg’s Worldcon Bid

Yesterday a bid was launched for Winnipeg to host the 2023 Worldcon. (The website is bare bones; bid filing documents can be found in this zip file.) As a Winnipeg native I have feelings about this—particularly since I had to miss the 1994 Winnipeg Worldcon on account of moving for graduate school. If they land the bid I will, of course, be there, pandemic permitting. (It should be over by then, right?) They’re up against already-announced bids for Chengdu and Memphis, Tennessee; I suspect that Winnipeg—which I can tell you is very nice in late August—will offer an out for fans uncomfortable with travelling to either of those locations.

Why He Photographs Snakes

At Photography Life, wildlife photographer Nicholas Hess explains why he photographs snakes, and explains a few of his techniques. He’s very good at it. He’s been at it for a decade. And he’s 19 years old, which means he started, wow, really young. Here’s his Flickr account.

Page 2 of 19

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén