“The culture that surrounds cooking today is one that lends itself well to casual ableism,” writes Gabrielle Drolet in The Walrus. “It’s a culture that prizes specific ways of doing things over others, constantly pitting methods and recipes against one another: French-style scrambled eggs over American; minced garlic instead of pressed, nonstick pans against those made of cast iron, bouillon cubes against broth cartons against homemade stock.” Drolet had cause to reconsider the precepts of foodie culture when an injury limited her ability to cook the right way. “Often, the wrong choice is the easier (read: more accessible) one—and making it is a fatal flaw. These aren’t things to try to avoid when you can. They’re things you should never do, even though many of us don’t have a choice. This lack of nuance is what made me believe using accessibility tools might make me a bad cook, pushing me to hurt myself even when cooking alone.”
The Return of the Airship
BBC Future on the reinvention of the airship: “A new generation of airships—the lighter-than-air craft that don’t need conventional airports—will be built in a corner of Ohio which played a unique part in the history of aviation. What’s more, if built they will be housed in one of America’s most iconic structures, the Goodyear Airdock in Akron.”
Fantasy Blockbusters and the Failure of the Long Tail
Matthew Claxton sees the recent chartbusting Kickstarter by Brandon Sanderson as evidence of a disconnect between a small group of big names racking up the sales and the rest of the field, which gets critical attention but not much else. Also that Chris Anderson’s Long Tail, as applied today, is deeply broken when it comes to discoverability: “But where we were promised frictionless discovery, we got a series of loops back into the same things, over and over and over again. Rothfuss and Sanderson Jordan and G. R. R. M. and Tolkien and Lynch and Abercrombie, and you’re a couple of levels deep before you start regularly seeing names like Fonda Lee or R. F. Kuang. (And many of their recs will lead you back to guess where?).”
Stationery for the Strange
Toronto-based Wask Studios is the novelty store of stationery: weird dice, erasers and paper clips; sticky notes with the adhesive on the corner rather than the edge; rulers with the scale on the short side; rhombus-shaped notebooks; bookmarks made of matches. Office supplies as performance art.
Putting the Fact in Fantasy
Three years ago Tor.com published an essay of mine in which I argued that the classic fantasy map style was not something that would be used by characters in a fantasy world. Provocatively titled “Fantasy Maps Don’t Belong in the Hands of Fantasy Characters,” it proved to be the most controversial thing I’ve ever written. The main complaint was that it was wrong for me to think that fantasy should follow the rules of the real world; fantasy was fantasy, and as such it was okay if its maps didn’t follow the rules.1 In fairness, my critics were the wrong audience for what I was trying to say.
They would also be the wrong audience for the book under consideration here: Putting the Fact into Fantasy, a collection of 50 short essays by various writers, edited by Dan Koboldt and published earlier this month by Writer’s Digest Books. The publisher is a hint as to the audience: these pieces are aimed at writers of fantasy and science fiction who want to up their game in terms of adding a touch of realism to their work. Because fantasy is built from recognizable real-world raw materials—horses and castles, archers and peasants, trade routes and languages, weapons and wounds—getting the real-world details right can in fact matter. They can save you from resorting to clichés, and knowledgeable readers from being thrown out of the story by what to them is an obvious error.2Continue reading…
Not Too Cheap to Upgrade
In December 2020 I won an eBay auction for a 1968 Royal 200. With shipping, the typewriter came to a grand total of $63.87. It was an ultraportable made in Japan by Silver-Seiko and sold under the venerable Royal brand; the 200 appears identical to the better-known Mercury. Our example turned out to be surprisingly good, not just for what it was—a cheap, small typewriter—but full stop: it types better and faster than many ostensibly superior machines, and despite some yellowed plastic1 it remains in terrific shape. But while its platen and sound insulation could stand replacing, I wondered whether it was worth spending money upgrading such a cheap typewriter: the expense would not necessarily be recouped if we decided to sell the thing on. Meanwhile, the typewriter blogger Joe Van Cleave went and did to his Royal Mercury what I was simply musing about: he replaced the platen and installed a sound insulation kit, with good results. He clearly intends to keep using his, and at this point I think I’m likely to do the same with mine. Resale value should be a moot point in this context. In a way it’s too bad that it’s no longer quite as silly to get J. J. Short to recover its platen, now that Joe’s broken this ground. I liked the idea of doing something silly.
Bartosz Ciechanowski writes long, detailed explanatory articles about physics, math and engineering that are full of interactive, animated diagrams. His latest is about mechanical watches, which I found profoundly interesting (not least because the fundamentals of watches—mainsprings, escapements—also apply to manual typewriters, which are basically heavily modified clocks) and engrossing: there is a lot of material here.
The Gulf Stream Myth
If the Gulf Stream were somehow to shut down—something that it is hypothesized would happen due to climate change, as Greenland’s melting glaciers dump a ton of fresh water into the North Atlantic, disrupting the current1—it would not, it turns out, plunge Europe into a new ice age. That, at least, is the contention of Richard Seager, a climate scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. He argues that European winters are 15 to 20 degrees warmer than North American winters at the same latitudes for two reasons: one, the effect of the Rocky Mountains on air currents, which bring cold air south in North America but warm air north into western Europe; and two, the seasonal release of heat stored by the Atlantic Ocean itself. The Gulf Stream itself is responsible for only a few degrees’ warming; if it were taken away, the cooling effect would not be enough to overwhelm the much larger warming effect from climate change.
Pilot Announces Iroshizuku Cartridges
Pilot just announced that 12 inks from its premium Iroshizuku line will be released in cartridge form next month. (Prior to this, only its basic ink colours could be had as cartridges.) Iroshizuku inks are extraordinarily good (we have nine different colours); this move will make them accessible to people who can’t or won’t use bottled ink. (Pilot’s cartridges are proprietary: they can only be used in Pilot pens. But with just a few exceptions even their most expensive pens can take a cartridge.) At 900¥ (before taxes), a box of six is three times the price of their regular cartridge pack, but not ridiculous compared to premium brands: regular Pilot cartridges are actually pretty cheap as cartridges go. (Also, I’m comparing the Japanese domestic price to the price here: I have no idea whether we’ll be seeing these over here.)
Half a Tree Down
Yesterday we were beset by strong winds that knocked out power for some and knocked down trees for others. In our case it brought down a secondary trunk of one of our beech trees. On its way down the trunk sheared off the top of one of the small maples and crushed the old, disused compost bin that predated our arrival here, narrowly missing the (also disused) shed.
All things considered, it could have been a lot worse.
The remainder of the tree isn’t looking so hot—the pileated woodpeckers have been at it—and will probably have to come down sooner rather than later. And today we spotted a pileated woodpecker checking out the fallen trunk, so I can’t help but think they were behind all this somehow.