Jonathan Crowe

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

Our Region’s New, Improved Bus Service

For the first time since before we moved out here, the Pontiac’s weekday bus service is seeing some major changes. Based on what I can figure out from what’s been announced, for most people they should be improvements.

What we’ve had until now is a standalone commuter bus service that started on Isle-aux-Allumettes and ran the length of Route 148 before terminating at Ottawa’s downtown bus station. It was run by Transport Thom for many years before being taken over by Transcollines, the rural bus service of the MRC des Collines-de-l’Outaouais, a few years back. Transcollines didn’t change anything about the service—same route, same schedule, same price—and kept it essentially separate from the rest of the network, but did promise that the route would be upgraded and integrated at some point in the future.

It’s years later than originally promised, but those changes have now been announced. New as of next week is Transcollines’s Route 910, which from what I can gather has a number of notable changes over the old service.

Finally got this blog reconnected to Dreamwidth: posts made here will also be mirrored there. The trick to making the JournalPress plugin work again was to use an API key (generated here) instead of trying to log in with my username and password. I expect that this was always the solution; it just took me until yesterday to stumble across it.

How to Fill a CON-40

Few fountain pen accessories generate more online vituperation than Pilot’s CON-40 converter.1 It’s small and hard to fill completely: it has no capacity. The size complaint is a bit unfair: it’s designed to fit all2 of Pilot’s fountain pens, including the pocket-sized E95s/Elite. Whereas Kaweco and Sailor both make pens that are too small for their standard converters. As for being hard to fill? Between us Jen and I currently have a total of 11 pens with a CON-40 converter, and while they’re not as easy to fill completely as pens with the CON-70 converter3 or piston-filling pens, it can be done. There’s a trick to it, though, and Brian Goulet’s video above shows how to do it.

The Controversy Over Upscaling Old Films to 4K

Wired UK on the controversial process of upscaling old films to 4K resolution: “Digital upscalers and the millions who’ve watched their work on YouTube say they’re making the past relatable for viewers in 2020, but for some historians of art and image-making, modernising century-old archives brings a host of problems.” The process involves machine learning and readily available algorithms that clean and stabilize old film, colourize it, and upscale it to 4K and 60 fps. It adds material that isn’t in the original, which is what these historians object to. I’d argue that these videos operate in the same space as historical fiction: they make the past feel more real to the audience, but the audience can’t always separate fact from fiction. Somehow I doubt historians want to stop novels set in the past, though. [MetaFilter]

Requiem for a Trash Can

You’d think road-side trash cans would be an unlikely thing to be nostalgic about. Unless you’re from Manitoba, and the trash can is a four-foot white fibreglass globe with a round opening. That was Orbit, a highway litter program that used space-age symbolism to encourage drivers to, as the signs put it, “put your trash into Orbit.” I remember the globular trash cans well from childhood road trips in the 1970s. But in the end they were abused—set on fire, shot or filled with all kinds of garbage—and increasingly expensive to replace, so the program wound down in the 1990s. CBC Manitoba has the story of Orbit, and what may be the last surviving Orbit receptacle—which was also featured in James Rewucki’s 2013 short film, Where Have All the Orbits Gone?

How Mission Control’s Giant Displays Worked

In a 19-minute YouTube video, Fran Blanche explains how those big screens at Mission Control worked during the Apollo era. Stop and think about it: they were displaying information in ways that computers wouldn’t be able to do for decades. The displays were produced mechanically, by multiple projectors using glass slides to project images on the screen. The projectors could move spaceship icons across the screen like a graphical sprite, or use plotters to scratch a flight path across a slide to represent a flight path, using telemetry data processed in real time by mainframe computers. [Boing Boing]

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs

The overwhelming feeling one gets from reading The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs is of motion. Rather than static relics exhumed from rocks of the deep past, dinosaurs are in motion: they came from somewhere; they lived somewhere; they migrated from one continent to another. The approach the author Steve Brusatte takes is obvious in hindsight, but a revelation all the same: his questions are predicated on a past world in motion. Continents drifted apart, climates changed; dinosaurs moved, evolved, transformed in response. They were animals in the context of their time and place, and Brusatte explains that context. What, for example, happened after the various extinction events that first enabled and eventually extinguished the dinosaurs? How did the Triassic climate prevent dinosaurs from spreading across Pangaea?

Books Read: 3Q 2020

  1. Driftwood by Marie Brennan (2020). Fixup collecting short stories about the place fantasy worlds go to die, and the enigmatic figure who helps people survive the wreck. Review in production.
  2. Pirate Freedom by Gene Wolfe (2007). Time travel novel in which a young man from the near future is transported back in time to the Golden Age of Piracy. Replete with temporal paradoxes, vivid historical detail and, erm, Catholicism. Another Late Wolfe.
  3. Kim Stanley Robinson by Robert Markley (2019). An entry in the Modern Masters of Science Fiction series of monographs; this one (obviously) surveys Robinson’s work.
  4. Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language by Gretchen McCulloch (2019). Nonfiction by a linguist who explores how we talk online, from the proper punctuation of text messages, to emoji, to the deployment of memes.
  5. Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino (1972), trans. William Weaver (1974).
  6. Pardon This Intrusion by John Clute (2011). Another collection of reviews and critical essays. I should remember not to read Clute collections when trying to write reviews myself: his recondite word-tangles have a habit of infecting my own damn prose.
  7. City Under the Stars by Gardner Dozois and Michael Swanwick (2020). Expansion and completion of their 1995 novella “The City of God,” which in turn was an expansion of Dozois’s uncompleted “Digger story” ca. 1970, said expansion cut short by Dozois’s untimely death in 2018. Swanwick’s completion is (understandably) truncated, its ending more personally satisfying, I think, than supported by the story. But some tremendously brilliant and affecting passages here all the same.
  8. Being Gardner Dozois by Gardner Dozois and Michael Swanwick (2001). Rearead inspired by #34; book-length interview of Dozois by Swanwick discussing his stories and novels to date. I wanted to look at the genesis of “The City of God” and its contemporary stories.
  9. Underground Cities by Mark Ovenden (2020). Reviewed at The Map Room.
  10. Thunderer by Felix Gilman (2007). Epic fantasy; Gilman’s first novel, about gods, intrigue and revolution in an endless, unmappable city. First-rate worldbuilding and character work, not quite flawless technique.
  11. Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi (2019). Literary fantasy about an immigrant family from a secluded Ruritanian nation and their history.
  12. The Unspoken Name by A. K. Larkwood (2020). Epic fantasy novel involving competing religions, gates between worlds, and young women who defy the altar to assert their own agencies. Liked it more than I expected to.

Does the Exposure Notification System Work?

“I didn’t intentionally get infected with COVID-19 just to figure out whether Apple’s exposure notification system was working, but it ended up that my experience might offer some additional insight to the situation.” Daniel Eran Dilger’s long and discursive piece for AppleInsider on whether Apple’s COVID-19 exposure tracking is working kind of buries the lede: he got the dubious opportunity to try it out, as implemented in Germany and Switzerland. It wasn’t as flawless or as seamless as you might have hoped. “Over a week later, neither Germany nor Switzerland has used my positive test result to send warnings through the system Apple created. That’s important because the timing of exposure notifications have a very limited useful window. By the time I got a positive result, I likely wasn’t even contagious any more.”

How the Pandemic Defeated IKEA

Fast Company has the story of how IKEA’s online store basically shat the bed during the pandemic. With physical stores closed, the only way to buy things from IKEA was to order online, which completely overwhelmed their inventory management, delivery and customer service infrastructure. Based on the horror stories from the r/IKEA subreddit (which also informed the FC article), and our own experience (we made a small order early in March that took nearly two months to get here: we got off easy), it seems clear that IKEA’s supply lines were mostly aimed at their stores; they treated online and home delivery as an under-resourced afterthought. That didn’t turn out well.

‘You Have Eaten the PLUMS.’

Gotta Eat the Plums! “You are seminal American modernist poet WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS. It is late at night and you are HUNGRY. Investigate the KITCHEN for something to EAT.”

MEC Sold to Private Investment Firm

I am substantially bummed by the news that Mountain Equipment Co-op is under credit protection and has agreed to be acquired by a U.S.-based private investment firm. The firm has agreed to keep at least 17 of MEC’s 22 stores open, but MEC as we know it will be no more: it will be a privately held company, not a cooperative—another retail institution to disappear into the maw of private equity. I’ve been a member for decades and have had a lot of affection for the joint, even if I haven’t been buying as many things there lately as I have in the past. (Which might be the problem, if I’m not alone in that.)

Late Summer Mushrooms

We’re adjacent to a living forest, so finding mushrooms on our property is a fairly common occurrence. Less so in dry years, and until late in the summer this was a dry year, to the point that I was making note of the fungi’s conspicuous absence in correspondence. Once the skies opened up, though, it was only a matter of time before the various fungal fruiting bodies made an appearance, as you can see in the gallery above.

I really need to get a field guide: the only mushrooms I can identify are the shaggy manes. Anyone able to ID any of these?

Looking for Carbon Dioxide Sensors

I’ve been looking for smart carbon dioxide sensors, particularly sensors compatible with Apple’s HomeKit, but they seem to be fairly scarce on the ground (at least compared to carbon monoxide sensors). So far what I’ve been able to find is bundled with a lot of other sensors. Netatmo’s Weather Station has an outdoor module and up to three indoor modules: the indoor module includes a CO2 sensor. The Airthings Wave Plus includes CO2 as one of a half-dozen things it detects (it’s primarily a radon detector: the rest are kind of thrown in). It’s only HomeKit-compatible via a Homebridge plugin, but that’s a viable option: I’ve got a Raspberry Pi I can install Homebridge on. Problem is, neither is particularly cheap, nor remotely as cheap as a standalone sensor would have been.

Snake by Erica Wright

Snake (cover)

There are something like ninety books about reptiles and amphibians on my shelves, which I’ve accumulated over the past two decades. Almost all of them put the author’s expertise on the subject front and centre: these are books by hobbyists who have raised generations of reptiles in captivity, field naturalists with decades of experience finding them in the wild, or herpetologists with deep CVs and institutional authority. Credentials, in this field, matter. What, then, to make of Erica Wright’s Snake, out today from Bloomsbury, a slim volume from someone with no experience with them whatsoever?

Wright writes crime novels and poetry, edits a literary journal and teaches writing: not the profile of someone who writes a book of short essays on snakes. But she has gone and done that very thing. Snake, part of the Object Lessons series of short books “about the hidden lives of ordinary things,” is possibly the most different of all the books about snakes I have ever read, simply because she does not fit that profile. Snake is by someone who was wary if not afraid of them as a child, but came to them as an adult.

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