Jonathan Crowe

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

Doofus, a cat, ensconced on a cushion.

Doofus, 2007-2021

We lost our cat Doofus on Friday. His decline was sudden, sharp and unexpected: he went from apparently fine to a memory in the span of a week. And we’re still very much in shock about it.

Doofus on the piano bench (January 2021)

He was at the vet on Wednesday on account of his having become increasingly lethargic and barfing more than usual (which with Doofus was saying something). The vet found some indications that he had early stage one kidney disease, and prescribed a new diet and some medication. Despite this his condition deteriorated sharply the next day. He went from ambulatory to unable to manage stairs within a matter of hours, and then suffered a severe and prolonged seizure. Back to the vet as soon as we could the following morning, where despite being administered anti-seizure meds, he suffered three more seizures, at which point it was clear that recovery was impossible. We ended it at two in the afternoon on Friday.

The Muppet Show on Disney+

The Muppet Show arrived on Disney+ last Friday; this iteration restores a number of segments that were cut from the DVD releases of seasons one through three, and includes seasons four and five, which never saw DVD release. That’s not to say that the Disney+ version of The Muppet Show is exactly as broadcast. Two episodes are missing, and some musical sequences have been cut due to rights issues that even the Mouse can’t overcome. Internet sleuths have been tracking which episodes are missing segments: see Reddit and the Muppet Wiki. Also, some episodes are getting content warnings.

How Mars Landings Became More Accurate

This Scientific American article looks at how landings on Mars have gotten more and more precise, shrinking the “landing ellipse” from 300 km × 100 km (Viking) to 7.7 km × 6.6 km (Perseverance), which enables landings in places other than wide undifferentiated plains. Some locales will be still be off-limits for some time: “For instance, scientists cannot propose landing on high-altitude features such as Olympus Mons because the atmosphere overhead is too tenuous to sufficiently slow down a spacecraft. Regions with very rough terrain or steep slopes are also off-limits, even with [Terrain Relative Navigation]. Furthermore, features such as polar ice caps, canyons, lava tubes and sand dunes offer poor prospects for wheeled rovers and would require alternate forms of mobility.”

Driftwood

Book cover: Driftwood

My review of Marie Brennan’s Driftwood (Tachyon, Aug. 2020) is now online at Strange Horizons. “In around two hundred pages of fairly large type it has a great deal to say about memory, loss, and survivorship, and it does so on a stage that is as vast as any in epic fantasy.” Amazon (Canada, UK)

Meanwhile, Strange Horizons starts each year by asking its reviewers to look back at what they’ve read in the previous year; part one of “2020 in Review” has a couple of paragraphs from yours truly.

In Good Faith

My friend Dominik Parisien is a disabled writer, editor and poet; in the latest issue of Maisonneuve he talks about his childhood experience with a faith healer, and draws this, shall we say, pointed parallel between that sort of quackery and the magical thinking people engage in with the disabled: “These misguided attempts at healing aren’t just carried out by religious people or practitioners. […] Disabled and chronically ill people are constantly told our conditions exist because of a lack of belief, or effort, or willpower. A better attitude will cure you, or yoga, or a new diet. Abled people, religious or not, remain convinced they can heal us, and will try to do so, whether we welcome it or not. This happens everywhere from houses of worship to doctors’ offices, rehabilitation centres and care homes, to places entirely unrelated to treatment like schools, parks and restaurants.”

Spinosaurus: A Heron, not a Crocodile

Spinosaurus aegyptiacus
Spinosaurus aegyptiacus. Art by Gustavo Monroy-Becerril, 2020. Wikimedia Commons.

A new study suggests that Spinosaurus, the weird sailbacked theropod dinosaur widely considered to be an aquatic predator, may have been a wader rather than a swimmer. “The purported arguments that Spinosaurus was some croc-like or even stem-whale like animal spending the vast majority of its time in water, and the way it has been illustrated swimming in deep water, and even diving and pursuing fish does not hold up to scrutiny. Instead, a wading model of a more heron- or stork-like animal that spent a lot of time in and around water, but fundamentally fished while standing rather than swimming, is supported.” The authors’ argument is based on Spinosaurus’s physiology, which doesn’t, in their view, support fast swimming, and is more like other theropods than crocodilians.

The Musicwriter

The Musicwriter is one of several music typewriters created to print sheet music. Some music typewriters were their own thing, whereas the Musicwriter started life as a normal typewriter before being converted to print notes and staves. You operated it by typing with the right hand and moving the carriage with the left, which sounds a bit tricky to get right—like writing music with an Etch-a-Sketch. Several typewriters served as Musicwriter root stock over the years, including the 6-series Smith-Corona and, more recently, the Olympia SG3 (an example of which can be seen in this Facebook group post). More about Musicwriters from Ted Munk in Et Cetera 109 (2015), pp. 12-15, and in this addendum collecting all kinds of photos, ephemera and type samples.

Queens of the Keyboard

Robert Messenger looks at the mid-20th-century phenomenon of international speed-typing competitions, and the women who competed in them. Explain to me how these women are not already the subject of a Netflix series like The Queen’s Gambit: the 1920s rivalry between Millicent Woodward and Robert George Curtis could be a movie all by itself.

Books Read: 4Q 2020

  1. The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs by Steve Brusatte (2018). Reviewed here.
  2. City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff VanderMeer (3rd edition 2004). First volume of VanderMeer’s Ambergris trilogy, which has just been released in a new one-volume edition. Deeply weird book full of squids and mushrooms; the back matter is even weirder, and marvellous, and probably not included in the omnibus, more’s the pity.
  3. On Fragile Waves by E. Lily Yu (2021, forthcoming). Fabulist novel focusing on the experiences of an Afghan refugee family in Australia. I have mixed feelings about this book, which I will explain in a review closer to its publication date.
  4. The Typewriter Revolution by Richard Polt (2015). Engaging look at the present-day typewriter enthusiast counterculture, exploring how the epitome of bureaucracy can become a subversive tool; plus lots of advice for people who want to acquire, use and maintain old manual typewriters.
  5. Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear (2019). Fascinating space opera with engaging aliens and worldbuilding that is nonetheless not a fun read due to its unflinching focus on emotionally abusive relationships.
  6. Where Do Camels Belong? by Ken Thompson (2014). Polemic challenging our assumptions about invasive species: what makes them invasive, whether invasive actually a problem, et cetera. About half of the points made are valid, or are valid in some contexts but not others. It depends, as usual.
  7. Typewriters for Writers by Scott Schad (2014). A buying guide for writers who want to use typewriters, based on the writer’s own collection, experiences and opinions (he’s awfully exercised about the absence of the “1” key). Lots of photos result in a very large Kindle file size.
  8. The Book on the Edge of Forever by Christopher Priest (1994). Reread occasioned by Straczinski’s announcement that The Last Dangerous Visions really, for sure, truly is coming out this time.
  9. To the Letter by Simon Garfield (2013). Book about the art of letter-writing that spends rather more time than I expected on letter-collecting.

What Happened to All the Bucatini?

Bucatini is a thick, spaghetti-like long pasta with a hole down the middle, and for some reason it’s been impossible to find in the United States this past year. Rachel Handler investigates for New York magazine’s Grub Street blog, and finds herself going down an increasingly bizarre rabbit hole as she tries to answer the question: what happened to all the bucatini? Was production cut back in favour of other, easier-to-produce pastas because of increased pandemic demand? Were people using them as straws? And what exactly was the issue between the FDA and pasta maker De Cecco? An astonishing read.

‘The Snake Is as Much Symbol as Animal’

“The snake is as much symbol as animal, and this oversaturation of meaning prevents us from seeing the snake clearly. In reality, they are gentle, healthful to the environment, ‘more scared of you than you are of it,’ a sort of tragic hero of the ecosystem that is, when gazed upon without malice, beautiful. I might argue that the contemplation of a snake qua snake […] delivers us past, for a moment, our paralyzed understanding of things and into a configuration of mind from which we might briefly remember how much of what we know is sculpted air and rumor, and how much direct experience of an animal, of any thing, might open our eyes to new possibilities of interpretation or, better yet, to the possibility of resisting interpretation altogether. Perhaps we might let the weight of meaning slip away, revealing only coiled matter. Long and lithe, complexly imbricated, strange: Here is contact. Let it grip you. With your fingers, touch its scales.” —Paul McAdory, “How My Pet Snake Taught Me to See,” The New York Times Magazine.

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]

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