Monthly Archives: December 2004

Holiday Hiatus

Yeong and I are getting on a plane in a few hours headed for New York City, for a brief holiday getaway. We’ll be returning Thursday. I’ll take my laptop of course, but updates to the website may be intermittent at best–until Friday.

Conspiracy Theories

OK, I’m slumming: I’m reading Michael Crichton’s State of Fear. It’s fast, easy reading, a no-brainer in the manner of a Hollywood summer blockbuster. I’ve been following Crichton on and off ever since I read The Andromeda Strain two or three times back in the ’70s, though none of his books since then have impressed me as much. Something about the way he info-dumps computer print-outs, diagrams, graphs, etc., into the text gives his books a certain authority, not to mention geek appeal, despite the formula plots and cardboard characters.

The new book’s premise is provacative — that global warming is a conspiracy among the media and a band of eco-terrorists — something that sounds more like a novelist’s contrarian plot-device than a thesis the author expects you to believe, despite the footnotes and bibliography that Crichton provides. Yet, whatever benefit of the doubt I was willing to allow him was considerably diminished by the first page of the introduction, in which Crichton cites a lawsuit planned by the island nation of “Vanutu” as inspiration for the book. Trouble is, the name of that island nation is Vanuatu, not Vanutu; look it up. Crichton spells it wrong throughout the book. So why should we believe anything else he claims?

Then again… The trouble with most conspiracy theories is that for them to work, people would have to be a lot smarter, and luckier, than most people are in real life. If, for example, a group of eco-terrorists are clever enough to (for example) stage a series of ecological catastrophes in time with a conference about “abrupt climate change”, well, why aren’t they clever enough to prevent the publication of a bestselling novel about them, exposing their plot?

But I think I’ve figured it out. These conspirators are subtle; they are very smart. Instead of suppressing the novel exposing their plot, they’ve obviously manipulated the manuscript at some point in the publication process (they are of course very sneaky and high tech) in order to distort a few data points in the text (the location of Pismo Beach being another) so that knowledge readers who might otherwise find the book persuasive would smirk at the errors and dismiss the whole crazy notion. Yet what is the alternative? Allow Crichton’s airtight case exposure to the world? I think not. The conspirators are too clever for their own good — they’ve only apparently undermined Crichton’s conspiracy theory. The flaws in the book prove its case!

Once you start spinning conspiracy theories, there’s no end to it.

Winter Was Warm

It was 80 degrees F in southern California over the weekend, which I spent alternately compiling data for the annual update to the Locus Index to Science Fiction Awards, and reading Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, which I finished last night, at last, and have now come up for air. I enjoyed it very much, though I had not read any of the reviews closely enough to realize that this is but the first volume of a longer, as yet unresolved story, which explains the inconclusive air of the book’s ending that left me wondering if I’d missed something…

I suppose I should start my Christmas shopping now.

Meanwhile a bizarre package arrived in the mail yesterday–actually it came registered, so it cost me a stop at the post office this morning to get it. It’s a flat package presumably containing a book, colorfully wrapped with various stickers and taped labels, tied up with turquoise ribbon, and affixed with eight Russian stamps. On the front, next to the return address, is printed

These books publish in press.

They are sent to all Children of the Earth,

The Science will stop, if will read these books

and they realize, that a way their deadlock.

(Sic) With similar, longer notices on the back. I’m not sure I need to open this.


Holiday, family, domestic circumstances have made the past week difficult; I took a half day off from work today, from my ‘real’ work, to catch up on my inbox and post a bunch of items today on the Locus Online homepage. I reduced my inbox from 300+ to a mere half dozen. And deleted thousands of ‘Merry Christmas!’ spam.

The conversion to the new homepage, with RSS feeds, is apace; I need to determine where the archive pages will land. Probably this weekend. I’ll put off converting to another host, and live with the date formatting and archiving that Blogger provides, for the time being.

Robot’s Revenge

Commenter Tad points out an existing Locus RSS feed at, and in my experiments with RSS readers last night I stumbled across such a feed myself (don’t remember if it was the same one). Apparently there are robots that troll the web and generate feeds for sites that don’t provide them! So why am I bothering!? Hmm.

Well, because automating the process of updating the homepage will save me time in the long run, and make it easier to post even more content; and I’ve set up a Blinks feed too. OTOH, I don’t see providing full text of articles via a feed, as one commenter suggested, just the title and text that appears on the homepage. I’d prefer you to click to the site for full details…

I’ve had a couple recommendations for WordPress, and one warning about Movable Type. I’ll keep exploring. Meanwhile, I’ve reformatted the temporary new homepage,, using lots of div tags, no embedded tables or font tags at all, and a revised style sheet. It needed doing, though the presence of table tags within posts that I was worried about doesn’t seem to bother the mobileread feed generator.

Addendum after initial post: Blogger was so slow midday today, as I revised templates for the two new blogs, that I was tempted to shoot my PC just to put it out of its misery. But this evening it’s lickety split.


I’ve tinkered in Blogger to generate a couple rudimentary blogs with Atom xml feeds, and have created a modified homepage that ‘includes’ the html versions of these blogs. The results are visible at — this a temporary file — where the top few entries under Blinks and in the center column are generated by the blogs, and the remaining entries are hard-coded as they’ve always been. You can click on the ‘feed’ links, or copy them to your reader, or however you do it (I’ve only been trying out readers myself in the past couple days) to see the feeds. You can do so safely because even if the underlying mechanisms for generating the blogs and feeds change, the names (Locus.xml and Blinks.xml) probably won’t. If you do this and notice any problems, please let me know. The main entries in the center section of the homepage, now fed by Locus.xml, have involved lots of table tags for the layout, and I worry that those tags, now embedded in the blog template, will interfere with the format of the Atom feed… I’ll probably simplify that formatting, with more astute use of style sheet tags, before I go live with the new feeds and homepage reformatting.

Eventually, perhaps sooner rather than later, I will invest in Movable Type and abandon Blogger, which has at least three drawbacks. 1) It’s slow. 2) It doesn’t let me archive by category (as I do now, manually). 3) It doesn’t let me format the dates the way I like (which is either “Wed 8 Dec 2004″ or “Wednesday 8 December 2004″) — and neither do any of the freebie blogging/feed generators I’ve looked at. And Movable Type seems to be the standard.

Further comments and advice welcome…


Amused today to see an op-ed graphic in The New York Times — which unfortunately I can’t link to, but at the moment it’s linked from the opinion page in the third column on the heading ‘Op-Chart’.

Also, via Making Light, textbook disclaimer stickers.

It rained in LA yesterday, and perhaps because the infrastructure here is more fragile than in other areas of the country (or perhaps I simply have a bad phone line), my DSL was flaky all day. I did however experiment with server side includes and Blogger settings to generate site feeds, setting up templates for blog-based versions of Blinks and the main news/reviews column that would be sucked in to a new shtml-named homepage. Thanks to those who sent suggestions of products to try. Blogger isn’t ideal (and it’s often slow), but whether I use it for now or find something else to try, I hope to have some new scheme set up, providing RSS (or Atom) feeds, in the next few days.

And yes, Anonymous, I know I need to clean up many of my links. As it happens, I’m about half-way through an overhaul of the authors links page, checking those I already have (most are still valid), and adding hundreds more. And databasing them rather than hand-editing the links page. And perhaps merging that page with the interview index page, or… Hmm.

NYT Best Books minus SF

For years — decades — the edition of the New York Times Book Review published on the first weekend in December would be its annual best books of the year issue, with lengthy “Notable Books” lists categorized as Fiction & Poetry, Nonfiction (these two covering the majority of the titles), Mysteries, Science Fiction, and Children’s Books. (Here’s the 2003 lists.) There would also be an “Editors’ Choice” selection of the top 10 or 12 books of the year, from all categories, rarely including SF, but reguarly including nonfiction works of serious science, moreso than other editorial lists or literary awards.

This evening comes the weekly Books Update email from the New York Times, and it seems, in keeping with the recent editorial shifts there, that the format of the annual lists is changing. This year’s first December Review has a list of 100 Notable Books of the Year — divided by Fiction & Poetry, and Nonfiction, only — from which “10 Best Books of the Year, chosen from this longer list” will be announced *next* week.

No tag-along SF category on the general list; sigh. Gerald Jonas’ SF reviews for the NYTBR, whatever else you might think of them, have served as recognition from one of the most important literary venues in the US that science fiction is a genre worthy of attention and respect; the half dozen selections on the annual best books lists were, of course, his. (And he’s been doing this for 3 decades; I remember his 1975 review of Delany’s Dhalgren.)

That said, this year’s 100-titles list does includes several items of genre and associational interest: David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, Karen Joy Fowler’s The Jane Austen Book Club, Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Jonathan Lethem’s Men and Cartoons, Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America. But none of these could be considered a true-blue genre book. Oh well; one or more of these might conceivably end up on next week’s top 10 list. We’ll see then.

RSS Re-engineering

I’ve gotten three queries in the last couple months about providing an RSS feed for Locus Online, to which I’ve replied, I’ll get around to it when I can. Actually, the fundamental issue is that I still maintain the html pages of the site manually; everything is edited in Wordpad. (Though listings of books and magazines on various Monitor pages are generated out of several custom-built Access databases.) There’s no blog engine underlying the homepage, even though the homepage does sorta look like a blog, with the central pane in reverse chronological order. (I’m sure everyone is grateful that I’ve made no substantial, or hardly even trivial, changes to the layout of the homepage in nearly a year now.)

I suppose it’s possible to manually create and maintain a text file full of xml tags for an RSS feed, but that would be rather absurd, and more work besides. Instead, I used a spare couple hours today (when I should have been doing other things, of course) exploring the various options for recasting the homepage as a blog, using Blogger, perhaps, or investing in something more full-featured, like Movable Type. (Blogger and other such programs provide site feeds automatically, if you turn them on; here’s a Views from Medina Road feed.) The plan is to make the transition invisible to the user, so the homepage layout won’t appear any different at all–but there’ll be an RSS feed for the main content in the center pane, and perhaps one for the Blinks column too. The transition would result in less manual work for me both in editing text files in Wordpad, and in FTP’ing files up and echoing them back down among however many computers I’m using in a typical week.

One advantage to a blog-engine homepage would be that multiple users could easily post to it. At the Locus Board meeting in Boston the notion of creating such a capability was floated, for the purpose of allowing office staff in Oakland to post breaking news items more quickly than could be done if they had to coordinate with me during the workday.

So, it’s in work, though I can’t promise when the transition will take place, or exactly how. I might get to it within the week; maybe over the holidays; maybe not for longer.