I’ve been struggling a lot to keep writing, to keep creating, to find the inspiration and the focus I need to do my job. A lot of it is related to my Depression, but there comes a point when the difference between being a professional and a hobbyist is actually doing the work, even — especially — when it’s hard.
So this weekend, Anne and I took the kids up to Santa Barbara to celebrate our birthdays (which are all in the next two weeks), and to get a change of scenery for a couple of days. It was a gorgeous trip, emotionally and spiritually, and while it didn’t give me the magic bullet to suddenly break through the struggle I’ve been having, I made a ton of progress, because I read a book that I took with me. Here’s my review that I posted to my Goodreads thingy:
It’s a quick read that you can finish in one sitting, but the ideas and advice it contains will stay with you long after you’ve put it down. Some of Austin’s suggestions will validate what you’re already doing, some will challenge you to fundamentally change a creative practice, others will inspire you to grab a notebook and get to work immediately.
Because it’s such a small and accessible book, you’ll want to go back to it from time to time. Just like Stephen King’s On Writing, as you change and grow as an artist, it reveals new ideas and inspirations to you that you may have missed on a previous read.
This is a fantastic addition to your library, and a wonderful gift for any creative person in your life.
I’ve been profoundly inspired by Austin’s book, because he reaffirmed things I’ve already been doing as an artist, but mostly because he gave me permission to think about the entire creative process differently.
For a long time, I have felt like a travel writer who never leaves the house, and Steal Like An Artist helped me find the door so I can get back on the road.
The Order of Truth's Aeon Priests have resurrected our May 2014 Numenera Bundle, featuring the tabletop science-fantasy roleplaying game Numenera from Monte Cook Games. A billion years in the future, explore the Ninth World to find leftover artifacts of nanotechnology, the datasphere, bio-engineered creatures, and myriad strange devices that defy understanding. The inspiration for the recent Torment: Tides of Numenera computer game from inXile Entertainment, Numenera is about discovering the wonders of eight previous worlds to improve the present and build a future.
As if the poor thing hadn’t been destroyed enough already…
Who is at it this time? Why, it is Disabled People. Yes, that is a Kickstarter link. The whole thing is being managed by Uncanny magazine, who have an excellent track record in this sort of thing. Because of that, they are already almost half way to their goal after one day. But don’t let that put you off, because of course there are stretch goals.
Fly, little Space Unicorns, FLY!
Policy essay: "Encryption Substitutes," by Andrew Keane Woods:
In this short essay, I make a few simple assumptions that bear mentioning at the outset. First, I assume that governments have good and legitimate reasons for getting access to personal data. These include things like controlling crime, fighting terrorism, and regulating territorial borders. Second, I assume that people have a right to expect privacy in their personal data. Therefore, policymakers should seek to satisfy both law enforcement and privacy concerns without unduly burdening one or the other. Of course, much of the debate over government access to data is about how to respect both of these assumptions. Different actors will make different trade-offs. My aim in this short essay is merely to show that regardless of where one draws this line -- whether one is more concerned with ensuring privacy of personal information or ensuring that the government has access to crucial evidence -- it would be shortsighted and counterproductive to draw that line with regard to one particular privacy technique and without regard to possible substitutes. The first part of the paper briefly characterizes the encryption debate two ways: first, as it is typically discussed, in stark, uncompromising terms; and second, as a subset of a broader problem. The second part summarizes several avenues available to law enforcement and intelligence agencies seeking access to data. The third part outlines the alternative avenues available to privacy-seekers. The availability of substitutes is relevant to the regulators but also to the regulated. If the encryption debate is one tool in a game of cat and mouse, the cat has other tools at his disposal to catch the mouse -- and the mouse has other tools to evade the cat. The fourth part offers some initial thoughts on implications for the privacy debate.
I have made a thing, and pushed it out into the world. Well, really, this is me pushing it out into the world, because nobody will have noticed it before now, and with this, there’s a chance they might.
They invited people to write parsers and formatters and so on for it, and I quickly realised that no-one had yet written one in Java. As far as I can tell that is still the case. Or at least, if they have, they haven’t made it public yet.
No-one, that is, but me, as I have written just such a thing: a JSON Feed parsing library, written in Java. I’m calling it Pertwee. That’s the product page at my company site (more on which later). It’s open-source, and can be found at Github
As software projects go, it’s not that exciting. But it is the first open-source project that I’ve released. I hope someone might find some use for it.
Our July event began with our good friend, Justin Newland. He gave us excerpts from two separate works.
The first excerpt was from his published novel, The Genes of Isis. This is from a section later in the book where the Apocalypse is well in progress and our heroes have fled Egypt for sanctuary in Babylon.
Excerpt two is from the start of a work in progress, the novel set in Ming Dynasty China from which Justin read the prologue at the Open Mic.
Headlining July was a new name to most of us: Virginia Bergin. She is a Bristol-based writer of YA science fiction. Her third novel, Who Runs The World?, has recently been published by Macmillan. It is set in a world in which a virus has rendered human males all but extinct and the world is run by women. Naturally it is a far better place. Or is it?
The Q&A went on rather a lot because that’s what happens when I get to talk with someone about feminism. I certainly found the discussion with Virginia interesting, and I’m looking forward to reading her book. Hopefully she’ll be on my radio show in the autumn and we can dig into the issues a bit more deeply.
There was discussion of apocalypses and their attraction for readers, particularly teenagers. Given that the announcement that The Doctor would be regenerating as a woman had been made the previous day, we also discussed whether science fiction had been ruined forever and the world of Virginia’s novel was now inevitable. For reasons that will be obvious once you have listened to the podcasts, there was also some discussion of pornography.
In the announcements we congratulated Jo Hall, Roz Clarke and Pete Sutton for their places on the British Fantasy Awards short lists, and wished Emma & Pete Newman best of luck in the Clarke and Hugos.
We had a new voice recorder for this event. It has a better directional microphone and therefore should do a better job of eliminating background noise. Of course we do need to get used to it, which is why the sound on the first of Justin’s readings is a bit off. Hopefully we’ll be better in future.
The next Fringe meeting will be on August 21st. It will feature Lucy Hounsom and Dolly Garland.
The fabulous Geoff Ryman has persuaded the Manchester Review to do a major feature on African science fiction. It came out over the weekend, but I have saved it to blog about until today so that more of you will notice.
The feature is in two parts. The first is an anthology of 21 stories published in the Manchester Review itself. The other is a collection of links to 21 other stories already available for free elsewhere online.
This is a splendid collection, and well worth your time.
Picture from Cricinfo
There is a hashtag that is familiar to all fans of the San Francisco Giants. That hashtag is #torture, and it refers to the way in which the Giants, three times recent World Series Champions though they might be, have tended to strew their path to victory with agonizingly tight games. England’s journey to triumph in this year’s cricket World Cup has had strong elements of that too. There was the hard-fought defense against Australia, and the last-gasp run chase against South Africa. Would the final against India produce a similarly dramatic game? Neutral fans of cricket all over the world were hoping so. The rest of us were just hoping that we’d still be breathing by the end.
Lords, I’m pleased to say, was packed. Or at least it was save for the Members’ Pavilion. Tickets available to the public were sold out, but a large space of prime viewing area is reserved for members of the MCC. There is a massive waiting list for membership, and as a consequence the majority of members are old men. They didn’t seem interested in women’s cricket. More fool them.
It was clear from the start, when the first ball from Jhulan Goswami barely managed to limp its way into the waiting gloves of Sushma Verma, that the final was not going to be a run fest. It was overcast at Lords, and while the general agreement was that Heather Knight was correct to bat first on winning the toss, Ian Bishop’s pitch inspection held out hope of conditions that would favor bowlers.
England got off to a slightly rocky start, losing three wickets for just 63, but they bat deep. Sarah Taylor and Nat Sciver, both of whom have registered big scores in previous matches, began to build a partnership. There was a brief period of rain that had the Lords ground staff looking nervous, but the umpires commendably kept the players out having been told the shower would soon pass. Then, 83 runs into the partnership, disaster struck.
Or rather, Goswami did. Taylor aimed to flick a ball off her pads, but got only the lightest of touches and the ball dropped neatly into the waiting gloves of Verma, now standing much closer to the stumps. Fran Wilson had been the batting hero of England’s loss to India in the group stages of the tournament, but Goswami was determined that wasn’t going to happen again. First ball she send a swinging yorker in that rapped Wilson on the shins plum in front. Catherine Brunt produced a dramatically solid forward defensive to prevent a hat trick, but the damage was done. Brunt, Gunn and Marsh provided some useful runs, but England could only limp to the end of their innings rather than charge.
The team talks over lunch must have been fairly straightforward. England’s total of 228 was short of what was achievable on this pitch, and rain was forecast for later in the afternoon. They needed to take wickets. India had to make sure that they stayed ahead of the Duckworth-Lewis target just in case the game was cut short. For a long time both teams failed to do what was required. England got two early breakthroughs when Anya Shrubsole bowled the out of form Smriti Mandhana for 0, and Mithali Raj was needlessly run out, but Punam Raut and Harmanpreet Kaur steadied the ship. The trouble was that they did it slowly, and the required run rate was beginning to climb. Jenny Gunn, who conceded just 4 off her first four overs, was a major factor in that.
Fortunately for India, Kaur is the most destructive batter in women’s cricket, as her 171 against Australia had shown. Eventually she felt confident enough to start to cut loose. But, as so often happens, a milestone undid her. Shortly after reaching 50 she smashed a ball from Alex Hartley straight into the waiting hands of Tammy Beaumont. It was a glimmer of hope for England. From then on the match was down to who had the most belief.
A strong partnership between Raut and Veda Krishnamurthy took India to within sight of victory. Heather Knight rotated her bowlers, hoping that one of them would have that spark of magic that could create another breakthrough. Eventually she found one in Shrubsole. The first two balls of her comeback over were dispatched effortlessly to the boundary by Krishnamurthy. Then there was a single. And then a ball that rapped Raut on the pads. The Indian batters took too long to decide to ask for a review, but it wouldn’t have mattered as the umpire’s decision to give Raut lbw was sound. India needed just 37 runs. They had plenty of time, and six wickets left, but England, or rather Shrubsole, sensed victory.
Krishnamurthy tried to go deep against Shrubsole, but only found Nat Sciver on the mid wicket boundary. Verma lasted just two balls before being bowled by Hartley. Shrubsole took revenge for her Western Storm teammate, Wilson, by bowling Goswami first ball. Shikha Pandey’s run out showed that panic was setting in among the Indian batters. Their one ray of hope was 19-year-old Deepti Sharma. She looked calm and collected amidst the chaos. When she refused an easy single to keep the strike next over it looked like the act of a mature batter taking responsibility. Shrubsole, however, has way more experience and knew what to expect. A slower ball fooled Sharma who was early on the shot. Nat Sciver gratefully pouched the catch.
Even then the drama wasn’t over. India needed just 11 runs to win. They still had 11 balls in which to do it. Poonam Yadav blocked the next ball. The one after she chipped to mid off and Gunn, unbelievably, spilled a simple catch.
Shrubsole remained calm. Rajeshwari Gayakwad doesn’t bat 11 for nothing. All it needed was one good ball, and by now Anya was in the groove. The ball was delivered, Gayakwad’s stumps went flying, and the stadium erupted.
Figures of 6 for 46 easily earned Shrubsole the Player of the Match award. I may have noted that she was born in Bath and plays for Somerset and Western Storm. Tammy Beaumont, having the biggest run haul, was voted Player of the Tournament. Heather Knight, in her first major tournament as captain, got to lift the trophy.
For India it was a case of so near and yet so far. They have twice got to the World Cup final, and lost both times. For them the key moment was their heroic demolition of Australia. That got the attention of the media back home, and was a major reason why the TV audience for the final was 50 million. Here’s hoping that the BCCI now invests in the younger members of the squad (Raj and Goswami will both be retiring soon) to ensure that they are even better prepared next time.
If you would like a far better report than mine of the day, I warmly recommend Melinda Farrell’s piece for Cricinfo.
So there we have it. Women’s cricket has proved conclusively that it can deliver top class entertainment and superb skill. The Kia T20 league will be starting soon, though sadly I will be in Finland for much of it. Here’s hoping that the media continues to take interest.
Of course in all such things we have to remain vigilant. England’s women rugby players are also world champions. Doubtless they too expected life to be onwards an upwards from then on. But today the news broke that the RFU has cancelled all of their contracts. Apparently they think they don’t need to pay their players between now and the next world cup. For all the glory that women on the pitch might garner, it can mean nothing if that doesn’t result in more women in management.
Update: I am reliably informed by someone who was at the match that the Members Pavilion at Lords is inhabited primarily by the older (mostly over 60) MCC members. There is also a Members area in the New Warner Stand, and this is inhabited by the younger (mostly in their 50s) MCC members; the sort who might take their families to a game. This area was very well populated, so clearly there is hope for MCC in the future.
The objective of this CRA is to perform enabling basic and applied research to extend the reach, situational awareness, and operational effectiveness of large heterogeneous teams of intelligent systems and Soldiers against dynamic threats in complex and contested environments and provide technical and operational superiority through fast, intelligent, resilient and collaborative behaviors. To achieve this, ARL is requesting proposals that address three key Research Areas (RAs):
RA1: Distributed Intelligence: Establish the theoretical foundations of multi-faceted distributed networked intelligent systems combining autonomous agents, sensors, tactical super-computing, knowledge bases in the tactical cloud, and human experts to acquire and apply knowledge to affect and inform decisions of the collective team.
RA2: Heterogeneous Group Control: Develop theory and algorithms for control of large autonomous teams with varying levels of heterogeneity and modularity across sensing, computing, platforms, and degree of autonomy.
RA3: Adaptive and Resilient Behaviors: Develop theory and experimental methods for heterogeneous teams to carry out tasks under the dynamic and varying conditions in the physical world.
And while we're on the subject, this is an excellent report on AI and national security.