Guns and Math: Does 1 MOA *Really* Equal 1 Inch at 100 Yards?

I’m doing rifle marksmanship training right now, and the rule of thumb for sight adjustment is that 1 minute of angle (MOA) equals one inch at 100 yards.  That means that if you adjust your sights to sweep in a certain direction (left, right, up, or down) by an angle measuring one minute, your point of impact on a target 100 yards away will move in that direction by 1 inch.  So, for example, if you adjust your rifle by 1 minute of arc left, your point of impact will shift left by 1 inch on the 100-yard target.

Of course, being a mathematician, my thought is automatically, “One MOA equals 1 inch at 100 yards?  How convenient!  I should do the math to see how close it actually is.”

It’s pretty easy to convert the angle measure of an arc to the arc length.  Take a look:

Here, theta is the angle, r is the radius (imagine the pie slice as a sector of a circle with radius r), and s is the length of the arc.

Here, theta is the angle, r is the radius (imagine the pie slice as a sector of a circle with radius r), and s is the length of the arc. (Wikimedia Commons, public domain.)

If you have the measure of the central angle in radians, the measure of the arc length — denoted s here — will be that number times the radius:

s = \theta r

Since the angles we’re looking at are so small, we can use a small angle approximation to say that our length of shift on the target equals the arc length –

. . . OKAY FINE, I shudder when physicists use the small angle approximation, but when I did it ABSOLUTELY EXACTLY without using the small angle approximation, the length of the chord matched the length of the arc out to 7 decimal places, which means our error here is about the width of an atom.  SO FINE.  We’ll use it and say the chord approximately equals the arc.

Arc / chord comparison

The red curve is the “s” we’re finding; the blue line is the actual straight-line distance on the target. For angles as small as we’re examining, the difference in length between them is about the width of an atom or two.

Let’s go back to the above formula.  We need one minute in radians.  One minute is 1/60 of a degree, so we get

\left(1/60 \text{ degrees}\right) \left(\frac{\pi}{180 \text{ degrees}}\right) = 0.000290888209 \text{ radians}

s = 0.000290888209 * \left(100 \text{ yards}\right)

s = 0.0290888209 \text{ yards}

Which equals about 1.0472 inches.

(Look at me, truncating before we get out to 7 decimal places so the small angle approximation holds!  To find the exact number, you’d have to do 2 times the sine of half the angle you’re looking at (so, 2 times the sine of half of 1 minute converted to radians, in this case), and then multiply by the radius (100 yards) and then convert to inches.  Again, for angles this small it’s equal to the above out to an absurd number of decimal places.)

So, yeah, 1 MOA is 1.0472 inches of distance at 100 yards — it’s pretty close to one inch!

The rifle marksmanship rule of thumb continues to say that we’re at 1 inch of point-of-impact change per 100 yards out, so at 200 yards 1 MOA would be equivalent to 2 inches on the target, at 300 yards 1 MOA would be equivalent to 3 inches on the target, etc. (and at 50 yards or 25 yards, 1 MOA would be equivalent to .5 inches or .25 inches on the target respectively).  Here’s what the actual numbers are:

Distance 1 MOA Equivalence (Rule of Thumb) 1 MOA Equivalence (True)
25 yards .25 inches  0.2618 inches
50 yards .5 inches  0.5236 inches
100 yards 1 inch  1.0472 inches
200 yards 2 inches  2.0944 inches
300 yards 3 inches  3.1416 inches
400 yards 4 inches  4.1888 inches
500 yards 5 inches  5.2360 inches
1000 yards 10 inches  10.4720 inches

So we’re edging up to half an inch difference at 1000 yards.  That’s a lot!

Now the question becomes — well, scopes often adjust as 1 click = 1/4 inch.  But are they adjusting 1/4 of an MOA (and thus 1/4 of 1.0472 inches), or 1/4 of a true inch?  Wikipedia had the answer:

One thing to be aware of is that some scopes, including some higher-end models, are calibrated such that an adjustment of 1 MOA corresponds to exactly 1 inch, rather than 1.047″. This is commonly known as the Shooter’s MOA (SMOA) or Inches Per Hundred Yards (IPHY). While the difference between one true MOA and one SMOA is less than half of an inch even at 1000 yards,[5] this error compounds significantly on longer range shots that may require adjustment upwards of 20-30 MOA to compensate for the bullet drop. If a shot requires an adjustment of 20 MOA or more, the difference between true MOA and SMOA will add up to 1 inch or more. In competitive target shooting, this might mean the difference between a hit and a miss.

Hey, look how useful math is!

Word of the Day: Polysyndeton

One of my friends used the word “polysyndeton” today, and I said, “OOO NEW WORD” and looked it up.[1]  Wikipedia explains polysyndeton as:

the use of several conjunctions in close succession, especially where some could otherwise be omitted (as in “he ran and jumped and laughed for joy”)

There’s something utterly delightful about loving a writing device and using it all the time and then realizing there’s a word for it.  Yay!

Upon further reading, I discovered I also use asyndeton a lot, which is the omitting all the conjunctions — for instance, I could write the example in the quote above using asyndeton as, “he ran, jumped, laughed for joy.”

The thinky part for me here is that I have, in the past, thought I should without exception use semicolons when juxtaposing independent clauses without conjunctions.  For instance, it seems one of the oft-cited examples of asyndeton is, “Veni, vidi vici” — “I came, I saw, I conquered.”  These are three independent clauses, so were I writing something similar, I would have felt I should have more correctly punctuated it as, “I came; I saw; I conquered.”

But the semicolon gives a different “feel,” doesn’t it?  It reads like three separate sentences joined up because there’s a common idea or because these things happened in quick succession.  The commas, on the other hand, give the sentence a different rhythm; the clear omission of a conjunction makes the words tumble into inevitability, as if they are less a statement of three separate but related facts and more an unquestionable domino effect.

I’m a huge fan of the correct use of semicolons — but there have been times I would have preferred to use commas for effect but wasn’t quite aware enough of what I was doing.  Learning this is a known literary device and putting the name “asyndeton” to it helps a lot: now, rather than wallowing in edits with, “but is this punctuation correct?,” I can consider the sentence and decide whether I want to use semicolons or employ asyndeton with what otherwise would be compound sentences with a conjunction.

So for me, this is a rather delightful example of how better learning the rules can help one break them!

(Usual disclaimer: I’m an armchair linguist.  Corrections and further elucidations are always welcome!)

  1. OH LOOK I didn’t even realize I did that. Whee!

Why Amazon Getting the Snot Kicked Out of It Might Be the Best Outcome For Self-Publishers

There’s a contract dispute going on right now between Amazon and Hatchette, one of the “Big 5″ publishers.  Lately, there has been some increasingly outsized rhetoric by people in the writing world, with some people trying to frame Amazon or Hatchette as the good guy and the other as an evil evilling evil monster.  I’m not going to link — Google if you must, but you’ll probably come away with a headache.

I don’t feel I know enough about the issues under dispute to have a firm opinion on what the outcome should be or whose tactics are more underhanded than whose.  From what I know I will tentatively say that I think it would probably be a good thing for the book market as a whole if Hatchette is able to (at least mostly) stand its ground against Amazon, but I’d be willing to be convinced otherwise on that.[1]

But one thing that’s happened lately is that a few voices in self-publishing have spoken up to plant self-publishers firmly on the side of Amazon The Glorious Let Us All Love Amazon, with Hatchette painted as the Reader-Hating Author-Trampling Hellhound, Slavering to Mash the Poor Book Industry in its Fanged Jaws.

I’m not sure quite what I think on this dispute, but I’m pretty damn certain it’s not going to be that.  Most things, in my experience, have a bit more nuance to them.

But here’s the crux of what I wanted to address here: I see self-publishers saying that others calling for boycotts of Amazon will disproportionately hurt their incomes (since most self-publishers make the majority of their sales through Amazon).  I see self-publishers complaining that others don’t understand how important Amazon is to self-publishers and that we all need to appreciate this fact more.

But I think Amazon taking it in the chin here would ultimately be better for self-publishers — for all authors and publishers, actually.  Oddly, I think that would be good for us regardless of whether they’re in the wrong.  To be clear: I’m not saying they should be punished if it turns out they were all rainbows and sunshine this whole time and just had horribly bad PR; I just see them being dinged as being ultimately beneficial to self-published authors rather than detrimental.

Yes, Amazon did a lot of really cool things with disruptive innovation that helped self-publishers.  I’m a HUGE fan of disruptive innovation!  I think it’s awesome.  I’m on record as saying that I think people should ALWAYS adapt new business models to changing technologies rather than try to restrict or destroy them — for instance, the answer to television piracy isn’t “sue people into oblivion,” it’s Hulu.  I love it when people do shit like that.  I loved the ideas Amazon had from the outset — I was going around telling people it would succeed when the stock price was a nickel and everyone said it was going to go bankrupt the next year.  And I love a lot of what Amazon did to help catapult the ebook market into existence.  (I don’t like other things it did in doing so, of course, as that is the nature of life — I’m bound to agree with some things and not with others — but I like a lot of it.)

Amazon has done a lot of cool things.  It’s also done a lot of shitty things, both as regards ebooks and not.  It has some shady business practices.  And it’s out for its own self-interests.  The fact that it’s done a lot of cool innovation in that self-interest doesn’t make the innovation any less cool — but, you know, it also means I’m not about to give Amazon much of my own personal loyalty.

And the fact that I think Amazon has done some really cool things doesn’t change the fact that it scares the shit out of me.  My impression of Amazon is that it is unrelentingly competitive: it weakens and gobbles up other markets and does its absolute damnedest to be the only game in town.  It’s like the Blob.  It wants to absorb the brains of everyone in the world and then control as much of the market of everything as it possibly can.

(Google scares me in much the same way, but at least Google’s PR machine has done a much better job of convincing me it would be a benevolent dictator, which probably speaks well to their PR.  Still doesn’t mean I want either company to take over the world.)

What happens if Amazon gains 80, 85, 90 percent of the book market?

I don’t know.  I don’t want to know.  I don’t think any other authors or publishers want to know, either.  I don’t think it would be good for any of us.  Because Amazon’s out for Amazon.

If people boycott Amazon because of the ongoing controversy — and let’s be clear, I am not advocating a boycott, nor do I think an effective one to be likely — then what happens?

Amazon isn’t much hurt much, really.  Most of what they sell isn’t books, and most people not in the book world probably don’t know or care that this is happening.  The biggest ding from any boycotting will happen in book purchases.  Yes, that might hurt self-publishers in the short term (though it may, assuming people are buying equal numbers of books, help independent bookstores on the other side — which I consider a good thing but may understandably be of cold comfort to self-publishers).  But it also potentially gets book buyers onto other platforms.

The more readers are on a diversity of platforms, the better I feel about my future as a self-publisher.  The more viable retailers there are, the better protected I feel by the competition among those retailers for a slice of my book sales.  It becomes an environment in which, I believe, the publishing atmosphere can better remain a viable one for self-publishing in the long term.  (And remember, much as Amazon helped self-publishers, they did not invent self-publishing — it exists independent of Amazon, and I wish it existed more independent of Amazon.)

Anyone with near-total control of the ebook market could easily make self-publishing into something people make hobby money off of only.  Heck, there’s been plenty of rhetoric in self-publishing already that making a little hobby money is better than not being published at all.  And I see this sort of thing happening in my other industry (movies) already: people are so desperate to work that they’ll sell themselves for almost nothing.

Like I said, I don’t know enough about the actual terms under dispute between Hatchette and Amazon to have an informed opinion on them.  Maybe Amazon’s being unreasonable.  Maybe Hatchette is.  Maybe (far more likely) they both are, and the situation’s all sorts of complicated and they’re both using underhanded tactics and authors are caught in the middle.

Here’s what I do think: whether in this dispute or any other, whether the other guy is more evil or not, it might be an overall good thing if Amazon’s book market share were to be disrupted.  Even if it were to mean fewer sales for self-publishers in the short term.  Because I worry about my ability to sell my books over the long term, and I can’t see how Amazon getting more and more of a stranglehold on the ebook market is a good thing for any of us.

I’m not urging anyone to have an opinion on the Amazon/Hatchette issues that they don’t hold.  By all means, hold whatever opinion you have after reading through the issues (or, like me, hold no firm opinion!).  I’m also not trying to suggest that people looking at what’s best for THEM should necessarily be the driving force behind what they think the outcome here should be.  But I do think people should re-think the rhetoric that any hurt to Amazon is a hurt to self-publishers — I, for one, suspect that the exact opposite is true.

  1. I have no particular love for Hatchette, by the way — they’re probably the most anti-free data, pro-DRM of the Big 5.  My concerns are more broadly how this is going to affect the book industry, authors, and other publishers.

Watching Orphan Black as a Faceblind Person

I’ve written about my face blindness before — what it means is that I generally recognize people by things like hair, clothes, context, and voice inflection before faces.  My face blindness isn’t as bad as it could be, and I mostly get along just fine, but it’s bad enough to interfere with my life, especially when I see people out of context or after long gaps.  As a gauge of severity, let’s put it this way: I’ve never not recognized my parents after not seeing them for a while, but I always worry I won’t.

So I was a bit nervous about trying to watch Orphan Black, despite the entire Internet telling me to.  Because, especially given the skills of the lead actress, I was afraid that there would be moments when the “reveal” would depend on me recognizing that two women with completely different deportments and hairstyles had the same face, and I wouldn’t.

Well, considering that I just watched two seasons of Orphan Black in two days, clearly my faceblindness didn’t impede me too much!  In fact, for anyone else who’s bad with faces who is hesitating over watching this show — you’ll be totally fine.  Once you pick up on who the clones are at the beginning, which the show is very, very clear about pointing out in multiple ways, it’s smooth sailing.  (In fact, since the show asks all viewers to differentiate the clones based on things other than face, it might be even easier to watch than other shows — I have a lot of trouble on some shows with people of the same gender/age/race having similar hairstyles and I mix them all up, whereas here, they have to make sure that doesn’t happen or everyone will mix them up.)

But if you want some interesting notes about the experience:

(here there be spoilers through the end of Season 2)

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Why New Math Fads Are Bad For Math Education

An insightful remark by one of my Twitter friends today sparked some thoughts about mathematics education — specifically, my thoughts about the new fads in math education that seem to crop up all the time in schools across the U.S. like ever-more creative varieties of fungus.  As someone who loudly and often condemns many of these new “methods” for teaching math, it turned out I had far too many thoughts for Twitter.

I’ve worked for many, many years as a private math tutor, at varying degrees of full/part time (right now I don’t do it for my main job, but maintain a few students because it’s fun and I like teaching and I like the company I work for).  My students have crossed a wide variety of middle and high schools, with a wide variety of curriculum tracks (from off-beat “hippie”-ish private schools to standard state curricula to college, and including a range of clients from students for whom math was not their forte to students who were brilliant and wanted more enrichment to students who were smart but lazy).  Pretty much the only selection bias my students have had in common is that they and their families tend to be in a financial bracket to hire me and care enough about academics to do so, which has slanted the demographic I work with to be much more likely to attend schools that purportedly each really try to have a good math curriculum.

And so many of them . . . well, don’t.

Education is a hard thing.  I realize that.  It’s really, really hard to figure out the optimal way of teaching a lot of disparate students with a lot of disparate skill levels some knowledge they don’t necessarily all want to learn.  Teachers are often underfunded, with too many students, and constrained by administrations or standardized tests that work against them.  I’m willing to cut teachers a lot of slack for not batting 1000 for all students at all times.  But what really gets my goat when it comes to mathematics education is what I call “fad math.”

Fad math is my students whose school thought the best way to teach them geometry was to put them in small groups and say, “figure it out” with no additional guidance (this is based on the textbook, by the way, which does not teach at all).  Fad math is my students whose curriculum jumps from topic to topic with no discernible connective tissue, and then assigns a mountain of problems . . . maybe three each on each of the wildly different topics.  Fad math is the private school that decided real-world math was more important than algebra and calculus, so taught taxes and mortgage amortization instead.  I could go on.  (And on.)

I get the motivations behind trying out these fads.  Mathematics teaching in this country is (in many ways correctly) perceived as broken, and people are looking for the magic formula, the Holy Grail, the thing that will work.  For example, in the first example above, I get that the idea was probably originally that more “figuring out” should happen in math teaching and less rote memorization; I support that in principle, but when we’ve reached a point at which any actual teaching has disappeared and students are basically being required to re-derive modern mathematics from scratch (with the end result that most of them just learn nothing), we’ve gone way, way, way, way too far.  The second curriculum I mentioned comes from the fear that students lose material when they study one topic in bulk rather than repeating the skills over a period of time, which, again, is a problem worth addressing — but gutting students’ ability to gain an in-depth understanding of any material is not the way to do that.  And while I applaud schools looking to teach students about real-world math like taxes and mortgages — again, a good idea! — lacking a more traditional math base completely derailed students who moved or transferred high schools and also snapped off the math foundation needed for any students who wanted to go on to a STEM field in college, including fields like pre-med and economics.

Fad math, in my view, seems more about people being proud of a shiny new idea — “this idea will work for pumping math knowledge into kids’ heads!” rather than being concerned with teaching, which is, in my opinion, where people should be concerned.  My best math teachers have never used any gimmicks, ever.  But they were really, really, really good at explaining things in a way that made sense.

(And that’s the kind of teacher I try to be, too: one who explains things in a way that makes the lightbulb go off and the student say, “Oh!  So then that’s why this happens!”  It’s amazing to be able to help someone reach that place.)

For what it’s worth, here are the main problems I see with math teaching in this country from working with my students:

  1. Math taught as a “how to” instead of a “why.”  If all you’re doing is memorizing that this number should go here and that one should go there when you see a certain symbol, then that’s . . . . well, almost useless.  If all students are doing is following a flow chart by rote memorization, there’s no mathematical understanding going on.  Students have to know why a thing makes sense in order for it to, well, make sense.  Teachers need to teach the why instead of just giving a recipe for the how.[1]
  2. No connection between mathematical ideas.  Math is ridiculously interconnected.  Every topic is related to every other.  And when you help a student relate a new topic back to an old one, it enhances understanding of the old one while giving the student an intuitive basis for the new one.  Trying to learn math concepts in isolation is a ridiculous proposition, and yet, that’s what students are so often asked to do.
  3. A horrifying number of high school math teachers don’t seem to have a deep understanding of the concepts they’re  teaching.  I can’t count the number of times my students have come to me confused about explanations their teachers gave them — explanations that were off-base, muddled, or just plain wrong.[2]  The cynic in me bets that this is because the teachers learned math by learning “how” as well, so when students ask the “why,” the teachers might genuinely not know.  (This is not, of course, true of all math teachers, and is perhaps not even true of most math teachers — I don’t know — but that it is true of a noticeable number concerns me.)
  4. A smaller number (but even more horrifying in its existence) of math teachers either just don’t care or are actively derogatory towards students.  This includes everything from being hostile toward giving extra help to sexism toward female students.
  5. Math teachers also have roadblocks thrown in their path from every conceivable corner.  Class sizes are too large, stripping away teachers’ abilities to tailor explanations to individual needs or to give a struggling student the extra help that might make the difference.  Standardized tests and state-imposed math standards often do more harm than good, as they pressure teachers into hammering the “how” into students hard enough that they’ll get the right answers without ever addressing the “why.”  Teachers are underpaid, overworked, and often struggle against turgidly bureaucratic administrations.  And in math specifically, the sort of “fad math” I’ve referred to here is often forced on teachers from the outside, hobbling their ability to actually teach.

I don’t mean to sound hostile toward teachers.  Like I said, I’ve had some brilliant math teachers in my time — in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever had a single math teacher who was bad at what she or he did.  And god, look, that’s probably a huge part of the reason I fell in love with math and went into it: because of my teachers.  Two of my high school teachers in particular (one in my high school and one in a summer program) are probably directly responsible for me going to MIT and majoring in math.

But this just reinforces my point: Good teachers are so freakin’ important.  Not a single one of my math teachers ever used a gimmick or a fad or some krazy new-fangled new idea for gettin’ math into the heads of them dumb-dumb math-hatin’ students.  They used blackboards, white boards, or transparencies.  And — and now that I’m thinking about it, this was true without exception — they pretty much spent the entirety of each class period writing and talking and explaining things.  And it worked.  I mean, I know it might seem like, okay, this is me talking, and I’m smart and good at math so it worked for me — but no, it worked in general.  I still use visualizations taught to me by my geometry teacher 17 years ago with my students and they find them incredibly helpful.  My calculus teacher was exceedingly proud of the fact that every single one of her AP students would consistently get 4′s and 5′s on the AP exams.  Every single one, in a public school.  (A good public school, but still.)  And she didn’t teach to the test; she just taught well (and was incredibly beloved by students, not just me).

Yeah, I was very lucky.  But I’d like all students to be able to be that lucky.  To be as well-taught and inspired as I was.  To feel that they’re not just passing tests, but that they truly understand what they’re learning.

There’s a lot that is hard about education reform.  A lot.  But for Pete’s sake, one thing we can do is stop it with the fad math.  Stop dropping shiny new assembly line algorithms across school curricula in the hope that they’ll press out perfect little cubes of students who know how to factor properly.  You can’t teach math by plugging a student into a flow chart.

You teach math by teaching it.  There are many, many excellent ways and methods of teaching, of course, and I’m not saying discussing those isn’t valuable — I could probably write a book on all the different ways I’ve discovered to explain calculus.  But so many of these math fads stop valuing teaching entirely.  And that makes our education system, one in which there are already so many things to fix, just that much more broken.

  1. There’s this commercial for an online tutoring service that drives me bonkers.  It’s meant to show a good math tutor.  The student calls up the tutor and says, “How do you find the area of a triangle?” The tutor says something like, “Well, [Student's Name], the area of a triangle is one-half base times height!  So you take the base, and multiply it by one-half and by the height!” and she writes A = 1/2 bh.  And the two of them smile at each other like this is just peaches.  And I scream every time I see this commercial, because teaching a kid to memorize a formula, that’s not teaching math.  In fact, area of a triangle is one of the easiest things to explain — A = bh is quite intuitive for a rectangle (and if not can easily be demonstrated via a visualization of 1×1 boxes), and then you can show the area of a triangle as being half the area of a rectangle by drawing a rectangle and slicing it down the diagonal to make two triangles, so for a triangle A = 1/2 bh.  (Slightly more rigorously, you can teach area of a parallelogram in between those, but “triangle as half a rectangle” is actually easier for most students when intuiting the reason for the formula, and the other connections can be drawn later.)  In any case, this commercial is everything I hate about bad math education in one thirty-second soundbite.
  2. In most cases it’s pretty easy for me to tell when it’s just the student who’s confused versus when the teacher was actually confusing.

Firefly Asian Dream Cast

"For a universe that's supposed to be half Chinese, Firefly sure doesn't have any Asians."

Part of xkcd comic CC-BY-NC.

I love Firefly.

It’s is a brilliant show, and one of the parts I love most is worldbuilding that mixes the U.S. and China as the dominant cultures in a far-flung space-faring future.  The characters are all fluent in Chinese, wear Chinese-inspired clothing, eat with chopsticks, and wear white to funerals.

Therefore, the fact that the show has no Asian actors in leading roles is a very troubling and uncomfortable thing.  It’s hard enough for Asian actors to succeed in Hollywood; it’s even more depressing when a work of media steals the shiny bits of our culture and then gives no opportunities to Asian-American actors.

“Maybe there weren’t any Asian actors up to the job,” people say, every time this comes up.

Bullshit, says I.

Don’t get me wrong — I adore Firefly’s cast.  But . . . just for fun, behold my Asian Dream Cast!  The rules were as follows:

  1. The actors had to be of East Asian descent and work in the U.S.,
  2. The actors had to be actively doing television (as opposed to purely film actors),
  3. As much as possible (just for my sake), I wanted actors I was familiar with,
  4. To avoid driving myself crazy, I did this as if we were casting in 2014, rather than trying to figure out how old people were ten years ago.  Scanning the list, it looks like most of these actors could have played the same roles I’ve cast them in in 2002 anyway, and the ones who couldn’t would have been easy to cast with actors currently ten years older than the role (as noted below, River would have been far easier to cast older, and I had a list as long as my arm of possibilities for Kaylee).

I imposed rules #1 and #2 because I wanted to prove that it is just not true that there isn’t a fantastic slate of talented East Asian-descent actors doing American television.  #3 was just because it’s more fun for me if I’m familiar with the actors I’m talking about!  (#3 was the most limiting.  I’m famous among my friends for not having seen enough movies and never knowing who any of the actors are.)

Now, drum roll, please . . .

Firefly East Asian Dream Cast

(cut because of lots of video embeds)

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Marion Zimmer Bradley: Because This Sort of Thing Can’t Be Talked About Enough

Cancer-lapsed correspondence ALMOST caught up on.  Thank you so much for your continued patience, everyone.

Now, on to something I missed –

I’m linking well after everything broke, so a lot of you may have heard about all this already.  But just in case there’s anyone who hasn’t . . . I can’t not link.  Because heck, a portion of these atrocities was well-known decades ago, but they’ve been swept under the rug enough or just not talked about enough that I had no idea at all until it all came up again this month.

The short version: Marion Zimmer Bradley, very influential SFF writer, trailblazer for women, not only facilitated her husband’s sexual molestation of children but horrifically abused her own children herself.  And portions of the SFF community enabled and defended them.


The two things I’m personally determined to do in response to this: 1) stand with her/their victims by making an effort to continue awareness that these things happened (by linking, by informing, by helping make sure ugly truths aren’t buried because we want to put a shiny veneer on history), and 2) renew my commitment to speak up when I see something in the SFF community that I think is a problem.  I love fandom — I love our willingness, often, to accept and embrace people who have always been outsiders — but it is a real and dangerous problem when that push to accept without judgment snowballs into enforced blindness to abuse.

It is not counter to fandom’s acceptance of “quirkiness” to call out unacceptable behavior.  It is not a betrayal of our found SFF family to turn our backs on a member of that family who hurts others.  It is not making fandom a hostile place when we talk — or shout — loudly and freely and vigorously about the types of behaviors we think are not okay.

In fact, if there’s one thing I’m grateful for after learning all of this, it’s that there are so many people in SFF fandom right now who are unapologetically loud.  Who will speak up and won’t shut up.  Who will get angry.  Who will shout from the rooftops when things happen that they consider unacceptable in their community.

Keep it up, my friends.

Radio Silence, Part Deux

One of these days I will NOT overestimate my ability to keep up with online obligations while dealing with health concerns, and will post one of these messages before I go dark.

Anyway: I’ve been mostly offline for the past month or so dealing with the final stages of my cancer treatment.  It went well (w00t!).  I am, hopefully, mostly done.

Completely over-optimistically, I did not set up an email autoresponder or, yanno, post something like this beforehand, because I thought, “oh, I’ll be able to work through it this time.”

Yeah . . . that didn’t happen.

I sincerely apologize to everyone in my piled-up email inbox and Twitter stream, not for going dark for cancer (I’m sure you’ll grant me that ;) ), but for being too stubborn to put up a notice or autoreply in advance.  Sometimes that sort of thing feels like admitting defeat, when really it’s just . . . having forethought.

*tiptoes sheepishly back online*

It will take me a little time to get through my backed-up correspondence, for which I beg your patience. Please feel free to re-email me if you’re afraid your message got lost in the shuffle.

The Hacker’s Definition of Morning

Back at MIT, we pulled a lot of all-nighters.  Linguistically, it became convenient to know when “tomorrow” or “morning” happened.  Midnight?  Sunrise?  First class of the day? Do you have to sleep and wake up for it to qualify as tomorrow?

I don’t know who came up with this originally, and I can’t find it in an Internet search, but common MIT culture was to refer to the “hacker’s definition” of morning — namely, that “tomorrow” occurs when two out of the following three things happen:

  • You wake up.
  • The sun rises.
  • You eat breakfast.

I have just gotten home.  And I ate some eggs!  But since the sun hasn’t risen and I didn’t wake up, it’s not Saturday yet.  In fact, I’m going to go to sleep now, and when I wake up the sun will be in the sky, so even if I skip breakfast it’ll officially be Tomorrow.

Book Recommendation: The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo, by Zen Cho

I’ve been wanting to recommend this for a while, but the author’s website was down when I first read it, and I wanted to link to it, because ONCE YOU START READING IT YOU WILL WANT TO BUY IT BECAUSE IT’S AWESOME.

This is an epistolary romance novella (yes! I read a romance!) in the form of a journal, set in 1920′s London.  And it’s AMAZING.  We have delightful (and diverse!) characters, romance tropes turned completely on their heads, and a heroine who has sex purely because she’s curious.  She’s CURIOUS!

Jade’s wit is wonderfully incisive and she has a way of writing about her own life that is funny and intelligent and deliciously analytical.  I highly, HIGHLY recommend this book.  The whole thing is available for free, serialized on the author’s website:

And here it is on Amazon because really, this novella deserves All the Sales:

Read it, buy it, and enjoy.