Year: 2008

My gripes about translation memory

I recently tweeted that I was experimenting with OmegaT, a translation-memory tool. When asked by one of its proponents how I liked it, I responded

@brandelune do not like omegaT. really only works with plain text. ugly. burdened w/ typical java on mac shortcomings. not customizable.

That barely begins to cover what I don’t like about OmegaT. I’ve been thinking about what I would like in a translation tool for a while now. My desires break down into two categories: the translation-memory engine, and the environment presented to the translator.

Unreasonable expectations

Yesterday morning I was contacted by a large, well-known translation agency about a very large job. About 250,000 words spread out over about 60 documents of various types, due this afternoon—about 30 hours after the initial inquiry was sent.

Obviously they didn’t expect one translator to do all of this. In fact, very large jobs on very short deadlines are the MO for this agency—let’s just say their name rhymes with “trance perfect”—but this is an extreme case, made more extreme in that the job is due Christmas Eve.

I’m not an especially fast translator. I’m faster than some, slower than others. I can do 2,500 words in a day without breaking a sweat under reasonably good conditions, and I can manage 4,500 if I’m highly motivated and working with good source material. Let’s say I’m around the middle of the bell curve.

I didn’t accept this job and didn’t see the source material (not because of the time of year, mostly because I knew the job would be a rathole), but I can make a few guesses about it. It’s discovery material for litigation. It’s internal company information containing a lot of insider lingo that is not explained anywhere and will often pick up where another document left off. The job is being parceled out willy-nilly to a lot of different translators, by a coordinator who quite possibly does not read Japanese, so there may be no attempt to give each translator a cohesive package (assuming that would be possible at all).

In short, not great source material.

As to motivation, this agency pays OK, but not magnanimously. They do nothing to cultivate personal relations with translators. So there’s no special motivation for a translator to go the extra mile in terms of quality or quantity. If anything, the reverse. Although I don’t know much about the agency’s inner workings, I get the impression they do not have much of a translation-checking process. And for a job this big, on such a ridiculous deadline, it would be impossible to enforce consistency across all the translators, so even a translator inclined to do a top-notch job would know that the work would wind up looking like a hodge-podge anyhow.

So all around, I’m guessing they’d need 100 translators who are available on Christmas Eve. If they’ve got a checking process in place, 20 or more checkers. It takes a hell of a lot of chutzpah to get a call from a client who asks for 250,000 words in a couple of days and say “OK.”

I wonder if they’re trying to compete against machine translation. That’s a chump’s game. I wonder what it would take for them to say “no” to an unreasonable request from a client.

Finally, I wonder why the client was making this unreasonable request in the first place. It is possible that there really is such a short window between when the client received the documents and when they need them translated, but I’m doubtful. It’s possible that the client has been trained to have unreasonable expectations through previous contact with this agency. It’s also possible the client said “as soon as possible” just out of habit, and the agency has responded by treating it as an urgent request.

Pros and Converse

'Red Chucks' by Purploony on Flickr

Growing older has its pros and cons. Most of the pros are mental, most of the cons are physical.

When I was a little kid, I desperately wanted a pair of “high-tops” (I didn’t know what else to call them). When I was in second grade, my parents indulged me, but only once. I wore those out quickly enough, and didn’t get another pair.

Until I went to college and was living on my own (and, for better or worse, buying my own clothes). Chuck Taylors were the only shoes I wore throughout my college career, and for a long time after.

As I got older, I found that my feet had less and less tolerance for the complete lack of cushioning and support in Chuck Taylors. It wasn’t that the shoes had changed (although aficionados will always say “they don’t make ’em like they used to”), it was just one of the cons of getting older. I visited New York City in 2001 and did a prodigious amount of walking in Chucks. After a couple of days, I damn near felt crippled. When I got back to Austin, I broke down and bought a pair of “cross-trainers,” and have worn some variety or another ever since.

But I miss wearing Chuck Taylors. I still have a few pair, and trot them out for parties when I know I won’t be doing a lot of walking. I miss the simplicity and utilitarianism, the personality and playfulness. If they came out with a line of Chucks with modern soles, I would be all over them.

True fans would complain they weren’t real Chucks. Whatever. It’s a compromise my feet would gladly make. Converse no longer exists as an independent entity anyhow. It’s owned by Nike, which treats Chuck Taylors as a fashion brand and sells them for a premium.

Blago

Imagine you are the governor of a fairly large state. After a historic election, a Senator from your state and member of your party has just been elected President. The incoming Senate will be close to—but not quite at—a cloture-proof majority. The incoming President will be facing a historic crisis, is enjoying unprecedented levels of goodwill, and ran as a transparent, clean-government candidate. It is your job to appoint his successor. Do you:

  • Appoint a caretaker who will step down in two years when the term ends, to avoid giving an appointee the advantages of incumbency (which, as it turns out, may not be such a big deal)?
  • Appoint someone who will be a strong candidate able to keep the seat for your party?
  • Attempt to shake down the President-elect, creating an aura of guilt-by-association for him, threatening the ability of the incoming administration to get work done, and weakening your party in your state?

If you picked #3, congratulations, you’re Rod Blagojevich. You’re also a fucking moron.

The fact that Blago did this over a phone that he knew was being bugged speaks not only to his obvious corruption, it is a sign of his deep, deep stupidity. The idea that he’d try to wring some mean little personal advantage out of the situation is obviously corrupt, but also shows his inability to see beyond his own nose: wouldn’t it be better all around to be in the good graces of the President? My former classmate (and let me tell you, it is very weird seeing her on TV) Lisa Murray Madigan is seeking to have him removed from office on the grounds that he can’t serve.

Forget about corruption. This guy is too dumb to breathe without assistance, much less serve the people of Illinois.

Custom key commands for Gmail

If you use Gmail and have a keyboard with a numeric keypad, try turning on the Labs feature, and then turn on the “Custom keyboard shortcuts” gadget.

This will create a new tab under settings for your keyboard shortcuts. Following is a proposed set of shortcuts allowing for faster browsing and sorting, with what I consider a logical organization. Note that I’m not showing shortcuts for every command, only the ones I propose changing.

Action Key(s)
Back to threadlist 4
Newer conversation 8
Older conversation 2
Select conversation 5
Star conversation +
Report as spam *
Move to trash
Open conversation 6
Previous message 9
Next message 3

Characters per word

In Japanese-English translation, it’s useful to be able to estimate how long the English translation will be based on the number of Japanese characters in the source document. If you bill by the output word, you want to be able to give the client a cost estimate upfront, and if you estimate your productivity by the output word, you want some idea of how long a job is going to take.

Early in my career, I arrived at 2.2 Japanese characters per English word as a rule of thumb; I get the impression that a lot of JA-EN translators use a number around this. If a client asks me for an estimate, I’ve used 2 characters per word just to cover my ass.

Back when I started out, most jobs arrived by fax, so it was a lot of work to get an accurate character count on the source text. These days, most of my work arrives in some sort of live text, so it’s a lot easier. For the past year, I’ve been tracking the length of both the source and target documents when possible (my desire to track data like this is part of the reason I’m dissatisfied with every job-tracking app out there), and have come up with some average values for characters per word that surprise me.

  • Client A (newspaper articles, corporate communications): 2.66 characters per word
  • Client B (press releases): 2.92 characters per word.
  • Client C (discursive programming documentation): 3.10 characters per word
  • Client D (verbose corporate procedures): 3.16 characters per word
  • Client E (variety): 2.28 characters per word

There are a few jobs in my archive with more than 4 characters per word. I’m not sure if I’ve become a more economical translator with age—I’d like to think so—but perhaps I need to rethink my rule of thumb. I’d like to know what numbers other translators come up with.

East Austin Studio Tour: an incomplete preview

This year’s edition of the East Austin Studio Tour is daunting, with some 200 artists taking part. I plan to see as many as possible, and encourage everyone else to, too. But if that’s just not in the cards, here are some tips for places to see that should give a good sampling on a limited time budget.

First off, ride your bike. Places are so close together you’ll likely spend at least as much time driving, parking, walking from car to each venue, and so on as you would if you rode—plus, bikes are more fun.

Second, there are a lot of different locations, but there are a few locations that have a lot of artists.

Here are some highlights. I am unapologetically playing favorites and calling out my friends here. The numbers below are the numbers given on the map.

9. Big Red Sun. Landscape architects. Always beautiful stuff here.

12. Okay Mountain. They always have interesting stuff.

14. Ethan Azarian. Whimsical paintings.

15. Barry George. Sculptures made out of scrapmetal. Do not miss.

30. Doghouse Studios. My friend Jen Balkan, who just got a nice writeup in the Chronicle, is based here.

151. Obsolete Industries. Poster printers. Yes, this is numbered out of sequence

45. Lisa Crowder. Jewelry with really nice silversmithing that combines fine work with a slightly industrial aesthetic. One of her studio-mates is a ceramicist who I don’t know but does nice work. And the Seussian building facade by Lance is a work of art in its own right.

49. Veronica Ceci Blasphemous robot art. Need I say more? There’s other good stuff at her location.

59. Splinter Group. Several furniture makers are based here, and they do stunning work.

60. Pump Project. This location probably has the most art, and the most artists, per square foot, of any place on the tour.

68. Big Medium. These are the guys who started E.A.S.T. Another high-density art complex.

70. Craig Newswanger is the mad scientist responsible for the singing Tesla coils. ‘Nuff said. He’s in a complex with a lot of other worthy artists, making this another high-value target.

78/79. Gingko Studios/Philippe Kleinfelter. Ceramics and monuments. It’s fun just to walk around this place. Sort of out of the way, but worth it.

84. Austin Artistic Reconstruction. These are my people. They are creative and weird.

91-99. Tillery Studios. This is where my good friend and neighbor Mychal has her studio, which is where Gwen will be the guest artist. This is a very big complex with a lot of very good stuff. Another high-value target.

127. Flatbed Press.

I know there’s a lot of other great stuff on the tour, and I don’t mean to give short shrift to anyone, but I feel confident recommending all these locations.

Do not patronize World Secure Channel

Today, this site (and some others that I manage on the same server) was hacked by world-secure-channel.com, or more likely a piece-of-shit script-kiddie they contracted with, making me an unwilling part of a link-farm. World Secure Channel supposedly offers VPN services for anonymous browsing, but considering the respect they show for the integrity of my website, I can only wonder what they do with the data you would route through their servers.

Mutts like me

In an his first press briefing as president-elect, Barack Obama referred to shelter dogs as “mutts like me.” Apart from the bracing self-deprecation, that offhand remark resonates for many Americans, who consider themselves mutts and are proud of it. Indeed, in a melting-pot society, what could be more American than being a mutt?

There’s some sublime conceptual jiu-jiutsu in this phrase. The enlightened position is that race is a cultural construction. We know that there is more genetic diversity among the members of one race than between races, and the lines separating one race from another are arbitrary. For America’s first black president and first biracial president—the fact that both of these are valid statements reinforces the arbitrariness of race—to identify himself in this way turns his race, which could be a point of division, into a point of commonality.

I like that. I decided it should be on T-shirts. And now it is. Go get yourself one.

The text is set in Gotham, the typeface used in Obama’s campaign materials. The dog is Suki, and I worked up the image from a photo taken by my friend and his person, Casey.

We won—now what?

It’s been hard for me to organize my thoughts about this election, and I won’t even try to cram them all into one blog post. Suffice to say I am very pleased with the outcome.

The big question in my mind is “now what?” When Bush was re-elected in 2004 with a razor-slim margin in both the popular and electoral vote, he claimed a mandate; he and his party were remarkably corrupt and high-handed in government. Obama has been elected with a healthy margin in the popular vote and a near-landslide in the electoral vote, despite which he is taking a conciliatory, cautious tone. But he was elected on a message of change, and right now, with national and world events such as they are, change is going to happen—the question is whether he’ll be engineering the changes or be tossed around by them. Hope has gotten him this far. Now is the time for audacity.

When one party has had the run of Congress and the White House, they’ve tended to overreach and then get beat down in short order. One time when this conspicuously was not the case was during the Great Depression, when one party in the legislative and executive took bold action that was met with public approval. Everyone in the news telling us that our current economic peril is like nothing since that time.

And then there’s the Republicans. Shortly before the election, I wrote a comment on Metafilter that when the GOP is reduced to a bunch of anti-gay, anti-science, anti-abortion, anti-rest-of-the-world populists, it becomes self-limiting and easy to dismiss. If the USA had a GOP that stood mainly for things like limited government and fiscal responsibility—Eisenhower Republicans, you could say—it might bring something useful to the table.

Having lost the presidency and seen their contingents in the House and Senate reduced, the GOP is now in the introspection and wound-licking mode. One might hope that those Eisenhower Republicans would stand up and guide their party back to sanity. As Paul Krugman predicted, one would be disappointed. I had previously thought of RedState as one of the saner right-wing community sites. And they’re not as frothingly mad as, say, Free Republic (where some members were suggesting that Obama killed his own grandmother), but it is clear they have allied themselves with what we might call the Palin wing of the GOP: anti-gay, anti-science, anti-abortion, anti-rest-of-the-world, and from what I’ve read, party leaders are headed in that direction as well. If this really happens, it guarantees that the party will marginalize itself not only in terms of its representation in Washington, but in terms of its relevance to the country at large and questions of policy. Politics benefits from multiple viewpoints, but only when all of those viewpoints are founded on informed, open-minded, and reality-based positions.

The Democrats are not going to have a supermajority in the Senate, so the Republicans there may choose to gum up the works with filibusters. They may choose to sit back and watch while the Democrats screw things up (or so they will hope). They may not be able to filibuster at all if a few of their more moderate members decide to play along with the Democrats and the Democrats manage to maintain party unity. There may even be a few party-switchers coming over the to Democrats, as there were going the other way following the Republican revolution in 1994. If the GOP takes a more dogmatic tilt, this seems likely.

There’s a lot of work for Obama to do. There’s a lot that his supporters are expecting from him. And there may be little standing in the way of his taking bold action. He’s already made history and moved the country forward simply by being elected. I hope he keeps the momentum up.

Smell, Memory

Every year, Gwen makes cookies for a class of first-graders who come trick-or-treating at her office. A couple of nights ago, she made two batches of butter cookies, each using a different recipe—one that her mom used throughout her childhood, and another that she found online . She stored them in tupperware until last night, when we decorated them. I opened the box containing the ones made using the online recipe (which is butterier, and which I liked better) and the escaping aroma instantly transported back to the time when I was in first grade myself, probably the last time I had a Salerno butter cookie. I hadn’t even thought of Salernos in decades, but I instantly remembered the daisy shape, the hole in the middle that I could stick my finger through, the smell, and the taste. We all know that the sense of smell is the sense that evokes memories most strongly, and this was a potent example. It was only that batch that did it for me though—not the other one.

Unsurprisingly, Gwen preferred her mom’s recipe. Because that’s tied to her memories.

Ride more bikes

In the severe hailstorm that hit Austin back in May, our car took a beating—some of the dings were so sharp that the paint cracked at the point of impact. When I took it in to get a repair estimate, they told me they were going to have to replace the hood and roof. In short, major repairs.

We finally got around to taking the car in to get the repairs done, and as of today, have been without a car for three weeks. The experience has been instructive.

I’ve lived in Austin without a car before. That was as a renter, and it definitely involved compromises. It would be much more difficult to live here as a homeowner without a car.

I’ve only had to bum a ride once during these three weeks. And there are certainly a few car-based errands that we’ve deferred. But for the most part, we’ve managed pretty handily, and more importantly, it’s been a reminder that most of the short 1/2/3 mile errands we run can be accomplished just as well by bike.

It’s a little embarrassing that we got out of the habit of using our bikes for errands in the first place. We didn’t quit riding them entirely, but we didn’t ride them nearly as much as we might have. It’s hard to put a finger on why this is. Too lazy to ride? Perhaps in part. Another dumb reason might be our garage door. When we moved into this house, the garage (where we store the bikes) could only be locked or unlocked from inside. So to get the bike out I’d go into the garage, open the door, pull the bike off the wall, put it outside, come back in, lock the garage, go through the house, go out the front door, and lock that. This is not a huge inconvenience in the grand scheme of things, but it adds just enough friction to the process that we’re more often inclined to say “fuck it” and take the car. We had the garage door fixed a few months back, so we don’t have that trivial hurdle to overcome. And now we’ve been booted out of our bad habits by circumstances. I’m optimistic we won’t fall back into them.

Squeaker

I buried Squeaker today.

When people ask me how she came into my life, I would say “she came with the house.” It sounds glib, but it’s true.

When Jenny and I bought the house on Avenue G at the beginning of 1997, Squeaker was already living there as a street cat. She had been looked after by the previous occupants. When we showed up, she initially kept her distance (hanging out at a neighbor’s place instead), but after a few months, she warmed up to us. When the first freeze of the winter came at the end of ’97, Jenny and I agreed to let Squeaker spend the night indoors, just for that one night. Apart from a couple of forays into the back yard, she never went outdoors again.

Squeaker was already an adult when we took her in—our best estimate is that she was born in 1990. She was compact, stout, and stiff-legged, never jumping but frequently clambering up onto whatever surface she wanted to occupy. She enjoyed surprisingly forceful head-butts, and never played with toys when anyone was watching.

A lot happened to me over the intervening years—one marriage ended, another begun. I broke my pelvis. I sold the house on Avenue G and bought the one I live in now with Gwen. Squeaker was with me through all of that.

She was not unmarked by time. In 2004, she developed a growth on one foot that ultimately required two toes to be amputated. That growth re-appeared on her foot, but never obviously went beyond that.

Over the past few months, her stiffness of leg turned into painful arthritis. She developed hyperthyroidism, meaning her pulse was always racing, she was constantly hungry, and losing weight. I put her on a painkiller for the arthritis. She still seemed to be generally happy, but I realized she was in the endgame.

Over just the past few days, she declined precipitously. She lost her appetite and even had trouble drinking water. Her meow, which had always been stentorian and scratchy, became pathetic and weak. She smelled awful. It was time. I had the vet make a housecall to euthanize her. If anything, I should have done it a few days earlier. Her last day was peaceful.

Gwen and I went through this about a year and a half ago with the cat she’d had for even longer, Oscar. It doesn’t get easier with practice.

Pretty soon you’re talking real money

There are about 7.5 million subprime mortgages floating around in the USA right now. These are at the root of the current financial crisis, for which Paulson has proposed a $700 billion bank handout bailout.

Note that he wants to give the money to the banks. After the banks get that money, the borrowers are still going to be in default.

I realize the situation isn’t as simple as this, but just for grins, let’s attack the problem from the other end. The bailout amount works out to a little over $90,000 per subprime mortgage (not all of which are in default, but let’s include all of them anyhow). Imagine if the government forced the banks holding all those toxic loans to rewrite them as fixed-rate mortgages at reasonable rates, and set up what Republicans like to call a “personal account” for each homeowner with a subprime mortgage. Stick that $90,000 in the account, let it accrue interest, and use the principal and interest to supplement the amount that the homeowner can pay. Suddenly the mortgages look a lot more viable to the banks, which would restore liquidity to the market. And people don’t get thrown out of their homes.

I’m sure there’s a perfectly logical reason why this kind of welfare is bad, but the kind of welfare Paulson wants is good.

Separated at Birth?

In the course of my relentless obsessing over the upcoming election, I’ve noticed something odd about two of McCain’s top advisors.


Steve Schmidt is a protege of Karl Rove’s and is McCain’s campaign strategist.

Evan Handler played a political operative on The West Wing.

Rick Davis is a lobbyist and is McCain’s campaign manager.

Tim Heidecker plays a complete goofball on Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job.

The Porch Swing

Gwen has invented a new adult beverage. We call it the Porch Swing. It’s very tasty. Here’s how to make it.

First, infuse some vodka with tea. Get some vodka and put in in a mason jar with a couple bags of earl grey tea (Gwen found some earl grey with lavender, which was actually very good). Let it go overnight. Remove tea bags and chill afterwards.

Second, make up a strong batch of lemonade. The lemon-to-sugar ratio should be normal (whatever “normal” means to you), but use just barely enough water to dissolve the sugar—heat it up to help it dissolve. You don’t want to water down the drink unnecessarily.

Third, mix 3 parts vodka with 2 parts lemonade. Shake with ice. Pour through a strainer into a martini glass and garnish with a lemon slice. Make plenty, because you’ll be drinking a lot. Experiment a little with the ratios, as there’s a fine line between just right and a little not-right.

Thoughts on job tracking and invoicing

I’ve been looking for a good job-tracking and invoicing program for a long time. I’ve looked at just about everything, and nothing suits my particular needs. My needs are a little different—almost none of my work is billed by time but piecework instead (support for this kind of thing is often an afterthought) and I need support for multiple currencies (this is rare).

I’ve tried using Apple’s Numbers spreadsheet app. Spreadsheets in general have one big thing in their favor: they impose no assumptions on you. The flipside of that is that you have to build everything from scratch. There are a few aspects of job tracking where you’d prefer for your program to have made those assumptions for you. A bigger problem I had with Numbers in particular is that it corrupted my job log spreadsheet, which is a colossal PITA. A more philosophical problem is that spreadsheets are basically flat-file databases, and a proper job tracker really needs a relational database behind it.

Watching Gwen figure her work on a letterpress printing project was a lesson in how very different the job-tracking requirements for two solo freelancers can be. Ideally, one app would have the flexibility to meet these different needs. I’ve been giving the subject some thought, and what follows is my attempt to crystallize them.

National Fire Performance League: Beware

About a week ago, Sage got in touch with me to ask if I’d heard anything about some “national fire performance championship.” I had not.

I started looking around. It seems that they have a profile and group on MurdochSpace, likewise a profile and group on Tribe. They have no independent website that I can find. There are no personal names associated with any of these accounts that I can find, but the person behind them appears to be in either Austin or Marble Falls.

They posted the same canned message to numerous groups on Tribe. There are a few red flags in it. Any post that starts out “This is an automated reply” does not show a lot of care. They are trying to interest DJs to perform (presumably for free) on the promise that “professional scouts” will be there; trying to interest judges with all the skills apparently needed to run this event; they warn that “space is limited to 2500 people at the event” (2500 is the maximum size of an event before you get into a much stricter level of official oversight) and the breathless “RSVP ASAP.” Plus the price, which is kind of high: They’re charging $30/person/night for spectators, and $40/person/night for performers. Compare that to the campground’s fees of $12/person/night. Of course, you also get a year’s membership in the (nonexistent) National Fire Performance League for the price of admission.

This event is apparently going to be taking place in about a month (Sept 26–28), just down the road from me at a private campground in New Braunfels, and I hadn’t heard about it. I started asking other firedancers. There are a lot of firedancers in central Texas, and we’re a pretty tight-knit group. Although a lot of people had heard about the event, nobody knew who was behind it. That is a very big red flag. It would be impossible to mount a successful firedancing event in central Texas that would welcome 2500 people without one of my firedancing friends being somehow involved, or at least knowing someone who was. I don’t claim to be the hub of central-Texas firedancing, but I am reasonably well-connected. And organizing an event with 2500 people requires a lot of hands. Burning Flipside has been around for 10 years and has grown to be about 2500 people. There are at least 100 people showing up for planning meetings months in advance; there are probably at least 500 people who contribute their labor at the event and just before it. Admittedly, Flipside is heavy on the infrastructure, but even if this event had one-tenth the staffing, that would suggest ten people meeting months in advance and fifty people who planned on being involved at the event (and those people would need to be lined up by now)—and fifty workers is probably well below a practical minimum for an event of 2500. In any case, I am confident that I would know someone who would know one of those fifty. Flipside brings me to another point: that they are (apparently) organizing this without drawing on the depth of talent and experience the burner community has in exactly this kind of event. The campground, as I understand it, is 50 acres, and is probably too small for 2500 people.

A couple of people mentioned that they had tried to get additional information from the organizers, to no avail. Indeed, the organizers seem to have made it a point to be anonymous and uncommunicative. Especially in a tight-knit community, that invites distrust. A couple years ago, a guy named Tedward, a stalwart of the firedancing community, mooted the idea of a fire-performance competition. He raised the idea on Tribe and discussed it there at some length. It was a very controversial idea, but to his credit, he attempted to work out the form of the event though public consensus. His event never took place because a sponsor backed out. Even if we allowed for the sake of argument that the organizers could run this event safely and efficiently (which I do not), we would still be left with an event that reflects only interests of a small group of organizers, not the broader fire community.

Today, I spoke to the Comal County fire marshall. He had not heard about this event. He pointed out that as long as it’s outdoors, there’s not much he can do to regulate it beyond requiring that the grass be mowed. But it still concerns me. It would be very easy for an event with this many people and fire being the central attraction to go wrong. Fire performance always occupies a gray zone with the authorities. We can try to get on their good side, we can hope to escape attention, or we can wind up on their bad side. An event as big as this purports to be would not escape attention in Comal County, so it would only make sense to get on their good side as a precautionary measure. If it went very wrong, it could have serious repercussions for fire performers throughout the state or even the country. A number of people, myself included, are concerned that this is either a scam, or (more likely) being run by people who don’t know what they’re doing. In either case, that ups the odds of something going wrong. I don’t want to see anyone get burned, literally or figuratively.

I have left a message with the campground operators to see if I can get some information from them.

In the end, I think we may be saved by their incompetence. They haven’t done much to create interest in the event, and what little they’ve created has been mostly negative, as far as I can tell. So I’d be surprised if they get 250 people. Even with more competent organizing, it would be difficult to launch an event like this and get 2500 people to show up in its first year.

Update: I just spoke briefly with someone in the campground’s business office. She didn’t really know much about the event. The event organizers have not reserved the entire campground, or any section of it—they’ll just be sharing the space with regular campground visitors. So I’m not sure how the organizers will limit attendance to only those people who have paid for their event. The campground has about 200 campsites for overnighters, but sees up to 3000 people during the day.

Another Update: Please see my follow-up post.

All Today’s Parties

Ursula K. LeGuin wrote that science fiction is not predictive, it is descriptive. I think she’s half-right: sometimes it is predictive.

William Gibson has been writing science fiction long enough that he can now write stories containing some of the predictive elements from his earlier works, and present them as descriptive elements in contemporary fiction. I just finished reading Spook Country, and I get the distinct impression he’s having fun with this.

It has some of his favorite character types—defrocked military men, art traders, hugely wealthy pawn-pushers, loners living outside their home countries.

It has specific concepts and technologies, slightly altered to fit present-day circumstances:

From Virtual Light:

He had his feet up on the back of the front passenger seat and the little red lights around the edges of his sneakers were spelling out the lyrics to some song.

From Spook Country:

“You can’t see an image unless the wheels are turning. The system senses the wheel’s position and fires the LEDs it needs, to invoke an image in persistence of vision”

In the future world Neuromancer, ICE stood for Intrusion Countermeasure Electronics, software to prevent hackers from gaining access to computers. In the contemporary world of Spook Country, ICE is a different kind of gatekeeper: Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The “locative art” helmets in Spook Country, while I’m not aware of any such item available as an off-the-shelf product, would be technically feasible today. And they recapitulate the augmented-reality goggles that were the MacGuffin in Virtual Light.

The most delicious update of all, in Spook Country:

“See-bare-espace,” Odile pronounced, gnomically, “it is everting.”
…
“Turns itself inside out,” offered Alberto, by way of clarification. “Cyberspace.”

Here Gibson gets to take a word he coined in Neuromancer, which was adopted wholeheartedly into the English language, and re-uses it here unironically. I have to wonder if he was consciously looking for an opportunity to work it in, or if it just flowed out naturally—as if he had re-learned the word as everyone else uses it—and then he rocked back and thought “How about that!”

Perhaps Gibson’s favorite character type—appearing in one form or another in Neuromancer, Count Zero, Mona Lisa Overdrive, All Tomorrow’s Parties, and Pattern Recognition—is the idiot-savant bricoleur. That character makes no appearance in Spook Country. Perhaps the part is played by Gibson himself, cutting pieces out of his old books and reassembling them into something new.