Sci Phi Journal Ended and I Didn’t Notice

My theme of the day is not noticing things.

Sci Phi journal was the right-leaning puppy-adjacent science fiction/philosophy ‘zine started by Jason Rennie (now of Superversive) and then taken over by Ray Blank. It was never exactly terrible and was never wholly lacking in promise. I put it above No Award once and also had an odd exchange with Jason Rennie

Anyway, apparently it gave up the ghost in January: [eta updated link and also it has arisen from the dead]

The Dragon Award Rule Change I Missed

We should see who the finalist are some time tomorrow for the Dragon Awards. In the meantime here is a change I missed.

What’s the minimum length for a novel in the Dragon Awards (not including YA)? Did you say 70 thousand words? Well you have good reasons for saying that. Here’s what the “Process” page says on the website (archived October 2017)

“Qualifying is any book that is at least 70,000 words long, containing a single story (no anthologies), and has been first released in print or ebook format between 7/1/2016 and 6/30/2017 containing and based upon scientific or science and engineering premises or technology.” [CF: My emphasis]

But in November 2017 when the nomination period for the 2018 awards began the text had changed:

“Qualifying is any book that is around 70,000 words long, containing a single story (no anthologies), and has been first released in print or ebook format between 7/1/2017 and 6/30/2018 containing and based upon scientific or science and engineering premises or technology.” [CF: My emphasis]

However, on the nomination form itself (no longer available on the live site because nominations have closed) the older wording was used for the helpful category tip (hover over the question mark).

“Qualifying is any book that is at least 70,000 words long, containing a single story (no anthologies), and has been first released in print or ebook format between 7/1/2017 and 6/30/2018 containing and based upon scientific or science and engineering premises or technology.” [CF: My emphasis]

Now both wordings suggest a size for a novel of 70 thousand words but the difference between “at last” and “around” is a significant one. Under the old rules a 69 thousand word novel doesn’t qualify and on the new rules it might (depending on what “around” means). I think there is also an unintended implication with “around” where a novel substantially longer than 70 thousand does NOT qualify e.g. a 140 thousand word novel is clearly NOT “around 70,000 words”.

For most people nominating works, I doubt this is a major issue as I haven’t seen people paying much attention to word counts in what they nominate. Even so, having two different eligibility criteria on the site is weird, as is an unannounced change.

I’ve sent an email via the contact page to find out.

On the process page the novel length criteria for best SF novel changed from ‘at least 70,000’ words to ‘around 70,000 words’. That looks like a sensible & flexible rule change but the wording on the nomination page didn’t change – it said “at least 70,000′ during this years nomination period.

Is the rule ‘at least’ or ‘around’ 70 thousand words? It’s a small change in wording but has some impact on what is eligible. Also what kind of parameters are you using for “around”?

Lastly, “around 70,000” implies much longer novels are NOT eligible. I assume that was not what was intended? Can you clarify that? Are novels significantly long than 70 thousand words eligible?

Yours curiously,
Camestros Felapton

I guess the other interesting question is whether any works have been deemed ineligible but I’m guessing they won’t tell me that.




How to Travel Faster Than Light!

Space travel is easy just so long as you don’t need to get anywhere interesting outside of our solar system in a human lifetime. Time to hit warp speed!

Many of these are basically similar to If it was also mentioned as a teleport technique then it has a symbol.

  • Warp space – contract the space in front of your ship and expand the space behind your ship ( ) and hope that the physics works out.
  • Wormhole – you physically move but through a piece of space that is a shortcut. The implication is that places in space are all physically closer than they appear. Also, see Krasnikov Tube which is both a wormhole and a space in which you go faster than light. Wheeeeeeee!
  • Hyperspace – up into one dimension, travel a bit, then back down again. Similar to wormhole but instead of going through you go out and back in again.
  • Quantum tunnelling – fundamental particles can do this so why can’t you? There’s a chance that your ship might be somewhere else and so sometimes you are somewhere else. Requires messing with the fundamentals of probability. Infinite Improbability Drive.
  • Pinch space – force two different points in space together for an instant and then move slightly and then the two bits of space snap back (taking you with them).
  • Futurama – stay still and move the universe (named after how space travel works in Futurama).
  • Cross the light barrier – maybe things like tachyons exist for whom the speed of light is an unbreakable MINIMUM speed and maybe there’s a way of making the stuff you are made of like that stuff and (waves hand at light speed) go faster than light and then become normal again. [This probably would also look like teleportation but I didn’t list it originally]
  • Debunk Einstein – just go really fast. Maybe light just isn’t trying hard enough to go faster. Constant acceleration might help.
  • Change the material of the universe – C (the speed of light as a constant) in theory derives from fundamental properties of an idealised vacuum. Change those properties (get a wizard to help you) and voila! You’ve changed the speed of light! The dials of reality you need to change are marked ‘vacuum permittivity‘ and ‘vacuum permeability’. DO NOT FORGET TO RESET TO DEFAULT VALUES once you are done, for pity’s sake.
  • Time travel – to be honest almost all of these methods mean you can probably time travel but shush about that for the moment. The universe is expanding, right? So two points in the universe were closer together in the past than they are now, right? So, move between Point A and Point B in the PAST and then travel back to the present at Point B. If you need to avoid all the causality headaches of time travel, hand wave at the ‘causality interdiction field’ surrounding your spaceship that prevents you interacting with anything other than distance in the past. All the benefits of time travel without killing any butterflies or grandfathers.
  • Time travel (again) – very similar idea to the last. but with a twist. Let’s say the universe is one of those universes that inevitably contracts after a period of expansion and ends up in a ‘Big Crunch’. At the Big Crunch is a singularity where the normal laws of physics are a bit confusing. Also, every point in the universe is now really close to each other. Zip forward in time to the big crunch, move to point B (it’s right next to you now) and then zip back to regular time. This one is my favourite.
  • Neutrinos! – apparently, they sometimes do wacky stuff but it might be measurement error.
  • Inertialess drive – how does it work? It gets rid of inertia. I’m not sure how that helps. Look, just try it and see what happens OK?
  • It’s easy everywhere else – maybe this whole speed of light and relativity thing is a regional thing? Maybe in other parts of the universe, things work differently. Maybe we are just in a particularly slow area – a residential zone with safe speed limits. In other parts of the universe, aliens are zipping around at much faster speeds. The twist? That’s why we can’t SEE alien civilisations because they are all superluminal to us. It’s also why they don’t visit — our region of the universe would be like wading through custard for them. Bonus twist: the speed limit is deliberate and imposed on us by cosmic traffic wardens.
  • Don’t be information – I’ll concede that isn’t a helpful request. Lot’s of things can go faster of light! Shadows for example! What every real phenomenon that can be superluminal has in common is that it can’t convey information from point A to point B faster than light. So…if you and your spaceship aren’t information then…I don’t know what it means to be not information…
  • Make use of the age limit – let’s combine a few ideas here. The age of the universe is finite. The speed of light limits how fast information can travel in the universe. Now, that means there are some places (Point B) a bit of information from Point A can never reach because by the time a photon got to Point B the universe has already ceased to exist. So…if you somehow could get to Point B you wouldn’t be arriving before light could arrive because the light could never get there from Point A anyway, therefore my client pleads NOT GUILTY on a technicality you honour. (Judge looks sceptically at the defence counsel and rules the argument inadmissible.)

Other ideas welcome!

Dragon Award Finalists Appearing Bit by Bit

File 770 reports that some nominees for the Dragon Awards have been notified ( ).

“Finalists are not being asked to hold back the news until the release of the final ballot. Here are links to some of the announcements”

Robert Kroese, Mark Wandrey, Chris Kennery, Thomas A Mays, Sarah Hoyt, Kevin Anderson, Shayne Silvers, Jon Osborne, Craig Martelle, were in my set of projections. Dave Butler wasn’t on my set of projections but probably should have been based on past nomination [note to self: previous nominees with an eligible work are obvious future nominees]. Names I’m not familiar with include Vera Nazarian and Aleron Kong.

Aleron Kong seems to have got right to the spirit of the Dragon Awards here:

Hello my wonderful Mist Villagers!
The Land: Predators is a Finalist for Best Fantasy Novel!!!
PLEASE take 60 seconds and sign up! You’ll be sent a confirmation to your email. Click the link and that’s it! 🙂
If you comment that you voted, you’re entered to win signed copies of The Land!
Extra points if you post a screen shot of you registering!
Extra EXTRA points if you post a screen shot of you voting when the ballots come!
Even more points if you tag a friend in the comments!

[That’s not a criticism. That’s well within the rules as far as I can tell and the awards are about self-promotion and mobilising a fan base. So good on him.]

There’s a whole pile of people who haven’t said they were nominated yet. Knowing the Dragon Awards, there probably won’t be an official list until after people start voting…

[ETA: David Weber, Tim Zahn & Tom Pope’s novel “A Call to Vengeance” is also a finalist  – I didn’t have this on my list. ]

[ETA Cameron Johnston The Traitor God (Angry Robot) in Best Fantasy – not on my list ]

Twitter Polls Suck

So I referred to the Sad Puppies “extreme politics” on Twitter the other day. Somebody questioned that and I didn’t reply immediately because there’s a lot to unpack. Instead, I offered a Twitter poll with the options of replying as

  • Threaded tweets
  • A linked blog post
  • Talking to cat

Six people voted and each option got exactly two votes each. So much for power aw distributions. Luckily Tim tweeted me immediately allowing me to deal with the third option quickly. (more after the fold).

Continue reading “Twitter Polls Suck”

The Annals of SJWism Part Eleventy Thousand

The naive may think that the primary target when rightwing extremist says “SJW” or “social justice” is actual leftwing people doing leftwing things in a leftwing way. But oh no. The term is a rhetorical stick designed to beat imagined enemies who have to be omnipresent so as to feed the induced paranoia necessary for the far-right to operate.

Just to recap on the people and absurd things we’ve seen targetted as examples of “SJW” in the past:

  • Women volunteering to work in the church who are nice (them being nice is apparently the warning sign).
  • Women in a corporate office complaining about having to wear high heels.
  • All sorts of rightwing people not being rightwing in the right way.
  • Any journalist pointing out overt antisemitism.
  • Cartoon character’s boobs not being big enough.
  • Human resource departments in corporations in general.

However, I think I’ve found one that tops all of those in terms of absurdity: project management methodology. Yes, yes, the latest thing upon which the high priests of crypto-fascism have pronounced anathema (or a fatwa or whichever analogy you prefer) is the Agile Project methodology.

The right response to that is, ‘huh?’

Anyway vaguely involved in managing projects will be familiar with various methodologies that run like fads through the business world. Not wholly useless, not really evidence-based, maybe not worth the effort needed in training & retraining staff but possibly linked to better productivity, these things come and go like a Microsoft Project file that was set up once and everybody forgot about because they were too busy to update it.

Of rising popularity, particularly in IT circles is Agile – an approach that has zingy name and mixed sports metaphors (‘scrums’, ‘sprints’). It’s a thing. It’s OK I guess. I’ve been involved in projects that use it. It’s not the worst but it is stuff I’ve had to learn so I can communicate with other people that I feel was not the best use of my brain space which I need for other things like how to make a scutoid in Cheetah 3D. Butttt, on the whole, IT groups I’ve interacted with using it really do seem to have their act together a bit better and avoid that worse feature of claiming everything is easy (when asked vaguely) and everything is impossible (when it comes to specifics).

Anyway, apparently, it is also part of the on-going SJW conspiracy. Yes, yes, we all missed that memo from leftwing conspiracy HQ. Here’s the usual validating a moan about it:

More seriously, it is yet another example of a tendency on the far-right on the net to recast employee frustration with a lack of autonomy in capitalist enterprise as a leftwing conspiracy. If your working life is frustrating, underpaid, stressful and unfufilling then the right needs an answer that is something other than “inherent flaws in capitalism and inequitable power distribution in society based around the economic system”. Shadowy leftwing conspiracy in all things is the go to replacement.

Geometry News!

I appreciate a nice polyhedron but as an area of interest it isn’t one prone to many events. The regular polyhedra were fully classified a very long time ago and while that’s just one set of an infinite space of 3D objects with polygonal faces. If you allow for curves or slightly curved, almost polygons then there is a lot to play with but not many objects stand out from the crowd.

Anyway, biology to the rescue! An article in Nature ( ) looks at the issue of cell-packing. Our cells are squishy 3D objects that pack together to form tissue. Now getting objects to pack together to fill a space efficiently is a well-known and difficult to solve problem if you dealing with anything other than cubes. Hexagonal prisms are a solution that crops up in nature in places such as basalt rock formations and bee hives (and presumably bee hives made out of basalt on some planet with magma bees and honey volcanoes).

In 2D one way of filling a plane with irregular but simple polygons is a Voronoi pattern. Arrnagments of cells in a layer looked at ‘top-down’ can (apparently) resemble that kind of pattern but that doesn’t help describe the 3D aspect of the cells. Prisms don’t work because the ‘top’ face may be smaller than the ‘bottom’ face. Frustrums (chopped off pyramids) don’t work because the ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ faces maybe polygons of different sizes and frustrums don’t neccesarily pack nicely. Enter the scutoid.

Scutoids are (apparently, I’m just reading the paper) messed up prisms. The example picture shows a shape with a pentagon-bottom and a hexagon-top and the vertices of each polygon joined by  curved edges with the exception of an additional triangular face. Flip the same shape upside down and they can nestle into each other. Which is sweet.


Fig1 from ‘Scutoids are a geometrical solution to three-dimensional packing of epithelia’ Nature Communications volume 9, Article number: 2960 (2018)


So not quite polyhedra, crazy mixed up nearly prisms that know how to pack. The picture of the beatle is there because of the distinct pattern of five shapes – specifically that little triangle at the top where the line between the carapace covering the wing splits. The combination of faces on the scutoid reminded the researchers of the beatle and the ‘scutoid’ name is derived from that.

Also I don’t know if you say “scoo-toid” or “scuh-toid”.

Other coverage:


Lurkertype’s question

I have mentioned that I can’t attend Worldcon this year due to the circumference of the Earth. Lurkertype has asked whether I could attend if the Earth were flat. Let’s see.

The surface area of the earth is approx : 510,072,000 sq km.

Treated as a two-dimensional circle, this would give a radius r=of square root (510072000/pi). The circumference of that would be c = 2*r*pi.

So r works out at about 12,742 kilometres for our flat Earth, which is double the radius of the spherical Earth. The circumference of the flat Earth is therefore 80,060 kilometres, which is basically double the circumference of the spherical Earth.

So, if I have to travel the circumference of the Earth to get to San Jose (which I have to for reasons due to occult geometry rather than practicality) then I have to travel twice as far, making the trip less feasible.

However, if we change Earth into a four-dimensional analogue to a sphere (known as 3-sphere or 4-ball depending on what aspect we are looking at) then I can get there.

Schadenpuppies & EPH

Worldcon events have brought out the former Sad Puppies to claim that things once again (via means never explained) prove them right (about what is always unclear). I’ve personally not had a lot to say on the Worldcon programming issue as I can’t attend due to a whole pile of things and life and the circumference of the Earth. However, I think the people who spoke up did the right thing in the best way they could.

Ah but the Sad Puppies? Well, I know my beat is varied but they are clearly within my mandate of stuff to blog about – and will be until I get completely bored of them, which doesn’t look like anytime soon.

I won’t bother linking to the various takes I’ve seen from the right. They are largely misinformed & confused at best and a nest of slurs & prejudices at worst. Calling fans ‘freaks’ and mocking their gender is inherently anti-fan and anti-fandom. The other element to these takes is various reprises of the history of the Sad Puppies and these are the usual revisionist nonsense*.

But one theme keeps coming up that I don’t think I’ve addressed before. This is not a direct quote of anyone individual pup but a composite:

“They even changed the rules to exclude us!”

The “they” being the well-known grammatical element known as the ‘conspiracy they’ to indicate the nebulous people conspiring against you. Now the rule changes aren’t specified but based on other reactions in the past, the main reference here is the nomination system known as EPH.

I’ve talked about EPH ad-nauseum and I think I may even be the first person (in 2017) to not be a finalist because of EPH when I would have been a finalist under the old rules. Which is really neat, if true. What I want to focus on though, is EPH and the Sad Puppies specifically. The Rabid Puppies is a different story because Vox Day engaged with it in a different way and clearly attempted to size up its effect in 2017.

The Sad Puppies though never engaged with EPH. By the time it was implemented Sad Puppies had withered into nothing. The causes of the Sad Puppy collapse are manifold:

  • Larry Correia was already disenchanted with repeatedly losing by the end of Sad Puppies 2 (hence passing it on to Brad Torgersen & withdrawing as a finalist in 2015).
  • High numbers of votes for No Award demonstrated that Sad Puppies would never have the votes to get close to winning an award and their reach was purely confined to impacting on finalists IF they were sufficiently coordinated.
  • Vox Day’s Rabid Puppies kept hijacking all the attention while leaving all the attempts at positive PR to the Sads.
  • There was never actually a huge reservoir of right-leaning quality fiction to nominate (put another way, any bias in results that might have been there was a supply issue before it was a voter issue).
  • Organising a slate that was open and as fan based as the Puppies claimed it should be was a much harder and complex task than they imagined, resulting in low participation in the more open Sad Puppies 4.
  • Post-SP3 campaigns got little support from notable male Sad Puppies. Whether that was sexism or burnout or both is an open question.
  • Functionally I think the No Award votes were the main thing that killed the Sad Puppy campaign rather than EPH. That’s not to say EPH didn’t have an impact, just that it was a lesser factor. It’s main impact was three-fold:
    • It demonstrated that Worldcon could adapt its rule via member participation. That made the Hugos a moving target.
      The Sad Puppies had nobody within their leadership who could understand how it worked. The reaction to it was almost at a superstitious level, as if it contained some kind of Sad Puppy detection algorithm. Vox Day’s approach was more analytical and showed more understanding that it was a fairly basic number crunching algorithm that in theory could be gamed.
      It stopped the tactic of trying to sweep the nominations.

    That last point was limited, EPH isn’t that great at stopping as SP3 style sweep but it is definitely an improvement.

    But here is an interesting flaw/feature in EPH. There was not only nothing in it that would prevent Sad Puppy participation but in fact it had the capacity to ensure that a stable and consistent Sad Puppy faction would have been more-or-less ensured nominees. The actual change in the nomination process undermined sweeps but did so by roughly guaranteed finalist slots to large but minority voting blocks.

    That isn’t a secret, it was a criticism made of EPH at the time that it could be seen as essentially conceding ground to the Sad Puppies and giving them a proportion of finalists each year…if they participated. While EPH isn’t quite that crude, there truth there. A consistent grouping of right leaning members (with the added advantage of drawing from a small pool of works) would get a ‘seat at the table’ under the EPH. I don’t want to portray algorithms as necessarily unbiased but of all the many opinions surrounding the Sad Puppies and the Hugos, the one closest to an objective fact is that EPH actually addressed a claimed core concern of the Sad Puppies.

    As I said above, Sad Puppies fizzled out for multiple reasons. However, EPH was only a minor factor** in that it helped prevent Sad Puppy *sweeps* but sweeping the nominees was something that Sad Puppy leaders said they didn’t particularly want. Put another way the concessions to the Sad Puppies contained within how EPH would operate called ‘bluff’ on the Sad Puppies. Given an opportunity to claim a fraction of the pie, the Sad Puppies cried loudly (and still do) that rules that stopped them taking the whole pie with a minority of the votes were rules that excluded them. And I’m going full circle here – they are right that EPH excludes them *IF AND ONLY IF* the Sad Puppies were always about trying to push everybody else out. “They change the rules to exclude us!” Is only true if “us” means “the people who wanted to push everybody else out.”

    [There was a comment about me from a regular Puppy support who asked rhetorically why, if something was nonsense, was I so interested in it. I’d have thought even a passing familiarity with what I say, do and write is that NONSENSE is something I’m very interested in. It’s repetitive nonsense that bores me.]

    [Apologies to the German language for ‘Schadnepuppies’ – I know it makes no sense.]

    **[Minor factor in the Sad Puppy demise, a bigger factor in keeping the Rabids at bay and a bigger factor in an overall improvement in nomination process.]