Not so harmonious friends

I only read this blog for the comments these days. There was a discussion about the German folk tale the Town Musicians of Bremen in the comments. It wasn’t a story I was familiar with but as soon as I looked it up, I recognised the iconic image: four animals of different sizes stacked up on each other’s back.

Way back in the before times, when human civilisation uses to travel vast distances through the air, I visited Bhutan in the Himalayas. A recurring image in Bhutan (aside from flying penises—which is a different story) is the Four Harmonious Friends. It is a picture of a bird standing on a rabbit, standing on a monkey, standing on an elephant, all under a fruit tree. The story is much simpler—the four animals work together to get some fruit from a tree.

Reading around, articles connect Town Musicians of Bremen with the Four Harmonious Friends but how one turned into the other isn’t obvious. If you tilt your head to one side, you can imagine how “harmonious” could be mistranslated as “musicians” and then maybe somebody made up a story to explain why four animals standing on each other is a group of musicians. The Four Harmonious Friends is a better moral example but the Town Musicians of Bremen is a better narrative.

“But you already said all this in the comments”, you may say. True, true but I was musing on this the other day, while walking around the city in the rain. I’m psychologically immune to rain after long training but Sydneysiders can be a bit like a reverse example of the poor souls in Asimov’s Nightfall. They are so used to the sky being clear, that people are just a little discombobulated by grey skies.

Just up from Central station (on the other side of the road from UTS) I saw this bit of public art just as I was thinking about the whole Town Musicians of Bremen/Four Harmonious Friends thing.

It’s a panda, two rhinos and hippo, along with a pear, a camera and a coffee cup. I thought you might all enjoy it.

Non-fungible Tim

[From the crypto-currency and commercialisation departments of Cattimothy House Publishing]

Dear Prospective investor,

Cattimothy House is pleased to announce a major step-forward in our blatant grifting customer engagement. Our first digital asset as a tech-argle-bargle blockchain-like technology powered non-fungible token is now available for a single fortunate investor. For a mere 85 billion dollars, you can make a unique investment in the growing field of Ponzi schemes disguised as rent seeking making bits of data things that you can own that we don’t really understand either.

For your 85 billion dollars you will receive the uniquefied version of the following digital art work by iconoclastic creator, Timothy the Talking Cat.


  • Q: What is a non-fungible token?
    • A: It is firstly a token and secondly it cannot be fungiblized.
  • Q: “fungiblized”?
    • A: as in non-fungible
  • Q: I feel like we are going in circles here. What does “fungible” mean?
    • A: It’s an economics thing. Trust me, it is very important.
  • Q: It’s OK I Googled it. “Fungible” means easily exchanged for another identical version.
    • A: Thanks. That will make answering email inquiries easier. To be honest I thought it had something to do with mushrooms. It can be tough being in PR.
  • Q: Yeah but this is just a dodgy You Tube clip. That’s super fungible. I mean, that’s about as fungible as you can get.
    • A: THAT video is fungible. However, the one you will be buying is different. It is unique.
  • Q: I see. So what is unique about it? Longer song? Better animation? Less obnoxious cat?
    • A: The one you buy will be a NFT thanks to our blockchain-like technology.
  • Q: I also read that all the computers used to power blockchain things like Bitcoin are harming the environment?
    • A: Our technology isn’t the same. It is blockchain-like but not actually a blockchain.
  • Q: And that’s what makes it unique?
    • A: Yes. We use innovative POP3/SMTP protocols to transfer digital confirmation of ongoing ownership with an embedded digital asset.
  • Q: Wow! That sound impressive. Do you mind if I just Google all that?
    • A: Um.
  • Q: ….well, reading between the lines…you are just going to email me an attachment?
    • A: No, no, that is a gross misrepresentation. We are going to email you an attachment AND say “You own this. This yours and only yours.”
  • Q: But I really don’t own it. It’s Gloria Gaynor’s song, it’s hosted on You Tube and it was made using that WOMBO app. It’s not even really yours to sell.
    • A: That’s not what the email will say!
  • Q: And you want 85 million dollars for that?
    • A: No, we want 85 billion dollars.
  • Q: On second thoughts, I might not been investing with you today.
    • A: Too late! The video contains a memetic virus that is now using your spare brain capacity to harvest bitcoin!
  • Q: Ha! Jokes on you! I don’t have any spare brain capacity thanks to my excessive beer consumption and overuse of social media!
    • A: Foiled again!

Crow and Kin

I’m elevating a thread of comments from an earlier unrelated post because I like the ideas we had.

The background is one of my favourite science-fiction trivia facts. Ursula Le Guin and Philip K Dick both went to the same high school at the same time: Berkeley High School in the late 1940s. They didn’t know each other but it is still fascinating to think that these two hyper-influential writers, with quite different styles were teenagers in the same place at the same time. For me, they are also both of my ‘golden age of science fiction is when you are 12’ authors.

That led me to make this comment:

I still believe somebody should write a Stranger Things like story about Ursula Le Guin and Philip K Dick solving weird mysteries at the high school they both went to

Here are the replies that followed:

LurkertypeEdit And yet they didn’t meet till after they’d both become SF writers! Which makes sense — there were about 2200 people in my high school and over 600 in my graduating class alone, so there were a lot of them I never met. But Ursula and Phil solving supernatural stuff would make an excellent story.

Rick MoenEditUrsula Le Guin and Philip K Dick Ursula Le Guin and Philip K Dick solving weird mysteries at the high school they both went to
“They solve crime!”
This is officially my favourite thing of the day.

Ursula’s last name at the time was Kroeber. Phil’s middle name was Kindred.
“Who’re you?”
“My name’s Ursula, but . . . call me Crow. Who’re you?”
“I . . . go by . . . Horselover? God, no. Kin. Call me Kin.”
“No, Kin.”
Series title: “Crow and Kin Solve What’s Hidden.”
End-of-series finale: Either amnesia is induced, or . . . better yet, the last adventure involves critical time-travel that changes their own timelines – we see the same scene where they first met, but instead of meeting, they simply pass one another by, and go on to have lives where their adventures never happened, because the big bad that necessitated them was removed from the timeline. Melancholy music plays. Camera pulls up and away from the school showing the students milling about.

And of course, the series premiere would be called “True Names”: They witness someone or someones being magically compelled by their true names, so of course they have to use obscured names.

Oh nice — a psychological warfare research team at the nearby university, using a telepathic student they keep in a basement to make everything harmonious on campus. The Ones Who Walk Away from Berkeley.
Also the Dean is dedicated to a plan to restore the Roman Empire

So it was fighting evil and then the timeline change that drove Phil to drug abuse and madness. Looking too deep into the abyss and all. Reverberated into our timeline even.
The universe decided making Ursula a woman who dared to write SF in the 20th century was enough punishment. But she still yearned for things unseen and knew the dangers of magic to teenage boys.
This would be really good.

camestrosfelaptonEdit Philip K Dick as a prototype for Ged as a teen? I like it.

Urs… er, Crow’s father was the big-deal anthropology professor/museum director at Berkeley at the time, and her mother was a psychologist, anthropologist, and author in her own right*, so they’re the supportive adults who help Crow and Kin get access to things teens wouldn’t be able to get. Like mystical museum artifacts, ancient tomes, psychological tactics.
And the final bittersweet episode must be called “Changing Planes”. Probably one called “The Unreal and the Real”.
*And her maiden name was Kracaw!!!

It’s amazing what’s online nowadays:
Ursula Kroeber was a senior in Spring 1947:
Phil Dick’s picture is not there, but his name appears at the end of the senior picture pages under “Camera Shy”. (As a minor aside, the first name “Dick” was surprisingly popular at the time (or in the late twenties or so when it was first given), including what would now at least raise an eyebrow, “Dick Hammer” and “Dick Ready”)
Also noted from browsing WikiP pages:
1) J. Robert Oppenheimer visited with the Kroebers. The character of Shevek from The Dispossessed was apparently based on him.
2) Oppenheimer was at UC Berkeley from 1929 (the year Ursula was born) until 1943 (when he left to head the Manhattan project)
3) Oppenheimer learned Sanskrit in 1933, and read the Bhagavad Gita
4) In 1945, when Ursula (and Philip) were sophomores in the high school, Oppenheimer oversaw the detonation of the first nuclear explosion, and verses from the Bhagavad Gita came to mind.
I am not sure how all of the above could be worked in, but it really really ought to be.

It would explain PKD’s long-term delusion that reality isn’t what it seems to be. Somewhere subconsciously, he remembers there was another timeline (though he gets it all wrong as to what it was). Probably something happened that also led to his stonking giant amphetamine habit and other drugs. Also this explains “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”.
AND, his twin sister who died shortly after birth (who he’s buried next to; his parents put both their names on the tombstone at the time, very spooky) has to figure in somewhere, because missing twins, there but for the grace of God, the tombstone, is also perfect. Maybe one of the artifacts from the museum brings her spirit along to help Crow and Kin?
PKD is the inspiration for both Ged and the nameless child of Omelas — the kid who sacrifices much for the greater good.
Work in the atom bomb and the fact that they were in high school at the end of the war, too.
Probably the adventure involves dragons or something like them.

Principal: “What have you two to say for yourself? What were you doing in the school’s hidden basement at 6AM?
Kin; At three-thirty AM on the night of 5 June 1992, the top telepath in the Sol System fell off the map
Principal: Enough of that. Ursula, perhaps you can explain more clearly?
Ursula: Call me Crow. I’ll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child…that Truth is a matter of the imagination.

Lots of delicious ideas there. I really like the idea of Dick being a model for how Ged is portrayed in A Wizard of Earthsea in the early part of the book when he has arrived at Roke (up to the disastrous summoning): an arrogant weirdo, clever and talented but out-of-place. Le Guin literally met Oppenheimer and I wonder if there’s some of him in how she shapes the older Ged in the Farthest Shore? Also, the Berkley University campus is just right there. And the underlying mystery? Definitely links to other realities and in particular Lathe of Heaven – Le Guin’s overtly Dickian novel. Dick’s paranoid studies of reality and self point to layers of mystery. Both Le Guin and Dick had interests in science and mysticism (Taoism for Le Guin and Gnosticism for Dick).

When you think you have all the pieces together and then you find another one

It’s humbling to keep following chains of links together. The 2010 Debarkle chapter keeps getting longer. I’d intended to have a fair bit on the Tea Party leading to a bit right wing media manipulation leading to a bit on the so called “ground zero mosque” (not a mosque and not at ground zero) and then the Elizabeth Moon LJ “fail”. What, in my ignorance, I’d missed is a multi-blog argument involving Dave Truesdale, N.K. Jemisin and Jim Hines.

I assume many people here read it at the time but if you didn’t here is a 2010 smackdown by Nora Jemisin of Brad Torgersen.

“Brad, I figured out literally years ago that you’re a waste of energy to argue with, and I haven’t seen anything to change my mind about you in the time since. This comment/diatribe of yours — full of false and unprovable hypotheticals, a manifest lack of logic or understanding of history, and the very whining I was complaining about (disguised as sneering contempt, but still whining) — is typical. I will refer you back to the last paragraph of my OP, and leave my rebuttal at that.
I won’t stop anyone here from picking up your little white glove if they so choose, though I doubt they will; I suspect the comment period for this post has mostly ended. Regardless, please note that if you pull your usual crap — and especially note that Jim Hines has a lot more patience than I do — I’ll shut you down. So no name-calling, especially not if you decide to invoke racial stereotypes in the process. Back up your assertions with examples or facts. Try to debate in good faith, and don’t shift the goalposts every few minutes. I’m not sure you’re capable of these things, but I’m laying out these rules because I’m willing to give you a chance. But I’ll be watching you.”


Anyway, one missing piece from that. Brad replies:

“Yes, I believe we figured out 4 years ago that we’re about 180 degrees opposite on most issues.”

Does anybody know if that is a specific argument Brad is referring to? From around 2006? I didn’t think Brad was really around that early?

Today’s unexplained random research fact

As part of my diving into the past of the Sad Puppy years and internet culture, I have deduced that with high certainty Baen author and Sad Puppy nominee Mike “Mad Mike” Williamson and UK pop-sensation/2000’s meme sensation Rick Astley could well have met each other and/or at least been in the same general area at the same time.

As you can imagine the implications of this are HUGE [or probably not].

My very sound copyright proposal

I notice everybody is talking about copyright again and I asked Tim if he wanted to do a column on it but he just shouted “write your own half-baked nonsense!” I think that is progress, as it least it implies what he writes is half-baked nonsense. I mean…it’s more raw nonsense to be honest.

Anyway, copyright: can’t live with it and can’t get prosecuted for photocopying books without it. My proposal uses a little used quality in these discussions: mathematics. See, some people want copyright on books to expire quickly and some people (typically those greedy author types, selfishly hoping to make a living and be able to afford food and shelter) want it to expire long after the author has died. Surely a compromise is possible?

First we need some parameters:

  1. P: this is the “author is not a thoroughly appalling human being” parameter. It only goes up to 5 and if you are just occasionally mean to people on Twitter or a full-on living saint, you get 5 – you don’t get bonus points for saving kittens or curing a pandemic . If you are otherwise one of those people who use their fame to be really shitty to people you get scored on a 0 to 5 basis. 0 is if you are former dictator or something. It’s a judgemental parameter but not a very strict one.
  2. µ: this is the “have you already made shit-loads of money” parameter. No? Ok then it is about 0.08. Yes? As in you are deciding how many golden bath tubs to buy in your huge multi-bathroom mansion? Then it is, say, 0.5.
  3. x: number of years since the book was published.

Now, enter my magic formula. Instead of copyright expiring on your book straight away, the formula determines the amount of copyright protection your books has. For example to start with it’s just a bit less than100% (normal fair use) but then it will slide to 50% and people can “fair use” half of your book. The good news is that the formula has an asymptote at the far end – in theory it never entirely goes out of copyright. Centuries later some microscopic fraction of a single letter will still be in copyright!

Here’s the formula:

Percentage of the book in copyright = e(P - µx)/(1+e(P - µx))

Here’s how a non-appalling and not very wealthy author’s copyright curve would look:

And here is how some mega-wealthy author who is trying to police the genitals of people going to the toilet would look:

Now you may say that this isn’t a remotely workable copyright scheme and is actually just an excuse for you to say rude things about certain best selling authors who annoy you. That isn’t true. It is also an excuse for me to draw graphs.

Research Rabbit Hole: right wing ‘cancel culture’ from 2007

Maybe American readers were aware of this story from 2007 but as it was within the world of gun hobbyists, it was new to me. I know nothing about it other than what I’ve just been reading but it came up while I was following some Debarkle related research.

According to Wikipedia, Jim Zumbo ( ) is/was an editor for Outdoor Magazine [ ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ] and presented Jim Zumbo Outdoors on The Outdoor Channel [ ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ]. Now, to my mind that is an overuse of the word ‘outdoors’. I spend a lot time outside but I don’t build an identity around it but I digress.

Again, according to Wikipedia, in 2007 Zumbo wrote a post on his blog were he was overtly critical of hunters using AR-15 style rifles when hunting.

“Sorry, folks, in my humble opinion, these things have no place in hunting. We don’t need to be lumped into the group of people who terrorize the world with them, which is an obvious concern. I’ve always been comfortable with the statement that hunters don’t use assault rifles. We’ve always been proud of our “sporting firearms.””

Now naturally, the right-wing gun community being deeply committed to freedom of speech, reacted in a calm manner and was respectful of Mr Zumbo’s right to criticise other people’s gun choices. Let’s check Wikipedia:

“Many firearms industry lobbyists were outraged that Zumbo suggested an outright ban on a type of popular rifle for reasons of “personal bias”.[4] In response to the flood of threatened boycotts, Remington ArmsCEO Tommy Millner fired Zumbo as a spokesman on February 19,[5] The Outdoor Channel announced that Zumbo programming would be on a temporary hiatus, but did not sever their affiliations with Zumbo. His online blog was discontinued “for the time being” by Outdoor Life on February 19.[6] Outdoor Life subsequently dropped him completely, stating on its webpage that Zumbo would no longer be contributing to the publication once the last of his columns already to press had been printed. Gerber Knives and Mossy Oak severed all of their business dealings with Zumbo as well, as did a majority of his other sponsors.”

Wow, it’s almost like the exact opposite of what I just said!

Anyway, the relevance will become clearer in the next Debarkle chapter – now with more people called “Zumbo” in it than before!

Just putting this here for later

The table shows Hugo Finalists for Best Novel by publisher for the period 1985 to 2005. I want to quote this later but I can’t really link to a Google Sheets pivot table. The back story is the coda to the Debarkle Jim Baen chapter got way too long and recent comments from Eric Flint added new material. So the 2006/7 aftermath to Jim Baen’s death is now a separate chapter. It’s structurally and tonally quite different and features more Hugo stats nerdery.

Publisher2COUNTA of Finalist
Ace Books6
Ace Books/Putnam Publishing Group1
Analog Science Fiction & Fact6
Arbor House3
Asimov’s Science Fiction2
Avon Publications2
Baen Books5
Bantam Books5
Bantam Spectra12
Bloomsbury Publishing3
Bluejay Books1
Bridge Publications1
DAW Books1
Del Rey Books6
Harcourt Brace1
HarperCollins Voyager2
Macmillan Publishers1
Morrow AvoNova1
Orbit Books2
Simon & Schuster1
Victor Gollancz Ltd2
Villard Books1
Warner Aspect1
Warner Books1
Warner Questar2
William Morrow and Company1
Grand Total107

Debarkle Update

Not another chapter today. There will be a short pause, which I’ll explain shortly. First though, I’ll give you all a sense of what’s coming up.

We are about mid-way through Part 1: Beginnings. There are six chapters go and the finally chapter brings things to 2010 and catches up with all the players we’ve met at the end of the first decade (or start of the second depending). The chapter after next one, will be the Larry Correia origin story, followed by the first book review chapter looking at Monster Hunter International. I’ll then swerve off course into our first Meanwhile chapter which will look at the Iraq War, Marriage Equality fights and the election of Barack Obama with comments and perspectives from the characters we’ve met so far (also the flippin’ Global Financial Crisis which, oddly, was less talked about). From there, an even more huge diversion into RaceFail2009 in the second Meanwhile chapter. Diversions all done, we close with 2010 with the boards all set up and all the pieces in place [for Wagner fans, Part 1 is like Das Rheingold, all the best tunes are in the next opera].

If you read the outline I posted on February 2, you will notice that a chapter got skipped between the Vox Day chapter and the SFWA chapter. So a couple of things about that chapter:

  1. Everything
  2. Everything else

The plan was to have a chapter looking at Tor and Baen up to mid-2000s along with ebooks and Amazon etc. As soon as I started pulling notes together for that chapter it was obvious that the right story to write was a biography of Jim Baen. It covers Tor, Baen Books, Tom Doherty, Hugo Awards and innovations like ebooks, fan engagement and (sadly) has a distinct conclusion in 2006 with Jim Baen’s untimely death. Of course Jim Baen himself had zero to do with the Puppy Kerfuffle but the nature of influential figures is that they cast a long shadow.

Now, as it stands, it is definitely not a hit piece or an attack on Jim Baen but…yeah, I’m going to give it a week. I will add a disclaimer and I don’t think somebody reading it in good faith will see it as an attempt to malign him. However, in the circumstance and given how certain former Puppies regard me, I’ll wait until next week before posting it.