January 10th, 2009


How Your Vocabulary Can Feed the Hungry

This is so cool. Um ... don't click through to the game unless you have some time to kill...

How Your Vocabulary Can Feed The Hungry:
What if just knowing what a word meant could help feed hungry people around the world? Well, at website called FreeRice it does. Go to the site, and you'll see a word and four definitions. Choose the right meaning and the site's advertisers will donate 10 grains of rice to the World Food Program, a United Nations agency that is the world's largest humanitarian organization. Keep on guessing (the quiz gets progressively more arduous, not to mention vexatious), and for each correct answer 10 more grains of rice will head to people who need it. Now, admittedly, 10 grains is a piddling amount. But the totals have grown exponentially. Over 56 billion grains of rice have been donated to date through this innovative program.

A thousand grains of rice later -- with only a few misses -- I finally managed to pry myself away from the site. The words are fascinating. Some are easy, some are really obscure. There must've been a good dozen I'd never seen before, so somebody dug deep for these. Hint: look for parts of words that you recognize as similar to other words.

Poem: The Sugar Sea

Based on the poll results, here is the generally sponsored poem from the January 2009 poetry fishbowl. This poem is the first of the four poems set in submerged Nebraska. This month's donors are: ellenmillion, arialstarshadow, minor_architect, and janetmiles.

The Sugar Sea

By the time the cockroaches came,
the sand had remembered that it was a sea.
The Sand Hills were dunes again,
fletched with beach grass and sand plums.

Their pale gold grains were exactly
the color of cane sugar fresh from the pressing,
and so the cockroaches named this
the Sugar Sea and set their conical huts nearby.

What had once been North America
was now East America and West America –- or
would have been, if anyone recalled
the Americas or the mammals that had named them.

Two long narrow wings, divided by
a wide inland sea and boned by mountains,
now housed the larval civilization
as the cockroaches began to settle and build.

Sometimes, in the dust, they found
strange things: layers and lakes of red rust,
and the ruined bones of buildings
beaten flat by some unimaginable cataclysm.

Even the Sugar Sea itself held secrets,
for on a clear day the sun would show the bottom
traced with strange straight lines
and square after square of subtly rubbled mud.

The cockroaches assembled their village
all along the soft shores of that warm, sweet sea
but sometimes they looked out over
the whispering water, and they … wondered.

Soldiers without a Safety Net

I've been tracking the military's appalling response to soldiers who come home with combat injuries that make it difficult for them to function. Observe how every victory for soldier advocacy merely results in dumping soldiers through a different loophole. The problem, of course, is caused by the fact that the military isn't a caring institution; its mandate is for efficiency and productive violence. Caring for damaged soldiers reduces efficiency. What they aren't noticing, however, is that abandoning wounded soldiers demolishes morale and undercuts enlistment. I believe that the military has been misused in recent years, but I really do want a strong healthy watchdog in case someone decides to attack us. This kind of betrayal is not in our nation's best interest.

PTSD Victim Booted for "Misconduct"

    After serving two tours in Iraq - tours filled with killing enemy combatants and watching close friends die - Sgt. Adam Boyle, 27, returned home expecting the Army to take care of him.  Instead, service member advocates and Boyle's mother say his chain of command in the 3rd Psychological Operations Battalion at Fort Bragg, N.C., worked to end his military career at the first sign of weakness.

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New Speculative Reviewing Database

Authors, reviewers, publishers, etc. should check out this new resource:

The SF/F/H Book Reviewer's Database

So you've been a running a review blog for a while now. Sometimes you get lucky and a publisher contacts you about a new novel, or an author stumbles across your site and asks if you could review their novel. While you think this is great, you have always wanted something more, some easy way to get authors and publishers to send you books to review that interest you and your readers.

Well, now there is a way.

Diana Pharaoh Francis, author of the Crosspointe and Path series has offered her time and energy to be the frontman for collecting a database of reviewer information such as names, addresses, and the like.


NASA News: We Have a Long Way to Go

mtrose2 sent me a copy of this speech, which I tracked down online to share with you. It contains much detail and hard science, and some political and philosophical discussion, regarding NASA's current goals and the resources available to achieve them. Summary: we're going up, but we really need more resources to do the job right. Encourage your representatives to allocate sufficient funds, lest we become dependent on more foresightful nations.

We Have a Long Way to Go

Last year, I addressed the considerations governing the design of NASA's Constellation architecture, to get on the record why the design is what it is. However, judging by the many questions I receive on the topic, I didn't do a very good job, so I will try again today. And, while I will try not to repeat what I have said in prior speeches and testimony, I must admit that in tackling these issues I am reminded of Shakespeare's Henry V: "Once more into the breach, dear friends ..."

Constellation was designed to implement a new civil space policy, articulated by the president in the aftermath of the Columbia accident, and modified, extended, and enhanced by both Republican and Democratic Congresses in the NASA Authorization Acts of 2005 and 2008.


Poem: "The Hermit on the Hill"

This poem comes from the January fishbowl, inspired by a prompt from lizamanynames and sponsored by janetmiles.

The Hermit on the Hill

It’s the kind of job where,
if you do it right,
you put yourself out of work.

Once it’s done, though –
after the multiverse has been saved
and the nexus lies quiet as a snowy field –
what do you then?

Your eyes have grown too wise
to see things simply;
reality is forever fractured
into a thousand fractal paths.
What does it matter if all of them are bright?

You could have any job you wanted, but
there is no job you could take
in which your mellifluous vision
would not give you some unfair advantage.
So you walk away. You stop looking.
What else could you do?

The desert is still. The desert is peaceful.
It is not a place plagued by many choices.
Few will ever notice the light of your lantern on the hill.
When they come to you, the adolescent saints
and the tentative messiahs, you will show them what lies
in wait. You will give them new eyes to see men’s souls.
And you will not watch them walk back down the hill.

Poem: "The Sound of the Future"

This poem from the January fishbowl was inspired and sponsored by janetmiles. It features one of my favorite historical figures -- living in Illinois has given me a deep appreciation for Abraham Lincoln.

The Sound of the Future

Abraham Lincoln looked at the time traveler.
“So I die tonight, and nothing to be done about it?”

“I’m afraid so,” said the traveler.
“Temporal mechanics just work that way.”

“Why did you come talk with me, then?” said Lincoln.
“I imagine a body could get in some trouble for that.”

The traveler leaned forward and said,
“Because everything you did for America was worth it.
Because we’re grateful to you for doing it.
Because it worked.
And because you deserve to know that.”

“Ah,” said Lincoln. “Thank you.”
A smile curled his rugged face.

Then the traveler pulled out a metal box.
“Listen to this, Mr. President,” he said.
Voices poured out of the box,
and Lincoln leaned near, dark eyes alight.
“… all counties reporting. Barack Obama is the first
African-American President of the United States of America.”

Lincoln lifted his head.
“What is … will be … the date?”

“November 4, 2008,” said the traveler.

“So long…” Lincoln mused.

“Well, the backlash after the war was pretty rough—”
the traveler began.

Lincoln waved him off. “I meant,” he said,
“that my country survives that long.”

“America lasts until planetary unification in 2029,”
the traveler added.

That night, Lincoln left for his date with history,
still grinning.

Poem: "On Wings of Hope"

This is the fourth poem in the submerged Nebraska setting from the January fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from whuffle, haikujaguar, and janetmiles; sponsored by janetmiles. The first poem in this set is "The Sugar Sea." To learn more about manta rays, the ancestors of one protagonist in this poem, I recommend "What is a ray?" and to protect them, see Manta Pacific Research Foundation.

EDIT 1/12/09: Everyone pretty much agrees that the offset version is legible, and distinguishes the two narrators better. This is now the official version of the poem.

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