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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in gvwilson's LiveJournal:

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Wednesday, May 9th, 2007
3:59 pm
Spingle (n.): the realization that the author of a series you rather enjoyed has lost his or her way, and is now stretching the story out, reducing its signal-to-noise ratio to within epsilon of the point where you would give up on it.  Take, for example, Karen Traviss's Ally, the (quick check) fifth in the series that started with City of Pearl. The author is clearly in love with those tough, gruff blokes (in the non-gender-specific sense) in uniform, and despises those weaseling politicians who backstab them at every turn.  No problem---I'll put up with that for the sake of some interesting alien species and an eco-political plot, even one that's full of anachronisms.  What I'm finding hard is that I'm now on page 208, and everything that has happened so far would easily have fitted into 30 pages if Traviss was still writing at the pace of the first book.  There are paragraphs and paragraphs of filler, in which the characters do little but recapitulate their angst, or realize for the umpty-dozenth time that wess'har morality is different from---no, purer than, cleaner than, better than---that of humans.

The last entry in the series, Judge, is due out next year. If someone posts a plot synopsis on Wikipedia, I'll probably read that instead of the book itself.  Until then, River of Gods has been waiting for me for a while now...
Saturday, April 28th, 2007
4:15 pm
New Plans
Our daughter is four weeks old today.




But I signed in to write up my plans for the summer:
  • Spend time with Madeleine and Sadie.
  • Finish editing A Bottle of Light for Scholastic before May 22...
  • ...when we fly to England for two weeks to introduce Madeleine to her great-grandmother and other relatives.
  • Supervise this summer's students.
  • Figure out what we're going to do with the Python book, and then do it. Options are:
    • leave it as an intro to programming for science students who aren't intending to major in CS (which is less work, but harder to market), or
    • add material so that it can be used as a general CS-1 book as well (lots more work, but larger potential audience).
  • Spend time with Sadie and Madeleine.
  • Put together notes for the new CSC301 software engineering course (Steve Easterbrook is going to do CSC302).
  • Visit my parents in BC in July (it's my mom's eightieth birthday).
  • Make some progress on the professional master's proposal for U of T.
  • Revise The Bookster's Apprentice (or keep working on The Voyage of the Unshadowed Land). This is the one most likely to be dropped, again.
  • Try to shed some or all of the eighteen pounds (!) I've put on in the last year.
  • Spend time with my favorite redheads.
Once again, doing some programming isn't on the list---I miss it, but I'd miss doing other things more.  Ditto "start playing the sax again", and Ultimate: as much as I like both, hangin' out with my two favorite women is a lot more compelling... ;-)
Tuesday, April 3rd, 2007
2:07 pm
Contract Signed
I just signed and mailed a contract with Scholastic for A Bottle of Light.  It won't be available in bookstores (it's to be part of a directed reading program), and I have to finish the manuscript by the end of May (great timing, Greg), but I'm still very pleased.
Sunday, April 1st, 2007
11:49 am
Madeleine Erica Wilson
Madeleine Erica Wilson joined us at half past midnight on March 31.  We are very, very happy.
Sunday, March 25th, 2007
1:03 pm
Murgle (n.): the feeling during recovery from a minor illness when you are well enough to be bored, but not well enough to actually do anything.
Saturday, March 24th, 2007
6:54 am
Counting down...
The baby was due yesterday; Sadie's had a few contractions, but they're not regular enough, or intense enough, for us to be heading to the hospital.  And I've been down with a cold since Thursday morning... :-(
Sunday, March 18th, 2007
12:23 pm
The Blood Knight, and macro vs. micro performance
I just finished The Blood Knight, the third installment of Greg Keyes' current fantasy series, and it left me unsatisfied. Keyes writes very well: his characters may be straight out of the catalog, but he draws them well, and keeps them moving from page to page. Where he fails (in my opinion) is in sticking too closely to a single rhythm.  Put one of the heroes in an impossible situation, then come back three sections later to show how they escaped; set the Cart of Romance rolling, place a Pothole of Despair in its way, then bounce past it, and so on. It's kind of like listening to a B.B.King album: the individual riffs are solid, but every damn song has the same twelve-bar structure.

Five days to go (unless we go into overtime). I have 50 books queued up at the Toronto Public Library (the maximum allowed) to get me through the coming year... ;-)
Sunday, March 11th, 2007
1:24 pm
The dresser in the baby's room has been assembled. So has the crib, though it's full of Robeez (which are like moccasins for really really tiny people), and Sadie's dad finished rebuilding the closet yesterday.  We own a stroller, a car seat, a nursing pillow (which really ought to be called a nursing shelf), and a bouncy seat.  For the baby, that is; I don't get one. T minus twelve days and counting, and oh, isn't Sadie ready...
Tuesday, March 6th, 2007
2:00 pm
To-Do List for March
  1. Finish the baby's room.
  2. Have the baby (hopefully in this order)
  3. Learn the words to the following lullabies:
    • Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (all three verses)
    • Brahms' Lullaby (yes, there are words)
    • Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ra (in English---the Gaelic original is actually a cattle-rustling anthem)
    • All the Pretty Little Hippos Horses
    • Rock-a-bye eBay Baby
    • Are You Sleeping? ("yes" is the only right answer...)
    • Golden Slumbers (not the Beatles' version, unfortunately)
    • Hush, Little Baby (fully expecting to one day be told "hush yourself, you old fossil")
    • Mozart's Lullaby (which was actually written by...Mozart)
    • Suo-Gan (trans. "Sleep My Baby")
    • All Through the Night
    • Raisins and Almonds (they're not allowed to use peanuts in lullabies any more)
    • She's Like the Swallow (and he's like what, a buzzard?)
    • Bye, Baby Bunting
    • Sleep, Baby, Sleep
  4. Finish editing Beautiful Code for O'Reilly
    • We're close: the last entry is being translated from Japanese.
  5. Set a midterm for CSC407.
  6. Get DrProject 2.0 out the door
    • Still hoping this will happen in March...
  7. Find money to pay students to work on DrProject this summer
  8. Write an I2I grant proposal
  9. Write some more book reviews
  10. Get my rating at FreeChess back to 1400 (right now it's 1243 1301)
  11. Finalize a deal with Scholastic for A Bottle of Light
Monday, March 5th, 2007
2:26 pm
How many forms of government?
I'm doing a little worldbuilding to distract myself while waiting for the baby to arrive and rearrange my world, and I'm wondering how many different forms of government human societies have invented over the centuries.  Kingship (inherited, elective, or appointive) and democracy (of many different kinds) are the best known from Western European history; what others are there?  And is there a readable catalog or survey somewhere, electronic or printed?
Wednesday, February 21st, 2007
9:17 pm
Duh-cisions, duh-cisions
I wrote a children's book called A Bottle of Light back in 1999. I'm proud of it, but have had no luck interesting a publisher in it --- until now.  A major publisher has said, "We like it," but there's a catch: it'll only be available through their directed reading program, to teachers, in classrooms.  No general sales, no distribution to bookstores, nothing, for at least ten years.  So, do I:
  1. Lower my sights, take what's offered, and hope that it'll build my reputation, or
  2. Turn down a sale that would put it in front of at least some children, in the hope of finding something better.
In favor of #1: if I haven't sold it in the last eight years, what're the chances I'll do so in the next eight?  And at least somebody would get to read it...

In favor of #2: I want my friends to be able to read it too.


And did I mention that they want a finished manuscript by mid-March?  Baby's due on the 21st...
Friday, February 16th, 2007
12:02 pm
Orhan Pamuk in exile
Sad story via the CBC: Nobel prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk has fled to the US after death threats that came after (among other things) he talked publicly about the Armenian Genocide of 1915-17.  I have long argued that admitting Turkey to the EU would be a pivotal event in world history, as it would prove that the latter isn't just a "club for Christians", and that the West actually will reward democracy.  Pamuk's plight is just one more sign of how much is at stake; like its craven, ineffectual handwringing during the disintegration of Yugoslavia, the EU's dithering over Turkish membership is a sad sign of how little Europe learned from the Twentieth Century.
Monday, February 12th, 2007
8:13 am
Train Them Early
We were with friends yesterday for brunch.  To keep the children distracted, they put on a DVD of a Nelvana children's show called The Backyardigans, in which five brightly-colored adolescent creatures have musical character-building adventures.  The second episode was called "The Yeti", and as I watched it, a strange sense of deja vu came over me.  They were hiking through snow-capped mountains with a full moon hanging in the sky above them.  Where had I seen that before?  Then I recognized it---it was exactly the same backdrop that I had wandered through during my brief foray into World of Warcraft. Someone, it seems, wants to be very, very sure that children will find arctic landscapes filled with strange beasts normal.  What do they know that we don't?
Sunday, February 11th, 2007
9:13 am
Searching For...
  1. A science fiction novel I read last year or the year before (though it's older than that), set in a cyberpunk mid-future Russia; turns out the world's last whale is hidden in a tank somewhere, and oh yeah, Africa has gone ultra-high-tech.  Anyone know the title?
  2. A humor web site I read religiously during the bubble: it was like The Onion, but written by one guy, and funnier.  He shut it down in 2001 or 2002; articles were printed as a book, which I (stupidly) didn't buy at the time.

First correct answer in each category wins a prize!
8:30 am
Belated Task List for February
  1. Carpet the stairs, hall, and master bedroom.
  2. Finish the kitchen.
  3. Finish the baby's room.
  4. Learn the words to the following lullabies:
    • Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (all three verses)
    • Brahms' Lullaby (yes, there are words)
    • Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ra (in English---the Gaelic original is actually a cattle-rustling anthem)
    • All the Pretty Little Hippos Horses
    • Rock-a-bye eBay Baby
    • Are You Sleeping? ("yes" is the only right answer...)
    • Golden Slumbers (not the Beatles' version, unfortunately)
    • Hush, Little Baby (fully expecting to one day be told "hush yourself, you old fossil")
    • Mozart's Lullaby (which was actually written by...Mozart)
    • Suo-Gan (trans. "Sleep My Baby")
    • All Through the Night
    • Raisins and Almonds (they're not allowed to use peanuts in lullabies any more)
    • She's Like the Swallow (and he's like what, a buzzard?)
    • Bye, Baby Bunting
    • Sleep, Baby, Sleep
  5. Pick up our car.
  6. Swim twice a week
    • I've only missed one session out of eight so far...
  7. Finish editing Beautiful Code for O'Reilly
    • Andy Oram is actually doing the lion's share of the editing.
  8. Set a midterm for CSC407.
  9. Get DrProject 2.0 out the door
    • Won't actually happen until March, but I hope we can fix whatever is causing it to crash occasionally before then.
  10. Hire some students to work on DrProject this summer
    • And find money to pay them: since I still don't have a contract with U of T, I don't have any money of my own...
    • But Google's Summer of Code announcement should be out soon...
  11. Visit Ottawa (as soon as my niece is well enough for visitors)
  12. Write an I2I grant proposal
  13. Write some more book reviews
    • In particular, review the two books I have on gender imbalance in science and computing
  14. Get my rating at FreeChess back to 1400 (right now it's 1243)
  15. Help the rest of my students find jobs
  16. Catch up with Battlestar Galactica (we're currently watching Season 2)
    • Other shows currently include Stargate and Stargate: Atlantis, House, Supernatural, Dr. Who, and CSI (the original, of course)
    • Really wish I could get into Ugly Betty and Little Mosque on the Prairie, but I'm just... not... strong... enough for comedy
Saturday, February 10th, 2007
3:01 pm
What Blogging Is For
Blogging exists so that people whose attention spans are too short to allow real writing can still feel like they're getting some writing done.  Take me, for example --- while two hardworking Russians have been laying carpet in our hallway, I have composed six short articles for my other blog.  I could have used that time to edit a section of The Prince and the Cloudherd (I've given up on The Voyage of the Unshadowed Land, at least until our daughter is a teenager), but no --- I played GalCon, fixed students' grades, and put up those six blurbettes instead.  I'm so weak...
Friday, January 26th, 2007
3:47 pm
Duh-cisions, Duh-cisions...
As all three readers of this blog will have noticed, progress on The Voyage of the Unshadowed Land has slowed to nearly nil since term started.  With a baby on the way, things ain't gonna get better.  My options are therefore:
  1. Give up on writing fiction for the rest of this year.  Easily the most sensible choice, particularly as I have two new courses to put together this summer, but dammit, I've already given up playing the sax...
  2. Keep plugging away at VUL, no matter how slowly.  Downside of this is that the less often I write, the less I get done per hour---it's a momentum thing.  Plus, VUL is feeling kind of...blah.  If I'm going to keep going with it, I need to inject a little swashbuckling.
  3. Dredge up The Prince and the Cloudherd, or one of the other YA (young adult) stories that I wrote about Cherne several years ago, and polish it.  Upside is that polishing isn't as dependent on momentum as new writing; downside is that I tried several times to sell these, without luck, and it's hard to get excited about something that you don't really believe in.  (Of course, the same could be said at this point about all of my fiction: I've been shopping A Bottle of Light around in one form or another for almost seven years...)
  4. Start something completely new.  I've been day-dreaming about writing SF instead of fantasy, and have a setting, theme, and plot that I think would work.  (Hint: I have a topographical map on my wall showing what Antarctica would look like without ice...)  Upside: fresh air.  Downside: it ain't what you write about that determines productivity, it's how you feel about what you're writing.
Duh-cisions, duh-cisions...

Current Mood: reflective
Sunday, January 21st, 2007
2:58 pm
The First Expedition (Part 5)

The Light's Justice left harbor for the first time in the first week of Topaz, 1109. The Bright Sword's Edge joined her at the end of Chalcedony: too late for a long inaugural cruise, but close enough to her planned launch date to give Perguuran and the resurgent Admirals a boost. Tattoos of the three ships sailing side-by-side were briefly fashionable, and when a brewer named Dutta's Naameda gave birth to triplets, there was no question what names they would be given [11].

It later seemed to many of the Debaters who stayed in Ruuda-in-Ruuda that winter that outfitting the small fleet was the city's major business that winter. Fights between sailors for the honor of being in their crews, and between soldiers anxious for a place in their berths, became so common that Ruuda-in-Ruuda's governing council reserved two afternoons a week for them in the city's gymnasia. Tons of supplies were donated by well-wishers; to everyone's surprise, it appeared that almost none was sold out a side door. In a rare moment of brilliance, U.'s Yrjö ordered that everything that was not going to be taken with the expedition be brought aboard the ships at least once before being redistributed to charity, so that even the city's poorest could proudly claim to have worn, eaten, slept under, or bathed with something "from the fleet".

"Let Ruuda's strength be a light to the world" was everyone's toast as the tenth anniversary of the end of the Fifth Rebellion approached. Timbers brought into the city for the fleet were already being sawn in preparation for another busy season of shipbuilding; plans were already being drawn for a whole fleet of taistela that would make Ruuda the preeminent naval power of the age. Meanwhile, in the city archives, scores of foreign and native-born scholars kept searching the records of the preceding six centuries for any clues they might contain about the nature of the Pale Remainder.

Throughout all this, anyone who questioned the wisdom of making plans and preparations so publicly was wise to keep their doubts to themselves. "I heard this day a stranger in a tavern say that an expedition alone was insufficient, and that Ruuda should have its goal to plant a colony where now stands Bell Prison," J.'s Maatenala grumbled in his diary. "In answer came only cheers, which did quickly become a brawl as one ginger-haired drunkard asked why Bell Prison, and not Vaarda?"

Everyone took 1110's early spring as a good omen---everyone, that is, except U.'s Yrjö. An early spring meant stronger storms; it could also push the Ocean's major clockwise current closer to the mainland, and (most worryingly) closer to Sullair. His captains proposed route after route, each basing gar arguments on the maps that suited gen most. "I have as more need an ælfwif than navigators," he confessed in a private letter to Perguuran, groaning aloud and tearing at his hair when the city's constabulary showed up at the docks the next morning with a double dozen such fortune tellers for him to choose from.

At last the day came: Peridot 9, YS 1110. Each ship carried a crew of one hundred and twenty, eighty marines, and thirty horses, plus tons of supplies: salted fish and hard cheese, cured apples brought in by the barrelful from Derway, linen for bandages, a forge complete with a ton of charcoal, timbers for making repairs, and of course, a skenren lans. Each towed a single-masted cutter capable of carrying fourteen gens, which was to be used for reconnaissance, and for travel between ship and shore. Each also had four oared longboats, a single catapult, and two heavy ballistae capable of throwing an iron-headed quarrel weighing twenty lard more than a gallop (though with middling accuracy).

With drums pounding and pipes skirling, the three ships' crews marched on board. Resplendent in spotless white uniforms at the bow of the Sun's Vengeance, U.'s Yrjö and his staff gravely returned the salutes of the Debaters and citizens who had crowded onto the docks (which a forward-thinking harbormaster had reinforced over the winter for exactly this moment). Heaving at their oars, the harbor yardies in their sculls pulled the ships one by one into the main current of the Kypsyva, which carried them slowly to the Ocean. The First Expedition was under way.

[11] One of the three later became a seaman, and was reportedly spared from slavery by Bantangui pirates when they learned that he had been named after a ship.

12:42 pm
What I Do Instead of Writing
  1. Throw out most of the stuff on two sets of shelves in the basement and reorganize a third.
  2. Put together lecture notes and an assignment for a course.
  3. Pick applications for half of those students in the course to write about.  (They were supposed to do this themselves; most didn't.)
  4. Groceries at St. Lawrence Market and Loblaws.
  5. Learn how to be a good labor coach.  Well, the theory of it, anyway; the practice is yet to come.
  6. Set up a computer for my father-in-law.
  7. Read over a hundred and fifty email messages, and send approximately sixty replies.
  8. Read my grad students' biographies (and pester the ones who haven't submitted theirs yet).
  9. Write a few posts on my technical blog.
  10. Add brief descriptions of some of my favorite albums to my recommended reading list.
  11. Added a few final [sic] notes to the professional master's proposal.
  12. Played a dozen games of chess online (lost most).
  13. Played about the same number of games of GalCon (ditto).
  14. Read the first hundred and twenty pages of A Darkling Plain (thanks, Freddie).
  15. Took Sadie breakfast in bed.
  16. Watched The Mexican (flawed but enjoyable).
  17. Set up a debriefing with the undergrads who went to this year's CUSEC.

And no fiction... My two-week sprint at Christmas reminded me how much enjoy it, and how hard it is to be productive when I'm not writing daily.  If I'd manage to stick to schedule, the First Expedition would be on the bottom of the ocean by now, and Ruuda would be embroiled in the conquest of Upuliaq.  Realistically, with our daughter due in less than eight weeks, it could be this time next year, or never, before the crew of the Unshadowed Land meet the languid, lethal nobility of Thind, with their silver masks and subtle poisons, and 2009 before the survivors of the attack on Bell Prison run aground in the Sleepless Lands.  Oh well...
Saturday, January 13th, 2007
12:19 pm
The First Expedtion (Part 4)

The trial began two days later. In accordance with the rules of procedure passed by the Second Debate---the most liberal in all of Cherne---neither the accused nor his accusers were put to the nightmare beforehand. In addition, both sides were allowed free access to all of Ruuda's laws: in the absence of an established nobility (and in the face of bitter opposition from those who wished to take on that role), the Second Debate had also decided against Regimental-style rental of laws.

The confusion and contradiction of the proceedings highlighted the immature state of Ruuda's young judicial system. K.'s Taavi argued that he had followed orders by bringing the Sun's Vengeance into harbor at night. He had not put armed marines on the ship's deck, "...for what purpose one may only surmise," he added darkly, alluding to the claims flying through the streets that U.'s Yrjö had been organizing a mutiny, or (more preposterous still) planning to steal the Sun's Vengeance and raise the red flag of piracy.

Ah, came the response, but if his excuse was that he was only following orders, then was he not acknowledging that U.'s Yrjö was in fact his commander, even when the ship was under way? In which case, was not his earlier mutiny the incident's true cause? But then, if U.'s Yrjö was in fact K.'s Taavi's commander, then the apprentices' deaths were his fault after all, were they not?

At this point, three days into the proceedings, the hapless judge [9] suspended the trial. "As public order is put at risk by these proceedings," he wrote:

...and as both parties have evidenced the essential weakness of their arguments by stooping to the indignity of rhetorical questioning, this matter shall be placed in abeyance until the laws pertaining thereunto shall be clarified.

In effect, the judge had ruled that the Recurrent Debate (as Ruuda-in-Ruuda's governing body now styled itself) would have to decide what exactly what division of powers it had intended. Since the Debate had already recessed for the long Ruudian winter, that left K.'s Taavi, U.'s Yrjö, and their respective supporters in limbo for five months.

They were the busiest of Perguuran's life. All his political credit was in the holds of the Sun's Vengeance and her sister ships; if the expedition sank (physically or metaphorically), so would his career. He therefore spent the winter in a virtuoso whirlwind of lobbying, cajoling, threatening, blustering, begging, and bargaining. He tightened his grip on the capitol's chapter of Pure Light, which in effect became little more than a mount for his political will. With that secure, he temporarily set aside its longstanding opposition to Vaardian autonomy in exchange for its delegation's support for a military academy on Regimental lines. None but the naive were surprised when U.'s Yrjö was appointed its first superintendent, a post which automatically gave him a lectern in the Debate.

The fifth session of Ruuda's Recurrent Debate opened on Peridot 7, 1109, a rainy, wind-lashed Redsday. With the cries of fishmongers faintly audible in the distance, two hundred and seventy three [10] solemn gens ascended the Sunlit Steps and entered the country's newly refurbished debating chamber for the first time. Once a theater, it still smelled of the pine scaffolding that had been cleared away the night before.

Wearing a pure white wool coat and kilt, knee-high leather boots polished to a mirror-like gleam, and a rich bearskin cloak, A.'s Perguuran took his place at the principal lectern and welcomed the assembled debaters. His opening speech was rousing, and occasionally ribald; several of those present recorded in diaries that while he didn't actually say anything, he did so in great style.

He most particularly didn't say anything about resuming the trial of K.'s Taavi, because by this point there was no need. A month before, three seagens had risen in front of a carefully picked judge and testified that their vessels had been attacked by the Circular Key between YS 1093 and 1095. The ship's name was important: she had been K.'s Taavi's. So too was the fact that the attacks had happened after the start of the Fifth Rebellion, when (according to the judge) "...all patriotic persons should have felt a duty to rally to the cause of the living." A literal interpretation of that ruling would make most Ruudians over the age of thirty traitors, but that was unimportant: all that mattered was that it made K.'s Taavi a pirate in the eyes of the law.

"A captain's first responsibility is to give orders," K.'s Taavi wrote in a letter published later. "Gar second is to know which way the wind is blowing, and stay off the rocks." No warrant had yet been issued for him, but it would clearly not be long in coming. Some time in Chrysoprase, he slipped out of the city on board a west-bound laiva to return to the village of his birth. Wisely, A.'s Perguuran did not pursue, or even proclaim that where there was flight, there must be guilt. With the expedition firmly back under his control, he could afford to be magnanimous.

[9] The Ld. Jaarko Villems, who was no doubt aware that he had been chosen in part because his mixed ancestry would allow either side to dress him as a villain. Nearly bankrupt in the wake of the trial, and unable to find other cases to try, Villems left Ruuda-in-Ruuda for Derway, where, more than thirty years later, he was was arrested for urinating on the dock where the Unshadowed Land was berthed.

[10] Three hundred and seven were supposed to be there, but several debaters from outlying islands and mountain maatilaso had been delayed by bad weather. Several of these later paid to have themselves added to official portraits of the Debate's first session.

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