Four years ago, Analog Magazine readers had the chance to read my thoughts as to what it’s like to serve as an election officer or poll worker or judge helping to make democracy in the United States run smoothly. Today I am pleased to say that Analog has posted my guest editorial on its blog for free. I’ve also added a quickie update as to what’s changed since 2016 and what hasn’t. This topic is near and dear to my heart as I spent over 25 years as an election lawyer. Hope you’ll have a look at my thought, maybe even while you are in line to vote.
Calling all cat lovers: Who doesn’t need a wonderful drawing of a sabertooth in honor of National Fossil Day 2016? Today! The official name is Smilodon fatalis, and it’s not the only feline hunter of the Pleistocene. There were also thoroughly scary prehistoric versions of lions, cougars, jaguars, lynx, and cheetahs in bygone eras. Just look at those seven-inch teeth. This is 600 pounds of predator.
Here’s a Smilodon fossil skull from the famous La Brea Tar Pits.
For more about National Fossil Day and fossils discovered in the United States, have a look here.
Hey look–Stan Schmidt (former Analog editor and author), Trevor Quachri (current Analog editor), Alec Nevala-Lee (Analog author) and me at MidAmeriCon 2. Stan, Alec and I read stories from our stories in recent and forthcoming issues of Analog. Also participating but eluding the cameras was long-time Analog writer James Van Pelt. My thanks go to Trevor for moderating the panel and to my fellow writers for such entertaining readings.
I have to say that I was a bit dubious when I saw that those in charge of convention programming had organized several of the author readings by the various magazines in which their stories had been published. Well, I sure changed my mind in this case. The room was packed and people had some interesting questions.
THIS. We all need to work to put an end to accessibility fails.
I spent most of last week up in Saratoga Springs, NY, for the 2015 World Fantasy Convention. As those of you who follow me on Twitter know, it was….interesting.
I was scheduled to be on two panels, one Friday and one Saturday, and one reading on Friday – my very first World Fantasy panels/reading. I rolled up to my 1 PM Friday panel on Epic Fantasy properly caffeinated and chatted briefly with various people as we waited for the doors to open. The doors opened, people poured out, I rolled in and headed towards the stage –
And felt my heart sink.
The panel had a stage for the panelists.
That stage did not have a ramp.
I use a wheelchair.
I had a brief discussion with an Ops person, who had not been advised that I use a wheelchair, and with Stephen Donaldson, the panel moderator. (Brief largely…
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Now that many of us in the United States have taken some time to remember the tragic events of September 11th, we should turn to another significant, but lesser known, date: September 17. Today is the day established by law to commemorate the United States Constitution. That’s well worth a few minutes to pause and reflect, don’t you think? I mean it is the road map that has guided Americans for generations as we navigate the tricky highways and byways of democracy, as we find ourselves in seemingly unfamiliar territory. It has also served as a model for newborn democracies around the globe.
I’m not saying our Constitution is the best possible. Sure, it can be improved upon. But I am saying that it’s well worth reading, or rereading, the thing. You don’t have to be a Constitutional scholar to do so. Plus, there’s a lot of interesting stuff after that preamble, which you might have already memorized in school.
What’s that you say? Too long? Too boring? Too nerdy? Stuff and nonsense. It’ll scarcely take any more time than reading a short story or news article. Besides, you’re already hanging out on social media or perusing blog posts, and this is the document that establishes our government, with its powers and duties. It also sets forth our individual rights. So here you go.
And for those looking for a smart phone app:
On Tuesday, I’ll arrive at my local elementary school before 5 a.m., which is a major undertaking for a morning-challenged person. Since I’ll be on my feet for significant stretches with very little time for breaks, I’ll bring along a spare pair of comfortable shoes, caffeine, lunch, and snacks. I’ll help set up the voting machines and electronic poll books, put up signs, etc. Everything must be ready for those morning people who will be waiting in line when the polls open. I’ll spend twelve hours checking people in to vote, answering questions, directing people to the next available voting machine, handing out I VOTED stickers, and such. When the last voters have left after 7 p.m., I’ll remain on the job with the other election officers to verify vote tallies for every race and bond referendum, shut down and seal the equipment, and pack up. The last time I did all this, the only time I saw the sun that day was when I assisted in bringing the portable voting machine outside to the curb so that a mobility-impaired driver could vote.
I volunteer to serve as an Election Officer at nominal pay for several reasons, chief among them is my belief in the virtues of our democratic form of government. Sometimes we Americans take it for granted, looking at voting as yet another on the ever-lengthening list of things to cram into a work day. I find that attitude both reassuring and alarming. It’s alarming in that it can and does lead to low turnout, reduced personal investment in our democratic institutions, and correspondingly lower support for elected officials who are trying to do what they believe is best for people. It’s reassuring in that our electoral system is so entrenched over so many generations that we have the luxury of not thinking much about it because it’ll just be there for most of us. But I can never think this way, not after checking in 18-year-old first time voters or handing an I VOTED sticker to a woman older than me who lived most of her life under Soviet rule and only just became an American citizen in 2012.
Actually, so many people worldwide have no meaningful ability to participate in the selection of their leaders. And when democracy does come to a nation for the first time, it isn’t easy or automatic. We take our fancy electronic voting machines, many with touch screens, for granted. In fact, we’re indignant if we don’t have new, perfectly working equipment, and enough of it to reduce the wait. We also take for granted our ability to move about easily and get to the polling place, or to send in an absentee ballot. It isn’t like this everywhere. There are many, many places where the obstacles to voting include the lack of electricity, poor transportation, and no tradition of peacefully and safely casting secret ballots. The least we can do, and I mean all of us, is to show the rest of the world that we value our precious democratic ability to vote.
Plus there is more that we can do. Counties, cities and other local governments are frequently short-handed when it comes to Election Officers. If your situation is such that you can take election day to serve your community in this capacity, I urge you to consider doing so next time around.
Yesterday evening at 6:22 p.m., my husband and I were outside enjoying the lovely fall weather as we waited to see the Antares rocket rise in the southeastern sky, bringing the ORB-3 resupply ship to the International Space Station. As we followed the count-down via my cell phone, our concerns were, in retrospect, trivial. We noted that we might not have a terribly good view, given the amount of light in the sky and the scattering of clouds. After so many years of watching space missions, going back to the days of the grainy black-and-white images accompanied by static-filled audio, I still get excited by our accomplishments in space.
Alas, yesterday evening was not a time for excitement or achievements. Six seconds after launch, there came the explosion.
With it came a reminder that human exploration is now—and always has been—a risky endeavor. Thankfully, this particular setback did not involve loss of life. When I think about the current age of space exploration in which we live, I am always reminded of the hundreds and thousands of years that we humans have sought to explore our world—every continent, the mountains and deserts, the seas, the depths of the ocean. Those expeditions formed the foundation for our own efforts to send out spacecraft to the moon, other planets, and deep space. When the outriggers and sailing vessels, and dog sleds, and other small expeditions set forth in centuries past, those back home waited months or years for word from them. Sometimes there was no word, no painstaking post mortem analysis of lessons learned. And yet, they went on. They tried again. As people do. As we always will.
Some years ago, Analog published my story, Birch Glow, about glow-in-the-dark Christmas trees. The premise of the story was that the enzyme luciferase would be taken from fireflies and injected into trees so that nobody would ever have to festoon their Christmas trees with strings of lights.
Little did I know that luciferase is found elsewhere in nature, including in a species of mushroom known as Omphalotus illudens. Because it’s bright orange, it’s also called the jack-o’lantern mushroom. Nor did I suspect that I would find big clumps of these orange mushrooms growing on the wooded hillside behind my house.
So here’s what they look like in the wild in the afternoon. And in the dark, when you look at the underside of the mushroom, they say that its “gills” glow a striking dark green. Or maybe not, in the case of the ones I found.
Oh one more thing — as lovely as they are to look at, they are poisonous. While they may not out-and-out kill you, they’re said to induce symptoms that will make you wish they had done so.
Today, I’ve just about completed the casting for the dinosaurs starring in a new story set in the Jurassic. The competition for a role in my story was tough, as I’ve said “sorry, no” to Allosaurus, and Stegosaurus, and the entire herd of Apatosaurs. I mean, impressive as they are, haven’t we all seen these guys enough already?
Besides, some fresh-faced discoveries are coming from China, and are they ever strutting their feathers. For example, Anchiornis huxleyi showed up for the audition sporting long black and white feathers on all four limbs, rather like a mutant chicken. Next, little Epidexipterxy hui, dropped out of the trees and wowed me with a set of upper and lower fangs that any vampire would envy. Even the modest little ornithopods are more than they seem. Naturally, one can never discount Juramaia sinensis, the mammal that just might steal the show.
In other words, I’ve been doing research. But don’t suppose that means the next step will be plotting, to be followed by writing. No indeed. I had already sketched out six scenes and written 5000 words before most of the non-human cast arrived. You see, when I’m enthusiastic about a project, I start writing as soon as any characters or critters start doing interesting stuff. Put another way, just as character and plot are intrinsically intertwined, I find that so are researching, plotting, and writing.
Did you know that today marks the 50th anniversary of the first space flight by a woman? She was Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova. She orbited the Earth for three days, and that was a good twenty years before NASA sent Sally Ride into space.
Did you know that the second woman in space was Svetlana Savitskaya? In 1984 she became the first woman to “walk in space,” or more technically, to conduct extravehicular activity.
OK, so I’m guessing most of you reading my blog do know that Sally Ride was the first American woman to venture into space, as well as the third woman. But lest we suppose women’s astronautical achievements ended with her, consider that Peggy Whitson spent more time than any other woman on the International Space Station – over 376 days spread over two trips! She was also the first woman to command the International Space Station, and by no means the only woman to take a leadership role in the space program. Eileen Collins was the first woman space shuttle commander.
In closing, I’ll leave you with a link to this wonderful photo of Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, Stephanie Wilson, Tracy Caldwell and Naoko Yamazaki aboard the aboard the International Space Station.