mckitterick: The ale tasting at the 2009 Kansas City Renaissance Festival. (RenFaire Chris)
( Jul. 4th, 2032 11:36 am)
Welcome to my blog. I've been doing this for a long time, so if you're new here, you might want to start with my bio and tags. I confess that these days, I spend most of my social-network time on Tumblr (because it's the most-positive place on the internets!) and Facebook (because that's where everyone is), so drop by one of those if you'd like to hang out.

Looking for my personal website?

You can also find me on:
        Academia.edu
        Dreamwidth
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        The Internet Speculative Fiction Database
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Almost all my posts are public. I hope you enjoy!
Chris

For the few old-school Internet die-hards still on LiveJournal, I share this from [personal profile] clevermanka's Clevermanka.net blog:

LJ's new user agreement is a giant crock of shit and what you sign might not even be the actual agreement. The language of the English version says “this translation of the User Agreement is not a legally binding document. The original User Agreement, which is valid, is located at the following address: http://www.livejournal.com/legal/tos-ru.bml.” Which is, conveniently, not in English so who knows what you’re actually signing.

So I'll be deleting my LJ soon. Sadly. Man, all those years of journalling... At least DW is kind enough to let us back up our LJs.

If you want to stay connected in the New Home for LJ (aka Dreamwidth), connect with me via my [personal profile] mckitterick Dreamwidth blog (this is x-posting to LJ, so if you're reading this here on DW, hello!).

Best,
Chris

As with most LJ users outside Russia, I've set up a Dreamwidth account that mirrors this LJ account, which is soon to go away unless LJ changes its onerous user agreement. Plus, not sure if LJ will survive. So....

This is me on Dreamwidth: McKitterick

Follow me over there and I'll follow back so we an rebuild this (rather small now) community! Nevertheless, these days I primarily post on these social networks:
Best,
Chris

This post couldn't have appeared on my Tumblr dash at a better-timed moment:


…because I’m working on a question someone posed during Karen Joy Fowler’s KU talk last week on feminism in SF and the James Tiptree, Jr. Literary Award. The question was why does the supposed literature of change appear - at least from the outside - to be conservative or non-imaginative in its projections of the future, especially in terms of gender, class, and so forth compared to the literary mainstream.

That’s a fair and interesting question. I mean, if you’re aware of the Sad and Rabid Puppies and what they’ve been trying to do to science fiction, particularly the Hugo Award, and not an avid reader or scholar of SF, you’re unlikely to know the best that the field has to offer is much more diverse and socially progressive than what you typically see in movie theaters or on best-seller shelves.

But I also think it’s a flawed premise, because you can’t pick the best of any other genre (say, the college-literary-journal genre) and compare that to the worst of another (in this case, SF).

The first part of my answer to the question is, if science fiction is, as Sir Arthur C. Clarke repeatedly said, “the only realistic fiction,” that’s in part because of his love for what SF can do, and in part because its practitioners are held to a (often ridiculously) high level of realism, necessary for maintaining the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief - while at the same time developing alien or future or worlds otherwise  utterly different from our own. I mean, I’m working on a story right now where the editor’s only revision request revolves around working out the punishingly challenging math of some new physics I’ve proposed (for Analog SF magazine, naturally). Why? Because we can’t have the highly educated audience being distracted from the main drive of my story (how poisonous traditions and sense of communal honor combined with conflict can lead to tragedy) by faults in the reality of this future alien world-building.

It’s a real challenge to create, for example, an anarchist utopia populated by humans that’s believable (though I was deeply influenced by Le Guin's The Dispossessed). But it’s easy to write yet another dystopian future, because so much of human history provides examples of the horrors humans bring upon the world. It’s not difficult to imagine a future with increasing power differentials between rich and poor, and the power of our technologies suggests that the world is more likely to look like a gritty cyberpunk vision than a Kim Stanley Robinson future.

One of the drivers of my series of Jupiter stories (which will accumulate into an eventual novel) is that I wanted to experiment with how we as a species could evolve human civilization beyond capitalism (at least as practiced today in our culture) to an egalitarian, socialist society - and to transition in a natural and realistic way, co-existing within a broader capitalist society.

The best answer to this question is to refer the questioner to Sturgeon’s Law. Theodore Sturgeon (known for his urging everyone to “Ask the next question” - his signature included a stylized Q with an arrow through it; more here if you’d like to see his essay on this) had grown weary of defending speculative fiction for so many years and pointed out that SF was the only genre evaluated by its worst examples rather than its best.

“When people talk about the mystery novel,” he said at the World Science Fiction Convention in Philadelphia in 1953, “they mention The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep. When they talk about the western, they say there’s The Way West and Shane. But when they talk about science fiction, they call it ‘that Buck Rogers stuff,’ and they say ‘ninety percent of science fiction is crud.’

“Well, they’re right. Ninety percent of science fiction is crud. But then ninety percent of everything is crud, and it’s the ten percent that isn’t crud that is important. And the ten percent of science fiction that isn’t crud is as good as or better than anything being written anywhere.”

SF authors are and have been for a long time addressing progressive social concerns right now. I could point to some of the biggest contemporary names, such as Margaret Atwood, Paolo Bacigalupi, Elizabeth Bear, Cory Doctorow, Ann Leckie, Ian McDonald, Seanen McGuire, Linda Nagata, Nnedi Okorafor, Kim Stanley Robinson, and a thousand others who might not be published through major presses but which, nonetheless, have a major impact on the genre.

I posed these thoughts on my Tumblr blog and my private SF-workshop alumni group, who quickly engaged in vigorous discussion of the topic. A few very smart insights from their responses:

A theater-program director and author added more authors to my abbreviated list: Daniel Jose Older, Malka Older, Nisi Shawl, Octavia Butler, Ursula Le Guin, Amal El-Mohtar, Ted Chiang, Delia Sherman, Ellen Kushner, Sarah Pinsker, China Mieville, and Samuel Delany. We could go on for days, but that list, alone, is solid argument against the notion that progressive-change-oriented SF isn’t being written or published.

The Tumblr blogger @saffronhare​ says, “I’m commenting here not as a literary scholar or even as a person who reads a wide variety of SF, but I am a professional communicator. Part of what I think happens is that storytellers bring an audience through certain levels of agreement and acceptance in the process of world-building. Before we can get a person to believe in what a better future could look like, there is the work of getting that person to agree on the extreme effed-up-ness of things.” Great point! I suspect this is a major reason we see so many more dystopias than utopias.

A former NASA geologist and professor (now SF author) adds, "many of these stories are indeed being written. They just can't get published. Many of the stories appearing in mainstream lit are in fact written by self-proclaimed SF folk that couldn't get their stuff published by the supposed SF publishers." This suggests that the age-old problem of publishing's conservatism is part of the problem, rather than the genre-mindset itself.

The author who blogs under @copperbadge sent a link to this fantastic piece on the subject, addressing the importance of empathy in SF, and “meditating on why so many scifi writers appear to be so conservative.” From near the conclusion (my bolding):

“You can’t control the future. There are too many variables. And if you can’t control the future, but you desperately want to, the next instinctive, illogical step is to prevent it from happening. Keep things the way they are. Maintain the status quo and you don’t have to worry. Ray Bradbury likened social justice to censorship, and was violently opposed to his book about censorship being turned into an e-book that literally could not be burned. Orson Scott Card is terrified that legalising gay marriage is going to screw up the social fabric of the entire country, despite the fact that gay people were happily cohabitating with each other long before he was born and will be long after he is dead. Science fiction writers don’t automatically want to see the future. Some want to script it. Some think the only way to do that is to prevent it from happening.” A great read!

Along those lines, I’d like to share a book that does strive to provide visions of a positive future: Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future (I mean, it’s even in the title), put together by Kathryn Cramer and Ed Finn, the founding director of the Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University, which provides great support for their SF center (and one of members of our new International Science Fiction Consortium). That project proves it’s possible to write excellent future-leaning SF that isn’t dystopian.

Another alum wrote, "One of the problems is the intersection between forward-thinking literature and experimental literature. Often the best examples of literature of change are the least accessible. Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice was a tough read for me. Because I've lived my life in a society mostly dominated by men, but making space in language for women, reading her book with the default of female pronouns was difficult. [...] I presumed that the most exciting literature of change, the most progressive in the genre, would not be best-sellers. Then I looked up Ancillary Justice and Slaughterhouse Five. Both were best-sellers. [...] When the majority of writers are the ones in positions of privilege (who list no women writers or writers of color as influences on their work), we are not going to see as much writing exploring gender, race, class, etc."

This last observation points to the problem rests on societal issues rather than the genre. In fact, the genre has often been the first to call out those very problems: How often do we use “Orwellian” these days? Or refer to Fahrenheit 451? Or any of the vast back-catalog of speculative fiction which has shaped how we view not only the future but also the world we live in? We cannot accurately predict which of our contemporary works will endure the test of time, or shape the future.

Back to the original question: Why does SF so often appear to not address (especially in utopian ways) progressive social change? Partly it’s because it’s really tough to create realistic worlds that demonstrate such change, partly because humans are kind of terrible. But largely it’s because, like anything humans do, 90% of it is crud. And unless you’re deeply involved in any genre, you only encounter the best work by accident.

I believe it’s safe to say that SF doesn’t shy away from the tough questions, the big criticisms, or exploring all aspects of change. It is the literature of the human species encountering change.

In "How America's Leading Science Fiction Authors Are Shaping Your Future" (May 2014 Smithsonian), author Eileen Gunn writes, "Science fiction, at its best, engenders the sort of flexible thinking that not only inspires us, but compels us to consider the myriad potential consequences of our actions. Samuel R. Delaney, one of the most wide-ranging and masterful writers in the field, sees it as a countermeasure to the future shock that will become more intense with the passing years. 'The variety of worlds science fiction accustoms us to, through imagination, is training for thinking about the actual changes - sometimes catastrophic, often confusing - that the real world funnels at us year after year. It helps us avoid feeling quite so gob-smacked.'"

She quotes MIT professor and engineer Sophia Brueckner, who "laments that researchers whose work deals with emerging technologies are often unfamiliar with science fiction: 'With the development of new biotech and genetic engineering, you see authors like Margaret Atwood writing about dystopian worlds centered on those technologies. Authors have explored these exact topics in incredible depth for decades, and I feel reading their writing can be just as important as reading research papers.'"

In her speech at the National Book Awards, when she was awarded the 2014 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, Ursula K. Le Guin said, "Hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries, the realists of a larger reality."

This is what science fiction does, and why it has remained at the center of my life for as long as I’ve been a self-aware being. And why I made it the Gunn Center’s mission to “Save the World Through Science Fiction!”

Now that I feel this is complete enough to blog here, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this discussion, as well!
 

Next Tuesday, March 14, Karen Joy Fowler speaks at the University of Kansas:

Exploring and Expanding Gender in Speculative Fiction: The Tiptree Award at 25.”

The Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction and the University of Kansas Department of English are delighted to bring world-renowned author Karen Joy Fowler to KU to offer this year’s Richard W. Gunn Lecture, “Exploring and Expanding Gender in Speculative Fiction: The Tiptree Award at 25.”

Karen Joy Fowler is the author of author of six novels and three short story collections. Her most recent novel, WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES, won the 2013 PEN/Faulkner, the California Book Award, and was shortlisted for the Man Booker in 2014. She has won the Nebula and World Fantasy awards, and this year she will be the Guest of Honor at World Fantasy in San Antonio.

Among her many achievements, Fowler co-founded the James Tiptree, Jr. Literary Award, first announced at the 1991 WisCon, the world’s only feminist-oriented science fiction convention. For 25 years, the Tiptree prize has been awarded annually to a work of science fiction or fantasy that contemplates shifts in gender roles in ways that are particularly thought-provoking, imaginative, and perhaps even infuriating. The lecture will provide an extraordinary opportunity to hear from a pioneer thinker about the relation between feminism, gender, and speculative fiction, from one of the most important and accomplished writers working in the field today.

She lives in Santa Cruz, California where she is currently pretending to write a new book.

Facebook event page.

The event is free and open to the public.

When:
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
7:00pm  - 8:00pm

Where:
Jayhawk Room
Kansas Memorial Union
University of Kansas campus
Lawrence, KS 66045

Cost:
Free

Everyone is welcome!

mckitterick: (Galaxy Magazine cover)
( Feb. 24th, 2017 10:16 am)

I have so many thoughts on this article, “Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds,” how changing our minds is vital to human survival, and some suggestions for how to achieve change.

* In my teaching and personal conversations, I repeatedly stress that the most important lesson anyone who wishes to become a better writer (or artist, or teacher, or scholar, or partner, or friend, or human being, or...) can learn is to work on developing one's empathy, on being able to see outside one's point of view. To follow the scientific method in everything we do.

* That means becoming less selfish, less self-centered. If, as this article argues, our form of "reason" evolved from the need to not be taken advantage of by others in our civilization, we need to evolve our minds beyond this inherent self-centeredness. Technologies like capitalizm reinforce it to such an extent that, combined with our primitive fears, bigotry, misogyny, and xenophobia - plus military, biological, computer, and other technologies - puts us on a perilous path toward self-annihilation.

* We need to admit we're wrong more often. Especially when faced with evidence that undermines our unexamined beliefs.

* More evidence that human intelligence is hella flawed.

* Evidence for where bigotry comes from.

* More reasons to worry that human civilization is doomed.

* This study also reinforces the importance of being a polymath, or at least of studying outside one's limited expertise, working across disciplines, and getting to know and understand a broad diversity of people who are also interested in expanding their POV.

* And, of course, it explains why reality has a "liberal bias" - progressive-minded people actively strive to see outside of their limited POV (at least they should if they want to call themselves good liberals or good progressives). Encounter a fact that counters what you used to believe? Well, if you seek human progress, that means you need to grow your POV to encompass this new information.

* Closed-minded people (extremist conservatives, extremist liberals - anyone unwilling to embrace a new POV or facts that counter their established beliefs) will ultimately be left in the dust... or reduce civilization to dust. Change is vital to the long-term survival of any species, especially one that is capable of utterly transforming its environment, as we do. If we cannot change, we'll perish. And - in reference to yesterday's post about how the Earth is going to try to throw us off in very short order - we better get right on that. Or we'll all be dwelling in the flooded rubble of our collapsed civilizations.

The question becomes: How do we create a fundamental shift in our social relations where listening to others is valued higher than winning arguments or disagreements? Where logic and the greater well-being of our people is valued over individual wealth or power? Where we are taught to exercise literal reason from an early age? Where we are taught from childhood to see the world from others' POVs, to embrace diverse thinking, to not fear the Other, to welcome those outside our tribal associations, to put the good of the species and our habitat above short-term acquisition?

These are huge – perhaps insurmountable – challenges. These shifts in perspective do not appear innate to the human mind. But, now that we've achieved a level of technological advancement that threatens our very survival, these changes are necessary.

Short of a YA-fiction-style apocalypse that wipes the slate clean, how do we get there from here?

The solution might not be as challenging as trying to transform the very basis of human civilization to something that feels too akin to socialism. Perhaps all we need to do is teach the scientific method. Actually teach it, from the very earliest moments when reason begins to appear in the child's mind. That's when we begin to shape our perspective on the world. Children are full of wonder, full of questions. When adults give kids unsupported information, they're passing on a mental disease.

But when we encourage them to explore the question to "Ask the next question" per Theodore Sturgeon's rule, we might be able to transform human reason into something useful, something non-destructive. We might transform humankind into a species that might be welcome into a galactic civilization, if such a thing exists. (Because you know any intelligent aliens would stay the hell away from a species as primitive-minded as ourselves, one willing to destroy itself in order to sustain its worst aspects out of fear and selfishness.)

Changing the adult mind in such a radical way is possible - I've seen it happen in my classes! - but way challenging, and requires dedication and effort on behalf of mentor and changee alike. But positively shaping children's minds in these ways from a very young age is far simpler. And ought to be the purpose of parenthood, anyhow.

The Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction's motto and mission is, "Save the world through science fiction." I've given a couple of keynote addresses recently, both of which centered around the notion that we all need to think like science-fiction writers. And that means thinking like good scientists. And that means using the scientific method in everything we do. The only way to do something better is to eliminate the flaws in our actions and our reasoning. The way to do that is to incorporate new information and new points of view into our understanding of the world and of ourselves.

We can do this. It'll take at least another generation of people who are dedicated to the hard work of changing our entire way of thinking, of raising a new generation of people who are better than we are. But we can do it.

It's imperative that we do. We owe it to our children. We owe them a world of possibilities limited only by their imaginations. We owe them a future.

- Chris
 


For decades, Christofascists and and other far-right extremist conspirators have been training and indoctrinating children to take over our secular institutions. (If that term is new to you - as it was when I woke up this morning - check out this wiki article about the totalitarian and imperialistic movement. tldr: The Christian parallel to al Qaeda.)

Most of us have heard of the “Quiverfull” and similar extremist movements before, people who are trying to overwhelm the nation through rapid breeding and homeschooling, but had no idea just how common such radicals are, nor how effective their training, until after meeting a growing number of escapees from that system in my classes.

This leads me to this article: “I Was Trained for the Culture Wars in Home School, Awaiting Someone Like Mike Pence as a Messiah.”

The article, written by a woman who escaped the brainwashing, tells the horrifying tale of how this nation has come to the precipice over which we now stand shaky and about to fall. These cryptofascist "Christian" extremists have been methodically indoctrinating and training their rapidly growing agents - innocent children - in the tools and weapons of government to make them more effective combatants in political warfare. The most well-known example I can think of is the Phelps family, which was ruled by a dictatorial father who created an army of philosophically violent lawyers by using these strategies to train his children to use otherwise-reasonable rules against the very systems that operate on them.

Excerpts from someone who intimately knows the movement:

“They see Election 2016 as their moment. Pence, with his proven track record of legalizing discrimination and acting against women and marginalized people, is in the White House. The Right has given the tyrant Trump power and fame; he will do whatever they want in order to keep it. This way they can sneak Pence in on a piggyback while filling Congress with even more evangelical conservative Republicans

“Evangelical conservatives are convinced that their agenda will save the country from God-ordained death. Pat Robertson and many others believe that natural disasters are sent from God specifically to punish America for letting marginalized people have rights and be alive. This motivates them to do everything in their power to “save” the country from the ungodly – even, maybe especially – if it involves stripping others of the freedoms they deem to be against God’s wishes. They don’t care if their war for Christ hurts humans they see as living wrongfully, because they are capital “R” Right and that’s what matters. Their Rightness, they believe, comes from God Himself. Their beliefs are callous and without empathy, prioritizing dogma over people. These beliefs are dangerous. Many of us who have come out as queer, trans, or even merely gone to college, have lost family because of this worldview. A single powerful person who is convinced of their own Rightness with no thought of introspection is dangerous. We now have a government full of them.”

With the election of the Trump administration, Christofascists have begun their coup in earnest:

When the “Senate Confirmed Dangerous Christian Extremist Mike Pompeo as CIA Director,” we see how the administration installed someone who believes the US is at war with Islam as the head of our intelligence services.

Betsy DeVos and God’s Plan for Schools” describes how she plans to use school vouchers to strip funding of public schools and support religious training.

Trump’s top strategist, Stephen Bannon shares the vision of a threatened Christendom: “I believe the world, and particularly the Judeo-Christian West, is in a crisis,” he said in 2014. What crisis? “...of our church, a crisis of our faith, a crisis of the West, a crisis of capitalism.” Here’s an article worth reading to understand Bannon: “President Trump’s right-hand man Steve Bannon called for Christian holy war: Now he’s on the National Security Council.”

At the heart of the Christian far-right’s response to this imagined crisis is its “apocalyptic conviction that extreme measures are needed. There is nothing conservative about this agenda; it is radical. Gutting public education will be just the beginning.”

We need to stop them before it’s too late.

We’re in a fight for the survival of our democracy, but only one side seems aware that it’s at war. Right-wing extremists literally call this “the culture war,” and have spent generations preparing for this. The rest of us - the majority of this nation - must immediately organize to fight this existential threat. Moderates and the Left have been piss-poor organizers. We’re only just starting to figure out how to work together for an extended period.

There’s no time to prepare for this. We don’t have generations to train, as they did. The war has already begun. Flags should already be flying upside-down. As the utopian Culture in Iain Banks’ novels (which starts with Consider Phlebas) had to do when faced with religious extremism bent on war, all we can do is organize, defend our present freedoms, train for this form of battle, arm ourselves in the ways that Christofascists have spent generations building up ideological arsenals, and hold the line against aggression until the day we can realistically expect to start pushing them back.

If we are to save this democracy, and (because the US is still the world’s dominant military power) the Earth itself, we need to immediately stop wasting time and resources fighting ISIS and other daesh militants. They’re only a minor threat, and their only big PR victory in the US took place 16 years ago. You deal with small bands of criminals through police actions, not by mobilizing national militaries or stirring up primal fear of The Other. The only thing studying ISIS and daesh attacks has been useful for is as training to combat our real threat: home-grown Christofascism and far-right terrorism.

Make no mistake: As soon as they begin to lose, they’ll resort to terrorism, just as their Islamic brothers-in-philosophy have in the Middle East. The only reason the Christofascists’ attacks have been limited so far to small-scale murders like at Planned Parenthood clinics or Canadian mosques is that they’re winning.The winning side doesn’t need to use terrorist tactics. Their position as the dominant force, by itself, puts them into position to create all the terror they need to control the minds of the masses. And that puts them in de facto control of our nation.

In the same way that moderate Muslims are in the best position to fight Islamic extremism, moderate Christians - those who follow the words of Jesus - need to stand up to Christofascism. They’re on the inside, and the only way to change an institution (short of destroying it) is to clear out its toxic influences and work within the system to rebuild something healthier.

Fight Fascism in all its forms. Restore the separation of church and state. Restore and expand personal freedoms - and that must include children’s freedom from dangerous and destructive cryptofascist indoctrination and brainwashing. 

We’re in the midst of ideological war. The enemy doesn’t need to murder the entire US government (as in The Handmaid's Tale) to create the Republic of Gilead. 

They already are the US government.

Stand up. Speak out. Protest. Create change. And do it now, because time is running out.
mckitterick: Thanks for the art, M'chelle! (robot joy)
( Feb. 13th, 2017 08:14 pm)
My response to the original poster's call for "radical kindness":

"ultimately i think kindness is the most radical thing you can do with your pain and your anger. it’s like, you take everything awful that’s ever been done to you, and you throw it back in the world’s teeth, and you say no, fuck you, i’m not going to take this. you say this is unacceptable. you say that shit stops with me.

"humans are fucking terrible and this awful world we live in will fucking kill you but if you are kind, if you are brave and clever and try really hard, you can defy it. you can impose on this bleak and monstrous structure something beautiful. even if it’s temporary. even if it doesn’t heal anything inside you that’s been hurt.

"i’m gonna sleep and i’m gonna wake up and i swear by everything in this deadly horrible universe i’m gonna make someone happy."


This is why I’ve dedicated so much of my life to doing what I can to help make the world a little better for at least some people.

Because fuck you, world. You don’t get to ruin us! You don’t get to decide who we are when that’s not who we are! If you try to beat us down, we come back stronger and smarter, better able to avoid your next attack. We teach one another how to fight, how to survive and thrive. We work together to make the future a better place, because you can’t divide us. Not as long as we love and care for one another! Not as long as we try our best to empathize with those who also try to do the same with us.

Radical kindness wins when enough choose it. Choose love. Choose life. Be kind. Spread the word. Teach others.

But never surrender. Wherever you encounter it, fight the forces of evil, so we can survive long enough to win this war. So far, humans have always lost to the worst in us in the end: Fallen cities lay in our wake, beauty burned to ashes, freedom crushed to rubble, greed consuming nations, languages lost, civilizations evaporated in the heat and erosion of time, hate devouring the minds and lives of countless generations.

Choose to succeed. Failure is not an option. Fight for a better future by using the forceful power of love, unity, education, and discovery. Together we’ll win. Isolated and alone, helpless and hopeless, we’ll lose.

I finally did a little astrophotography again last night, experimenting with my new Meade LPI-G color Solar System imager. This is the best shot I could manage, though I took four long-ish videos (yes, it takes live vids!) that saved in a weird format I can’t figure out how to open or edit, so that’ll be later.

Talk about a series of challenges, though! I wanted to use my apo refractor, because those are optimal for bright objects like the Moon, but when I pulled it out, I remembered I’d swapped its mount for a much sturdier iOptron… and the seller still hasn’t sent me the new controller and cables to make that function (and the mount is now in use with my solar telescope). OK.

So I put that away and grabbed my handy-dandy 12″ Schmidt-Cassegrain. I’d forgotten that I’d taken it apart to install a big equatorial wedge (so it can better track the night sky), but discovered while trying to install it that the wedge expects a slightly different pattern of holes drilled (too old, perhaps?), so I’d loosely re-assembled it. So I had to reassemble it, then haul it out into the yard. It’s a big puppy, btw.

Anyhow. So now it was set up, and I plugged in the extension cord and power supply, got it aligned properly so it could track the stars, and set it to show the Moon. Handily, the mount tracks for crap, and the Moon slowly drifted across the field of view. Which was WAY too high-magnification (another reason I wanted to use the much-smaller refractor: Without an eyepiece, the focal length of a telescope and its focal-ratio determine the magnification of an object, and a 12″ f/10 SCT acts like a REALLY powerful telephoto lens.

So now I went inside to grab my f/6.3 focal reducer, almost halving the magnification, so the Moon only sort-of overfilled the field of view. Ready to go!

Next, I slid the little astro-camera into the eyepiece holder, plugged it into my laptop, and WOW! Live, streaming images from space! Except it still drifted across the field of view pretty quickly. *sigh* Well, at least Moon shots don’t need very long exposures, so you can get pretty sharp images even when the mount doesn’t properly track.

Forgot to mention it was frakkin’ COLD. What stopped me from continuing to take images or try to improve the mount’s tracking is that my fingers were getting too stiff to work properly.

Anyhow, here’s one of the shots I got. The neat software that comes with the camera has some nice processing tools that also allowed me to sharpen the image a bit:

I finally did a little astrophotography again last night, experimenting with my new Meade LPI-G color Solar System imager. This is the best shot I could manage, though I took four long-ish videos (yes, it takes live vids!) that saved in a weird...

Oh, and despite the ridiculousness of trying to take a deep-sky photo through a telescope on a problematic drive on a moonlit night, I also tried my hand at photographing the Great Orion Nebula. I think this little camera will be AWESOME once I get to use it on a properly footed telescope. Check it out!

image

The Moon shot, at least, is not too bad for my first time doing astrophotography in years, and the nebula shot shows great promise, especially considering I took this through a telescope that wasn’t tracking correctly while freezing to death and using new software I don’t really yet know how to use!

BTW, if the images don't become higher-resolution by clicking, I also posted this to my blog on Tumblr:
http://mckitterick.tumblr.com/post/156895844825

More to come!

Chris

I got this in email:

____

I see you posted one of my photos, without consent or attribution, on [link to one of my reblogs].

I am a member of the Professional Photographers of America and Image Rights International and this was stolen from my blog at [the contactor’s site].

I am really surprised that you, as a writer and knowing copyright laws, would use a “lifted” photo.

Please remove.
[Name Withheld]
[Research Institution]
[Work Website]


____

I saw that as an invitation to write this little essay that I urge all creatives to read:

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Dear [xyz] -

I’m really surprised that you contacted me about this. I didn’t post anything - that’s most of what you’ll see on social networks like Tumblr. Usually what people reblog is reblogged from others who, themselves, reblogged it from original sources, sometimes three or more deep with responses and comments about the original work.

Sometimes the work a person originally posts is not attributed, despite being their own, and sometimes it is, whether it belongs to the original poster or not (say, as on a fan blog, or most social networks).

One of the delights of social networking for creatives is how it drives traffic to your website and where they can buy your work and learn about what else you do. That’s a massive honor for someone to love your work so much that they want to promote you to their friends! That’s what’s called, “word-of-mouth advertising,” the most powerful kind.

The first time my work was pirated, I was upset for a few hours or days. Until I realized how much unexpected benefit I derived from someone sharing without my explicit assent. Had I remained upset and expressed that upset with the world, I would have lost fans. No one in today’s creative climate can afford to come across as “anti-fan.” It’s not a way to keep existing fans and especially not a way to gain new ones, not to mention that it’s just good business sense to not get upset and instead use the interest to your advantage.

So, no, I don’t disapprove as a creative myself when my work is shared online without my explicit approval, because it’s earning me new fans.

I should also say that I’m not the one who originally blogged that. I assumed it was put out into the world by its creator or with the assent of its creator. Absolutely I always try to cite sources when I post things, and include source information in an image where that's available! I assumed this image was put out into the world by its creator, or with the assent of its creator.

No one who uses the Internet is going to research everything that passes through their social networks. That would stop all human interaction and replace it with research! As interesting as that might sound to you and me, it’s also unrealistic to expect of the vast majority of those who use the Internet just for fun. Oh, and I should add that I often add sources when I see a post that's missing attribution and looks like it might not belong to the poster.

If I haven’t convinced you and you still would like to take down your work wherever it’s appeared on the web, there are standard procedures for doing so by contacting the site that hosts them (in this case, Tumblr). I can’t take it down, because I didn’t post it and don’t host the website, like almost everyone else who reblogged it. You’ll waste an immense amount of time by trying to contact everyone in the reblog chain (currently 74,000 or so on that one thread on Tumblr alone!), and needlessly antagonize a lot of potential fans. I’m not antagonized, because I’ll be using this as a teaching moment for my students and my online followers (no worries, I’ll remove the specifics about you or the work, and no one will figure out it was you, because a lot of social networking posts get that many notes, or higher).

A more positive way to reach out to your fans (and those who reblogged that image are fans of your work!) is to jump in to the discussion with a “Thank you!” and a link to your site or where they can buy your work. Win-win all around!

I hope this helps. Thanks for reaching out! I hope you [and you readers - especially creatives - of this on my blog] find this exchange useful!

Best,
Chris

PS: They then wrote back with a note indicating they don’t understand how most social networks function, so I added:

If you haven’t used Tumblr before, the way you see who originally posted something is by looking at the Notes or finding the link to the original poster in the reblogged item. Everyone else was just sharing what they think is a cool item, or responding to it.

--

Follow-up from the person who contacted me about this image she found only on my Tumblr in a Web search:

"First of all, a scholar asked to used my image for her dissertation, and of course, I said yes. I share. Then out of curiosity, I did a reverse Google search and found my image on your blog. I sent out a quick note to have it removed. Apparently, though, you didn't post it. Someone else did. Note that I don't 'go after' everyone who steals my images but I did sign up for Image Rights International after my photo - registered with the U.S. Copyright office - went viral. I've seen it on coffee cups, posters, t-shirts, mouse pads, CD albums, cell phone covers and in companies' advertising campaigns. It's also being sold on PhotoBucket, Flickr and other sites. Not by me. This is the cover of my next book and I plan to donate any proceeds from my favorite charity."

My follow-up response:

I see! Then definitely you want to go after those businesses that are profiting from the image, and there are legal tools for that. Contacting every individual reblogger who liked it but who aren't profiting from it would take you a million years and gain you nothing but negativity all around.

Tags:
I acknowledge that you can't ALL support the awful things your chosen candidate said during the campaign. You might even believe that he just said those things to get elected. Okay. NOW YOU HAVE A SPECIAL RESPONSIBILITY TO SPEAK OUT AGAINST THOSE THINGS.

Speak out against racism, fascism, xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia, and all the other sick, disgusting things your cohort are spewing and doing right now. Speak out against your candidate's choices for advisors when they embody the worst in human nature. Let the rest of the nation know that Not All Trump Supporters are the awful creatures we're hearing the loudest. And because most Americans are so confused and scared right now, you need to do it not in a "Rah-rah we won!" or "Stop whining, we're Not All Bad" kind of way. Be sensitive to other people's real fears and let us know that a Trump presidency is not a parallel to what happened in 1930s German, only in a nation that's the world superpower with nukes and drones over every nation and pervasive surveillance.

Right now, most Americans fear an impending dystopian nightmare. Let us know that you won't allow your chosen representatives make that a reality.

So, please, speak out against hatred and bigotry. You put this guy in the position to change this country. Don't let him and his people destroy it or the rest of the world.

You're the only ones that the incoming administration might listen to.
Just watched the PBS Hamilton musical documentary, and it made me cry all over again to witness the genius that went into making this brilliant show. I got to relive in some small way that once-in-a-lifetime experience. And I realized - this right here is the parallel experience with those lucky few who got to see Shakespeare’s plays live, the first time, with him on stage if he actually did that, at least sometimes.
 
I can confidently say this show is one of the greatest works of art I have ever witnessed, perhaps the greatest work of art of our time, because it represents such a vast array of genius concentrated in a single work, which is accessible to every type of audience from first time fan to most educated scholar. On top of that, it’s so perfectly relevant for this moment in history, when it’s most needed.
 
AND I GOT TO SEE IT IN PERSON, in its Broadway premier run, with the original cast, from the perspective of the best seats in the house, right behind the most excited people in the world because they’d just won the lottery to see this historic event from the front row - and beside me was my partner who was so happy and excited to be here, too! OMG.
 
Perfect in every way.
 
Oh! How delightfully our popular media has changed! I love so much of today’s popular art. When I want to feel happy, I can put on Bob’s Burgers or Brooklyn Nine Nine, or Jupiter Ascending, or read something by John Scalzi or Iain M Banks, or go to so many others, and just like that I find joy and truth. There’s always a movie in the theater I look forward to seeing some time in the near future. There’s always a book I want to read, or graphic novel, or YouTube short, or Tumblr post, or song, or piece of art from other disciplines. There’s always some science or technology I want to learn more about. Photos of distant worlds or microscopic realms. Potential better futures abound - they’re all around us, if only we’re willing to partake of them. And every one of us is invited to be a part of it - not only in the consumption of it, but also the creation.
 
Now feels like the cusp of the most democratic moment in art and scientific pursuit and progressive justice and positive progress the human species has ever seen. Sure, we have a long way to go, but the zeitgeist is moving firmly away from the haters (which is why they’re getting so afraid and vocal) and toward the positive. Art always leads the way. It shows us who we are and guides us toward better possible futures (and warns us away from the bad ones).
 
We no longer need to trade our sense of justice, or fairness, or truth, or intellect, to fully enjoy today’s best art. We no longer need to only fear the changes that are coming ever faster. We can have it all!
 
When has this ever been true before? We’re living in the transition moment into a Golden Age! And it’s one where people are finally beginning to understand the interdisciplinary nature of creative and scientific work.
 
All this got me thinking… what’s so appealing about the idea of a new Magnificent 7? I mean, what’s the point of making a new cowboy movie now, or a remake of this story all over again, at all? And why all the other reboots we’re getting? 
 
And why is science fiction quickly becoming perhaps the most popular and relevant art-form of our time - and becoming more so every day?
 
Because, I would argue, for the same reasons that so many people love the new Star Wars movie, and Hamilton, and the new Mad Max, and the new Ghostbusters, and Agent Carter, and the idea of the upcoming Wonder Woman movie, and so much more:
 
These narratives help us perceive essential truths about human nature that have long been ignored, or undiscovered, or rejected, or hidden away by the mainstream. Because we now understand you can’t separate science from art - or art from science - any longer without causing violence to both… as well as to the truth. These contemporary expressions show us how great humans can become - better than ever! - if we face our past and potential futures honestly, and understand ourselves and others better, so we can reenvision the past and ourselves honestly while being able to imagine better futures and help bring them about.
 
What a time to be alive right now! This is so important, and so incredibly inspiring, both as a creative person and teacher, and human being as well.
 
And I was in the room where it happened. THE ROOM WHERE IT HAPPENED!
 
You who are striving to create a better, wiser future, or to overtly express it to others in whatever way you do best, I salute you. Thank you. I love you all! 

This year, the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction's usual Campbell Conferenceserves as the academic-programming track for MidAmeriCon II in Kansas City. Want to attend some of those? *Full academic-track program schedule here(.pdf)* Don't miss this one, because we'll have hors d'oeuvres for 200 and a cash bar:


And here's McKitterick's MACII Program Schedule:

Thursday Aug 18, 2016

12:00 noon - 1:00pm: Kaffeeklatsch
Convention Center, 2211
Kathleen Ann Goonan (Georgia Institute of Technology) | Bill Higgins | Christopher McKitterick | Brianna Spacekat Wu

7:00pm - 8:50pm: Campbell & Sturgeon Awards Ceremony
Convention Center, 2501D
Join us as the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction honors the winners of the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best science fiction novel of the year and the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for the best science fiction short story of the year. These awards are unique in that they are selected by incredibly well read authors and scholars in the field. This process side-steps the politics of other award methods. Tonight we will announce the winners and honor their talent with a brief reception. 

Friday Aug 19, 2016

5:00pm - 6:00pm: Autographing
Convention Center, Autographing Space
William Dietz | Derwin Mak | Ian McDonald | Christopher McKitterick | Martha Wells | Sheila Williams

Saturday Aug 20, 2016

9:30am -10:45am: Campbell Conference Round-Table: "The World of Tomorrow is Today: John W. Campbell, Astounding, the Futurians, and the Legacy of the Golden Age”  
Convention Center, 2201
Kij Johnson | Christopher McKitterick | Michael Page | Dr Gregory Benford (UCIrvine) | Elizabeth Anne Hull | Joe Haldeman | Robert Silverberg | Sheila Finch | James Gunn | John Kessel | Elizabeth Bear

This year’s Campbell Conference round-table discussion, as part of the MidAmeriCon II academic programming, considers how the Golden Age shaped science fiction (including this convention) and contributed to the shaping of the present world at large.  We will discuss how the legacy of the Golden Age (especially the legacy of the namesake of this conference) continues to provide inspiration, discussion, and criticism among the writers, scholars, and fans within the field; and how contemporary science fiction extends from (and sometimes diverges from) that legacy.  We will also consider in what ways the World of Tomorrow envisioned by the Golden Age writers exists in the World of Today.

Sunday Aug 21, 2016

10:30am -11:00am: Reading: Christopher McKitterick 
Convention Center, 2203

I'll also be in the Benefit Auction as soon as I can after my Sunday reading, because the Gunn Center's educational-outreach program, AboutSF, is one of the recipients.

Hope to see you there!

Chris
No, I can't read this, but how could I not share this post by [livejournal.com profile] tebe_interesno at post
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когда я стану большим и взрослым... наверное с этого будет начинаться всякое предложение большого и взрослого меня.
mckitterick: Yes, this is one of my actual scooter helmets. RESPECT THE EMPIRE. (Calvin & Hobbs)
( Jul. 6th, 2016 11:36 am)

The Addicted Generation: Did we fail our kids by relying on prescription medication to treat ADHD?

Articles like this piss me off to no end. Sure, I understand the danger of prescribing drugs to children. Heck, making kids sit quietly in a classroom all day is a ridiculous notion. If we really want to solve classroom disruptions,  better than prescribing ADHD meds to bored kids, let them run around outside instead! Allow them creative outlets for their energy! Give them one-on-one tutors to ensure maximized, personalized learning!

But short of paying for that kind of public service (hello, anti-taxxers), I doubt we’ll clearly identify who’s really suffering from ADD or ADHD in childhood, or who’s just a bored kid with too much physical and creative energy to submit to the mind-deadening boredom that comes with school as it is today.



However, kids aren’t the only ones dealing with the disorder. Adults benefit from ADD and ADHD medications, too - perhaps even more so than kids.

I wasn’t diagnosed with ADD until my 40s, and taking Adderall has made all the difference in my health and happiness. Ask anyone who knew me before-and-after.

Before medical treatment, I’d struggle with trying to track, say, a dozen or more trains of thought running simultaneously through my mind... but, after starting the meds, it’s down to just a few threads of attention - or even just one, when I’m really involved. The difference between medicated and not-medicated is NIGHT AND DAY. (I take the bare minimum that’s medically effective to avoid developing physical resistance, and to easily clear my system over, say, a frustrating weekend of not taking any meds.)

Sure, the appetite-suppressant side-effect is real: I need to watch the clock to know when it’s time to eat. But when I think about eating, I realize I’m hungry. With kids, that’s probably more of a challenge, so they probably need a reminder to help them remember when it’s time to eat... but do you know any kid on ADHD meds who doesn’t have a smartphone close at hand? There’s apps for that. Better needing to remember when to eat than to go through life with the kind of serious disabilities that come with untreated ADD or ADHD.

Do the ableist a-holes who self-righteously decry “addiction” to ADHD medication say the same thing about heart meds for those in danger of heart attack? Insulin for diabetics? Hearing aids for those who need them? Eyeglasses?

If you can’t do the research, writer (that is, interview those most affected by the topic), talk about something you know or STFU.

Okay, I guess I have some feelings about this. /rant

[[MORE]]

EDIT: Need to add this comment by “Heather!” that showed up right after I posted:

First of all, I just need to address how ridiculous it is to conflate ADHD symptom relapse after medication cessation with dependency and addiction. ADHD is a developmental disorder with biological origins in the pre-frontal cortex. Some people’s brains eventually catch up developmentally by adolescence or adulthood, some never do. Medications control symptoms by helping the brain function like normal brains function. Like other developmental disorders, there is no cure for ADHD, and medications are not going to make the brain normalize. They are an aid, like insulin is for diabetics or glasses are for people with myopia.

If you quit taking a medication that controls symptoms caused by inefficient biological processes, those symptoms will return, which is what is happening in the anecdotes mentioned in this article. This has nothing to do with dependency. Research shows that ADHD medication is not habit-forming when taken as directed. In fact, medication treatment before adolescence significantly reduces the risk of drug abuse and addiction in people with ADHD.

Can you imagine someone complaining about the dependency and addiction potential of insulin because high blood sugar resumes with cessation in diabetic patients? That’s how ignorant this argument is.

Besides that, this article is overloaded with myths and unsubstantiated assumptions about ADHD diagnoses, treatment, and outcomes.

Russell Barkley, PHD, has devoted his career to studying ADHD since the 1970s, has authored many studies that are used by organizations cited in this article, and has actually read all of the research and medical literature written on ADHD since the 1700’s (yes, 1970's). He has addressed the myths perpetuated by the media, including all the myths in this article, over and over again:

“If you were to average across all of these figures, it appears to be that somewhere between about 1.5 percent and about 2.5 percent of school-age children are taking medication right now for ADHD. Now, you have to look at that figure in the context of how much ADHD is there. It’s the only way you can answer the question of over-medication, and that is, what’s the reference point? We know that approximately 5 percent to 7 percent of school-age children have this disorder. If we use the conservative figure of 5 percent, and we know that about 2.5 percent of individuals may be taking medication, there’s your answer. We don’t have over-medication. Only about half of all ADHD children are ever taking medication for their disorder.

“There is controversy about ADHD, I believe, partly because we are using a medication to treat the disorder, and people find that to be of concern. But there’s also concern because ADHD is a disorder that appears to violate a very deeply held assumption that laypeople have about children’s behavior. All of us were brought up believing, almost unconsciously, that children’s misbehavior is largely due to the way they’re raised by their parents and the way they’re educated by their teachers. If you wind up with a child who is out of control and disruptive and not obeying, that that has to be a problem with child rearing.

“We can thank Freudian thinking and Watson’s behaviorism, and other ideas that are part of our common knowledge, for making us believe that behavior problems are learned. Well, along comes this disorder that produces tremendous disruption in children’s behavior, but it has nothing to do with learning, and it isn’t the result of bad parenting. And therefore it violates these very deeply held ideas about bad children and their misbehavior.

“And as long as you have this conflict between science telling you that the disorder is largely genetic and biological, and the public believing that it arises from social causes, you’re going to continue to have tremendous controversy in the mind of the public.

“Now, there is no controversy among practicing scientists who have devoted their careers to this disorder. No scientific meetings mention any controversies about the disorder, about its validity as a disorder, about the usefulness of using stimulant medications like Ritalin for it. There simply is no controversy. The science speaks for itself. And the science is overwhelming that the answer to these questions is in the affirmative: it’s a real disorder; it’s valid; and it can be managed, in many cases, by using stimulant medication in combination with other treatments.

“Saying that we’re not sure about the safety and the long-term use of the stimulant medication is nice to say. But the fact is that we know more about the stimulant medications than just about any other medication
that’s given to children in medicine... All of the research we have indicates that these drugs are some of the safest that we employ in the field of psychiatry and psychology. That’s not to say that we know everything about them. But we know a lot more than we know about cough medicines and Tylenol and aspirins and other things that children swill whenever they come down with a common cold. Nobody asks those questions about those over-the-counter medications, yet we know substantially less about them.”

YES.

If you need to see yet another "OH NOES! ADHD MEDS IZ ROONING UR KIDZ!" article, here's what I was responding to: x

Tags:


Guess who came back to life after the power outage - these cute little robots!

Lightshow-lamp robot wakes
so other one does too.
They sing and dance
with their lights and their arms.
Little clock-robot smiles so hard
he forgets how to tell time

The older I get, the more it becomes clear that most of humankind's problems stem from intentional ignorance: Choosing to hold onto problematic beliefs despite evidence that shows these beliefs lead to harm, or could, or when they're simply no longer useful or relevant and get in the way of building a better future.

If you know something causes problems for others or for our shared environment, yet you continue to support that harmful thing, you're not "following your heart," being moral, or such. You've become part of the problem. Traditions and heritage are not always good. They're history. It's okay if obsolete beliefs stay in the past.

Resist intentional ignorance. Don't be the problem. If you learn something that changes your perspective or challenges your beliefs, follow Theodore Sturgeon's advice: Keep asking the next question. When you discover that you were ignorant of the facts or of others' feelings, embrace the new thing you learned. Grow, become a better person. Be part of the solution. The better world you'll live in is yours, too! Isn't that kind of the Golden Rule? That seems like a good one to follow.

But seriously, any super-intelligent, super-powerful, godlike being that wants to keep its people in ignorance is a slavemaster or malicious asshole. If Earth's god-worshipping religions are based on such beings, well, to hell with those alien jerks! Sure, humans as a whole can be terrible monsters, but intentionally keeping us in ignorance isn't making things better. I'd only forgive them if they were to appear this afternoon and say, "Sorry, our bad. We've been reinforcing your ignorance and self-hatred for too long. Now that you're approaching the Technological Singularity, it's time you learned the truth."

...I mean, we're about to become really dangerous - not just to ourselves, but to the rest of the galaxy. If some awful group of tech-savvy industrialists or terrorists - or some gov't seeking ultimate power - builds an intelligent nanoweapon that turns Earth to gray goo, it's not just us that's wiped out. Those self-replicating machines could consume everything on Earth, float past the now-all-nanos atmosphere, between the planets, and into interstellar space. Mars? Nano-goo. Jupiter? Supermassive ball of nano-goo. Oort Cloud? All the planets in our part of the galaxy? Nano-goo. Everything they touch will be destroyed.

So keeping us down might make sense on a galactic scale. But if that's the case, just TELL US it's in everyone's best interests to keep humans down until we're not so dangerous. TELL US that we're simply too monstrous in our mental composition to be allowed to progress. TELL US that we need to grow up, eliminate our bigotries and hatreds and other personality flaws, before we're allowed to keep moving into the future.

Because humans will do it regardless, and then what? They'll just wipe us off the face of the planet before we're too dangerous? That's terrible resource management. If there's anything worthwhile in the human species, show us the error of our ways and help us cast off our inherited memes and epigenetics. Help us learn how to be better people.

I have an even better idea: Why not just fix our problems ourselves? Why don't we as a species work on becoming better people so we don't need to worry about theoretical godlike aliens exterminating us. If there's no such thing as godlike aliens, why in the ever-loving hell do we hang onto obsolete and harmful memes from our ancient past? It's like someone with peanut allergies continuing to gobble bags of peanuts, fully aware that the next mouthful might be their last. If Earth holds the only intelligences in the galaxy, we have a responsibility not to exterminate ourselves.

Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

mckitterick: (write hard die free)
( Mar. 8th, 2016 01:11 pm)

I just realized that losing my religion as an early teenager led to a lot of troubled times throughout my teens and even into my early 20s.

I'd actually believed this religious stuff before then. I'd been raised as a Christian, and everyone I knew was a church-going Lutheran or Catholic (though the latter was eyed with suspicion), with a couple Evangelical Free friends. As I begin drafting this late at night, after pondering this article (about how Religious children are meaner than their secular counterparts) and this debate on the Facebooks, I can clearly recall being really emotionally moved by hearing certain sermons or reading stories about Jesus and salvation through love and sacrifice. About how, after He came along to burn down the authoritarian patriarchy, we could throw away all those old hateful bigotries and prejudices, and look forward to a utopian future based on love - if only everyone would just believe in Him!

What ruined this for me was when my confirmation teacher forced us to say that the unbaptized go to hell. (It was a fundamentalist strain of Lutheranism that no longer exists, closest to the Missouri Synod.)

"What about babies born in areas where they could never have heard of Jesus?" I asked, trying to fit this logically into what I'd studied about this religion's eponymous founder.

"It's tragic, but that's the Lord's law," she said.

This bore no relation to anything I had come to believe about Jesus, or the very foundations of what I believed Christianity to be. So it couldn't be right. But this religious teacher - and the pastor's wife embodying the Church itself! - was insistent this irrational notion was true. When I asked my Mom about this, she said to do what I was told (ah, the underlying virus of religious authoritarianism) and "just say the damn words! You don't have to believe them."

But if that were true, what was the point of the Church (in its broadest sense), the most-massive and enduring undertaking in all human history? If we simply recite the words but don't believe in them, how can we call it "faith"? More importantly in the societal sense, if we don't need to believe what we're told or what we say, what's the purpose of organized religion at all?

The existentially horrifying part of all this is that seemingly everyone in America (where 83 percent identify as Christian) was part of a conspiracy of fear ("You'll burn in Hell for eternity if you're a disbeliever!"), or else consciously trying to suppress reality - and trying to infect the minds of their children with this mind-virus. So it seemed that either everyone was aware of the lie and complicit in its perpetuation, or they were dangerously out of touch with reality, allowing fear to control their minds so they could accept blatant untruths, or some mix of scary-unhealthy world-views. Or all of these.

So on that day, like the clouds parting for the first time to let sunlight illuminate what used to lurk unseen in the shadows, it became lucidly clear that my faith in the teachings of Jesus as told in what I'd thought of as historical documents bore no relevance to what humans had hammered into doctrine.

Worse, what if this thing that had consumed so much of human creativity and ingenuity over the millennia had merely been a tool for authoritarian oppression devised by men seeking to control a populace who appear willing to swallow nonsense and spout things they don't even believe? And who continue propagating the lies and delusions, forcing their children also to blindly obey?

This was terrifying. Remember the movie THEY LIVE? It felt like that, as if I were surrounded by threatening aliens. How could the people around me not see them? Certainly pre-teen me couldn't be smarter or more insightful than the vast milling masses of adult church-goers. So were they collaborators in some vast alien conspiracy to take over the minds of children?

Which is worse?

Regardless, this is the moment I point to, when I lost my religion and my faith in anything. From here on out, unless I see verifiable evidence of something bandied as truth, or morally right, or real, I disbelieve. Just because some authority says something is so doesn't mean a thing, because clearly authorities were fallible, all the way back to the dudes responsible for founding the early Christian church - and obviously those who created early superstitious religions were wrong: Not only are we taught this by the leaders we're told to believe and obey, they're falsifiably incorrect. I mean, only the most protean animistic religions bear any relation to the real world, because we can see how lightning causes fire or how animals behave in the face of storms. Only the philosophy-based religions seem to offer anything useful to their practitioners, yet look at how even Buddhism has been twisted by the patriarchy.

Before this revelation, I had seriously considered pursuing a career (or at least an avocation) in religious work. During my years of crisis, I spent a great deal of time and energy researching religious systems, seeking to piece together a core set of universal and rational beliefs in an attempt to construct a religion relevant to our times. Something I could believe in, something that might help make sense of a world that otherwise seems intentionally insane.

Nothing came of the search except a deeper appreciation of the universe. I've never lost my spiritual connection to nature - the animals who've inhabited this world far longer than we've built cities, the planets where such beings can live, the stars that provide the energy to fuel our lives, and the rest of the universe, which provides the soil for everything else to grow.

But that wasn't enough to soothe my existential angst. I suffered pretty traumatic and turbulent teenage years, and barely made it out of then alive. Because this is also when I lost faith in human beings. I mean, if the single greatest communal effort to build and maintain something in all of human history - the Church in its diversity of manifestations - was either a lie, or a delusion, or a shield against fear, how could we hope for a better future? If people choose ignorance, accept on faith things that are verifiably untrue, and oppress those who do not believe mutually incompatible articles of faith, there's no hope for a long-term human future.

I just now also realize that my rejection of Christianity (and organized religion in general) is probably a big part of why my Mom treated me so much worse than she treated my brother. For whatever reason, and despite her powerful intelligence and terrible childhood, she was deeply religious. She's the one who forced child-me to go to church every Sunday and holiday, and to attend Sunday school and Confirmation classes. When I was an adult, she forwarded me so many hateful, bigoted, racist spam-mails that I had to filter out most of her messages (once such capabilities appeared). These were indications that she was probably one of those hateful Christians who now rule the American discourse. She probably hated me for rejecting her God, and her Church (she did every so often tell me that she hated me). Despite her strong advocacy of feminist concerns, I know she hated how I reject out of hand all forms of authoritarianism. She was always a leader in everything she did - work, church, friends - which was an outstanding trait for a woman in the 1970s. But it was still authoritarianism, and she still served the patriarchy.

So when my brother told me at mom's funeral that my childhood experience under Mom was nothing like his, it makes sense. He went to church, and Sunday school, and Confirmation. He accepted authoritarian rule. He continued to say the words that he was supposed to say; he might not have believed them, and I know that in his heart he was not obedient to authority, but he pretended to be. And that seems to be all that really matters to religious extremists.

To Mom, my brother was one of Them, or at least a willing conspirator, whereas I was loud and determined in my rejection of the entire enterprise. Burn it all down and start fresh!

As a boy standing alone in the dark beside my telescope, I remember calling out to the starry sky, begging benevolent aliens (for what other type would visit such a flawed world yet not eradicate us like vermin?) to take me away. I drew spaceships that I could imagine piloting far away. I dreamed of exploring the moons of Jupiter alone, far from the insanity of Earth, of the coming changes that would transform our society and ourselves into something worthy to endure into the future. I wrote stories about these things, and the fall of adult civilization, and imagined a world where I could bear to live.

See, this was also the time during which I discovered most of my friends and many of my closest relatives had endured horrifically abusive childhoods. What kind of species tortures their young? The same kind that holds them down and injects cognitive retro-viruses into their brains.

I spent a great deal of my teens and early 20s in deep depression, suicidal on occasion but mostly fearless of death, because how could it be worse than having to dwell in the shadow of the monsters who rule our world, whom we must obey - or at least pretend to obey? I've never been any good at pretending such things.

Under such rule, there can be no bright future. There can be no utopia.

Ever since I discovered it, science fiction has served as my primary existential comfort, and it remains so. SF needs no gods, and if it has religion, it can illuminate what's wrong with how we do it. It offers visions of futures where things can be different.

It taught me that change is good. That it is, in fact, necessary for growth, healing, learning, and everything else that is positive in our lives. If we're not changing, we're dying. (Huh, I just realized something else: This is what The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella is all about, and where its themes come from.)

Only by finally letting go of desperately clinging onto the plague-ship of religion was I able to restore my faith in humankind. Only be letting go was I able to imagine futures without hate or bigotry, where we can build something instead of expend all our energy dragging along the toxic casks from our past.

I sometimes joke that my religion is the Church of Science Fiction. Looked at in the right light, SF does serve that purpose better than any church I've ever encountered, in that it also offers stories about the Big Questions, about our origins and our ultimate end, what's right and wrong, transformations and transcendence. It's a space where we can identify flaws in our world today and envision possible futures where those things have either gotten worse or where we've solved them. It needs no gods but those within us and around us and illuminating the sky. It does not demand faith; it rewards knowledge and imagination and creative re-envisioning. Like science itself, it questions everything and accepts nothing that cannot be verified. Best of all, it's a community and an ongoing conversation. It's a family.

And SF is more true than any religion could hope to be.

Organized religion almost killed me. Science fiction kept me from falling into the abyss. I survived to become a science-fiction writer, a teacher of SF literature, and - like long-time friend and SF writer Frederik Pohl - a science enthusiast.

The only way our species can survive is to transcend as a whole the self-perpetuating, outdated, and damaging authoritarian structures we drag along from our past, which hold us back from reaching for the future. Science provides the tools and methods to determine what needs to be changed, and science fiction provides the safe laboratory where we can test-run alternate visions of ethics, societal structures, and an infinity of other things, including ourselves.

So, yeah, if I retain any semblance of religion in my personal life, it's definitely science fiction.

I would never have imagined that a 100mm refractor would be such great deep-sky telescope. I've always been a fan of reflectors, because they offer so much more light for the money than refractors do. This is my first refractor! In the past 30+ years, I've owned at least eight reflectors (including a few I made myself), and still own two big ones: a 12" Schmidt-Cassegrain design that uses a corrector plate across the front opening of the tube to correct the imperfect mirror, and a 17" Newtonian reflector on a simple Dobsonian mount (the cheapest way to get the most light - the 'scope in my userpic). For the price of that 100mm (about 4" diameter lens) - if I had bought it new (I got it nearly new from eBay for a steal) - I could have bought a reflector with many times the light-gathering power. Here's what it looks like:

So why buy such a thing? For one, I already have two wonderful reflectors. But they're both pretty large to lug around (70 and 90+ pounds). I also knew (academically) that, compared to a good refractor, the quality of the image in a reflector suffers because the secondary mirror (and holder) get in the way of the incoming light, and at high powers produce issues at the edge of the field (except in very expensive, multi-optic hybrid designs). On the other hand, a cheap refractor's image only suffers when it disperses the light passing through its lens into various color components, because those different wavelengths of light usually separate, like this:

It turns out that the refractor I bought is pretty kick-ass. The optical design of my 'scope is an "apochromatic ED." Unlike an low-cost but decent "achromatic" refractor, an apo converges all the frequencies of light at the same focal point (or close enough for the human eye). Less expensive "achromatic" telescopes do not use the best glass, failing to converge blue-through-violet light very well, so that range of light appears as a fuzzy halo around the object you are viewing (and usually suffering in sharpness, as well). This is less of an issue with dim objects like globular clusters, nebulae, or galaxies, but it becomes a nuisance with brighter objects like the Moon, stars, and planets. Also, the colors dispersed are lost information, subtracted from the resolution of the object, thus reducing the image quality, thus defeating the entire point of a refractor over a reflector.

To combat these issues, an apochromatic objective uses multiple glass lenses mated together to converge the various frequencies of light, thus managing the refractive dispersion through the elements. Sometimes apos use rare materials (like fluorite or other low-dispersion glass) in the lens composition. As you might imagine, these are expensive propositions - simply adding a second or third lens doubles or triples the cost, and if the glass used costs, say, 10x as much... well, you get the idea. The very best, observatory-quality refractors use a combination of both strategies, and the price for such an instrument is astronomical (ba-da-boom, tsch!).

Mine achieves apochromatic quality by using two lenses, one of which is made of extra-low dispersion (hence the "ED") FPL-53 glass (made only in Japan) to provide super-sharp images with no false color. Mine isn't the top of the line, but it's pretty close. Sure, if it used fluorite instead of FPL-53, it might be slightly better. Or if both lenses were that kind of glass, or if it were a triplet (three lenses). But telescopes like that are MUCH more expensive, costing around $3000 - I got mine, complete with a dual-drive equatorial mount, for about $600. But why? Objects in my 'scope are free of false color (chromatic aberration), sharp, and don't lose any light to dispersion, either.

I've used this 'scope for a couple of years now, mostly because it's so convenient to drag in and out of the house, but never knew all it was capable of. It required a team effort. The real eye-opener for me was how much difference a great eyepiece makes. I've always used decent eyepieces, but these new Explore Scientific eyepieces are frakking amazing! Here's my new case for my 2" eyepieces (the new ones are those with yellow-green spots on the side):

HOLY WOW! The widest field-of-view eyepiece I've ever owned is my William Optics Swan 33mm (it's the one in the photo with the orange bottom cap). It offers 72° apparent field of view (how wide an angle the view in the eyepiece looks to you, the observer), which I thought was pretty amazing. It's still my lowest-power eyepiece (magnification comes from dividing telescope focal length by eyepiece focal length - my 100mm has a focal ratio of f/9, meaning 900mm focal length), offering up a magnification of 27x in this 'scope, with a true field of 2.7° of the sky (about 5 times as wide as the full Moon). Pretty nice, I thought! Sure, the quality of the image at the edge is imperfect, and the sharpness could be better, but it was as nice as I ever used.

Enter the 30mm Explore Scientific 82° wide-field eyepiece of joy.

I started last night's observing session with the Great Orion Nebula, directly overhead in Kansas at around 11pm. The first eyepiece I dropped into the focuser was the most massive once I've ever used, a 30mm with 82° (apparent) field of view. The huge swath of sky it provided was simply astounding - especially when it caught a meteor streaking across the belt of Orion! I didn't bring any astrophotography gear (I was just in my front yard, after all), but here's a nice drawing of about how it looks to the naked eye in a telescope of about this light-gathering power:

This puppy is about the size of my fist and weighs 2.2 pounds (!). Its field of view is so ultra-wide that I had to move my head around to get the full view, making the experience feel like I was looking out through a spaceship's porthole rather than through a telescope eyepiece. Even though the magnification is greater (30x), its true field was wider than with the 33mm! It also has a very large 6.7mm exit-pupil(how wide the cone of light coming through is), which is even larger than some eyes can dilate. It's difficult to explain just how amazingly immersive such a view is until you try it.

Other cool features of this eyepiece: It's O-ring sealing and argon-purged. This makes it completely waterproof, prevents internal fogging, keeps the interior dust- and fungus-free, and makes it easier to clean (no risk of cleaning solution getting trapped inside). It'll stay clear for a lifetime - guaranteed. Its 21mm of eye relief provides unvignetted (no darkening around the edge) views a full inch beyond the lens closest to your eye - this is not only great in general, but makes it easier for eyeglass wearers to observe without removing their glasses. Of course, doing so would mean missing out on a lot of the potential field of view. Its six-element optical design uses low dispersion and high-refractive-index lenses (same benefits as in a telescope's objective) in four groups. All the lens surfaces are fully multi-coated as well, and the lens edges are blackened to improve contrast. All of this adds up to the highest contrast, highest resolution, sharpest resolution, and flattest ultra-wide field of view I've ever seen.

LOVE

Then I moved to the next-smaller Explore Scientific eyepiece, a 24mm (also 82° FOV), which provided 38x and a true field of view of 2.2°, so wide that even the hugely wide Orion Nebula only took up the center of the image. AMAZING! I spent some time with this eyepiece before moving to the next-higher-magnification unit....

Enter the Explore Scientific 14mm 100° apparent-FOV eyepiece. This puppy is just about as large as the longer-focal-length unit (almost 2 pounds), though with a narrower and longer barrel to accommodate nine optical elements of rare-earth glass. Though 100 doesn't seem that much larger than 82, those extra 18° provide nearly 50&percent; wider FOV. So the 64x magnification this one provides still offered up nearly 1.6° of true field - that's three times as wide as the full Moon! This is truly astounding to someone whose prior experience is mostly having used what I thought was a nice Plossl 24mm with 52° FOV - that's less true FOV at much lower power.

So, I asked myself, what will the highest-magnification Explore Scientific unit offer? It has 9mm of focal length, providing 100x... but because of the huge field of view, this high power was still a full degree - twice as wide as the full Moon! I had no idea that a high-power eyepiece could be so comfortable to use, or provide such a "spacewalk" sensation, or offer up such crisp, high-resolution to-the-edge views. Man, now I wish I'd ordered the mega-power 5.5mm that was also on mega-sale! It would have provided 164x while still offering a FOV slightly wider than the full Moon! *boggles mind*

At the end of the night (pretty late by now - after 1am, I'm afraid), I noticed that Jupiter was just starting to peek out from the trees, so I thought why not? Sure, I would be looking a lot of humid atmosphere, over the neighbor's house, and through branches, but it's my fave planet. My apo plus 9mm SOOPER EYEPIECE did not let me down. Four Galilean moons and stormy Jupiter all served up as nice as through a cheap eyepiece looking directly overhead. Just wow.

Oh, and surprise! All these eyepieces turn out to be parfocal, meaning you don't need to do significant re-focusing when shifting from one to the next. That's a major bonus when swapping eyepieces, especially when moving to high magnifications (which also magnify your bumping the 'scope whenever you touch it), where you can lose an object and have to start over finding it at a lower power.

And the best part? We live in an age when you can get incredible eyepieces like this during online, pre-xmas sales for just a little more than the price of a so-so eyepiece (I bought all four for about the retail price of just the 14mm.

HOORAY SCIENCE

Chris
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Illustrator and author Ron Miller specializes in, among other things, incredible visualizations of other worlds. He has rendered the surface of Titan, peered into black holes for Discover magazine, and designed a Pluto stamp that is currently hurtling toward the far reaches of our solar system aboard the New Horizons spacecraft. Now, Miller brings his visualizations back to Earth for a series exploring what our skies would look like with Saturn's majestic rings. Miller strived to make the images scientifically accurate, adding nice touches like orange-pink shadows resulting from sunlight passing through the Earth's atmosphere. He also shows the rings from a variety of latitudes and landscapes, from the U.S. Capitol building to Mayan ruins in Guatemala.

We'll start with Washington, D.C. and work our way south.

Rings over Washington D.C.
Ron Miller

Rings over Washington D.C.


From Washington, D.C., the rings would only fill a portion of the sky, but appear striking nonetheless. Here, we see them at sunrise.

Rings from Guatemala
Ron Miller

Rings from Guatemala


From Guatemala, only 14 degrees above the equator, the rings would begin to stretch across the horizon. Their reflected light would make the moon much brighter.

Saturn's rings from Earth's equator
Ron Miller

Saturn's rings from Earth's equator


From Earth's equator, Saturn's rings would be viewed edge-on, appearing as a thin, bright line bisecting the sky.

Equinox at the equator
Ron Miller

Equinox at the equator


At the March and September equinoxes, the Sun would be positioned directly over the rings, casting a dramatic shadow at the equator.

Tropic of Capricorn, midnight
Ron Miller

Tropic of Capricorn, midnight


At midnight at the Tropic of Capricorn, which sits at 23 degrees south latitude, the Earth casts a shadow over the middle of the rings, while the outer portions remain lit.

Gallery assembled by Jason Davis for the Planetary Society.
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