No, Actually, Let’s Keep the Fan Categories at the Hugos | Whatever

(if you aren’t interested in science fiction fandom, or worse, science fiction fandom politics and SMOFFing and all of that crap, avert your eyes and go read something else. you’ll thank me…)
No, Actually, Let’s Keep the Fan Categories at the Hugos | Whatever:

So, this is a motion that’s being offered at this year’s WSFS meeting at Worldcon: To gut the Hugos of the Fanzine, Fan Writer and Fan Artist categories (pdf link), an idea put forward by one Milt Stevens. If you’re at all interested in this stuff, go read it; I’ll wait.

Oh, good lord. 

This proposal is patently stupid and I expect it’ll die a quick and hopefully embarrassing death for its supporters. It’s attempting to restart a fight that was lost and done with about 30 years ago. Since I was in the middle of this fight back in the day, a bit of historical context for the twelve people in the universe who might care….

For what it’s worth, John Scalzi does a wonderful job of gutting this — the only word I can come up with printable is senile — attempt to return fandom to the good old days, if you define good old days to almost 40 years ago before the scourge of the modem. Or something like that. It’s being fronted by Milt Stevens and seconded by Linda Deneroff, which I’ll describe more or less as old school paper fanzine geeks and smofs that were well-known back in the early 80′s. Mike Glyer, of File 770 fame, seems to be cheering them on. 

This is a bunch of aging comedians trying to get people to stop watching that damned Television thing and come back to the Vaudeville stages. Nothing more, nothing less. And it’ll be about as effective.

1989, Noreascon 3. OtherRealms was nominated for Best Fanzine and I ended up nominated for Best Fan Writer. OtherRealm was up against File 700 (who ultimately won), and the wonderful FOXFAX and Ed Meskys’ Niekas and the Fanzine I actually voted for, Lan’s Lantern by George “Lan” Laskowski (may he rest in peace. Miss you, Lan). Best Fan Writer was mostly the usual suspects, Dave Langford, Mike Glyer, Arthur Hlavaty, Avedon Carol, Guy Lillian and this interloper, namely me, the online fan geek. Dave Langford won (and deserved to, but I voted for Hlavaty. Surprised I didn’t vote for myself? I knew I wasn’t going to win, I didn’t think I deserved to, and it was just rather nice to be on the ballot finally… mostly). 

There were — I’m shocked, you know — rumors of bloc voting and nominations that year. Not in the fan categories but in one of the pro categories. Frankly, it was mostly the usual in group political infighting. but when I went to Noreascon that year, I was rather — frustrated — to start hearing the rumors that the only reason I was on the ballot was that the people organizing the bloc nominations for that other category told everyone to nominate me as well so it wouldn’t be obvious that there was organized group nominations going on. As far as I know that wasn’t true, and I was not involved in any of it, but to be honest, having it said to my face in the fanzine room took the glow off the weekend a bit. Not even getting hit up by the groupies who were attempting to tag their dance card with as many hugo nominees as they could that weekend could fix it (for the record, I turned her down, and introduced my wife to her. She told me my wife was welcome, too… god, I do love and miss fandom some days).

One reason I know this bloc voting ‘thang’ had little or no part in OtherRealms finally getting on the ballot was because it had been a close call on the ballot a couple of previous years, and in one previous year the con committee decided, rather arbitrarily (and against my arguments) that if it was nominated onto the ballot, OtherRealms would have to qualify as a semiprozine (and therefore go up against Locus and Charlie Brown and lose). 

During this time the mailing list SF-Lovers was growing in prominence and size, and by the late 80′s the membership and message volume of the list was likely larger than all of paper fanzine fandom worldwide added together, but it was ruled ineligible for the ballot for various reasons like not existing on paper and not having countable subscribers (or too many, depending on how you wanted to look at it, which would have stuffed it into the semiprozine category). 

So this fight was going on literally 30 years ago and some of the folks involved are involved in this new fight, at least peripherally. Ultimately Noreascon 3 invented a special award that was given to Saul Jaffe for running SF-Lovers, and Noreason 3 (unlike previous ConComs) stopped finding reasons not to let OtherRealms on the ballot. OtherRealms complicated that argument because I had really fallen into paper fanzine fandom as well as online and it was a legimate hybrid with a legitimate paper version as well as an electronic version — and by that time I was not only pubbing OtherRealms, but I’d joined FAPA and I was involved in a number of “real” fanzine activities (we can blame Ben Bova, Arthur Hlavaty and a couple of others for igniting that bug. Thanks, guys). 

The good news is, OtherRealms, which had a significant online audience (my guess: 20-25,000 at its max) made it onto the ballot. the bad news was that it made it onto the ballot because of the paper edition, which had at the time 6-700 paper subscribers. It’s going to be hard for modern online folks to understand this, but this was before HTML, before the web, before PDF, before you could embed images or even bold text in an email, so the two really were unique and different editions with similar content. So in practice, the paper edition was what was put on the ballot, even though most of the nominators and voters were readers of the electronic version. 

And guess what. It happened, I finished above No Award (which was my hope) and the universe didn’t fall into a black hole. Neither did the Hugos, and neither have the fan Hugos. They’ve chugged along for 30 years doing pretty well, unless you happen to be one of those old school types who really want us all to go back to black and white TVs; um, paper fanzines. It always amazes me when I see people heavily involved in Science Fiction, whether as authors or fans, as absolutely resistant to change and progress and some of them are.

Dear old school fanzine fans: the world has changed. Get over it. Speaking as a former member of FAPA (and proud of it), there’s a lot of really good crap going on in online fandom, too. Quite whining about it, join in. Heck, even Mike Glyer has a web site for File 770 now, although from what I can tell, he seems to wish it didn’t exist some times… 

this proposal is nothing more than the stars that were famous in silent movies attempting to tell everyone to kill the Oscars rather than award them to those horrors called talking pictures (because they haven’t been able to find work since the silents went away). It should be treated as the silly crap it is and quickly sent to the shredder and forgotten.

It is, frankly, terribly sad to see people still trying to fight a battle that was lost 30 years ago, and demeaning the work of a much larger group of people who are doing really good and interesting work, just because it doesn’t fit their idea of appropriate. Guess what, folks, not only do movies talk these days, they do it in color, too. You might want to try a few. you might like it.

(to the rest of the universe that’s not stuck in a time loop set 40 years ago, please don’t tell them about surround-sound or 3D or IMAX. Their nervous system might not be able to take it…)

Some days I really, really miss being actively involved in fandom and fanzine pubbing. But not today. Now I feel kinda sad for those that are that fights like this are still going on… 

Posted in The Internet, The Writing Life

Why you should be printing your images….

I’d been meaning to get back to printing for a while and my sinuses and I have been arguing again, so this weekend seemed like a good one to stay home and work on things. Looking at my walls, I realized all of the prints I had up were landscapes — no birds. It was time to rectify that.

Off to Michaels I went, and I grabbed 5 16×20 frames and mats to fix 11×14 prints, which are my preferred size for putting on a wall in a house. And off I went, starting with this image.


I really like working with the acorn woodpeckers. There’s a family living in the oaks at the bald eagle nest overlook. The advantage of that is that the overlook is on a fairly steep hill that puts you at tree-canopy height, so when the birds are cooperating a bit, you can get straight on shots of them. There’s a granary literally right next to the pull-out on the side of the road.  So with some patience, some really nice shots are possible.

I think this rendering of the image is pretty good. I’ve been working on it on and off for a couple of days trying to optimize it, knowing I was planning on trying to print it. If you look at it on the screen, you probably don’t see much of a problem with it.

But when you print it? That white highlight right next to the woodie’s head goes nuclear. You might as well tint it bright purple; it blows out, and on the print, it’s all you see. It grabs the eye and dominates it. It’s brute ugly. So that needed to be fixed. This turned out to be tricky. It seems like a good candidate for cloning out and using content aware fill in photoshop to nuke it, but photoshop insisted on trying to fill it either with the branch or with the woodie’s head. oops.

Instead, I popped over to Nik Viveza and used a control point to give me the ability to drop the exposure and bring the white back into balance with the other bright areas shining through the tree canopy. And since I’d fired up the plug-ins, I also did a round-trip through Color Efex, where I tweaked the contrast a bit, but more importantly, used the Neutralize White capability to remove a very slight greenish color cast, and then the add structure tool to bring out some more detail. After I use the plug-ins, my standard workflow is to run it through DFine to cut any noise, and if I’m aiming at print, I’ll sharpen it with Sharpener Pro (for online, I’ll sharpen with Lightroom’s export tools).

Online this doesn’t look massively different, but you can see some differences. Notice that white blog now isn’t so — white.


Online, the difference is subtle. In print, it’s significant and the difference makes or breaks the image.

And that’s the point I’m trying to make here: it’s (relatively) easy to process an image so it looks good online. Online imagery is a lot more forgiving. Distributing images at 600px (as I do on the blox) or 900 or even 1500px on the long side The limited color gamut of sRGB and the limited pixel density of an online image can hide a lot of little flaws.

But when you print it out, those flaws have nowhere to hide. This is even more true the larger you print — I typically start at 8×10 because it’s faster and less expensive, and once I’m happy with a print at that size, I may bump it up to 11×14, sometimes even larger. I plan on experimenting with even larger images down the road, but for now, my printer and I are limited to about 13×19.

It is amazing how many problems that don’t show up online appear when printed. Even when I have a print I like at 8×10, going to 11×14 drags even more out of hiding. It’s especially frustrating to think you have an image finished and ready for final print at 11×14 only to push out that first one and see a new generation of dust spots show up, or a lack of noise reduction, or screwed up sharpening, or…

So there is almost always a round of fix-up to be done to make an image usable in print. And even if you’re online centric, if you compare the two images above, changes made to fix or improve the print will make your online image better as well.

This is why, if you are committed to being the best photographer you can be, that at some point you have to start printing your own images. It will make you a better photographer and your images better images. You don’t need a big, expensive printer (although I bet once you start printing your own images, you’ll want one!) — you can get started for under $250. I’d suggest not buying an “all in one” type printer; they can turn out good prints, but they’re not designed for high quality photo prints. Look for an inkjet with at least six ink tanks. I currently use and like the Epson printers and my main printer is the Stylus Photo R2880. I’d look for one of Epson’s printers with the “Rnnnn” designation, or at the minimum one in the “Stylus Photo” line. Canon also has good printers but I haven’t used one for a while so I can’t recommend one. HP consumer printers are behind the technology curve compared to Canon and Epson, and their inks are brutally expensive, so I recommend against them. Other brands? I haven’t evaluated: I stay with Epson or Canon here. If you want to explore other manufacturers, have fun, but you’re on your own.

Get yourself a couple of boxes of good glossy 8×10 paper and you’re good to go. No need to get fancy starting out, I’ve been using up my supply of HP paper (bought when I was working for them at Palm), and I just ordered in a couple of boxes of Epson’s Premium Glossy. I use this as my “beta test” paper, so to speak, and don’t print on more  expensive papers until I’m completely happy on this one.

But we’re not going to talk about premium papers today. Just grab yourself a printer, get a box of paper, and start printing and studying your prints.



Posted in Photography

In search of a breakfast drink that you can actually drink….

This may seem like a strange thing to review, but stick with me for a minute…

As someone who heads out with the camera into places without services and who tends to take long road trips, it’s really a good idea for me to keep a food supply in the car. As a diabetic, there are times when I realize I really ought to eat — and I’d like an alternative to finding a fast food joint (assuming there’s one nearby).

But since I’m diabetic, I really want things that are higher in protein and lower in carbs. To add to the complication, I have nut allergies, and I eat zero tree nuts and I also can’t eat peanuts. So right off the bat, 90% of the things most people haul in the car with them fail the “me” test, since the whole universe of granolas and trail mixes and the typical things people suggest are either non-edible for me, or are basically carb bombs. It’s always come down to carbs and jerky and things requiring refrigeration.

I’ve recently seen adds for these “breakfast to go” drinks, and so I was curious. Could this be my “leave in the car for those unscheduled uses” mini-meals? Good news: they don’t require refrigeration until opening, their nutritional setup isn’t bad (the Ensure is actually got a good amount of protein and moderate carbs) and they’re imminently portable and you can leave them in the car until you want them (within reason).

But are they drinkable? I gave a couple a shot. Trust me when I say the chocolate flavor of anything like this is most drinkable, and anything labeled strawberry I would avoid like the plague, just from past experience (remember Quik? Remember Strawberry Quik? Yeah… like the plague…). First up, Ensure High Protein, Creamy Milk Chocolate — I cracked one open unchilled. The first swallow — chocolate Quik. Not a great chocolate flavor, but… And then the aftertaste hit. The best description I can give is “institutional”. Quik was always kind of a weak, not very chocolate, sweet taste. That was this, but then layer in, oh, that flavor you get when you brew up some iced tea and then leave it out on the counter for three or four days until it turns. That flavor. 20 minutes later, I could still vaguely taste it. It would probably be better heavily chilled, just like a bad, cheap beer is more palatable chilled until the flavor goes away, but still, I have to say I’ll only drink ensure under Doctors orders (and an armed nurse), and under protest. A big “no, thanks anyway” here. (I can only wonder how bad the strawberry version is).

Later, I tried the Kellogg’s. It’s not as high protein, but the nutrition profile is still okay. Again, chocolate. This time, I stuck it in the fridge and chilled it. 190 calories 5g of fat, 10g or protein, 29g of carbs. more carbs than I’d hope, but… it’s closer to what I want then most things I’ve tried.

My suggestion: don’t go for the breakfast drinks, but look for the shelf stable milks. Both white and chocolate exist, and both are much cheaper than the “special” drinks, the nutrition is as good or better (the shelf stable low-fat white milks are about 8g protein and 12g carbs. the chocolate is 18-20g carbs), and the only other difference is that the milks don’t have lots of really cheap vitamins (of questional real value to you) added.

So, if you’re looking for something like this, don’t get fancy or follow the marketing, drink the milk.



Posted in For Your Consideration