Bad inventions: The purring electric blanket

This terrible invention fits well into my usual purview, cat-related ridiculousness — like dead mouse cat treats, sugar cereal themed cat litter, and of course the ever-popular Catula.

Instead of horrible genetically engineered “bed dogs” that are like animal exploitationy meat-based waterbeds (Thanks but no thanks, Larry Niven), we should invent purring blankets. Take a regular electric blanket. Cover it in fur. Add strips of gently vibrating or thrumming devices, and sensors. When the blanket senses your proximity, it heats up. If you stroke it, it purrs.

Here is the perfect opportunity to use fremitus.com, if you happen to own that pointless domain name. (WHICH… right now… no one does. No one loves fasciated tiger herons, or what?)

This will make me ONE MILLION DOLLARS someday along with all the other millions of dollars my other bad inventions will magically bring.

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Robot angst

Hanging out today talking about Google’s acquisition of Boston Dynamics me and Adina and Danny were thinking of what they might be used for that isn’t scary-creepy military combat or warzone bots. Here’s a few!

Disaster relief and emergency rescue. Locating people in rubble or bringing supplies into devastated areas. This is probably one of the purposes of these bots but I haven’t tried to find out.

Mapping stuff offroad. (Useful for geological surveys as well as for disaster recovery and outright spying).

“Fix My Street” style monitoring of urban environments, like reporting potholes or broken streetlights. Problem with this: Scary robots running around wearing out the roads and sidewalks.

Soil or water sampling along a shoreline to monitor pollution. I’m not sure if this makes much sense as it might be more reliable and cheaper to have sensors collecting data at fixed locations.

Junkyard bots that roam around in garbage dumps finding things that are recyclable or otherwise useful (or toxic). I thought of this watching how they can climb around on rubble.

Warehouse fulfillment and packing things for shipment. This seems quite possible!

Robot unicorns to replace taxis, Uber, and Lyft. There would obviously be a phone app to summon your robot unicorn to give you a ride anywhere around town. Google employees could summon a giant caterpillar or chinese dragon style segmented robot you could ride on, or one you could go inside like Catbus, that would whomp down the robot lane of Highway 101, in place of those white google buses.

Delivery robots. Residential buildings would have locked slots built in and businesses could have little locked cubbies for delivery bots to pick up people’s stuff. It would become trivial for a robot to just deliver you coffee from the cafe down the street. Of course this all leads to a world where robots need to find free wifi and electrical outlets for charging, which would further lead to us realizing there are little robot hangouts all over the city, the way people congregate around the deep sea vent nutrient rich environments of power outlets and hotspots in airports.

Feral robots which can feed off power on people’s solar roof thingies or from powerlines and survive in the wilds like rats and pigeons. The jumping sand flea bots would emerge at night to tap into lamp posts for power and then scuttle and leap back up to roofs like rats on the prowl.

Robots that go to holiday parties when you are too sick to go and project a Princess Leia sort of hologram of you saying hello and sending your regrets. Then they would scarily whip out a plate of cookies. Introverts might just have their presence robot host the party and you might end up with a whole den full of robot partygoers. Uh oh!

The angst from the title of this post is from (re)watching the videos of Boston Dynamics robots and narrating the robot’s probable sad-Dalek voices. BAD MASTER NOT KICK BIG DOG – BAD KICK MASTER NOT LAUGH ROBOT STUCK GOOD ROBOT…. I am too lazy to make the twitter account to do this, so please take it and run.

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More time spent in bed, with books

I am still suffering from Mystery Abdominal Pain and severe nausea. I spent a couple of days in the hospital which helped me get hydrated and have a bit more pain control. This week I’m having more diagnostic tests, resting and sleeping a lot, and trying to make myself eat more than just broth. It is painful, frustrating, scary, and boring. Part of the scare is that I’m not able to eat much (total loss of appetite), the cause is still unknown, and because I’ve been on immunosuppressants for a year it is important to be vigilant for infections and yet the body’s response to infection can be really weird. The hospital I was in was nice as hospitals go, and I think the team of doctors is fantastic, really working as a team and with a smart, science minded, investigative approach. They are also all very good communicators so I feel quite lucky. I am well equipped to handle uncertainty and being stuck in bed, and have vast resources and social support. So, I am okay.

The worst bit of being in the hospital (besides it feeling like every hour was a month long) was having IV Reglan, which I had a bad reaction to. Within 5 minutes I was catapulted into a state of trying to control a feeling of panic and frenzy, like the worst acid trip you can imagine. After about an hour and a half of that, they gave me Ativan which countered it successfully, and more morphine.

I’m very grateful to my friends for sitting through some painful and boring times with me, for their driving me around, sitting with me in the hospital, and spending the night with me at my house to make sure I’m ok.

My friend Ron who had surgery last week ended up in the room next door to me. His wife Helen showed up at my bedside in the night, held my hand and brought me tea and did other little things like that.

Meanwhile, I miss work. Is that weird? I really miss it. I am missing 2 team workweeks that I was looking forward to and getting to be with my team members in person.

Double Union buildout starts for real this week, and I will miss that. But I am doing what I can as secretary and board member. We have over 25 dues paying members now and more folks in the application process. It’s very, very exciting! I can’t wait to just be there and hang out with everyone.

I have ordered xmas presents for everyone online and also found that I can get whole foods groceries through Instacart. I am going to try to eat baked fish today. Anyway. I will try not to go on about food.

Here are some of the books I’ve been reading:

Strange Evil by Jane Gaskell. This book is AMAZING. She was 14 when she wrote it! It’s like Huysmans’ Against Nature in its manipulation of atmosphere and yet it does it in a wider range — forays into something like baroque positivity rather than always dwelling in things sly and perverse. She does it without being twee. During the quite extended journey scene I thought of Tolkien’s descriptions of sailing to the West; Gaskell at age 14 does that sort of thing, but at greater length, and better — never boring! Gaskell is a passionate visionary, and breaks many conventions of fantasy writing — also she has my undying love for having outright class warfare in her her fantasy utopia.

Sensation by Nick Mamatas. This was hilarious, fast moving, and engaging. Conspiracy novel where a superintelligent spider hive mind has been fighting neurotoxic wasps for thousands of years. Some humans begin to figure this out. The gazillion current cultural references made me laugh a lot, sometimes in embarrassed recognition I fit some of the stereotypes. The scene where the ludicrous middle class activists are lying around playing the game that’s the opposite of “Civilization” probably made me laugh the hardest. I was forced to go look up the city of Hamilton! on Wikipedia; as I hoped, it was all true….. I also enjoy when the style veers into hardboiled “A man walked in the door with a gun in his hand” territory and then gets more and more surreal. After I read Nick’s books I always kind of want to make him cookies and give him a hug to get him out of being such a nihilist. Anyway, this book will make a good holiday present, for people who like science fiction, amusing and clever writing, and who have a penchant for saying wry things about Occupy.

Hild: A Novel by Nicola Griffith. This was seriously great. I though many times of Kristin Lavransdatter, of Mary Renault’s books, and a bit of Mary Stewart’s Merlin books (which are good though not up to this quality level). If you like accurate well researched historical fiction that is centered on women’s lives, and you are fond of the fiber arts, you will probably love this book fanatically and it well deserves that love. I’m going to buy a paper copy of this for my feminist hackerspace! p.s. Hild is an amazing badass. p.p.s. After you finish the book there is So Much History to poke into, so that it’s a joy to surf around and go deeper.

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Updates from the polar regions

It’s been a while! I went off to the 40th anniversary celebration of the Center of the Study of Women in Society at which a bunch of feminist science fiction writers and critics were nucleating around some of our fabulous luminaries. I hung out and talked with Timmi Duchamp, Andrea Hairston, Margaret McBride, Alexis Lothian, Joan Haran, Hiromi Goto, Larissa Lai, and said hello to Ursula LeGuin and Sally Miller Gearhart. So that was amazing. Day 1 of the conference was feminist activists and academics in general, not just science fiction writers. The University of Oregon has a lot of feminist sf writers’ letters and papers, and Margaret taught a Tiptree Award class for many years, so it’s collected a lot of mojo with the west coast WisCon-going folks. That will probably continue to build!

I live-twittered both days of the conference and then meant to write it all up, but I got ill just after getting home. Here are the (over 200) tweets, with lots of interesting links and people to follow, and occasional humor: http://storify.com/lizhenry/worlds-beyond-world

My mom visited, and bought me a huge amount of wooly underthings from REI. I was frustrated at my lack of physical stamina to go out and do fun things with her, which in retrospect was because I was already getting ill.

For the first two weeks of being sick I took my antibiotics and worked from home, going out very minimally, and after a day in the ER I am on different antibiotics and sicker. It is unclear if this is something antibiotics will help, or if it is related to my autoimmune issues (aka, arthritis with complications). I am in a lot of pain and have to stay lying down in bed, a situation I really don’t like but in which, fortunately, I have the entire Internet and a lot of books to entertain me and nice family and friends to help care for me. So, I’m both fine and not fine. Sitting up is painful. I am dizzy and can’t eat more than broth and a little rice so I’m not feeling strong. I fall asleep a lot. More tedious doctor appointments are to come. I try not to worry, though I am so far behind at work that it’s stressful to contemplate. Parenting and taking care of myself is also hard. I am crying a lot out of sheer exhaustion and also fear of whatever is going on which is uncertain. Oh well. Been there before! I remain cheerful on the whole.

On the up side, lying in bed is relatively good for my ankles. Maybe it will help them heal up better. I can’t prop the laptop on my stomach, so am mostly sideways as I type or read stuff on the computer.

During this, we launched a quick 10-day fundraiser for Double Union’s buildout, hitting our $5K goal in under an hour, and topping out at just over $15K. OMG, I love my feminist hackerspace. Look at our gorgeous little website: http://www.doubleunion.org/ We have 25 members already and aren’t even open yet. This week a lot of people who aren’t me will be ripping out the carpet and moving all our furniture in and out. Then we will be ready to build shelves and buy tools. Then we can open. YAY!!!

In the interstices of that I have listened to a lot of music (currently on a Serenata Guyanesa kick), played some Plants vs. Zombies 2, watched Milo play Myst, poked around on Wikipedia, and read quite a few books. Here is a partial list. Sometimes I can think and sometimes I am just spacing out. If I can focus and read then it’s mercifully distracting from pain.

* When Fox Is a Thousand by Larissa Lai
* In Darkest Light by Hiromi Goto
* Trophic Cascade (short prose poems by Hiromi Goto)
* The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson
* We Are All Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
* Missing Links and Secret Histories: A Selection of Wikipedia Entries from Across the Known Multiverse ed. by L. Timmel Duchamp
* Gaia’s Toys by Rebecca Ore
* Great post by Skud, Why is it so difficult and expensive to make your own clothes (or have them made)?
* An entertaining close reading/critique of The Hunger Games
* Bud, not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (Ada’s book for school)
* Black Boy by Richard Wright (Milo’s book for school)
* the first and second Alanna books by Tamora Pierce (millionth time)
* Diaspora by Greg Egan (reread) (Thanks Taren!)
* Polar Journeys Ed. by Jon E Lewis, which Val brought me in a large stack of awesome books

The Polar Journeys book is 42 short excerpts from various explorations and voyages in the Arctic and Antarctica. I’ve read some of the sources on previous reading binges and am very fond of this sort of book in general (primary sources, misery and suffering, scurvy or starvation a plus) For example I have read and re-read various versions of Hakluyt’s voyages and all those Vilhjalmur Stefanson books and then when my ex went to the South Pole with his experiment I read every single Antarctica book I could find including the one about the International Geophysical Year by the guy who invented the idea of wind chill. Some of the great stories in the Polar Journeys book were ones I’ve never heard of. The story of the Arctic voyage of the dirigible Italia, the sad balloon expedition of Salomon Andrée, and the last days of George W. De Long were pretty great, especially from a warm bed under a down comfortor and a heating pad.

The best story so far has been George E. Tyson’s diary excerpts from the Polaris Expedition. His style is… like a regular person with some common sense, trying to figure out what the hell to do, instead of like a pompous observing scientist or wannabe heroic expedition leader. He and 18 others, including 2 women and their 5 children were adrift on an ice floe for six months. Since yesterday I’ve been obsessed with the details of this expedition and its background and all the people in it getting to the point of non-minor edits to Wikipedia, starting with Tookoolito and her husband Ebierbing. The expedition head, Captain Hall, died, very likely from being poisoned by another crew member. (Someone made a whole other expedition years later to dig up his body and test it for arsenic.) This guy Tyson, who had been a whaling captain, suspected that the remaining leader, Captain Budington, deliberately stranded him and the rest. It backfired on Budington who got stranded anyway with the 14 remaining crew members. ANYWAY. Tyson describes the total screwup that is their life on the ice over the Arctic winter. He blames the German crew for most of the mistakes. They would have died SO fast if the Inuit folks with them had not built them igloos and shot about 50 seals. And probably sewed them clothes too.

I could go on forever but my main two points are:

Tookoolito, Taqulittuq, or “Hannah” was a total badass. Her family had a long history of contact with whalers and voyagers. Her husband Ipiirviq (aka Ebierbing or Joe) and daughter were also pretty great. I will keep working on their articles. And make ones for the others who don’t have articles like Merkut (Suersaq aka Hans’s wife, who seems to have had 4 small children with her through all this!)
– Histories of Hall and Budington and the whole lot of them are often not very well researched. News articles, biographical dictionaries, and yes Wikipedia entries quote each other’s inaccuracies till I want to scream. Hall and Budington had voyaged together a bunch before. They appear to have been somewhat in conflict as to who was the best friend, benefactor, and exploiter of Tookoolito and Ebeierbing (and family). Even after they were dead I think something fishy is going on with many of the claims of who their patron was. It will likely not be possible to find a truth about this, but tracing the claims would be really fun. I have found sources to claim, as a minor example, that either Budington, Hall, or Ebierbing himself bought the Ebierbing family home in Connecticut. One interesting project here, which I invite any of you to take up and work on, is I think finding and digitizing Tookoolito’s letters from Nyack, NY to Mrs. Buddington in Groton. For one thing, the quotes from her letters don’t match with the register or grammar of how she is represented as speaking in English by Hall and other contemporaries. Anyway, most people interested in this seem stuck on the more flashy controversy of whether Charles Francis Hall was murdered or not, and if so, who did it. I am more interested in the story of the Inuit people and their families and the arcs of their lives and whatever they may have to say. I love tracing that “Puney” or Punna = Panik = Sylvia Grinnell Ebierbing = Iseeatpo or Isigaittuq. As always the fluidity of identity in names across language fascinates me. It is one of the little keys of subalternity (as I explored in my Wittig project and my anthology of Spanish American women poets). (Obviously… this interest or ability ties in to my interest in hoaxes and sockpuppets!)

Details of nearly everything about the people and the situation are also just lifted uncritically and unsourced. For instance the name of the guy who brought Tookoolito and Ebierbing as young teenagers (with some other kid) to England is listed in some sources as Thomas Bolby and in others as John Bowlby. That one shouldn’t be all that hard to straighten out from primary sources! Other screwups…. I can’t even count them. People are slobs, and truth is more elusive than you might think. The best writeups on this so far appear to be from Kenn Harper, whose clarity I appreciate. Thank god someone has some sense out there.

Once I finish these three books I’ll have a lot more Wikipedia editing to do. (Thank you Internet Archive!)
* Narrative of the North Polar Expedition, U.S. Ship Polaris, Captain Charles Francis Hall commanding (1876)
* Arctic experiences [microform] : containing Capt. George E. Tyson’s wonderful drift on the ice-floe : a history of the Polaris expedition, the cruise of the Tigress and rescue of the Polaris survivors : to which is added a general arctic chronology (1874) (READ THIS… it is AWESOME)
* Memoirs of Hans Hendrik

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