Strange Radiation

Andrew Willett, unreliable narrator.

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On the Crystalline and Complex Beauty of the World We Live In

I should really be in bed at this point, but instead I need to share this with everyone.

It started with the UN job: suddenly I had time to kill on the subway again, time enough to read or whatever. Back when I worked for the kids’ dotcom, I read books. When there were lots of trips to the offices of Major Publication, I read the New Yorker. But for whatever reason, with the UN job came a taste for podcasts. Lots of Dan Savage, at first, because who doesn’t like to listen to people talk about sex? Especially when it’s not only intelligent and unafraid of getting into the juicy and polymorphously perverse details but it’s also funny? And then there was Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me, which was smart, funny people discussing recent news and politics and things. And these satisfied me fine for a while as I came down the West Side on the IRT and then across to Grand Central on the shuttle train and then walked the last few blocks to the General Assembly building and then came home again the same way only in reverse. But somewhere along the line I found out about Radiolab.

Radiolab is science. It is the awe-inspiring wonder of the universe. It is two funny, intelligent people talking about stuff that will blow your mind. In the most recent episode, “Parasites,” they talk about the zombie-cockroaches story that I remembered reading about a while back, and they talk about why the chestburster scene in Alien is such high-octane freakout material, and they talk about the theory that Toxoplasma gondii is responsible for “Cat Lady syndrome” and other behavioral changes in humans. And they talk about this guy who makes an extremely compelling argument that hookworms, whipworms, et al. coevolved with the human immune system and that infection by certain parasites seems to control autoimmune or autoimmune-related disorders (such as allergies, asthma, colitis, and freaking Crohn’s disease, for heaven’s sake) in a number of those who have voluntarily become hosts to the parasite.1

And then there was the episode a few months ago called “Stochasticity,” which was all about randomness. Worth listening to for the discussion of how biological function is some sort of weird-ass emergent property of the random noise of protein synthesis via RNA. I was on the bus when I heard that one. I just about jumped out of my seat and did a little dance.

If science is your thing — if you think that the universe is a cool place to live — you need to check out Radiolab. Especially if you write SF: Radiolab is a flowery field of fat, happy, fluffy plot bunnies. Seriously. Everywhere you look, there’s a cool idea, and then another.

That is all.

1 He went to Africa and infected himself with hookworm and his crippling allergies and asthma went away. Poof! He now sells squeaky-clean, bacteria-free “infect yourself with my hookworms” kits over the internet. At first I was horrified. And then I was transfixed by the idea. Now I can’t get it out of my head.

Putting My Left Foot Forward

I have a gig! I’ve just finished my first week working for the UN Trust Fund for Human Security, doing a writing project that is scheduled to keep me busy until the end of the year. Which is a great thing, especially as copy-editing work at Major Publication is getting harder and harder to come by. But knowing-where-my-rent-check-is-coming-from considerations aside, it’s a great thing to be working for an organization that is engaged in such boots-on-the-ground humanitarianism. It really does help make the world a safer, healthier, happier place for people who need the help — via the sorts of projects that you read about and think, Yes, this is exactly the sort of thing I want the United Nations doing. Science fiction fans believe in better worlds.

So that’s done a great deal to keep my mood buoyant lately. Meanwhile, I’m trying to figure out which market to send “Nightbird” to (aka the Stevie Nicks Death Androids Story, although it contains no androids. Or Stevie Nicks, really. Well, sort of). I figure I should strike while the iron is still warmish from the success of Daisy, which I recently found out was brought to a meeting of fiction-read-out-loud afficionados called NYC Storyreading. Having random strangers enjoying my story in public still kind of freaks me out. Even if it was sort of the point. Thank you, random strangers; I am flattered beyond words.

And finally, I do a lot of walking with the new job — from Grand Central to the UN in the mornings, and as often as not from 1st Avenue all the way to the West Side in the evenings, if the weather is good. There is much headphone-listening, and I’ve been reminded once again that the scars of Band Geekitude run deep. I keep catching myself adjusting my stride so that my left foot comes down on the downbeat; the only reason I notice it at all is that sometimes the tempo speeds up and I’m wondering why I’m going so fast….

Anyway, I’m off to the theatre now: a preview of the new Coraline musical, which looks like it’s going to be a blast. And then an overnight in Philly tomorrow with the swimmers. Enjoy your weekend.

Today’s Thing That Is Crazy

Hokey smokes! Some total stranger in — Scotland? Ireland? Suddenly I can’t tell, how embarassing — took ‘my story “Daisy”’: and produced a free audio version of it, because he liked it. (And because its Creative Commons license encouraged him to do so.)

I am agog. And flattered. Thanks, Ian McMillan!

Who is Better Than Stephen Fry? Nobody.

It’s the first of May, and I’ve been going around the office of Major Publication all day reminding myself over and over not to sing the Jonathan Coulton song out loud; it’s as brilliant and catchy and hilarious as his work is wont to be, but it’s also seriously NSFW. (So if you’ve never heard it before and you’re downloading it now at the office or in front of easily horrified grannies or whatnot be sure to put your headphones on. [And if you enjoy the song, show JoCo some donation love.])

But that’s not why I’m here just now. No, sir. I wanted to direct people’s attention to this letter from Stephen Fry to his 16-year-old self, which I found pretty moving. God knows most of us would love to go back and give a message from the future to our awkward and dopey younger selves, or at least give them big hugs and tell them it’ll be okay. I’m not sure anyone else would be able to do so with such intelligence, humanity, and general awesomeness. It’s also a look at gay history and a meditation on love, which is of paramount importance to all people. It’s good stuff.

Huh. Well, look at that.

It appears I am now a Published Author Person. My short story “Daisy” is now online as part of the CC-licensed anthology Thoughtcrime Experiments. My first sale!

In other news, would the person who left the dial cranked way up to “August” please look after that? Because dude, seriously, 90 degrees? It’s not even May yet.

Poetry Corner

My friend Elise makes jewelry. And writes stuff. Each piece of jewelry gets an interesting name. This one is called “Nine Things About Oracles.” It inspired one poem, and then another, and suddenly there are well over eighty-one poems and counting. My contribution is kind of dopey, but I had fun, anyway.

Nine Things the Oracles Told Our Interviewers

This seat is not as comfortable as it looks.
At the end of the day,
We cannot feel our buttocks.

Once I lost the stone we call the Eagle’s Tear.
It was missing for three days.
I used a jellybean instead, and
Nobody noticed.

The gods tell me the future
Because they know it will change nothing.

It takes twenty-two days
To wear out a deck of cards,
In spring, seventeen.

I have an answer for your dog.
Tell her I said

I miss my nephew.

If you leave right now, you will meet —
Oh. Too late. Never mind.
This happens all the time.

Sometimes I have a dream of my very own:
I cast the bones.
They say,

Once I told the fortune
Of a man’s socks
By mistake.
He never knew the difference.


If you’ve been having trouble leaving comments here over the past few days, try again; I think I fixed it. Of course, it always worked fine for me, and for at least a few others, so it hasn’t been easy to test for fixedness. Consider this an invitation — one even more blatant than the existence of the comment function — to speak up. (And if you get an error, can you shoot me an email and let me know? Thanks.)

Frak me. (Sir.)

Huh. How did I let this get permanently relegated to the “Drafts” queue? In honor of the Battlestar Galactica finale tomorrow night, for which Hugh and I are bouncing up and down like overcaffeinated eight-year-olds in anticipation, I give you this flashback to August of last year, which those unfamiliar with BSG may not get much out of:

Yeah, so I finally knuckled under and opened the shiny box of heroin labeled BSG, and now Hugh and I are obsessed. We’re somewhere in Season 2 at this point, burning through it as fast as Netflix will let us, and wow, it really is all that. Stress TV though it may be.

Anyway, that somehow led to my finally seeing the below, which in turn led to me trying to stifle the Snorty Laugh™ at my desk. It’s yours now. Yeah, it’s another mashup.1 Just click —PLAY— already.

1 See also this one, which is genius.


Got my new Tom Bihn Smart Alec today, to replace my old one, which was mauled by a ferocious beast. Am quite pleased, although the redistribution of pen slots et cetera will take a day or two to get used to.

I initially learned about Bihn’s bags in 2004, when BoingBoing pointed out their care-instructions label. At the time, the last two lines of the label’s French text read:

We are sorry that our president is an idiot.
We didn’t vote for him.

(Much as I found the sentiments laudable, that only got me as far as the website; it’s the excellent laptops/backpacks/messenger bags that got me to make the buy. Highly recommended, honest.) Anyway, I checked the tag in the new pack. Reflecting the changing times, the new tag’s French text is merely a translation of the English care instructions. But at the bottom it says:

Siquid mantica non capit, domi relinquendum est.

Is there a classicist in the house?

The Sound of Water

A while back, I saw this most excellent ad for the Chevy Malibu. I mean, it didn’t make me want to buy a car, but it was conceptually fun, visually well-executed, and had this fabulous song going in the background. Maybe you saw it? It was the one with the baby and the robots and the pasage of time.

After a couple weeks of seeing it go by during MythBusters, I couldn’t get the tune out of my head. A little Googling and it turned out to be Oren Lavie’s song “Her Morning Elegance,” from his debut album, The Opposite Side of the Sea. And I found me an mp3 of it, and listened to it two or three times, and bought the disc.1

I like the album a lot. It’s dreamy and sweetly melancholy and pleasing to listen to, like the rain outside the window when you’re at home on the couch in sheepskin slippers and, I dunno, maybe Sense and Sensibility cued up on the teevee. Some of the songs are more successful than others: his lyrics are sometimes clever and sometimes a little too much so. The instrumental arrangements — and this is an album that relies heavily on strings and wind instruments and a real piano and a vibraphone, even — are really good. “Her Morning Elegance” is the undeniable gem of the disc, a fast 3/4 tune that makes you want to dance down the sidewalk on your way to work. Or it does me, at any rate.

And then a little while ago Mason-Dixon Knitting posted the video, and it’s superb. Here: enjoy.

1 Note to the RIAA: Oren Lavie made money off that unauthorized mp3, and so did you.

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