Sunday, December 01, 2002

Why I Hate Blogger Software

I don't post blogs all that often, and just spent about 30 minutes writing about a wonderful new book called When You Ride Alone, You Ride with bin Laden by Bill Maher.

And then, I pressed the large type on the left side that said "Posts."

And, of course, I lost everything I wrote because I should have remembered to press the small blue button on the right that says "post and publish."

Weird. I've been writing Web pages in raw HTML since 1994, and it's the new technology that's fucking me over!

Saturday, October 26, 2002

Safety, Again

Well, I was in Silver Spring, MD during the recent sniper episode and arrived home alive. So did my husband. So did all of our friends.

Or, as the button many of us bought and wore (thanks, Lee and Nancy!) said:

    No stupid sniper is going to ruin my convention.

And he didn't. Capclave was probably slightly less well-attended than it might have been, but most of the people I wanted to see braved the news reports and went to Silver Spring anyway.

I don't want to be too blase about danger, but the overreaction to living is getting tiresome. Some of my friends have become very fatalistic ("If there's a bullet out there with your name on it, that's it"). I'm not. Increasingly, I feel like I'm living with the religion of statistics. I'm more likely to die of a stroke in my 70s than of a bullet or terrorist action in my 40s.

Wednesday, October 02, 2002

Fidel Castro and Saddam Hussein

So what do they have in common?

Both have a penchant for wearing military uniforms and growing facial hair.

Both are absolute dictators over small countries.

Both are irrationally demonized by the U.S. government.

Sure, we should be wary of these two, but is there any rational reason to go to war?

In the case of Fidel Castro, we've contained him for years. Despite several adventures in the early '60s, Cuba has proven to be fairly harmless. When the Russians wanted to put nuclear missiles in Cuba and the US government said "No way," the Russian government collectively blinked and nothing further happened. Rationality triumphed.

In the case of Saddam Hussein, he tried to invade Kuwait (and was thrown out decisively), murdered a bunch of his own citizens, and is suspected to be developing "weapons of mass destruction."

It's clear that the Iraqis have had some bioweapon capabilities. They gassed a few hundred Kurds for almost no reason other than to say that they could do it. But, they haven't done anything else with those weapons since the early '90s.

It's not so clear that they have nuclear weapons. It's not that easy to enrich uranium. Uranium enrichment facilities are large and easy to spot from the air. It's also not that trivial to transport enriched uranium, so it would be tough to "secretly" bring it in from another country. [[I later heard a report from an independent source (since I'm extremely untrusting about anything the Bush administration would say about Iraq) that the Iraqis probably did have some amount of enriched uranium in about 1990). And, as we've just learned from North Korea, it is possible to enrich uranium and build bombs without the US knowing "for sure" (parentetical comments added 10/25/02)]]

And how would they deliver a nuclear weapon - by the post?

They don't have missiles and their Air Force is kept pretty busy due to US monitoring of the no-fly zone.

Have representatives of al-Queda met with representatives of the Iraqi government? Probably. And have representatives of al-Queda met with other governments? Almost definitely. We don't seem to be going after other governments (beyond getting the Taliban mostly out of Afghanistan).

There is no rational reason to go to war against Iraq. While Saddam Hussein is dangerous, he's much, much more dangerous to his own people than he is to the rest of the world. Containment has worked very well, and can continue to work.[[(Comment added 2015: Sadly, the war the Americans started in Iraq destabilized the country and led to an ugly civil war. So it turned out America was much more dangerous to Iraq than Hussein had been...)]]

I keep hearing we should be afraid of Saddam Hussein. It's as if we learned absolutely nothing from September 11 - we need to be more afraid of, more wary of the enemy we cannot see. Like Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein is more bluster, someone I refuse to loose any sleep over, despite the overly-earnest pronouncements of our government.

Frankly, it's embarrassing.

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Reaching Me Online

Ahh, for the good old days of the Web. You could stick your E-mail address wherever you wanted to and people would send you E-mail... ; >

Well, it hasn't been like that in a while, due to spam. I have an address that I only use to post on USENET, and I'm up to about 10 pieces of spam a day. Unfortunately, I need to check it sporadically because my ISP insists on having at least one E-mail address separate from my E-mail on their server.

I have a Yahoo E-mail I really don't use, and I get about 3 spams a day from that one. Luckily, the spam filter catches most of them.

Seeing the onslaught of spam, I took my E-mail off of my pages a few years ago and opted to use formmail forms.

Stop laughing..

What funny about that was that it turns out formmail has massive security problems. I detached my forms from formmail over the summer, but neglected to take formmail off my server. So, lo, I had a hacker try to spam others with my formmail.


So I've pulled down my Perl scripts and have downloaded a single Perl script which promises it is a bullet-proof mail utility. And I've put my forms back.

If you've been trying to reach me, I'm sorry I've been hard to contact. I'm really not trying to hide. But there's only so much spam you can delete in a day....

Contact the Webmaster.

Sunday, September 22, 2002

Meeting Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman

One of my favorite books (well, the first 2/3rds of it, anyway) is the Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay. I also liked The Wonder Boys and Mysteries of Pittsburgh very much. Michael Chabon also runs a wonderful Web site on top of being one of the better writers of our day.

So when I saw he was making a "stealth visit" to his former employer (Jay's Bookstall) to sign some books, I made a point of getting myself out to Oakland to pick up a copy of Summerland and meet Michael.

Ayelet Waldman, Jay, Michael Cabon and Ida-Rose

They were just delightful folks. I'd seen Michael in some TV interviews, but I don't remember having seen Ayelet Waldman before. She's also been writing, a series of mysteries called "The Mommy Track." I bought one of her books as well.

While I've been very lucky to meet lots of writers due to my involvement in SF fandom, I haven't met all that many mainstream writers. I met Barbara Kingsolver after a talk a few years ago, and that's been about it. So meeting a Pulitzer Prize winner, and "local boy makes good" was a real treat.

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

He's Probably Dead: Osama bin Laden

Osama bin Laden hasn't been seen publically since last fall, and he wasn't looking too good at the time. Remember, he was only 44 but was reported to have had severe kidney disease on top of living in a war zone for a few months.

And now, this:

Osama wasn't like Mullah Omar - he didn't completely shun cameras. He'd give a speech every once in a while or demonstrate a rocket launcher in front of video cameras.

The fact that he didn't give this self-congratulatory speech on video means he's probably dead. The fact that he has not been reliably photographed since last
fall, and isn't showing up on a recent video tape during this first anniversary of 9/11, means he's not around to worry about anymore.

But whether it's Osama or some fellow-traveler, his contention that history has been changed is nonsense. While his people did murder about 3,000 people in cold blood and ruin a few blocks of downtown Manhattan and part of the Pentagon, let's examine whose history has changed in the last year, shall we?

Americans, Europeans, et.c.: Few lifestyle changes;
more unemployment, some extra lines at
the airport, more focus on terrorism

Afghanistan: Taliban out, something less onerous in;
al Qaeda's movements greatly restricted
to caves and remote countryside (or underground).

As the crash of Flight 93 demonstrated, Americans woke out of their terrorism stupor pretty fast.

I think the best way to spend tomorrow is to try to acknowledge the hit we took without wallowing in the terror of the day. Living in terror means the terrorists win. I plan to go to work.

I don't believe all terrorists are gone, nor do I believe that we'll never have another terrorist attack. But, as I said last December, I believe we're more likely to have small-scale terrorist acts, not large flying bombs.

2013.02.20: And, OK, I was wrong on this one. Bin Laden was alive until May 2011.

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Two Girls Who Didn't Die

With so much bad news about unlucky girls, I thought I'd share two stories about lucky girls.

The first one is 7-year-old Erica Pratt. You've probably heard of her. She was the little girl snatched late Monday night in Philadelphia. She was tied up and thrown in a basement. The kidnappers chose to wrap her in duct tape, which the girl was able to chew through. She escaped by breaking a window and calling for help.

The second one is 18-year-old Megan Stone. You probably haven't heard of her. A star high school athlete, she developed a virus a few weeks ago that attacked her heart. After a couple of days, she was on the list for a possible heart transplant, it looked like her heart would be so badly damanged.

But almost as rapidly as she got the virus, she got over it and walked out of the hospital with her original heart.

I haven't met Erica (though I'd love to give her a high-five for a job well done), but I do have a tenuous connection to Megan - her father was a good friend of Jim's while they were growing up. Jim plans to drop Blaine a note.

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

A Letter to the Editor on the Philadelphia Convention Center

The Post-Gazette published a lengthy letter I wrote
in response to an article on the Philadelphia Convention
Center. Here's the letter:

As a volunteer planner of science fiction conventions, I was not at all surprised to read "Bookings Fall at Philadelphia Convention Center" (July 7). I worked on a conference at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia late last summer, and while our conference did get off in a timely manner, it cost thousands of extra dollars in labor fees.

We were required to rent equipment at high prices that we could have brought to the convention for free or rented more cheaply elsewhere. Dealing with that convention center involved more aggravation than I have seen in 25 years of working on conferences across the country.

The article makes one erroneous point: "The center runs the risk of attracting only military, educational, religious and social organizations."

The Philadelphia center may not even attract many of these types of organizations in the future. I worked on a conference for a nonprofit organization in Philadelphia, and, as far as I can tell, we were charged as much as any corporation would have been.

On paper, the Philadelphia center is a convention-ideal site. When prospective convention planners visit the site, it looks perfect from the street. The convention center has great facilities, is adjacent to Reading Terminal Market and Chinatown and has many hotels within three blocks. But I know many of us who have dealt with the center would rather not do so in the future, no matter how great the site looks.

The Pittsburgh convention center can learn some valuable lessons from the problems in Philadelphia. Although the Pittsburgh center has a lot of potential, it has an additional problem: the location of the convention center. The city needs to understand that the area around the convention center must be redeveloped to help attract more convention business.

While our new convention center will look terrific from the river, visitors look for street appeal. They look for nearby restaurants and hotels.

With the exception of the Westin Convention Center hotel (which is a wonderful hotel with one of the best restaurants in town), there isn't another hotel for at least three blocks.

People doing planning for Downtown Pittsburgh should quit ignoring the area around the convention center and start thinking about how to attract conventions to the city.

Unfortunately, the city of Pittsburgh has done little to make potential convention attendees want to stay in the convention center area.

Mt. Lebanon

Here's the link:

Saturday, July 13, 2002

Fact Checking (This Time - NPR and Scott Simon's Weekend Edition)

I am a big believer in fact-checking, particularly in public forums, like Web sites, radio shows, TV shows, newspapers...Heck, even in blogs.

This morning I heard bits and pieces of NPR's Weekend Edition while I was running errands, and heard a surprising number of errors. So here's the letter I've written to Scott Simon to complain:

Dear Scott,

I'm a big fan of your show, but I was dismayed by the number of errors you made in passing on this morning's show (7/13/02).

First John F. Kennedy was born in May of 1917, meaning he was 43 when he was nominated for president in July of 1960. Second, he had one child when he was nominated, though Jacqueline Kennedy was pregnant at the time of his nomination and
gave birth to their second child, John Jr., after his election in November 1960. An
almanac or encyclopedia would have helped you out here, or a Web site such as
Encyclopedia Americana:

There were similar types of errors during your lead-in to the talk on summer blockbusters. From 1965 to 1975, I'm pretty sure the top moneymaker was The Sound of Music, not Gone with the Wind. (However, I don't have an almanac from the early '70s so I can't confirm this.)

However, where absolutely missed the mark was both you and your guest calling Close Encounters of the Third Kind a summer blockbuster. It was released in November 1977
and was not a summer blockbuster at all (though it mailed a pile of money. Check the Internet Movie Database at

You and your guest also missed the opportunity to discuss how movie promotion changed in the mid-'70s. There were an enormous number of television commercials for Jaws before Jaws came out - it was the first time I remember ad saturation in advance of a movie. Same thing for both Star Wars and Close Encounters.

I enjoy you and your show, but fact-checking is being increasingly ignored in the media. If you can't get simple facts right, how can we rely on you for getting the facts right about more complicated stories?


Laurie D. T. Mann

Thursday, July 11, 2002

Staggering Back to Blogdom

Gee, has it been six weeks already? Time sure flies... ;->

Anyway, between having a rough time with sinuses, moving to a mostly
full-time job, and working on conventions and Web sites, I haven't had
much time for blogging. I'm still reading other people's and enjoying,
but I haven't had the time to be motivated about my own.

I am excited to be working on Noreascon 4 as
the Exhibits/Fixed Functions Division Director. I'll probably post some of my ideas here as things progress. If you have exhibit ideas for the 2004 Worldcon, feel free to send me E-mail, or talk to me in person at Con Jose.

Monday, May 27, 2002

On Living in a "Safe" Suburb

We live on a busy street in a nice suburb of Pittsburgh. We moved here in 1993 because we were looking for an area with an excellent school system, close to town, with a house we could afford. We really weren't all that concerned with "safety" issues per se. We lock doors out of habit no matter where we've lived, and aside from petty theft from a pair of break-ins, have been lucky to not been victims of real crime.

Over the last few years, major crime has seeped into our suburb. In April 2000, a guy in a nearby neighborhood went on a shooting spree. His first victim was his neighbor, a Jewish woman. He drove to the next town and started shooting Indian people at a grocery. He shot-out the windows of two synagogues. He murdered a man in a Chinese restaurant, and finally shot a black karate instructor. When he was done, five people had been murdered, one man was left paralyzed from the neck down.

I wasn't very surprised, in some ways, because folks in Pennsylvania love their guns and there's a fairly ugly current of racism among some people. In fairness to my home, some folks in the town have started to deal with diversity issues and are at least talking about them.

More recently, though, the pace of murders has quickened. Two young men whom my daughter went to high school with, "allegedly" killed another man in what, "allegedly," was a drug deal gone wrong. While this murder did not happen in our town, it "allegedly" involved people who do.

A few weeks ago, a young man murdered his girlfriend. We don't need the "allegedlys" in this case - he killed himself before the police could arrest him.

Just last night, a policeman was shot during a domestic disbute. While the policeman was shot in the chest, he was wearing a bullet-proof vest and is expected to recover.

This level of violence in a "safe" suburb is depressing. I suppose it's just a reminder that nowhere is safe. It doesn't mean we should panic and crawl in our homes and never emerged - it just means we need to be vigilant everywhere.

Friday, May 17, 2002

Two Truths and a Lie

This was Kate Nepveu's fault - she alerted rec.arts.sf.fandom to the Weblog harrump, still crazy, where people were instructed to list two truths and a lie about themselves.

Here are mine:

1. I was in a train wreck with my family because my mother was afraid to fly.
2. I was on a local TV special when I was 15 talking about space travel and the future.
3. Eddie Mekka failed to teach me how to dance during a summer theater workshop (or, more correctly, I have always had two left feet and failed to learn how to dance from anyone).

Monday, May 13, 2002

Why American Slavery Reparations Are Such a Terrible Idea

I am politically liberal. I used to feel more middle-of the-road, but not so much lately. And that, in theory, should mean that I am in favor of the current suit for slavery reparations some African Americans have filed.

The more I have read about the suit, the more I am convinced it is a terrible idea, and I hope some judge throws it out soon.

The suit deals with wrongs that are over 140 years old. None of the people who made the decisions at that time are alive today. None of the people who were slaves are alive today. True, the ugly spectre of racism is still alive in some Americans today, but it has been fading over the last 40 years or so. The legal apparatus that reinforced racist behavior has mostly been dismantled.

I had mixed feelings about the moves to pay slave laborers from World War II, but at least a few of those laborers are still alive.

For Americans to take the American slavery suit seriously means we are becoming as obsessed about redressing generational past wrongs as people in the Balkans, Turkey, Armenia or the Middle East. We must be aware of our history, but we should never run our lives to make sure that wrongs against our father's father's father are refought in our own time. For that just means that we can't get beyond past ills.

Focusing on past wrongs means people are less likely to pay attention to current wrongs. We should be much more worried about the remaining vestiges of racism (housing, education, jobs) and work to erradicate them, rather than fighting issues related to past slavery.

Does this suit mean I should be suing the government because my grandmothers (and those before them) were not permitted to vote? My great-great-great-great-great-great* grandparents were Quaker immigrants to America who were exiled to an island and who starved to death; should I sue the English government or the American government to complain? Almost everyone in America can find a reason to sue someone over generational past wrongs. Suing will do nothing to change the lives of the people who died long ago.

Slavery does exist in our time, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. We need to make people more aware of contemporary slavery, and we need to find ways to fight it. Suing over past slavery offenses can aid current slaveholders by keeping people distracted about the present.

We live in the present. At least, we ought to. I've always believed that we should learn from the past, live in the present and plan for the future. Suing over wrongs from hundreds of years ago keeps people too tied to the past.

Friday, May 10, 2002

Too Many Recent Deaths...

We all gotta go. I know that. I edit Dead People Server, partially to track "people's status," but also as a reminder - we all gotta go some day.



The last few weeks, a number of people connected to the science fiction field have died. Weirdly, each death has gotten a little "closer." First Lafferty and Knight, older men whom I knew slightly. Sad, but not all that unexpected. Then, George Alec Effinger, younger and more of a friend. Then, very suddenly last night, Bruce Pelz.

Non-fans reading this blog might have heard of R. A. Lafferty, Damon Knight or George Alec Effinger, but might be scratching their heads over Bruce Pelz. Bruce was "just" a fan, but what a fan. He was one of the first people to take collecting and recording fan history seriously. He was a librarian for many years, and had arranged to donate material he'd collected to UC Irvine. He and his wife Elayne had spent much of the last few years taking fabulous cruises. They'd been to Africa and Greece and Alaska in recent years; I know because he would bring his photo albums to cons and share them with us. He'd helped to run cons for many years, and was a founder of Smofcon (to help run cons) and FanHistoriCon (to celebrate fan history).

Patrick Nielsen Hayden keeps saying that we should stop dying. He knows there are some things out of our control. I'm sure Bruce didn't choose last night to die; he was 66 and still had things in his date book beyond doctor visits. But, if you have a choice about it, go fast without the weeks or months of wasting away and loosing your love of life. While I regret I won't be running into him at the next few Midwestcons and Worldcons, I'm happy to have known him, and to know that he had a great impact on fandom and will be well-remembered.

My sympathies to Elayne, his wife and Cecy his daughter. And to the rest of us who knew him.

Monday, May 06, 2002

Today, I'm Ashamed to Be an American...

I find the unilateral actions of our government, particularly under the Bush administration, to be an embarassment. But today's decision to renounce obligations to the World court goes beyond the embarassment I've felt over the last 18 months. I'm genuinely ashamed.

How can we encourage renegade nations to listen to world sanctions when we won't? This could lead to isolationism during a time in world history when isolationism is particularly dangerous.

I wish President Bush and his team would come to their collective senses, but I do not see it happening any time soon.

Oh, and I've just found out that this president does not have a public E-mail address. E-mail to bounces, and when you visit the Web site, the contact page does not include an E-mail address. This is particularly interesting when you consider that, over the fall, many people were praising what a vital link to the public E-mail was when everyone was afraid of traditional snail in the wake of the anthrax panic.

Monday, April 29, 2002

Yesterday Was a Generally Depressing, Weird Day

I was very saddened to hear about George Alec Effinger's death. While I hadn't been in touch in a while, we'd hung out some at conventions over the years. George had a hard life, was often ill, and I wasn't all that shocked to hear he'd died relatively young (at 55). couldn't help but hope it was just one of those bizarre net-rumors, like the people who post, almost daily, that Reagan or Hope had died.

We also had very strange weather. It was sunny, humid and in the '70s in the morning and early afternoon. It turned very windy and we spent the afternoon having tornado watches. Despite that, in our part of Pittsburgh, there was little lightning or rain, and the wind probably only gusted to about 50 mph.

Tuesday, April 23, 2002

We Spent an Enjoyable Three Days Up in Boston

Jim and I help to run science fiction conventions. Last year, we managed the Program division for the Millennium Philcon. So now that we're starting to emerge from the burn-out from last year's Worldcon, we're starting to work on the 2004 Worldcon. We really don't know what we'll be doing for the next Noreascon. Jim has been somewhat more definite than I've been; I have some ideas of what I'd like to do, but I'm mostly trying to be very flexible and open-minded.

While we lived in Massachusetts from 1982-1993, we only spend about a week a year up there now as we're settled in Pittsburgh. Boston is really bustling, despite the high tech bust. I saw at least eight different limos in the Back Bay last Saturday night. We visited friends and family and had some terrific meals. We highly recommend Tapeo, a suburb Spanish Tapas restaurant about three blocks away from the Sheraton (home of next year's Boskone and N4 in 2004).

Monday, April 15, 2002

My First "Official" Weblog

I went to a political event tonight, "in honor" of tax day. It was supposed to be something of an environmentalist's nightmare on how our taxes, especially our state taxes, are being spent.

That was fine, but some of the "entertainment" was on the clueless side. One group decided that doing a three minute rant on Palestinians as victims was an appropriate way to educate us about environmental affairs. At least two people walked out. Instead of applauding or booing at the end, I said, "That was really poor judgment on your parts."

There's plenty of blame to go around in the Middle East. I'm not a Sharon fan, and I think he and Israel have behaved badly, particularly of late. But to portray the Palestinians as the only victims means you can ignore the hundreds of people murdered in terrorist attacks recently.

Ironically, I heard a brief ray of hope for Israeli-Palestinian relations just this morning. There's a hospital in Israel (in Jerusalem, I think - it may be called Hadassah) that treats all people injured by acts of terrorism or war. Jewish, Moslem and Christian employees work side by side. At least there's one place where people seem to be able to talk and work together.

Why Blog?

I'm still not sure "why blog" when I've been writing Web pages since 1994. But, I thought I'd give it a shot. So, here's the continuation of the World's Slowest Blog (AKA: Laurie Mann's Home Page), begun in the fall of 1994, when the Web (and I) were both younger.

I actually had other tasks for today (today being a "non-work" day - due to the "tech recession" the best job I could find was a part time Web contract job), but I was somewhat taken aback by the news that Damon Knight had died. Yes, I know he was 79, so I shouldn't have been taken aback by much. Still, there are always those people whom you've only met occasionally that you hope to see more of in the future, despite their age. I felt that way very strongly about Damon.

Tax returns are done for another year. Actually, they were mostly done in February -- I like to send in returns for refunds early and hold the returns that need payment in mid-April. I do wish that that Post Office wouldn't be open extra hours on April 15. It just encourages the procrastinators.