Dragon*Con items at auction

Posted: September 2nd, 2015 under Conventions, the writing life.
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I’m offering two Tuckerizations at the Dragon*Con Charity Auction, since I don’t have a new book out this year.

One is a character placement in one (probably the one I’m just finishing) of the two Vatta related books on contract.  The other is a character placement in a Paksworld story, one that will either come out in an anthology or be published in another collection  of Paksworld fiction.   If there’s room in my suitcase, I might tuck in a couple of audiobooks as well, but no promises on that.   The Vatta story character will necessarily be a minor character in the book; the Paksworld story character may be more central (depends on the story.)


  • Comment by Jonathan Schor — September 3, 2015 @ 11:13 am


    Did you see about the wild sheep which yielded enough wool for 352 pair of socks? Not on topic but you might be interested.

  • Comment by elizabeth — September 9, 2015 @ 12:30 pm


    No, I didn’t. Only now recovering my brain after Dragon*Con. The only “wild sheep wool” stories I can find are about the three wild merinos (2 in NZ, 1 in Australia) whose fleeces weighed 60, 60-something, and 89 pounds “raw” (that is, untrimmed, unwashed, unspun.)

    If you assume no loss (unlikely–it’s pointed out that the sheep had trapped urine in its wool that had burned the skin–and of course feces and other dirt hard to remove–then that’s 40.45 kg of wool in total. If all could be spun to worsted weight (100 g to 210-220 yards) then that’s enough wool for 202 pairs of regular socks the way I make them + some leftovers from each pair that might yield another 50 pair of short socks. Spun thinner it would make more socks. Socks are knit from various weights of yarn…the thinner the yarn, the less weight.

    My guess is that these sheep’s wool will all result in unrecoverable loss–there’s some loss from the “grease fleece” in all sheep: first of all there’s the “skirtings” (really dirty, matted wool that can’t be used for spinning), then the washing process that removes “grease” (50% or more of the weight of a merino fleece) and other impurities, then the fiber lost in preparation for spinning (carding, combing, etc.) and in spinning itself. These wild sheep haven’t been sheared in years, so their fleeces will be extra dirty, and probably more will be inextricably matted, and the grease load more like 60%.

    So maybe 10 pounds of raw fleece would be skirtings, cut away before other processing. And at least 60% lost in washing (from dirt and grease) which brings it down to 31.6 pounds (or 14.36 kg.) or 71.8 pairs of regular socks as I make them. (200 g. worsted weight yarn per pair, with some left over.) It takes more yardage of a lighter weight yarn to make the same size (thinner) sock, so the fact that you can get roughly just under twice as much yardage in fingering weight from 100g (360-460) as in worsted weight (200 to 220) does not mean you get twice as many socks.

    So–I do doubt the feasibility of getting 352 pairs of socks (my size) from an 89 pound raw fleece from a Merino sheep that hasn’t been sheared in its lifetime. Small children’s socks use about half as much yarn of the same weight as mine, and that still gets you only to maybe 140 pair from the trimmed, cleaned, spun fleece. I think someone used the whole weight as if it were all useful, and a smaller sock size than mine, to come up with 352 pairs.

  • Comment by Iphinome — September 12, 2015 @ 8:16 pm


    An odd Vatta’s War question.

    Since cranial implants interface directly with the mind to such a level that they can induce sleep, does the software also correct mind-body screw-ups like body integrity identity disorder and eating disorders?

    Would it be a built in function? Only happen with the kind of punitive implantation that Osman avoided?

  • Comment by elizabeth — September 13, 2015 @ 10:01 pm


    Not all cranial implants have the same software, and none can–by themselves–grow new neurons or connections between them to permanently change how mind-body issues result from neuronal geometry. I have played various games with medical interventions in Vatta’s War, as you know–with a loose assignment of certain results to “implant management,” pharmaceutical interventions, gene therapy and genetic engineering. Implants were first conceived as a medical tool (e.g. cochlear implants) but with the increasing popularity of personal computers as a personal-development tool or social tool–an “internal hard drive” for added and more reliably accessible memory and communications. In the meantime, the real world (ours) started developing brain-body interfaces not just for hearing, but for vision and mobility prosthetics. It seemed clear to me that a cranial implant was not ideal for all the things that reality and science fiction had come up with–and yet there’s a wide range of possibilities for rehabilitation after injury/illness and primary enhancement. Who does not sometimes wish for that third hand? That zoom lens in the eye? That extra memory bank with (for people like me) a face recognition module and instant recall of name & Rolodex information for that face?

    I am undoubtedly wrong about the exact limits of what a cranial implant’s software could do, but for book purposes had to put limits *somewhere*, at the same time considering (my best guess, but only a guess) what future (far future, too!) knowledge and practice could do by way of genetic engineering at various pre-birth stages, gene treatment of specific problems, nano-surgery, pharmaceuticals, and using the tools we already have with far more knowledge about the body, especially the brain. Which is a longwinded way of saying that *in my Vatta stories*, and as I understand BIID and eating disorders (at the level of today’s knowledge), that fictional universe would not use implant software to correct BIID (which I think would require restructuring at least two areas of the brain) and probably would not use it for eating disorders where that is the result of similar neural structural issues to BIID (if current theories about BIID are right, which…very uncertain still.) What the implant can do most easily on the psych side is tweak the release of specific biochemicals that are involved in sleep, alertness, fear, rage, concentration, depression, etc. I think implants would deal well with epilepsy and maybe Tourette’s Syndrome. Parkinsonism too, maybe. Not Alzheimer’s or other dementias, which would require a different approach.

    Two kinds of legally mandated brain manipulations exist in the background of the books: an implant that suppresses a behavior by changing the biochemical drivers of that behavior (e.g. suppressing testosterone secretion–a chemical castration, or inducing unconsciousness or pain when the subject tries to do something forbidden (assault, rape, theft, etc.) The former exists now as a pharmaceutical approach to some criminals (but tolerance is a problem) and the latter I see as having little chance of success because some types of criminality could evade the implant’s detection until too late (just as they can evade lie detector tests.) In its earlier phases (imagined as near-future in THE SPEED OF DARK) the anti-violence chip causes a seizure when the violent person’s internal biochemistry indicates a build-up of aggressive chemicals and also controls testosterone secretion. The other form, the mind-wipe, basically remakes the brain into a form that lacks its former memories, is lower in IQ, and is limited in the ability to generate initiative. Those who survive are never as functional as they were before. The mind-wipe is a combination of pharmaceutical and surgical and implant that reflects my personal disgust and horror at the various psychiatric interventions of (mostly) the 20th c.

  • Comment by Iphinome — September 13, 2015 @ 10:45 pm


    Thank you.

    So a basic cranial implant can do minor manipulations of brain chemistry by giving user control of some autonomic functions–if the person buys one with those features. Theoretically this can exacerbate an eating disorder by killing appetite or inducing nausea. Or worse, used for self-inflicted aversion therapy. Toby’s implant in someone with enough self-loathing. It does make me wonder why there are still planets where people use drugs when wireheading by causing the brain pleasure chemicals seems easily available.

    And the other common function is tapping into sensory inputs to create the impression of things that aren’t really there. Words hanging in the air, scents, someone’s voice on a skullphone, interactive pornography (implied in the third book,) interactive fiction (implied by the fact that it doesn’t have to be porn.)

    And for the eating disorder crowd, seeing the bacteria count on and caloric content of every bite, changing the color, taste, scent of food to be unappealing… Lots of ways to be self destructive without even considering the things Turek did to control followers.

    Why do so many nifty sci-fi devices turn out to be nightmare fuel?

    Sorry, this is just how my mind works. You’re unfortunately talking to someone who takes glee in slipping knives past security checkpoints.

  • Comment by Iphinome — September 13, 2015 @ 10:57 pm


    Also adding…

    Obviously the talk about child-level implants indicates that advanced self-destructive functions don’t become available to people during the most vulnerable portions of their development. And that is a plus.

  • Comment by elizabeth — September 13, 2015 @ 11:17 pm


    Not exactly. But if you want to imagine the worst, fine. What actually happens is that the functionality has built-in safety limits, which most users don’t disable, any more than most users loosen the nuts on the bolts that hold their wheels on their cars. The basic cranial implant cannot kill appetite or induce nausea. Artificial or virtual “realities” are a thing in our society but not in that one (there are places where they are)…my choice in my books, since that’s one of the things that doesn’t attract me outside of reading. (This is a preference built-in from childhood and has been my reaction to every fictional depiction of virtual realities, from “slow glass” to rooms with screens, VR headsets, etc. I’ve used VR for things like Lady Cecelia’s riding simulator, but she preferred the real live horse, and the simulator was for practice only when horses weren’t available.)

    Why do so many SF devices turn out to have unexpected ways to screw up? Same reason so many real ones do. Human nature.

  • Comment by Butterwaffle — September 20, 2015 @ 9:24 pm


    I see your point about a chip not forming new connections. However, I see the real world and Vatta’s diverging with respect to implants in a few ways because of physiology and cultural issues.

    1. Other types of implants often generate undesired responses in addition to the desired one (often in the long run). For instance, spinal disc fusions done in response to osteoporosis often cause further bone loss as the metal implant is stiffer than bone and takes the majority of the mechanical load. When bone is not regularly stimulated, the body often dissolves it. An implant might cause long term atrophy of brain regions it is meant to enhance as the electronic system results in underutilization of that region. At least one solution to this involves changing connections between the two systems over time to prevent atrophy. Although Vatta’s world seems to impose some limits here (e.g., Garston Dunbarger’s inability to obtain a new implant), the potential for unintended consequences seems like it will keep implants from becoming common (except in case of medical necessity) without some killer application.

    2. The opposite of atrophy is that the brain has shown itself to be remarkably adaptable. When people lose senses such as sight, the brain changes it structure in response. The implant might be placed in one region and attached to certain functional neurons, but if the neurons start behaving differently, the brain might decide to restructure in an unplanned way and develop unintended skills. You might give a person an implant to help with math but if they are in an environment where they are not required to think logically and are under stress to do something else (aquire new motor skills, learn a new language, …) it could be very bad or very good or just very weird. One troubling thing would be that attempting to stabilize people with implants could prevent them from maturing. Or could force people to become homogenized.

    3. Hacking computers is just too easy compared to designing secure systems. As systems become more complex, securing them becomes harder faster than the increase in complexity. I think you do a great job at using this as a device in the Vatta series, although in the real world there is a subtlety in the hacks that I don’t think is captured in the books (e.g., BitWhisper, AirHopper, GSMem in terms of communicating across supposed air gaps; Kademlia hashtables for hiding the identity of attackers; steganography, encryption, chaffing, and throttling speed to match communication statistics to obfuscate exfiltration).

    4. The real-world drivers for implants seem to be related to sensing and actuation. But a lot of Vatta’s world focuses on functional augmentation (scheduling, targeting) without seeming to have fully ingested what the changes in sensing and actuation will bring. Just how many limbs can someone control? How about with some additional functional augmentation (in a sweatshop assembly line)? What happens when people can use their eyes for mass spectrometry (to clean up a crime scene)? If people’s implants provide access to a wider color spectrum (IR, UV) what happens to video feeds that don’t provide it? Lie detectors are frequently based on body temperature measurements… will people with IR implants and an Eulerian image magnification algorithm make short work of all but the most pathological liars? http://people.csail.mit.edu/mrub/vidmag/ How about a human hand being augmented enough to serve as a micron-scale brain surgery instrument, able to account for their own pulse and that of the patient being operated on? What if a person could be made to operate on himself during his sleep?

    I just looked up BIID, which is seriously very disturbing. Less seriously, it also introduces an interesting perspective on http://old.sigchi.org/~perlman/armleg.html .

  • Comment by elizabeth — September 20, 2015 @ 10:04 pm


    Right now I’m still too sick to respond adequately (coughing your guts out every few minutes limits oxygen to the brain, I think.)

    Briefly: Of course the real world and Vatta’s world diverge in many ways. One is reality, one is fiction. The fiction is shaped, in part, by the particular story I’m telling, the parts of the social interaction with technology I want to play with. It is not “futurism” but fiction. Big difference, often mistaken in SF. Doing it in a world where the tech is constantly changing ensures that some bits will not match. That’s why it’s set in the far future, where social/economic/biological/technological collapse and rebuilding have occurred multiple times in multiple settings, allowing me to convince myself (and some readers) that what’s in the book could make sense in that context. It almost sounds as if you’re making some of the anti-humod arguments (which is fine; I have my own, too.)

    The implants I’m writing about are more like cochlear implants and the new & very experimental implants now being tested for enabling brain-prosthetic control than like bone grafts, joint replacements, etc. Work is now being done with self-assembly of organs (and in some cases organ analogs) from 3-D printed cell masses: not there yet, but promising. Decades ago I wrote a story in which bio-engineered microbiota were used to “graze” cancer cells from those with a familial form of cancer; this has now been mentioned (not with reference to my story, alas!) by scientists considering that approach to both cancer and the “plaques” of Alzheimer’s. Some prefer to use nannites instead of “bugs.” Many possible approaches to enhancing (or limiting, or controlling) human capacity exist now and others are being rapidly developed.

    And sorry, but I just used up my energy for sitting up writing. Another day.

  • Comment by Butterwaffle — September 21, 2015 @ 7:15 am


    I just re-read my last post and it sounds much grumpier than I intended; sorry. I am really anticipating your new Vatta books!

    I guess I do have a fair number of anti-humod views… not that I despise people who would choose them, but it does sound like a foolish risk to take – especially in this society where technologically-oriented pranksters and criminals are so far in front of most law enforcement and where the response they have elicited from governments is a disturbing trend toward totalitarianism.

    That said, a lot of the positive uses you mention are enticing.

    Get well soon!

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