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Apr. 13th, 2016

I’m about to retire. Do you want my job?

Hello, this is E. Michael Blake.  I have to say a lot in this post, so I’ll get right to it.  I am currently Senior Editor of Nuclear News, the monthly newsmagazine (yes, you read that right) of the American Nuclear Society (ANS), and I will retire at the end of July.  The job has been opened to applications, and I hope that ANS can hire someone who is right for the job.  Maybe that someone is you.

My replacement would probably come in at the level of Associate Editor, but be called upon to do day-to-day work (cover news beats, conduct interviews, write articles, proofread copy, gather information for reference material such as the World List of Nuclear Power Plants) pretty close to what I do most of the time.  If you’re not familiar with Nuclear News, and you probably aren’t, go to www.ans.org and follow links under “Publications” to see some limited samples from back issues.

Exactly why this is still a monthly newsmagazine, and is still valued by the ANS members who receive it as the main benefit of their membership, is a very long story that I won’t tell here, although a serious applicant ought to hear it and I’ll provide details if asked.  There is a strong possibility, however, that the means and frequency with which the news is delivered may be about to change a great deal, with Nuclear News people also perhaps to deliver news electronically with much shorter frequency and quicker throughput.  My replacement would be involved with this, if it happens.

The person we’re looking for would be able to report and write clearly and understandably, and have (or be able to gain) an understanding of nuclear science and technology.  This doesn’t mean that you have to be able to design the fuel placement for a reactor core, just that you understand basic concepts and, when presented with unknowns, are able to learn their relevance to the work you’re doing.  I hope that there will be plenty of overlap from the new hire’s arrival to my departure, so that I can impart general knowledge of the industry and how to get more info.

NN isn’t an advocacy publication.  Some of our readers might want that, but in fact the vast majority of the readers want unbiased information on issues that affect their work (ANS is a membership organization of professionals in all nuclear fields).  Some might think that just covering nuclear, and accepting it for what it is, could count as pro-nuclear advocacy; I would disagree with that belief.  We cover nuclear opposition groups, but we don’t demonize them.

The person taking this job would work full-time from ANS headquarters in LaGrange Park, IL, which is in the near suburbs of Chicago.  I’m pretty sure that ANS will not cover relocation expenses.  Salaries are not high, and the benefits that have compensated for the pay scale have eroded somewhat in the past few years.  ANS is not in tip-top shape financially, although it has plenty of endowment available to keep everything afloat.  NN is, quite frankly, understaffed for what it is called upon to do, although if ANS decides that it seriously wants to go to what I call “short-cycle news” delivered electronically, the society’s governance would almost certainly have to provide much more money, both initially and over time.

If you’re not interested, but know someone who might be, feel free to pass this along.  Use this information only if you are serious about applying for the job: Contact Betsy Tompkins, Editor and Publisher, at btompkins@ans.org.  For more information of the kind that I haven’t been able to fit into this post, please leave a comment.

Oct. 16th, 2015

More Cubs observations

Well. I really didn’t expect to get to this point. The Cubs are one of the last four teams still playing baseball in 2015. There’s plenty of coverage out there on the team, and I’ll try not to repeat it. I’ll merely applaud manager Joe Maddon for the job he’s done with a below-average defense, a really scary bullpen, and—here’s the key—only two high-level starting pitchers. Having mentioned that key, I will now predict what the main discussion topic will be if the Cubs don’t prevail against the Mets.

Fell free to skip the rest of this.Collapse )

One of the kind-of-arbitrary limits that baseball teams must deal with is the interleague trading deadline, which is at the end of July. Once August begins, you can move a player from one league to the other only if that player clears waivers, a process in which other teams in the originating league can claim the player. I think I’m done with that quasi-explanation, so you can wake up now. The point is, at the end of July, teams that think they can make a push for the playoffs make deals to make themselves better right now, generally by giving up their top upcoming prospects and/or getting a player who would be a free agent at the end of the season. This approach worked like a charm for two American League teams, Toronto and Texas, who got players that took them from out of the playoffs in July to in the playoffs at the end, at the expense of Los Angeles/Anaheim and Minnesota, who went from in to out. The Mets also picked up free-agent-to-be Yoenis Cespedes, who immediately became the team’s biggest offensive threat.

The Cubs, however, did very little at the trading deadline. Under the ownership and management in place for the last few years, the Cubs have completely rebuilt their organization, which is now stuffed to the gills with young talent. Despite this, the Cubs made only two minor deals, for pitchers who are not even on the playoff roster (although that could change shortly, as the Cubs figure out how to replace injured shortstop Addison Russell). I believe that the Cubs could easily have outbid Kansas City for pitcher Johnny Cueto, who this week won for the Royals the game that advanced them past the Houston Astros. Now, the Cubs have a huge dropoff in starting pitching after John Lester and Jake Arrieta, and the Mets have at least three starters who are good enough to win in the playoffs.

I’m not going to second-guess the decision to back off from splashy trades. I am merely saying that this second-guessing will be done by others if the Cubs don’t go any farther. Here’s an historic example of a trade that worked, but didn’t. In 1987 the Detroit Tigers, having worn down somewhat after their 1984 World Series win, made deadline deals that got them back into the playoffs, but they lost in the first round to the eventual champions, the Minnesota Twins. One of the deals got the Tigers pitcher Doyle Alexander, who won a lot of games down the stretch but was getting to the end of his career. To get Alexander, the Tigers swapped a pitching prospect to Atlanta. His name is John Smoltz. He was a key to the Braves’ pitching dominance in the 1990s and beyond (during which time the Tigers mostly languished), and he recently entered the Hall of Fame.

Back to 2015. In late July, the Cubs were a few games over .500, clearly improved over what the team had been in recent years, having fun, showing that the first few young players from the new regime were quite good, and at least flirting with the outer reaches of playoff contention. For me, at least, what seemed like a reality check came in a series at home against the Phillies, who had the worst record in all of baseball. The Cubs lost all three games, with one of them being the first no-hitter thrown against the Cubs in almost 50 years (it was pitched by Cole Hamels, one of the last holdovers from Philly’s championship in 2008, and he was almost immediately traded to Texas for the Rangers’ playoff run). At that time, I saw the Cubs as still a work in progress. I doubt that management was affected by a single series; statements over the past several months by execs Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer suggested that the real push to become a contender would be in the upcoming offseason, when free agents would be pursued to fill gaps such as the ones in the starting rotation. (Some of the players who boosted teams like Toronto and Texas will be on the market then, and could be signed with only money, rather than acquired in trades for Cubs prospects.) It’s not that Theo & Jed wanted the Cubs to miss the playoffs; they apparently just didn’t expect the team to go this far, this soon.

In the abstract, it’s fine that the team has been rebuilt so well, with the expectation that it will be a championship contender for the next several years. I, however, have seen plenty of teams that were good on paper and had nothing to show for it at year’s end. Never mind the Cubs teams of the past, just look at this year’s Washington Nationals, maybe the best on-paper team in the National League at the start of this season. The Nats completely flamed out in the second half and missed the playoffs by a mile.

There seem to be two attitudes within Cubs fandom. The first is typified by the following sentiment: “Gosh, it’s great that the young players are getting playoff experience, just think how this will help them in the coming years, when they’ll really have a chance to win.” The second can be expressed more succinctly: “Win the whole thing now.” If the Cubs get past the Mets, I suspect that Cubs fans will be shifting more quickly from the first attitude to the second.


Aug. 25th, 2015

Some Cubs observations

It's been a really long time since I've had reason to pay attention to a certain baseball team, and I still believe (as I concluded after 2008) that the likelihood of said team ever getting off its century-long schneid is vanishingly small, because of the enormous pressure that would come with any close approach.  Still, I can't deny that Ricketts money and Epstein-Hoyer vision have accomplished something.  Just when getting swept at home by the woebegone Phillies seemed to force reality into the clubhouse, there has followed an unlikely 21-5 stretch with a mind-boggling three four-game sweeps.  So I find myself suddenly in late season mode, facing what has dashed my hopes so many times over the past several decades: The last West Coast road trip.  I've warned Lisa that I might be a bit hard to live with this week, and maybe thereafter.

I guess manager Joe Maddon knows what he's doing, especially if he was able to set things up so that Jake Arrieta, far and away the Cubs' best pitcher, will be the one who gets two starts in the six games (three each against the Giants and Dodgers).  Among those who equate pitching matchups to Sun Tzu's Ancient Art of War, the Cubs might have the edge tonight, while the Giants get it from their pitcher tomorrow (Madison Bumgarner, last year's World Series hero).  The third game may be a toss-up.  I would be very happy with two out of three in each series.

What's odd about the way the divisions and playoffs work now is that while the Cubs are trying to stay ahead of the Giants, the Giants are trying to catch the Dodgers.  There are now two wild cards in each league, and this makes it possible for the Cubs to be a playoff team while sitting in third place.  The National League Central has three of the four best records in baseball (Cardinals first, Pirates second in the division; Kansas City, in the AL Central, has a record about the same as the Pirates' and better than the Cubs'.)  What the second wild card gets you is a single game against the first wild card, in first's park, and if you lose that game, you're done.  In the other NL divisions, the chases are really for first place, a much better playoff situation, where you can wait for the wild cards to finish, and then play an actual series.  So, while the Giants are six games behind the Cubs for the second wild card, they're a game and a half behind the Dodgers for first place in the division.  Thus, it behooves the Cubs to beat both teams, because before long the Giants might be in first and the Dodgers are in second (although they'd still probably be closer to the Giants for first).

As a result of this format, magic numbers are a bit fuzzy.  Technically, the Cubs' number going into tonight's game is 33, but because the Giants and Dodgers still have games left against each other, the magic number against whoever will finish in second place in the West is already down to 31.  In the NL East, the Mets lead the Nationals by a fair amount, and the Cubs magic number against the underachieving Nats is 30.  All of which means I should probably lighten up a little.  This, of course, won't happen.

Sep. 29th, 2014

The wealth of Croesus! MINE, ALL MINE!!!

OK, first a little memory refresher.  In early 2013 I decided to test out Amazon's Kindle publishing arrangement, whereby if one is as cheap as I am, one can publish e-books at no monetary cost.  This is possible if one does all of one's own editing (for which I am, in fact, qualified) and draws one's own book covers (well, kinda).  I took a property of mine which I'm sure would stand no chance of catching on in conventional publishing--my best SF comedy sketches--and gathered them into four collections, each making up about a 50-minute performance set (the books also could serve as rehearsal scripts, although I cautioned people about carrying Kindle-enabled devices around on an unforgiving hard surface, like a stage).  I then spent a fair amount of time in the first half of '13 flogging them, again at no monetary cost to me.  So, to me, this venture managed to be slightly less shameful than actual vanity press.

The result was no surprise: Total sales that eventually made it into double figures (books, not dollars).  Having picked up no emotional scars, I decided not to try any more e-pubbing and got on with my life.  I was fully aware that Amazon's policy is that money is sent to e-authors (as paper checks in physical mail) only after the royalty total passes $30, and because I was still in no-cost-to-me land, I just shrugged off the prospect of ever seeing payment.

Flash (or trudge) forward to early September of this year.  Amazon informed me that all unpaid royalties for all non-lucrative e-authors would be paid by chek in the mail, later in the month, no matter how little there is banked up.  Sure enough, today I received a check for $4.55.  I am now trying to work out how to spend it in more than one place.

This all appears to have to do with Amazon trying to get everyone to go over to e-payments.  The accounting involved in hanging on to all the sub-$30 stacks of money, technically belonging to other people, may be creating some legal issues.  Year after year, are these stacks assets or liabilities?  Jeff Bezos already has the Washington Post as a tax loss, and maybe that only works if he doesn't have other people's money sitting around.

This, however, is not my problem.  Can I get bowling shoelaces AND clarinet reeds?

Apr. 2nd, 2014

something we all probably knew already

Assembling exercise equipment is more demanding physically than using exercise equipment.

Mar. 10th, 2014

Cosmos throat-clearance (first of a series?)

Ahem, a-HEMM.  No, this isn't about how intertia-less the ship of the imagination is, considering that it's carrying someone who wagged a finger about the accuracy of trajectories in "Gravity."  And I must acknowledge that my third-of-a-century-ago memory of the original Cosmos is pretty ragged, so I don't know if Tyson and Druyan are specifically responsible for this.  So I'll say that someone, perhaps more than one someones in different decades, didn't make it clear why heliocentricity describes the solar system accurately and geocentricity doesn't. It wasn't enough to say that Copernicus figured it out, and later on Galileo had a telescope, and spend all the time in between on the persecution of Giordano Bruno. It wouldn't have taken long, or taxed the special effects, to show that night-by-night observers learned that the apparent motions of the planets could only be made to seem geocentric through the postulation of "epicycles."  Copernicus worked out that in a heliocentric model, the planetary orbits are single loops and everything makes more sense.  A minute or two should have come out of the Bruno cartoon (which I found visually uninteresting and thematically redundant) so this point could have been made. In my grumble opinion, the case against orthodoxy is made more effectively if one shows that what orthodoxy is opposing is demonstrable reality.  Ahh--HEMMMM.

Oct. 1st, 2013

Thanks to everyone involved

First and foremost to Lisa (acmespaceship to you), who not only posted frequently to LJ on production week activities of Reply from Extraterrestrial Intelligence, but also ran the box office and chipped in on any number of other important tasks--all while a certain playwright/actor spent a lot of time not posting to LJ, among other things.  As I write this, Lisa and I are one week away from our 25th anniversary (manganese, as I'm sure you knew) and I may never finish thanking her for everything else that's happened during that time.
Next to Kate Graham, who proposed doing the show and directed it insightfully, in some ways knowing what I meant better than I did.  She gave my script a professional production, and I hope I gave her what she was looking for when she performed the sadomasochistic act of casting the author.
Next to my fellow performer, Beth Richards.  New to Moebius, not an SF-convention fan, but in many ways a fellow traveler (a GenCon regular, among other things).  She definitely locked on to what the play and its central character are all about.
Next to set designer/builder/production embellisher Ralph Scotese and technical director Pete Pollack.  Ralph's adaptation of design elements from the Pioneer and Voyager SETI contents was both witty and visually fascinating, and Pete's incorporation of the projection slides (mostly rendered by Kate) helped smoothe the audience's experience of what was always in danger of bogging down into a chemistry lecture.
And also to our cooperative hosts at Madison Street Theatre, and slide artists Michael Brugioni and Rachel Murdock, and ushers Steve Pickering, Nick Scotese, and Larry Blake (who also helped notably during the striking of the set after the closing show on Sunday), and the folks in the audience, all of whom seemed to enjoy what we gave them, and gave us what certainly appeared to be their heartfelt appreciation. 

Sep. 11th, 2013

"Reply from Extraterrestrial Intelligence" opens in two weeks

My stageplay, with the title as stated above, will begin a four-performance run on September 26 at the Madison Street Theatre, 1010 Madison St., in Oak Park. Show times are 8 pm on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and 3 pm for the closing matinee on Sunday the 29th.  Tickets are $15 each, and are available online at <reply.brownpapertickets.com> (that's a URL, not an e-mail address).  Katharine Zoe Graham is the director (sorry, Kate, I don't think I can umlaut your middle-name "o"). Beth Richards and I are the performers, Ralph Scotese is designing the set, Pete Pollack is the technical director, and Mike Brugioni is doing some of the art that goes into the slide presentation.  Moebius Theatre is producing the show.  This is the troupe's first appearance in a "legit" theatre in 29 years.  Please command us to break legs.

Apr. 5th, 2013

The fourth e-book now exists

That's Not Science! is up at Amazon, with the ID # of B00C6OPJ18.  The first four symbols, despite the zeroes, can almost be seen as "book," which I guess is appropriate.

Mar. 4th, 2013

The third e-book has been published

The title is Melissa's 8000th Birthday, and the Amazon ID is B00BO8LORU.  Just to maximize confusion, the first two circles are zeroes, and the second two are letter 'O's.

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