On “Publication” As Defined By the Hugo Awards

I’m sorry that I didn’t write Monday. I had jury duty. By the time I was dismissed, I was abnormally tired and sluggish – so much so that even routine tasks like setting bread and making dinner took twice as long as they would under normal conditions. Writing was a lost cause under those circumstances.

I mentioned Friday that I didn’t agree with the Hugo Award Committee’s gentleman’s agreement (it really can’t be considered a ruling) on “first presentation to the public” as what constitutes published. Why is this?

Because it demonstrates a hopelessly luddite view of publication, from the days when publication meant someone had purchased your work and was presenting it to the public on your behalf. Meanwhile, the traditional publishing environment is rapidly unraveling as it tries to compete in the digital world. And for the popular award of the science fiction community to embrace Luddism is a shame that cries out to the galactic rim for vengeance.

Consider Patreon. It’s like a subscription Kickstarter for long term projects. You can be a small scale, $1 a month patron of the arts. In exchange, you get monthly rewards for being a patron. Frequently these rewards include getting to see serially published work (like webcomics) before it goes live on the creator’s website. Outside of Patreon, some authors will run their own mailing list for donors, where short stories or chapters of serialized fiction are available before they’re available for purchase. Or you have authors like John C. Wright, who generously gift all readers, not just the donors, with advanced view of the occasional snippet, excerpt, or short story.

All of these situations constitute “first presentation to the public.”

Other people are publishing serially these days, especially during the NaNoWriMo events. When does that become ‘published’? Serialized fiction is nothing new, but publication is (I think) dated to the compilation of the whole work. But if you’ve posted each section of your novel to your blog as you write it, does it become compiled, and hence published the minute you post the last section?

This is a level of granularity that is impossible to monitor. The Hugo Awards Committee, consisting of mere men, cannot possibly monitor every avenue of publication under their very own definition of what constitutes published. It doesn’t even matter whether malfeasance is involved or not. Things will inevitably fall through the cracks in their omniscience, which makes their definition functionally useless.

Now, I’m a helpful sort of person, and I would be remiss if I sat here complaining about something’s inherent stupidity without providing a possible solution, so here is my idea:

Let date of first publication be set to the first association of an ISBN, ISSN, or registered copyright with a specific work.

This provides a simple, verifiable, and (most importantly) unarguable date of publication. It is accessible to any method of publishing: traditional, indie, or self publication. And it would put an end to the pointless bickering caused by wishy washy subjective guidelines.


An Open Letter to Kraft

Dear Kraft:

I was very disturbed to read that you intend to change the recipe of your iconic Mac ‘n Cheese. Therefore I must regretfully inform you that, once you do, I will no longer be buying your product.

Let us be straight with one another. Pasta in a cheese sauce is not a complex item to make, and I am an excellent cook. I can make one pot mac ‘n cheese from scratch in only a little bit longer than it takes to make a box of Kraft dinner. I make spicy mac and cheese with spinach. I make welsh rabbit mac and cheese with mustard and Worchestershire and dark beer. I make fiesta mac and cheese loaded with pico de gallo. However, until today, your humble yet worthy box has always had a place in my pantry.

  • It is a easily obtainable comfort food. Many of my comfort foods are things my mother cooked from scratch, so they aren’t always easily available, but Kraft dinner, with it’s powdered cheese sauce and dayglo orange color, has been a staple easy comfort food my whole life and I can make it while half dead from the flu without setting my house on fire.
  • It is an excellent camping and hurricane staple, in large part due to the long shelf life provided by the preservatives that you’re removing. Here’s a hint from our prehistoric ancestors: preserving food is helpful for our survival.
  • It is easy enough that my six year old can make it for lunch or dinner and all I have to do is drain the pasta. And both my children will eat it. Do you understand the advantage this poses to modern, harried motherhood? Or do you just not care??

And now, thanks to the digital terrorism of ignorant fanatics and snobs who wouldn’t touch boxed mac ‘n cheese with a standard issue ten foot pole, you plan to deprive your product of Every. Single. Selling Point.

You aren’t making your product more healthy. You are deliberately decreasing its shelf life. You are depriving it of its signature appearance. Why on earth do you think this is a viable business move?

Sincerely yours,

Rebecca Salazar


Homeschool Planning 2015/16: Part 3 – Curricula

On to the meat of things – the curricula.

First of all, Texas requires homeschool to include reading, writing, spelling, math, and civics. My dad took care of the physical reading, through blatant bribery. Spelling is a workbook combined with spelling bees while we are driving to various places. Writing thus far has been copy work, and focused on handwriting, both print and cursive. David spontaneously requested to learn cursive, which I have obliged, but he is liable to be sloppy in any style if there is something else he would rather be doing. Math has been Khan Academy – I don’t need a curriculum for math, just a topic list, which Khan Academy provides. Civics the past year has focused on family membership, and has included a hefty dose of home economics, including cooking lessons. David has learned to cook a mean dish of scrambled eggs, and does it routinely after CCE on Wednesdays.

To this core, I added history and science. David has, on the recommendation of my friend Julia, also begun piano lessons this spring which he will continue at least through the next year. At the moment, I’m teaching him, but if he perseveres through the beginner book we have and with daily practice this will switch to formal lessons. I keep trying to do Geography as it’s own subject, but it keeps naturally dividing itself between history, science, and civics, so this year I’m going to divide it up among those. Literature… mostly I ask Melanie and Kyra what I should be reading aloud. We need to do more deliberate reading aloud this year, however David has only just gotten developmentally to the point where he is willing and able to focus on stories read aloud, so I won’t stress about it to much.

David’s inability to listen as I read is chiefly what has slowed our progress through Story of the World. It was not worth the constant battles over him listening, so I put it aside for several months. Since Christmas, he has become fascinated with Legos, so now he is reasonably willing to build things while listening to a book. This is an advantage for literature, that we still have the majority of Greek and Roman mythology and the early Christian era waiting for us, and he will get the Iliad and the Odyssey and all the rest and be able to attend to the stories instead of encountering them the first time four years hence.

That gives me 8 major subjects (plus piano lessons and chores): Reading, Writing, Spelling, Math, Civics, History, Science, Literature, Home Economics. This doesn’t even go into music, art, and technology, which just didn’t happen much this year.

So, for next year:

Reading: My goal is for David to read aloud at least one short book a day, preferably to Raphael. Elephant and Piggie books are great confidence builders for this. And if I can outsource the endless phenomena of the toddler shoving a book in my face and grunting at me, so much the better. On Momo Days, my dad will continue his program of bribing David to read with play time outside afterwards.

Writing: In addition to learning cursive, the copywork will upgrade from words (this year has been his spelling list) to simple but complete sentences.

Spelling: Spelling Workout B, and continuing the impromptu spelling bees in the car. Don’t fix what ain’t broke, and all.

Math: Continue through Khan Academy’s early math. As his reading skills improve, he can be increasingly self directed here, and all the math work is available on the iPad now.

Civics: Spiraling out from family as the smallest unit of government, we will focus on towns and cities this year. We will also focus on mapping our neighborhood, and looking at Google maps of places we visit frequently.

History: It’s the great Middle Ages this year, which means that it’s time for some lessons on bias and using multiple sources in history! Huzzah! I will continue with Story of the World, but supplement with other sources, such as The World’s Story, when necessary. This is possibly my favorite period in history, it’s the age of the dawn of science! For the geography component, I will be incorporating time period maps from Knowledge Quest’s Map Trek Complete Atlas.

Science: This is the sticky one. I have reviewed curriculum after curriculum, and been dissatisfied with all of them. The science work suggested by A Well Trained Mind is fundamentally inadequate. And of the dedicated and systematic curricula, everyone has some metaphysical agenda to push, which at the grammar stage of science I find particularly inappropriate. Also, curricula tend to introduce experimentation at far too young an age. So I’m writing my own. This means I have to get it done by August. *shiver* Most of my mom’s group is going to try out this year too. If you need me this summer, I’ll either be staring at a blank computer screen, or hiding under my covers. In this subject, the physical geography of rivers and mountains and deserts will be covered as their own

Literature: I need to go through A Well Trained Mind to get a beginning book list for this year, and then I will let Kyra edit the snot out of it for me. But I won’t read The Phantom Toll Booth because I hate didactic fiction with a blinding passion. Even when it’s sunny and intended to be fun and has a good message, it just rubs me wrong.

And then there’s the elective set: Art (and appreciation), Music (and appreciation), Technology, and Home Economics. Instead of having set lesson times for these, I want to focus on incorporating them into daily life, in all the between times when screen time shouldn’t be happening. Rich environments and good tools and the forbidding of flashy distractions can accomplish a good deal. But the crucial ingredient in this is myself. I must draw, or play music, or clean the bloody house, if I want David to do it. If I pick up the charcoal and the sketch book, he is sure to join me. So fundamentally, electives come down to me making better use of my time than poking people on the internet.

Coming up next, the weekly arrangement of all this!


Homeschool Planning 2015/16: Part 2 – The Year

One of the first things I always do is hash out what the instructional periods of the school year will be. Sure, one of homeschool’s advantages is that we aren’t bound by the traditional instructional year – and I’ve informed David that we are doing school until he finishes the work I lined out for this year, even if it takes all summer (he is horrified by this). But really, Himself works for a school district and the functional outline of our school year is determined by his schedule. When you’re a teacher or administrator, you can’t just take a week vacation in the middle of October to go camping, even though the weather in Texas is finally nice enough. You need to be there, because the students need to be there, and that’s the way it is.

So, while not strictly necessary, our school year hews closely to the academic year. But I also try to hew to the liturgical year as well, so that feasts can be feasts.

This year actually is ending up with about 4 more weeks of instructional time than last year, but the everything lines up so nicely that I just can’t resist adding the time. I have four quarters of nine weeks each, and each quarter has a roughly similar number of weird off days hanging around that I’ve designated a low-structure day.

Low-structure days are dedicated unschooling days – David may do whatever he wants, but no television, Wii, or iPad until after 4pm, just like a regular school day. We also have Momo Days, which are the two full days and the morning he spends at my mother’s – these days he takes the every day work of math, spelling, and copy work with him. And Wednesday afternoons, and Thursday through Saturday are the subject days, two each of Science and History as well as the daily work. But I’ll talk more about the divisions of daily and subject work later when I’m thinking about curricula.

School starts on August 17. This is a full week earlier than public schools, but it allows us better long breaks during the school year. Himself needs to be back at school a week and a half earlier, so it allows a little bit of adjustment time before digging into the real work. The first quarter is roughly uninterrupted, with a holiday on Labor Day and a low-structure day on Columbus Day, when Himself is off of work.

Second quarter has Thanksgiving smack in the middle. Himself has the first three days of this week off, so they are designated low structure days. Then we have a nice long Christmas break, the fourth week of Advent through the Baptism of the Lord (the Sunday after Real Epiphany).

Third quarter picks up here and runs through till Himself’s Spring Break, when we will take a trip to see his parents and visit their local livestock show. Spring Break is a unique phenomena. It’s not low structure days, because we have trouble restricting screen time. But it’s not dedicated instructional days either, there’s no daily work and no subject work. But it’s socially necessary for us to make this visit, and having it fall at the end of a quarter is the best possible time for it to happen.

Then the two weeks immediately following Spring Break are Holy Week and the Octave of Easter, and we always take these weeks off. Holy Week because I’m far too busy cooking and cleaning, and Easter because it’s Easter. When possible, Himself and I take Easter Monday off and have a dedicated family day after all the guests from the day before are gone.

The final quarter picks up the week after Easter week and runs through till the end of Himself’s instructional year. There is a holiday on Memorial Day, but that’s it. If we finish early, we finish early. If we finish late… we finish late!

I use a custom school year calendar to plot this all out. Here’s a picture:

No, this is not my first copy. This is the final copy after I sorted everything out, probably my sixth copy. The diamonds are days that Himself is off but I still have work. The squares are days we both have off – there are no holidays that I have off and he does not. Quarter and holiday beginning and ends are the solid lines drawn through the calendar, holds are noted along the side, and each week of a quarter is numbered. The circled days are major feasts and fasts, family and liturgical: the feast of the Archangels, All Saints, Saint Nicholas, Ash Wednesday, Valentine’s Day, and Saint David’s feast day. These all require some advanced planning because they interact with the regularly scheduled school days.

And that’s how I organize my year. If anyone wants a PDF of that calendar, you can download it here.


Homeschool Planning 2015/16: Part 1 – Analysis

I wanted to think into my keyboard more today about the Hugos in general. But both of the boys are up and whiny little people whining at me (or gabbling Transformers at me, or nursing, or what have you) just isn’t conducive to that kind of thinking. Instead, I’m brain dumping the homeschool plans for next year.

Since I work 20 hours a week, I have to start my homeschool planning early or it will get lost in in all the ways of summer, and then I will start up (late) in September with no idea of what I’m actually doing. So I start planning now. And first in planning is an analysis of what is, and what isn’t working this year.

This year, our biggest problem was the failure to establish a functional routine. David’s acquisition of an old iPad at Christmas did not improve matters, since we didn’t have a routine into which we could socket that privilege. At the same time, we weren’t failing to with school because I was obsessively cleaning. I think, at root, it was a supply storage and workspace issue. The supplies were out of the way and tended to be buried under a rapidly multiplying pile of child related junk. The kitchen table always had piles and other projects on it that needed cleaning or moving before school could happen. I had tried keeping the table clean especially for school work, but really just spent more time shuttling other major projects around trying to find flat surfaces for it all. It felt like moving the deck chairs on the Titanic. Things would probably be completely different if I was home all day, every day. I might be less pressured by having more time available for this. But I don’t stay home every day, I don’t have time, and I’m not likely to have time anytime soon.

And I do have a school room upstairs.

Why are we doing school at the kitchen table when we have a whole room upstairs? Mostly, because it isn’t a functional room right now. I’ve taken to calling it the Archive of All Things – it is the room where, when company is coming, we shove all the things that either don’t belong downstairs or otherwise make the downstairs look intolerably sloppy. It is a room of clutter, but neither as doom-like as the guest room (the Room of Doom (now with 90% less doom!)) or as completely impassable as my closet, which is like an elephant’s graveyard only for craft supplies.

Strides in properly furnishing the Archive have been made in recent years. We have acquired bookshelves – not enough bookshelves, certainly, but sufficient. An old television my parents were getting rid of, a keyboard for piano lessons. An old white board resides in our garage, intended to become a worktable for the room. I even spray painted a bit of electric conduit and some brackets in ‘oil rubbed bronze’ and put up curtains two years back while I was nesting.

So, this summer’s goal is to transform it into a functional school room. It does not need to be perfectly finished, just be functional. For functional, we need a whiteboard table and chairs, an organizational center for school supplies, and to purge the room of years of accumulated miscellany.  Oh, also if possible, I would like to upgrade our printer to a wireless one.

This is all doable.

For the platonic ideal of the Archive, we need to:

  • Rip out the framing of the closet and install a built-in office center with countertop, drawers, and cabinets.
  • Install a ceiling fan.
  • Replace the television stand and install a bridging bookshelf over the television.
  • Another bookshelf or three wouldn’t go amiss either.
  • Aquire barstool height chairs and convert the whiteboard table to a standing table.
  • Swap out the carpet for flooring.
  • While I’m having ambitious dreams, I might as well replace my 10 year old Core Solo iMac with a brand new one!

These are also actually doable, just not on the same time scale as functional. And functional is the first step toward platonic.

Yesterday I started by cleaning and moving Himself’s desk and moving the toy bookshelf from the downstairs living area (rooms require more that two walls!) to the Archive to serve as the supply center. The toys still live in their bins at the moment, but each boy has a ‘school cubby’ in the shelf, and the top is dedicated to pencils etc. Already I’m noticing the benefit that they are spending their morning upstairs (and by the noise, destroying all yesterday’s hard work). But they’re not down here talking to me, and that means I can make blueberry muffins for breakfast and blog in relative peace.


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