August 31, 2010

Our Internet World

 

I’VE JUST LOST AN HOUR CRUISING ON AMAZON.   Radio Three ran a talking-heads programme tonight about . . . well, this is it:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00jhny7   I immediately pricked my ears* at the description of Sturt’s book The Wheelwright’s Shop;  one of my favourite things is ye olde tymie life as described by them wot were there.**   And the problem with amazon, as I assume all of you know, is that their little robot gizmos glom onto what not merely you’ve ordered, since in fact I mostly try not to order from amazon, but what you’ve merely looked at, as here, and promptly start unrolling screenfuls of Other Things That Might Interest You.  They also remember what you looked at the last time you visited.  GAAAAAAH.   And every item you look at has yet more recommendations down at the bottom.  Keep scrolling. . . .

            And yeah, I could not look.  I’m very good at not reading reviews of my own books, not looking myself up on Google, etc***, so clearly I can not do certain dangerous things.  But, you know . . . I kind of like the recommendation system.†   Sure, a lot of the recs are rubbish, but so are a lot of the books you pick up idly in a real street-bookshop browse.  And it gives you somewhere to start in a World of Publishing that churns out a couple hundred thousand new titles per year.††  It still leaves you wasting hours you should be spending (a) writing novels (b) writing blog entries (c) reading the books you already have. 

            Which brings me to an article I read today (from a two-day-old hard-copy newspaper.  Internet schminternet, some things don’t change):  http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/aug/29/my-bright-idea-ha-joon-chang The subhead reads:  ‘The net isn’t as important as we think:  the washing machine changed the world more than the internet, a tool whose benefits we overestimate while ignoring its downsides.’ 

            I thought it was a really interesting article, allowing for the fact that it’s trying to be a provocative snippet to attract you to Ha-Joon Chang’s new book, and I was also disposed to like what he was saying because his point about the washing machine is that it and its labour-saving colleagues essentially doubled the workforce by allowing women to go out to work, and pull their own paychecks. 

            But here’s the paragraph about me and my life:  ‘There’s now so much information out there that you don’t actually have time to digest it . . . the American economist Herbert Simon . . . argued that our problem now is that we have limited decision-making capability rather than too little information.  If you try to find something on the internet, it’s a deluge.  And in terms of productivity, the internet has its drawbacks—for example it makes it a lot easier to bunk off work.’†††

            Hmm.  His book looks pretty good too. . . . http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/aug/29/ha-joon-chang-23-things   Maybe I’ll look it up on amazon.  It’ll make a nice balance with The Wheelwright’s Shop. ‡ 

* * *

* Mostly I turn talking-heads programmes off with a snarl.  I’m usually either working or reading over dinner, and if I wanted talk frelling programmes I’d go to BBC 4 where they belong, and I don’t want them.  I want music.   Specifically I want classical music, and I want it uninterrupted by a lot of smarm and self-congratulation.  I detest Proms season.^   They stop playing Composer of the Week, one of my favourite programmes,^^ at a time I can listen to it, they have all kinds of horrible non-classical music^^^ Proms despite the Proms’ own advertising, and the self-congratulatory smarm level is intolerable.

            We won’t discuss the Last Night at all.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Proms#Last_Night_of_the_Proms ^^^^

 ^ Thus proving once and for all that I am not English.  

^^ Except when I’m disagreeing with the presenter, Donald Macleod.  Perhaps he’s let down by his researchers.  

^^^ I’m not entirely lost to the world outside Verdi and Benjamin Britten.  I love Late Junction because it plays all kinds of stuff I’ve never heard of and wouldn’t ever hear of if I didn’t run into it here.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006tp52    And just when people like me+ think we can’t stand it any more, they throw us a little Mozart. 

+ It’s been a very long time since my last Siouxie and the Banshees concert

^^^^ I said all this last year at this time, didn’t I? 

** George Ewart Evans, for example:  http://twurl.nl/8n2xco

or William Cobbett:  http://twurl.nl/2bsic3

Or the totally fabulous Akenfield, http://twurl.nl/6kvzg1 

although I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never read anything else by Blythe.   I’ve mentioned Akenfield to you before, haven’t I?  Because—ahem—it is notorious among certain circles for having a chapter on method bell ringing and the barking folk who go in for it. 

I also like the older stuff, The Paston Letters, say  http://twurl.nl/2vdhjp and all those books on What It Was Really Like in the Middle Ages for Ordinary People.  I fell under the spell of Frances and Joseph Gies http://twurl.nl/dftsek at a relatively tender age.  I think I may have read somewhere since that they’ve been somewhat discredited . . . but if so I don’t want to know.  I still say they’re brilliant for us dilettantes. 

Oh, and yes, Wheelwright’s Shop is available:  http://twurl.nl/mjwk4h

. . . and speaking of invidious net-related time-wasting, it’s a few extra frelling minutes copying, pasting and shortening the frelling amazon links. 

*** The fact that I find the idea horrible to the utmost extreme helps with the will power part.  My will power is pretty much limp and gooey.  I keep it in a large jar with a lid where it can’t hurt itself or embarrass me.  Meanwhile, I do revulsion and loathing really well, which will stand in for a lot of things if you angle your approach carefully.  Revulsion and loathing of, say, jail, successfully bars me from many otherwise attractive indulgences. 

† It’s the only twenty four hours per day that is the major failing of the system, as I and a number of forumites have commented on frequently already. 

†† Yes, it depends on whose statistics you look at.  But nearer 200,000 than 100,000 in the US and the UK, who top the list.  And whose broad overlap next year will include McKinley for the first time in some years. 

††† Twitter, I’m looking at you. 

‡ Some other day when I haven’t embodied the evils of the internet by wasting an hour cruising amazon, I’ll talk about what I was originally going to talk about, which springboards from another paragraph from this same interview.  He says to the reporter:  ‘The internet may have significantly changed the working patterns of people like you and me, but we are in a tiny minority.  For most people, its effect is more about keeping in touch with friends and looking up things here and there.  Economists have found very little evidence that since the internet revolution productivity has grown.’

            Well, I don’t know about productivity or grown.  But significantly changed?  You bet your brand-new netbook/iPhone/iPad/Kindle/plug in the back of your neck.  I’m looking forward to the back-up brain technology.

Asking Robin more about the writing process

 

I shouldn’t be this tired.  I feel like I must have just reinvented the wheel or something.*   And I’m supposed to write a blog entry?**

            However I did have an important bit of story delivery today.  You can fake around the holes to some extent and for a while, especially if you can feel the main story dragging you on*** but eventually you do need to know certain things.  In this case I have a war to direct.†  And the particular consignment that arrived today had some fairly critical Background World Development stuff in it:  I know this world fairly well at this point†† but I mainly know it as, ahem, I might know it.  And I’m not a magician.†††  Magic.  Feh.  If  this were your standard swords, archery and leather armour with some chain war, I could just research the freller.  As it is I have to wait for somebody to send me something.  And you know how delivery companies are.

            But I am reminded of some comments to the forum ten days or so ago, in response to The Cluelessness of Writers.  

EMoon wrote:  I have a character in peril. He may end up dead, or inhabited by a demonic presence, or suspected of same but not inhabited, or fine. I don’t know which it is. I have written all around the critical moments from other viewpoints. I have been inside his head to find out and…when I get near the critical moments there’s a blank . . . not one…single…person will share what’s actually happened. He’s important. . . . But they’re all in hiding from their writer. . . . thus I have to chase that fast-moving blurred shape down a very uninviting hole until I finally catch it and bring it up to the light, squirming in fright and biting my hands. . . .

Yes.  Sometimes they bite.  Sometimes you’re groping around in the dark and you know you’ve found something because it hurts.  YOW YOU LITTLE RATBAG.‡

             On the forum I answered: . . . I had one of those GOOD GODS OF COURSE moments out hurtling this morning–about some other story than PEG II of course, but it’s one that I even know the shape of . . . ‡‡ and there has been something Not Quite Right about it . . . which I think I now know. Where has it BEEN all this time? And what finally flushed it out where I could see it? (Actually . . . Pooka did the flushing. Which I hope means she IS in fact a force for good in this universe. There have been moments when I wonder. And I’m sure there will be MORE such moments.‡‡‡)  

Aaron wrote:  So I gather it is not always seeing new action that resolves these matters. Sometimes you realize you know something that you hadn’t realized you knew, perhaps because you asked yourself a different question. Do you also do detective work on the things you have seen? As if watching a mystery movie over again to see if you missed a clue?

Both ‘seeing’ and ‘action’ are mutable concepts.§  In this case it was more of a kaleidoscope turn:  somebody moved the endpiece and all those same flecks and fragments fell into a new pattern.  Eureka!  Sometimes—as in this case—there is an almost physical jolt to it—like having something bite your hand in the dark.

             Sometimes it is a kind of seeing that there’s been a cat curled up on the cushion all this time and it’s your own fault for thinking it was just a shadow—but cats are treacherous, and maybe it wasn’t there the last time you looked.  –Don’t give me that fat purring sleepy-eyed thing. 

             I wouldn’t call it detective work, the way I do it, which sounds much too calm and rational.  It’s more like looking for the car key (which is supposed to live in your pocket for just this reason) when you’re about to be late for an appointment, or trying to get your shoes tied while being cavorted on by a brace of happy hellhounds looking forward to their walk.  It’s got to be here somewhere/aaaugh I can’t see what I’m doing if you’re licking my glasses.   But going over and over stuff you already know—you think you know—you hope you know but you know you’ve missed something?  Yes.  Very much so.

Diane in MN quoted me:  Meanwhile I’m well over halfway through PEG II and I still don’t know if Fazuur is a good guy or a bad guy. And this is starting seriously to get on my nerves.

And wrote:  Do you find that this is a character who wants to grow as the story has grown? Given that you say he hasn’t been an important character yet, is he trying to become one? I can see that if you don’t know his ultimate role, he could really affect the arc of the story by becoming a bigger presence.

Oh, arc of the story, please, you’re going all rational again.  The arc of the story is one of those hindsight things for me.  Climaxes, for example—and all of PEGs I & II began with a climax that comes I think about halfway through PEG II—are merely the Really Exciting Bits that I don’t get to write unless I write all the stuff around them so they’ll be climactic enough.  The pulling down of a mountain on someone’s head§§—which is where SWORD started—wouldn’t be nearly as much fun if it hadn’t taken over two hundred pages to get there.  There are writers who plan extensively—there are even writers who follow their extensive plans—I’m not one of them.  The nice way of describing my lack of method is to call it organic:   I write as the thing grows.  It grows longer as it goes through drafts, and there are always the bits you know, the bits you don’t know, the bits you wished you knew, and the bits that you think you know and don’t.  Fazuur is a bit I wish I knew and don’t.  The fact that it’s bothering me that I don’t know is probably significant—like one of those hunches fictional detectives get just before they uncover an important clue.  But whether Fazuur has a significant role to play . . . ask me at the end of the third draft.  When I’m handing it in to my editor.  I should know by then.  I hope. 

* * *

*The elimination process that involves dragging all those things that aren’t wheels is really hard work.  It was a very thorough elimination process.  And my condition has been intensified by my being too stupid not to go to Colin’s bell practice tonight—which  for arcane reasons, was held in his garage.  No, really.  He has a mini-ring, which is to say a bunch of bells the size of flower-pots hung upside down above the specially-soundproofed ceiling of his garage (and under the specially soundproofed roof of his garage:  there are neighbours).  And they (the bells) have (teeny) ropes with (teeny) sallies on them and everything.  But because the bells are so small and the wheels they turn on are also so small, your stroke—which is dependent on the rope going round the wheel to spin the bell—is very short.  So your bells are making their 360 degree turns forward and back really fast.  Which means you are ringing whatever method you are ringing really fast.  And I can’t handle the flighty little monsters, they keep going grand battement SPROING at me—and because they’re all so little they sound way too much alike,  dingdingdingdingding, so picking out the sound of your own bell or the treble for guidance is not an option—let alone ring the wretched things at twice the usual proper-big-tower-bell speed.

             They didn’t quite put me out on the kerb after practise for the dustbin men to take away tomorrow morning, but nearly. 

** Remind me what that is again?  I believe I do it every night?  Is it anything like falling asleep in the bath?  

*** Author as square wheel 

† I was really hoping I wasn’t going to have to run any more wars.  Two^ of the several Third Damar Novels have fairly comprehensive wars in them, which are among my reasons for not having got round to writing them.  Damar seems to be a curiously bellicose place. 

^ Probably three.  

††  !!!!!!!!  How do people survive writing series????? 

††† In this world.  There have been worlds I could do magic in.  Ahem.  

‡ I think I’ve mentioned here that there are, as there always are, stories that I don’t dare let loose my feverish grip on PEG II long enough even to write down rough outlines of^ hanging around TORMENTING me.  One of them, which I know I’ve mentioned, presumably here because where else is there^^, is about a middle-aged soldier who unexpectedly survived the assassination attempt she knew was coming, and now has to figure out what to do with the rest of her life.  While she’s escaping further would-be murderers, since it seems ungrateful to let them get her after all, various of her old colleagues catch her up and say ‘I’m coming too’.  The king who wants her dead is not popular.  She’s perhaps a little cranky^^^ about picking up an entourage. . . . And now there’s a baby.  A what?  Her feeling exactly.  And mine.  I strongly object to being kept awake nights by the screams of a fictional baby I’m not even writing about.   

^ I belong to the philosophy that says that if it’s important, it’ll either stick around or come back.  And if it comes back as something else, that’s okay too. 

^^ The idea of multiple blogs—which, for example, EMoon herself keeps—is more horrible than vampires to me.  

^^^ Now, where would that have come from 

‡‡ Tam Lin, in case you’re interested.  It’s a sort of . . . long short story.  HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA.  Short stories are a little like wars.  I know going in I’m in trouble.  Although the first draft of this one exists, and it is a short story.  Well, maybe a novella. . . .   

‡‡‡ Er.  Yes.  

§ I want, irrationally, to call them verbs.  Which is perhaps a minor metaphor for the peculiarity of the writing process. 

§§ Please admire my lack of spoiler here, although I’d be surprised if there are any regular readers of this blog who don’t know THE BLUE SWORD.

Gardens

 

It stopped raining for a few hours yesterday, nicely timed for gardening, during which I went out and strove mightily with dahlias, which is to say earwigs, among other useful and semi-useful things,** and came indoors again as the Scary Mud Monster.  Remember I told you that I’d actually staked all of my dahlias this year, and how this doesn’t happen in my garden(s)?  It doesn’t work.  Well, I suppose if you were out there with your bamboos and your twine every minute, or even every afternoon, you might stay ahead of the little sods, but I wouldn’t count on it.  You may also remember that I’ve been complaining about my seven-foot dahlias—dahlias are supposed to be sort of four to six foot.  Which is plenty.  Even a six-foot dahlia has a slightly triffid air about it.***  But I’ve realised why my dahlias are all monsters this year:  it’s so that they can hurl themselves over any foolish attempts to contain them.  Several of my beautifully-staked dahlias have a fringe of flopped-over, head-down flowers tumbling gracefully, not to say vindictively, over the top loop of string.  SIIIIIIIGH.†

            This morning after service ring†† I was out in front of the cottage, deadheading.†††  I’ve still got pansies in flower—I mean pansies that have been flowering since spring, and in a couple of cases since last winter.  If you’re clever about it you pretty much can have pansies flowering all year long—although they may shut down in self-defense in a cold winter—but this usually requires waves of pansies.  Some of this year’s have gone out back for a serious haircut, a feed, and a rest, but by no means all of them.  Some of them are still frothing down my front steps, flowering determinedly.  So I was determinedly deadheading them.‡  And my neighbour with the posh, national-collections garden at the top of the hill comes strolling down with a companion and says lugubriously to me, Oh, you’re losing that battle. 

            Thanks ever so.  You’re a real friend.

Peter and I went to another posh garden this afternoon‡‡, one of those eye-wateringly so-English cottagey things that I have the almost overwhelming urge to speak loudly and frequently, saying things like Gee whillikers! and Gosh darn!  This place is real gone!  Peter and I used to have one of those gardens . . . but we never went in for the eye-watering aspect;  ours was too clearly not under control, nor under anything resembling an all-over plan.   And I get a little lip-curly about people with full time gardeners.  (Or trust funds and no need to earn a living.)  If I had a full-time gardener I could be opening Third House’s garden to the public in a couple of (somewhat frantic) years.  The funny thing is that I don’t think I’d want to:  the pleasure, if you want to call it pleasure,‡‡‡ of opening our garden was that we were the ones responsible.  If you wanted to know about a plant, we were the ones to ask.  We might not remember, but if we didn’t, there was no recourse.§  I’m just crabby because there was a lot to like about this garden . . . till you got to the two wide bays of really ugly orange roses.  There must have been thirty of the horrible things.  All orange.  I like hot dazzling orange fine in neat little wool-and-silk cardigans such as the one I am wearing this minute.  But neon orange is not a good colour in a rose.  Especially not in ranks at the front of the sculpted topiary tunnel to the lily pond with the summerhouse and the tasteful statuary.  Gah.  No, Gee whillikers!

 * * *

 * Possibly my least favourite critter on the planet, barring things big enough to eat me and standing close enough to try 

** Including potting on two camellias, which have been quietly getting on with things for two years in the pots they arrived from the mail-order nursery in.  One of the best things about camellias is how patient they are.  A kind word and a handful of well rotted chicken crap and they’re happy indefinitely.  You think I’m anthropomorphising about the kind word, don’t you?  HA.  Show me a little old lady who talks to her plants and I’ll show you a little old lady who can barely get out her back door for being throttled by the botanical riot.  No I am not talking about me.  I am not little.  And I haven’t fully arrived at the ‘old’.  And while it’s perfectly true I talk to my plants^ I tend to say things like what are you doing that for, you frelling thing? and ARRRRRRGH.   And, when dealing with rosebushes, OWWWWWW.  But I’m mostly nice to my camellias.  I’ve pretty much even stopped cursing Jingle Bells for being fabulously healthy, floriferous and UGLY.  

^ I talk to almost everything except other people.  Other people, feh.  Way too complicated.  Give me a rosebush or a hellhound any day. 

*** It’s not so much the height, it’s the posture.  Forty-foot roses dangling from trees can be very intimidating, but they’re not at all triffidy.  

† Clearly I haven’t been saying the right things to them.  

†† During which I was Much Put Upon.   Not only did I keep finding myself in the long-thirds position when a single was called for Grandsire, but I fell afoul of the Dreaded Three-Four Down Dodge Single in bob minor several times, about which mediocre ringers lie awake on Saturday nights worrying about being traumatised by if bob minor is attempted on Sunday morning.  I did, by the way—get through all these trials—but I had to be carried home and fed chocolate to recover.^ 

^ And speaking of feeding . . .  Peter has just spilt chicken broth—you know, the stuff that accumulates under a roast chicken—rather lavishly on the floor.  Hellhounds did not stir.  I called them.  They stared at me.  I called them again.  Chaos, always the one more anxious about pleasing,+ crept out at last and crushed himself to me, as I knelt on the floor next to a pool of fresh chicken juice.  Here, look at that, I said, extricating an arm and pointing.  Chaos looked at the finger, the way dogs do++.  I eventually persuaded him to have a sniff at the lovely chickeny puddle.  To please me he did, with his feet braced, still leaning against me, and with his neck stretched to its furthest extent.  He sniffed.  He then looked at me with a ‘Can I go now?’ expression.

            After he had fled back to the dog bed in huge relief, Darkness came nonchalantly out to make sure he wasn’t missing anything.  He had a half-hearted lick and then turned around to fix me with a ‘You got us up for this? look.

            Peter mopped up the spill. 

+ Except, of course, when it comes to food 

++ There was an article in a recent TIME magazine about the intelligence of critters, and how there’s more of it around than generally thought.  Depends on who you ask, of course.  I know a lot of critter people who have been sniggering at the scientists about this sort of thing for years.  But one of the things the article cites is that dogs ‘innately’ understand about pointing fingers being about pointing, and not about the finger.  Well, sort of.  It depends on the dog and the context.  Pointers certainly point, and they know they’re pointing.  But your own pet dog is very likely to be interested in the finger, because it’s your finger.  Chaos has a very bad case of this. 

††† I should try to get someone to take a photo of me deadheading the Non Trailing Petunias in the hanging basket.  I can feel how ridiculous—how increasingly ridiculous—I look, especially as the petunias themselves grow more ridiculous, ramrod straight and soaring out into the ozone. 

‡ Kneeling on tarmac at least keeps the Scary Mud Monster somewhat at bay. 

‡‡ In the rain.  It came back. 

‡‡‡ I didn’t, much.  I’ve told you, I think, that Peter was always out there talking to people.  I used to try to find an especially impenetrable thicket and spent the afternoon weeding.  Peter would occasionally send people in after me who wanted particularly to talk about roses.  

§ We did have a once a week body I used to refer to as our gardeneroid.  His purpose was to move slowly around the garden looking like he was doing something, and adding rusticity to the view.  He also mowed the lawn.

Ringing Bats*, guest post by Chris Laning

 

What attracted me to the college I attended — a small liberal arts college in Indiana — was its excellent biology department. This was well before the days when there were actually jobs in environmental science, and it was one of the few schools I looked at whose biology department did not assume that everyone wanted to go to medical school. Since I wanted to study “natural history,” that was a big factor for me. And when I got there, I soon volunteered to join the student staff of the small natural-history museum on campus. (Which had, among other things, its own mammoth skeleton.)

The museum was run by a zoologist who specialized in bats, so all of us who volunteered there picked up a fair amount of bat knowledge, and we all got drafted to go along and help on bat expeditions. This was especially the case when the project involved banding large numbers of bats: the extra pairs of hands were really helpful and we were cheap labor.

As with birds, catching and banding (or in British, ringing) bats was a way to track their migrations and population trends. In birds the band goes around a leg; for bats, the band was clamped onto the front edge of a wing where there is a sturdy bone (the equivalent of your forearm). This permitted the band to be seen by observers when the bat was hanging head downward from the ceiling. (You can’t read the numbers on a band unless you get really close, but you could at least count how many bats had bands, which helped with population estimates.)

What we didn’t know when I was in college is that research has shown that there’s a substantially higher injury rate for bats that are banded than for birds, who seem to have much less trouble with the bands. As a result, today bats are no longer being banded for routine research. If banding is bad for the bats, of course that’s the right decision, but as far as I know there really isn’t a good, durable and harmless identification method to replace it. And it makes me sad to think we were probably responsible for injuring bats without knowing it. Researchers today do catch bats (without banding them), weigh them, measure them, evaluate their health and let them go. The information’s useful even if we can no longer track individual bats.

In the US, bats (unfortunately) are among the animals known to carry rabies (less than 1% of bats carry it, but still). If we wanted to be able to handle bats without gloves — and bats are so small that handling them with gloves is pretty awkward — we were required to get the preventive rabies shots. The preventive series is only three shots; they weren’t bad. (You will be glad to know that the days of 14 or 21 daily shots in the abdomen are long gone: now it’s just 5 shots, which are simply given in the arm like any other shot.) Because I’d had the shots, at summer camp then and in later years I was always the counselor called on to get rid of bats and other little furry things.

When we went out to band bats, pipistrelles (Pipistrellus subflavus) and Little Brown Bats (Myotis lucifugus) were overwhelmingly the most common bats we saw. “Pips” and Little Browns are cute li’l things when you are holding them. They are clean little animals — they groom themselves all over, like cats.** These small bats actually can’t bite humans very well — if you let one get hold of a fold of skin on the back of your knuckle, they will pinch, but their jaws are so small and weak that they really can’t get the leverage to actually pierce your skin.

I found myself wishing that they weren’t so terrified of being held — we tried to handle them as little and as gently as possible. We were also careful not to disturb hibernating bats unless absolutely necessary. Repeatedly waking up hibernating bats can use up energy that they really can’t spare, since they often have just enough fat stored to get them through the winter.

Our usual procedure was for the prof and a handful of students to pile into one of the college vans, with equipment, and head off to a known bat roost. While mist nets do work to catch some bats — apparently their radar isn’t good enough to detect the very fine strands of nylon — you have to be quick to get them out of the net if you want to catch them before they chew themselves loose. During cooler weather it is fairly easy to collect large numbers of bats by hand, since they are very sleepy and slow in the daytime. (Nothing is cuter than a tiny bat giving a b-i-i-i-i-g yawn.)

Our professor had devised temporary holding cages that were quite clever. They were open-sided rectangular boxes with the edges made of 1×1 inch wood, about eighteen inches tall and 8 inches square. They had wire mesh on four sides, a wooden top and bottom, and a rope handle over the top. In the center of the top was a round opening; over the opening was tacked a piece of heavy rubber with a slit in the middle. You could easily push your hand through the slit to put a bat into the box, but the slit would close when you took your hand out, and the bats aren’t strong enough to push their way out through the opening. Once the bats are awake, they crawl around cheeping and can make quite a racket if you get enough of them.

Besides the “pips” and Little Browns, we also saw several other kinds of bats.*** The Indiana Bat (Myotis sodalis) is an endangered species and one that our professor was particularly interested in. It’s a close relative of the Little Brown, but it was rare then and is even more so now. We were asked not to say anything in public about the locations of the caves where we found it roosting.

Other characters we encountered included the so-called Big Brown Bat (Eptesicus fuscus) and various “forest” bats. Big Browns are up to twice the size of pipistrelles and have correspondingly bigger teeth — they are rather aggressive and can and do bite and draw blood. They don’t form big colonies, but we found quite a few of them in the same places as the smaller bats.

The “forest bats” were generally our favorites. There are several species that fall into this category, including the Hoary Bat (Lasiurus cinereus), the Red Bat (Lasiurus borealis), and the Silver- Haired Bat (Lasionycteris noctivigans). These bats are solitary and mostly live in wooded areas, not caves, so we didn’t catch them often.  They roost in dense foliage, hollow trees and underneath loose bark, and some of them migrate south in the winter rather than hibernating.

They all have beautiful fur. In contrast to the other bats, most of the forest bats we saw were quite tame and unafraid. Once or twice someone kept one as a pet for a day or two and carried it around in a front shirt pocket, where it would hang by its feet from the top edge and go to sleep.

Bats were declining in population even when I was in college, and are still declining. In addition, just in the last year or two, a number of U.S. bat populations have suddenly taken a nosedive, possibly due to disease. Hopefully continuing research will be able to discover the causes and halt the decline.

* * *

*There has to be at least one ghastly pun lurking somewhere about bats, ringing and belfries, but I can’t come up with one at the moment.

**Bats, by the way, are not rodents, although their body shape looks superficially mouse-like. They eat mostly insects, and they don’t have the two big front teeth: all their teeth are small and needle-like.  Their closest relatives are currently thought to be small carnivores such as hedgehogs, cats and shrews.

*** http://www.batmanagement.com/Batcentral/batspecs.html 

and a nice article at http://www.nature.org/magazine/spring2009/features/index.html 

News

 

So I flung myself weeping on the (virtual) neck of my Marketing Person about the awfulness of the PEGASUS issuu excerpt (citing, among other things, some of the comments on the blog thread here and thank you all very much for taking the time to respond) and look what she has done for all of us!!!!

http://www.scribd.com/doc/36512923/Robin-McKinley-Esampler

I think this one is hugely, hugely, HUGELY better, and I hope you will agree, which is to say I hope it looks better on all your computers too.*

Now then.  On to my NEWS.

I HAVE A BRITISH PUBLISHER.

PENGUIN UK** HAS JUST BOUGHT PEGS I & II***

Let the feasting and diverse merriment begin. 

* * *

* Maren adds, for the comfort and succour of people like me:  you might want to mention that the zoom buttons are at lower left under the page image. Also right next to the zoom buttons is a drop-down menu where you can switch to “book” (layout). 

** Yes, I’m published by a division of Penguin USA in America.  This apparently has nothing to do with anything except that they talk to each other.  But all publishers talk to each other.  I have no clue, so don’t ask.

*** So I’d better get back to it.  I’ve got at least two more sentences in me tonight before I fall face forward into my Green & Black’s. 

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