Dr Plokta's Journal|
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|Monday, February 8th, 2016|
Our home phone line is currently down, so no Internet, and the mobile data coverage at home is not up to doing more than Twitter. So don't expect to see us online much for a couple of days.
|Friday, January 29th, 2016|
This is really quite amusing. A tech website held a race between two London taxi apps — the (in)famous Uber and my former employer Hailo. The race was from Kings Cross to Covent Garden, which is only about a mile and a half, and Hailo beat Uber by 45 minutes
. The Uber passenger could almost have walked to Covent Garden and back in the extra time that his journey took compared to Hailo.
|Thursday, January 7th, 2016|
|A political question
By convention, the Prime Minister is the leader of the majority party in the House of Commons (assuming there is one). But the Prime Minister is really whoever can command the confidence of the House, and the convention only exists because that's probably going to be the leader of the majority party. If there were a situation where the leader of that party did not
have the confidence of the House of Commons, then he would cease to be Prime Minister, and someone else would have a go at forming a government. He would be expected to resign immediately as party leader, but there's nothing requiring
him to do so.
So does this also apply to the Leader of the Opposition, a question which may be relevant in the near future. Is the Leader of the Opposition necessarily the leader of the largest party that's not in government, or is it in fact whoever can command the support of the majority of MPs from that party, which may not necessarily be the same? In other words, is it up to the Labour party as a whole or just the Parliamentary Labour Party to decide who it is? If Labour had a majority, then it would definitely be a matter for the PLP and not the party at large to decide who was Prime Minister.
|Saturday, August 15th, 2015|
That British Memeplex
1. Marmite—love or hate?
Only on Twiglets
2. Marmalade—thick cut or thin cut?
3. Porridge—made with milk or water?
4. Do you like salt, sugar or honey on your porridge?
5. Loose tea or teabags?
Don't drink camellia sinensis
, generally teabags for fruit/herbal teas.
6. Where on your door is your letterbox?
At the bottom of the drive.
7. What's your favourite curry?
Something from the Ambrette in Canterbury or Planet Spice in Croydon.
8. What age is the place where you live?
9. Where do the folks running your local corner shop come from?
There's no local corner shop.
10. Instant or fresh coffee?
Don't drink coffee.
11. How far are you from the sea?
Just under 8 miles.
12. Have you travelled via Eurostar?
Yes, but more frequently by the Eurotunnel car shuttle.
13. If you were going to travel abroad, where's the nearest country to you?
Le Gris Nez near Calais is 30 miles away.
14. If you're female (or possible even some males) do you carry a handbag?
No, but I have a laptop rucksack that I often take with me if travelling.
15. Do you have a garden? What do you like growing?
An uncomfortably large garden. We're still working out what we like growing, but we have lots of tomatoes and tomatilloes this year.
16. Full cream, semi skimmed or skimmed?
Semi-skimmed, or unpasteurised whole milk direct from the dairy farm down the road.
17. Which London terminal would you travel into if going to the capital?
St Pancras International.
18. Is there a local greasy spoon where you live?
There isn't a local anything where I live.
19. Do you keep Euros in the house?
Yes, and also a plastic Euro coin for the supermarket trolleys at Auchan in Coquelles near Calais.
20. Does your home town have a Latin, Gaelic or Welsh alternative.
Not sure if this is where I grew up or where I live, but it's yes to both: Grew up in Deva and live (just) in Durovernum.
21. Do you have a well known local artist or author?
Henry Moore used to live in Marley, and Ian Fleming lived in Pett Bottom.
22. Do you have a favourite Corrie character?
I have never watched Coronation Street.
23. Are your kitchen sink taps separate or a mixer?
Three-way mixer, with filtered water as the third option.
24. Do you have a favourite brand of blended tea?
There's a nice fruit tea that we've picked up in Bruges a couple of times.
25. What's in your attic if you have one?
Spare roof tiles and insulation. And there have allegedly been bats, but not since we moved in.
26. If you go out for a cream tea, what jam do you like on your scone?
27. Talking of scones—scon or scown? Jam or cream first?
Scon, jam first.
28. Barth or bath?
29. Carstle or castle?
30. What flavour of crisps do you favour?
Cheese and onion, preferably of some posh variety like cheddar and chive.
31. If you go to the chippie, what do you like with your chips?
32. Take away, take out or carry out?
33. If you have one, what colour is your wheelie bin?
Green for garden waste, black with blue lid for recycling, black with black lid for landfill.
34. What colour skips does your local skip hire use?
35. Do you celebrate Guy Fawkes?
36. Dettol or TCP?
37. Do you have a bidet in the bathroom?
38. Do you prefer courgettes or aubergines?
39. In the 'real world', do you have friends of other nationalities? Which nationalities?
Irish, American, Canadian, Australian, Kiwi, Swedish, Finnish, Dutch. And Raf next door is French.
40. Do you have a holy book of any sort in the house?
Probably a couple of bibles.
41. Do you prefer a hankie or tissues?
42. Are you a fan of crumpets? What do you like on them?
Only if I made them myself, with butter.
43. Doorbell, knocker or both?
Dodgy battery-powered wireless doorbell.
44. Do you own a car? What sort?
45. What sort of pants do you guys prefer? Y fronts or boxers?
46. Anyone still a fan of suspenders?
Assuming we're talking about braces here, then no.
47. Do you have a favourite quote from the bard?
48. Do you like toasted muffins?
Again only if I've made them myself.
49. Do you think a traditional trifle should contain jelly?
50. Do you attend regular religious worship? Of what kind?
|Saturday, July 18th, 2015|
So, England has 35,000 square miles of countryside. How much would you say that it needs for farming, wildlife habitats, recreation, scenery, and all the other things for which we need open space? That's a fairly fundamental question while we're deciding how much of it we can afford to build things like houses on. Do we need 35,000 square miles? Would 33,000 square miles be enough? Or 30,000 square miles? Or do we perhaps need more than the 35,000 square miles that we've got? Think about your answer for a bit before moving on to read the next paragraph, which is behind a cut tag.( Have you decided how much countryside we need?Collapse )
|Sunday, June 7th, 2015|
|And Then There Were Two
Jonny went off to his new home yesterday morning, very smoothly. They've sent us a few photos, and here he is making a new friend.
Angelo spent a while calling for him, but then he seemed to settle down and started eating the grass, so it seems like he'll be OK.
|Tuesday, May 12th, 2015|
I've struggled with finding a way to automatically identify the effect of slates on the nomination numbers. The problem is the Best Novelette category, where the slate numbers don't look that different from a regular year, perhaps because there aren't that many novelettes published each year. However, a proposal
has emerged on Making Light that looks good to me, and I support that proposal, which is better than mine.
|Monday, April 20th, 2015|
|Further Hugo Thoughts
I've been reflecting on my proposal
for making the Hugos less gameable. I think the principle is correct, that the number of nominees should automatically increase in categories where an algorithm detects slate-like behaviour. I now favour reducing the number of nominations per nominator to four, and having between five and ten nominees per category. That would prevent any two slates from taking over a category, assuming the algorithm increased the number of nominees to ten for that category (unless they were very well-organised in getting a large number of nominators nominating different subsets of the slate, which would at least remove all deniability about what they were doing).
But I don't think my algorithm for detecting slates is optimal. The problem is that the numbers that stand out as a slate in categories like Best Novella and Best Short Story would look perfectly normal in Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form or Best Professional Artist, because there are many fewer eligible candidates, and so the most popular ones inevitably get more nominations.
So I'm after a piece of data that's not in the posted summaries. How many items in total were nominated in each category in previous years, especially 2013 and 2014, going all the way down to items that received only a single nomination (although it would also be good to know the number that got five or more nominations)? Does anyone have access to that data, and are they able to share it?
|Tuesday, April 7th, 2015|
Having posted a proposed solution
to the issue, and a couple of analyses arising
from it, here are my actual thoughts, in no very coherent order. Non-friend comments are screened.
1. My first Worldcon was 1987, and I've attended roughly half of the Worldcons since then. I was shortlisted for a Hugo every year from 2000 to 2008 (although Wikipedia incorrectly lists me as a nominee in 1999 as well, and was a winner in 2005 and 2006. I'm a frequent business meeting attendee, and I was a bid chair and a division head for last year's Worldcon, Loncon 3. I think I'm as well qualified as anyone to have an opinion.
2. I'm angry about what has happened to an award that was meaningful to me before I even knew what science fiction fandom was, and so are a lot of other people. But it is important to channel that anger in ways that are constructive rather than destructive, rather than acting hastily and regretting it later.
3. Fortunately and unfortunately, the process will make it difficult to act hastily. Any changes to the rules cannot take effect until 2017 at the earliest, possibly 2018 if one carried-forward resolution from Loncon 3 is ratified at Sasquan (I think its ratification just got a lot less likely).
4. That doesn't mean there's nothing that can be done next year. Only about 15% of the people eligible to nominate actually did so. The more people that participate in the process, the harder it is to game. I did not nominate this year. It was a mistake I will not be making again.
5. That in turn does not
mean that we should have a "happy kittens" slate of inclusive and socially relevant SF to counterbalance the sad puppies. Slates are the problem, not the solution, and if the Hugos are reduced to competing slates then they are dead.
6. It's not a bad thing that people with different views are joining Worldcon and voting in the Hugos. That's what we want
to happen. What's bad is that they are voting a collective slate rather than their own actual individual preferences, which gives them a disproportionate influence on the shortlist. We need to find a way to encourage them to actually follow the spirit of the rules, even though this means that their preferences are unlikely to be recognised in the results since they are in a minority.
7. Any "solution" that allows voters or nominees to be disqualified (other than because they're actually ineligible) can and will be abused. We must move forwards rather than backwards and make the process more inclusive not less inclusive. And it's seldom wise to actually persecute groups who have delusions of persecution.
8. It's striking how little effect the slate has had on the Best Dramatic Presentation categories. Does anyone think that Interstellar
or Game of Thrones
needed the help of the puppies to get on the ballot? We need more media SF that is offensive to white male heteronormative middle-American values, and we should be finding or creating it, and nominating it. Although in fact Game of Thrones
is full of things that the puppies are supposed to be against. Did they actually watch and understand it?
9. I salute those who were on a puppy slate and refused their nomination. I've experienced the thrill of a first Hugo nomination, and I understand how difficult it must have been. Congratulations to Matthew David Surridge and, yes, to Larry Correia for doing the right thing. And perhaps one or two others who have not yet become public (or I've not heard about). I will bear you in mind for future nominations.
10. I understand those who have said they will read the nominees and vote based on their individual qualities. It's a fair and principled position, although it is not my position, as I believe the abuse of process means that they should not receive any votes. What I ask is that you only vote for a sad/rabid puppies candidate if you sincerely believe it is the best of the year
in its category, and not just the best of an impoverished shortlist, especially in the six categories where there are no puppy-free alternatives.
11. If you were on a sad/rabid puppy slate without your knowledge or consent, then you have my sympathy. I know there are some good people who have no connection or sympathy with the puppies' views in that position. Nevertheless, you are now in a no-win situation that is not of your making.
12. Suppose there are five nominees in a category. Thing you like a lot, thing you like a bit, thing you have no opinion about, and two things you detest. If you vote for "thing you like a lot", then "thing you like a bit", then No Award, and then the "things you detest", just to show them by putting them behind No Award, then you have helped the "things you detest" to beat the "thing you have no opinion about". Always remember that anything that isn't on your ballot at all is ranked behind everything that is on your ballot.
13. Remember, this is the last gasp of a dying subculture. The culture wars are over, and they have lost. It's similar in spirit to Hitler's (disobeyed) orders that Paris should be destroyed by the retreating German forces.
|2013 Hugos Revisited
Here are the 2013 Hugos (for 2012), revisited using the same rules as I just did for 2014. The sad puppies were just getting going, and basically consisted of Larry Correia asking people to vote for his novel (which he did to a degree that I find distasteful, but nothing worse than that; it certainly wasn't an organised slate like the later sad puppies campaigns).
Best Novel: Add Monster Hunter Legion
by Larry Correia, (the only sad puppies 1 candidate).
Best Novella: Add “In the House of Aryaman, a Lonely Signal Burns” by Elizabeth Bear, “The Boolean Gate” by Walter Jon Williams and “All The Flavors” by Ken Liu.
Best Novelette: No change.
Best Short Story: Add “No Place Like Home” by Seanan McGuire & “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” by Ken Liu.
Best Related Work: No change.
Best Graphic Story: No change.
Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: Add John Carter
, Wreck-It Ralph
, Cloud Atlas
& The Dark Knight Rises
Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form: Add "Mark Reads ‘The Shadow War of the Night Dragons – Book One: The Dead City’".
Best Editor, Short Form: Add Ellen Datlow, Lynne Thomas, Gordon Van Gelder & Gardner Dozois.
Best Editor, Long Form: Add Anne Lesley Groell & Betsy Wollheim.
Best Professional Artist: Add Stephan Martiniere & Bob Eggleton.
Best Semiprozine: Add Locus
, New York Review of Science Fiction
Best Fanzine: Add World SF Blog
& File 770
Best Fancast: Add The Writer and the Critic
& Radio Free Skaro
Best Fan Writer: Add Abigail Nussbaum & A Cracked Moon.
Best Fan Artist: Add Taral Wayne & Katy Shuttleworth.
Campbell Award: No change.
That's added 33 nominees, or an average of two per category. That's twice as many as 2014, and I think veering in the direction of too many, although most of them seem like perfectly reasonable additions. That 10% cutoff might want to be 12%.
|Reworked 2014 Hugo Shortlist
OK, so tweaking the numbers a little, what would the 2014 shortlist have looked like if we shortlisted everything getting nominated in at least 10% of the nominating ballots, after subtracting the number that nominated the most popular item (but not more than 25%), with a minimum of 5 nominees per category and a maximum of 10. I'm using Larry Correia's sad puppy 2 slate
Best Novel: unchanged; there were no puppies, and one withdrawal.
Best Novella: unchanged; there were two puppies included.
Best Novelette: unchanged; there were two puppies included.
Best Short Story: add "Dog's Body" by Sarah Hoyt, which failed the 5% rule. No puppies (though Sarah Hoyt was on the puppy slate for Best Novel).
Best Related Work: unchanged; there were no puppies.
Best Graphic Story: unchanged; one puppy was removed due to inelgibility.
Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: Add Ender's Game, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Her, Thor: The Dark World & Europa Report. No puppies.
Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form: unchanged; no puppies.
Best Editor, Short Form: add Bryan Thomas Schmidt (a puppy), Lynne M Thomas and Anne Vandermeer. No puppies were previously included.
Best Editor, Long Form: add Patrick Nielsen Hayden. One puppy was previously included.
Best Professional Artist: unchanged; no puppies.
Best Semiprozine: unchanged; no puppies.
Best Fanzine: add Banana Wings & The Drink Tank. There was one puppy previously included.
Best Fancast: unchanged; no puppies.
Best Fan Writer: add Justin Landon & Steven H Silver. No puppies.
Best Fan Artist: add Marine Starkey & Ninni Aalto. No puppies.
Campbell Award: add Frank Chadwick (a puppy). Another puppy was withdrawn due to ineligibility.
Frankly, I think that's a better ballot than the one we had. We don't avoid puppies driving off a couple of novella and novellette nominees that would otherwise have been on the ballot, but we get back Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Banana Wings and The Drink Tank that were kept off by puppies. And we get a wider and more interesting choice for BDP: Long Form. We've added two or three puppy nominees onto the ballot as well, but I don't actually object to that, as long as the voters also have plenty of non-puppies to choose from.
|Monday, April 6th, 2015|
I shall not rehash the Sad/Rabid Puppies Hugo award debacle here — the best summary is probably Mike Glyer's, here
. I want to move on to possible solutions.
The problem with the puppy slates is not that they've got stuff on the ballot. They're members of the Worldcon, and they're entitled to have the stuff they nominated on the ballot, regardless of their decision processes in making their choices. The problem is that they have kept off the ballot some other stuff that most voters would probably prefer to vote for. So what we should be doing is preventing a slate from forcing stuff off
the ballot, not from getting stuff on
the ballot. The voters can then use their alternative vote preferences to take care of the slate, as happened last year when the slate failed to completely dominate any categories.
It seems to me, therefore, that the solution is to have some rule for varying the size of the final list of nominees in each category based on the nominating patterns. Nothing on a slate would be banned or disqualified, but the slate wouldn't be allowed to dominate any category. We already do this a bit — we increase the number of nominees if there's a tie for fifth place, and we reduce the number if not enough nominees pass the 5% threshold.
I would propose that for each category we take the total number of nominations received in that category
, subtract the number of nominations received by the most popular nominee in the category (thus removing the effect of a slate, if there is one, on the numbers), and then the shortlist consists of everything that got at least 10% of the remaining number, but with a minimum of five per category and scrapping the existing 5% rule (which has already been causing problems). That would have set thresholds this year of (with the actual minimum nominations to be on the ballot under the current system):
- Novel: 144 (was 256)
- Novella: 74 (was 145)
- Novelette: 76 (was 165)
- Short Story: 94 (was 151)
- Graphic Story: 58 (was 60)
- BDP Long: 51 (was 204)
- BDP Short: 76 (was 71)
- Editor Short: 59 (was 162)
- Editor Long: 34 (was 166)
- Pro Artist: 56 (was 136)
- Semiprozine: 43 (was 94)
- Fanzine: 36 (was 68)
- Fancast: 48 (was 69)
- Fan Writer: 77 (was 129)
- Fan Artist: 24 (was 23)
- Campbell: 62 (was 106)
You'll observe that it would have made little difference to the relatively puppy-free categories of Fan Artist and Graphic Story while allowing a lot more on the ballot in the six categories that are 100% puppy.
I think there's a failure node if we have a category (most likely BDP Long or BDP Short) where there's a genuine overwhelming favourite one year, and we end up with a very long tail of nominees. BDP Long might suffer from that this year. We might want to set a maximum number of nominees as well as a minimum, but I'd suggest it should be pretty high, maybe 15. And/or we could say that you can't subtract more than 25% when subtracting the number of nominations for the most popular work, on the basis that more than 25% is popular support rather than a slate.
It's a bit complicated, but the nominators and voters don't have to understand the rule, as it doesn't change what they should do, which is to nominate stuff that they want to be on the final ballot.
There are two problems with potentially having more nominees per category. First, it might make voting more difficult, if you have to rank up to 15 items per category instead of 5. Second, it makes for a bigger administrative and financial burden on the administrating Worldcon (and on the next one, which will be running the Hugo Losers' party).
Many thanks to coalescent
for tweeting a screenshot of the nomination numbers
that I used to produce the figures above.
Please feel free to share the link to this post. Anonymous comments are screened, but will be unscreened unless they're highly non-productive.
|Thursday, March 12th, 2015|
Just to observe that the latest forecast on ElectionForecast.co.uk
is for 295 Conservative MPs and 24 Liberal Democrats, a total of 319, which is enough for the Coalition to stay in power with DUP support. At least until they lose a few seats in by-elections. It seems that the Tories have been picking up a bit in the polls recently. (Broken down by seat the results are slightly different and give the current coaltion parties as many 322 seats, which means that they could get a majority by adding UKIP's one MP, given that Sinn Fein's abstentionism means that 323 MPs is an effective majority.)
|Friday, March 6th, 2015|
So, the 20 minute free on-street parking in Canterbury that I use occasionally is about to become 30 minute parking
. Which will actually be handy, since I park there while getting my hair cut, and 20 minutes is touch-and-go. But what happens now if I'm there for 30 minutes and 5 seconds -- can I claim over-zealous enforcement, and should there be some leeway on the leeway? What people really want is to have 10 minutes longer than they thought they had, and it's not actually possible to do that.
|Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015|
In the unlikely event that anyone else is considering buying a horse, and for my reference in case of future need, here's everything we've bought for Bugsy since getting him. Except that I've probably forgotten something. Horses are quite complex animals to keep and look after.
- Saddle. We paid extra for the one he had, and our saddler has now had a look and says it's OK.
- Bridle. His bridle was thrown in, but his previous owner was a young woman, and the brow band and nose band are sparkly. At least they're not pink, but we still want a new one. We put him in Angelo's spare (best) bridle at first, but he turns out not to be happy to be tied up by his bridle, and broke it.
- Half pad for the saddle (we had a spare one, since Jonny doesn't need his any more now that he has filled out).
- Numnah (2, but we had spares).
- Head collar. He came with one, but we didn't like it.
- Lead rope.
- Heavy, medium and light stable rugs.
- Heavy, medium and light turnout rugs.
- Fly sheet.
- Fly mask (but we have a spare one).
- Two rug racks for the above (A rug rack of the kind we like has space for up to eight rug brackets, but only comes with five, and a new rack is cheaper than five brackets bought separately. So we now have three racks in total mounted on the wall, with eight brackets each, plus two spare racks and a spare bracket.)
- New masonry drill bits to replace ones broken when drilling into
adamantium breeze block wall to attach the above.
- A bunch of screws and rawlplugs.
- Feed buckets (2).
- Water buckets (2).
- Salt lick.
- Five day wormer (just in case).
- Tapewormer (ditto).
- Saddle strap. (Not strictly necessary, but the other two saddles have them, and we like having them. Also, if no saddle strap, then we'd probably want a martingale instead.)
- Grooming kit (curry comb, body brush, dandy brush, hoofpick, sweat scraper and hairbrush, plus a bag to keep them in).
- Hoof pick (we don't like the one in the grooming kit).
- Plastic curry comb (the one in the grooming kit is rubber).
- Shedding blade. (Actually, he can probably use Angelo's, since he's shedding now and the Cushing's means that Angelo won't start until about June.)
- Wheelbarrow. (We need a second one now so that we can both muck out at once.)
- Verdo fork (ditto, haven't actually got it yet).
- Broom (ditto, but we already had a spare).
- Anchor points for stall guard.
- Stall guard.
- Carabiners to attach and extend stall guard.
- Bit of chain to extend stall guard.
- Kick plate for stable door (It had a bolt but not a kick plate, and while unlike some horses he can't open the bolt with his teeth, he can kick it open).
- Saddle rack (actually, we already had a spare one).
- Bridle rack (ditto).
- Tie-up rings (2) for tieing him up outside, and for hanging up his hay nets inside.
- Hay nets (2, but he's also using a couple of spare ones that we had lying around).
- Baling twine (lots, but since we get two pieces free with every bale of hay, we don't actually have to buy any).
- Grazing muzzle (not needed yet, on account of there being no grass, but in six weeks we'll put them back in the fallow half of the field, and the grass will be starting to grow now).
And of course I've not included bedding or feeds, which we use every day.
I have a nasty feeling that all of that cost more than the actual horse....
|Sunday, February 15th, 2015|
Today feels like the first day of spring (with apologies to my friends in Boston, where it definitely isn't). The sun is shining and feels quite warm, our crocuses are coming into flower, and there are daffodils flowering nearby.
Also, we have a new horse. Here's Bugsy. It's not quite clear yet if he'll be flickgc
's or my horse, as we both really need a new one (Angelo is too old and will probably be retiring soon, and Jonny is too young and inexperienced).
|Friday, February 6th, 2015|
Just over 50 years ago, there was an election, the first one that I was around for (if not eligible to vote). One party other than Conservative or Labour won 9 seats, 1.4% of the total (and that includes Northern Ireland). It was thus almost certain that either Labour or the Conservatives would win a majority. It was pretty much the zenith of the two-party system.
In May, we'll have an election. The current forecast
is that nine parties other than Conservative or Labour will win a total of 86 seats, 13.2% of the total. It will thus be very difficult for either the Conservatives or Labour to win a majority. We are in for interesting times, politically speaking.
|Saturday, January 31st, 2015|
, who should know better, present as a problem here
the statistics that 75% of deaths from non-communicable diseases, and 80% of premature deaths, occur in developing countries. But the population of the OECD countries plus Russia is only about 1.4 billion, so 80% of the world's population live in developing countries (unless they're using a radical new definition of "developing country" that excludes countries like Brazil, India and/or China), and thus the developing countries must be doing rather better than the developed countries as far as non-communicable diseases are concerned.
It's nearly as bad as the time the WHO set an objective to reduce the proportion of deaths due to non-communicable diseases. Which can of course also be expressed as setting an objective to increase
the proportion of deaths caused by communicable diseases, violence, accidents or suicide. Since that's pretty much all the ways to die that there are, the two statements are equivalent to each other.
|Monday, December 22nd, 2014|
Yes, well, having animals at home does cut down on the amount of travelling. In 2014 I spent at least one night away from home in:
|Saturday, December 20th, 2014|
by Lois McMaster Bujold, and Miles Vorkosigan has just purchased as gifts ear-ring-sized replicas of a few planets, which are apparently "displayed under various levels of magnification, where they proved to be perfectly-mapped replicas of the worlds they represented, right down to the one-metre scale.” A quick calculation suggests that if they're 2cm across, then those one-metre scale objects are less than 2 nanometres across. Never mind "magnification", it would need a high-power electron microscope to see them, which it seems unlikely that the recipients of gifts will have available (although I suppose that in this case one of the recipients is the Emperor of Barrayar, and can presumably get as many electron microscopes as he wants).