On Furloughing Staff: A Story of Changing My Mind

The opinions and positions expressed on this blog are always my own and should never be assumed to express the opinions or positions of my employer nor any other party other than myself.

I want to talk about something that happened where I work and how it changed my perspective. I want to talk about some lessons learned.

My employer, the Johnson County Library in Johnson County, Kansas, has furloughed 58% of our staff. We did this as part of a wider furlough strategy undertaken by the Johnson County Government.

I support this course of action. I think this was the right decision both for our staff and for the library as an organization. No one has lost their jobs. Everyone remains employed and retains their health insurance and other benefits. All furloughed staff are eligible for unemployment benefits.

Many of you read and responded positively to a tweet thread I posted last month near the beginning of this pandemic, in which I very strongly expressed my opposition to any form of unpaid leave or layoffs for staff. The fact that I now support furloughing JCL staff probably screams of hypocrisy.

I want to explain why I changed my mind. For all my grandstanding on principle and my moral certainty, this is a complex situation which makes practical action messier than I want to admit. I’m a big fan of lessons learned and I learned some difficult ones through this.

Continue reading “On Furloughing Staff: A Story of Changing My Mind”

Book Review: Network Effect by Martha Wells

Cover of the book Network Effectby Martha Wells
Network Effect
by Martha Wells
Tor, 2020

This review was first published by Booklist on April 1, 2020.

**STARRED REVIEW** Everyone’s favorite Murderbot is now working as a security consultant for Preservation Station. While accompanying several members of Dr. Mensah’s family on a research outing, they’re attacked by a ship that looks a lot like their old friend, the transport ship ART. Murderbot and Amena, Mensah’s daughter, are kidnapped and taken aboard, where they uncover a plot that leads back to a strange planet, corporate machinations, and a possible alien contagion. The Murderbot novellas were perfectly paced to fit a ton of action into a short form. Network Effect is just as action-packed, but the pace is now calibrated to fill a full novel, which gives it more breathing room and opportunities to explore the characters and the setting in greater depth. Relationships between all the characters are richer and more nuanced. Wells reveals more about Dr. Mensah’s family and some surprises about ART and establishes more details about how the Corporations function, the contrasts between the Corporate Rim and Preservation Station, the politics at play, and some of the history of pre-Corporate planetary colonization attempts. It’s a welcome expansion of this universe and lays the groundwork for more stories to come in a series that continues to grow and impress.

The Case for Reading Fiction

I love this article from the Harvard Business Review! It’s another article documenting the neurological, psychological, and social benefits of reading fiction. There have been several such over the past few years.

The Case for Reading Fiction” by Christine Seifert
Published by Harvard Business Review, March 6, 2020

I love that we’re beginning to accept reading fiction as something that’s good for us on a deeper level than just entertainment and escapism (not that entertainment and escapism aren’t valuable in-and-of themselves!) Complex fiction builds empathy, connection, social intelligence, and theory of mind. It boosts creativity, both for new ideas and for problem solving. It improves our ability to grapple more productively with the complexity of the world we live in.

I love that businesses are beginning to realize the value of having employees who are educated beyond the requirements of job training.

And it’s not just reading fiction which presents these benefits: it can come from powerful storytelling in any format. Oral stories, theater, movies and television, music, visual arts. All of it, so long as it’s complex and nuanced. Stories are how we know who we are, how we’re both the same and different from one another, and how we relate to our world.

But this article also frustrates me. This is where I turn into a curmudgeon and tell you all:

I told you so!

Continue reading “The Case for Reading Fiction”

Book Review: Titan’s Day by Dan Stout

Cover of the book Titan's Day by Dan Stout
Titan’s Day
by Dan Stout
DAW, 2020

This review was first published by Booklist on March 6, 2020.

After striking manna in the oil fields, the citizens of Titanshade thought things were looking up. But federal troops have taken command, and people from all over the planet are flocking to the city in hopes of cashing in. Tensions are high leading up to a political showdown on Titan’s Day, the most important holiday of the year. When Carter and Jax are tasked to solve the murder of a Jane Doe in an alley, it unravels a complicated web of gang warfare, political machinations, and magic. And there’s something wrong with Carter . . . . Titanshade (2019) introduced readers to a compelling new world. The second book in the Carter Archives takes readers on a deep dive into its culture: politics and crime, social conflicts, fear and intolerance, local versus national interests, and especially the workings of manna and magic. It broadens readers’ understanding of how the characters relate to each other and maintains a wonderful sense of discovery. Stout proves once again to be a master of retro sf noir.

Book Review: The Pursuit of the Pankera by Robert A. Heinlein

Cover of the book The Pursuit of the Pankera by Robert A. Heinlein
The Pursuit of the Pankera
by Robert A. Heinlein
Arc Manor, 2020

This review was first published by Booklist on March 1, 2020.

This previously unpublished manuscript by Grand Master Heinlein will be in demand by his many fans and readers interested in the history of the genre. It’s based on the same premise and features the same characters as his The Number of the Beast (1980). Indeed, the first third of the book is identical. But the novel then veers into an entirely different story, appropriately, since the books are based on travel through alternate worlds. As in Beast, our intrepid explorers travel to various fictional universes: Burroughs’ Barsoom, Baum’s Land of Oz, Smith’s Lensman universe, confronting the idea that all fictional universes exist somewhere in the multiverse. Beast is recognized as the first work of Heinlein’s late style, but The Pursuit of the Pankera is mostly in his middle style and occasionally hearkens back to his earliest pulp action writings. Together, the two novels offer fascinating insight into an inflection point in the evolution of one of science fiction’s greatest writers. Pankera can also be read on its own, though it will be of greatest interest to Heinlein fans.

Book Review: Galileo and the Science Deniers by Mario Livio

Cover of the book Galileo and the Science Deniers by Mario Livio
Galileo and the Science Deniers
by Mario Livio
Simon & Schuster, 2020

This review was first published by Booklist on March 1, 2020.

Rather than present a straight biography, Livio’s (Is God a Mathematician?, 2009) goal is to explore the parallels between Galileo’s fate and the science denialism happening today. He makes apt arguments and offers compelling reasons why science and religion shouldn’t be at odds. Livio is an astrophysicist and his perspective on Galileo’s importance as a professional scientist is particularly valuable. Galileo didn’t just make grand discoveries—he invented new experimental methodologies, established math as an essential tool for scientific work, and challenged Aristotelian primacy of thought experiments with verifiable observation. In short, he created the modern scientific method. Livio also explores Galileo’s work in the arts and humanities: he studied philosophy; he was an accomplished musician, poet, and visual artist; and he was active in the arts community. His arts background was essential to how he made many of his breakthrough scientific discoveries. Livio argues that the distinction we make between the humanities and the sciences is false and damaging, and that Galileo illuminates a better balance between the two. A refreshing perspective on Galileo’s legacy.

Book Review: They Are Already Here: UFO Culture and Why We See Saucers by Sarah Scoles

Cover of the book They Are Already Here: UFO Culture and Why We See Saucers by Sarah Scoles
They Are Already Here: UFO Culture and Why We See Saucers
by Sarah Scoles
Pegasus, 2020

This review was first published by Booklist on February 15, 2020.

In They Are Already Here, science writer Scoles (Making Contact, 2017) turns her attention not to UFOs but to the people obsessed with them: believers, skeptics, and open-minded explorers. Intrigued by the recent revelation that the U.S. government has been studying UFOs, she set out to understand why some people are willing to believe outlandish explanations for mysterious occurrences and why others are completely closed to the idea. She recounts her experiences exploring and interacting with various UFO communities and organizations. Readers meet people from across the spectrum of belief and hear their perspectives. Scoles also offers a concise history of UFO phenomena in the United States, and examines how some of the most compelling UFO myths were born. It’s a fascinating journey; the depth of her research is impressive and her curiosity is infectious. At times the author tries too hard to clarify her own position, which, though her honesty is appreciated, occasionally steals focus from the people she examines. Overall, it’s a fun and insightful book.

Book Review: Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe by Brian Greene

Cover of the book Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe by Brian Greene
Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe
by Brian Greene
Knopf, 2020

This review was first published by Booklist on February 1, 2020.

Why does the universe exist? How will it end? What does it all mean? Greene (The Fabric of the Cosmos, 2004), a leading cosmic thinker and popular science writer, attempts to tackle these questions with an eye to explaining our deep need to believe we can be part of something eternal that is focused on the central role of entropy and Darwinian evolution in the unfolding of the universe. He begins with the Big Bang and concludes with explorations of how the universe might end. He explores the development of planets and complex life, the birth of mind, language, and creativity, awareness of mortality, the rise of storytelling, religion, and our attempts to leave some kind of permanent testament to our existence. He serves broad, high level summaries of ideas from physics, biology, neuroscience, philosophy, the arts, storytelling, and anthropology. He provides enough background to follow the meat of the discussion but he doesn’t water it down for nonspecialists. There’s tremendous joy in witnessing a brilliant and curious mind wrestle with such profound issues. He takes readers on a remarkable journey.

Book Review: A Pale Light in the Black by K. B. Wagers

Cover of the book A Pale Light in the Black by K. B. Wagers
A Pale Light in the Black
by K. B. Wagers
Harper Voyager, 2020

This review was first published by Booklist on February 1, 2020.

After almost driving themselves to extinction, human beings have colonized the local solar system and the nearby Trappist system, using an anti-aging drug to extend their lifespans. Every year, the military branches, which protect civilization, compete in the Boarding Games. This year, the Near-Earth Orbital Guard hopes to finally win against the Navy—if their newest recruit can be whipped into shape in time. Max Carmichael, a child of the most influential family on Earth, has broken with tradition and enlisted in the NeoG. But there’s a vast conspiracy afoot that threatens genocide on a massive scale. The big mystery establishes high stakes and the exciting competition sequences of the Games make this book a surprisingly fun read, but this is a character-driven story above all else. Every character is someone readers will enjoy spending time with, and exploring the characters’ relationships is the heart of the tale. Aside from a few stereotypical villains, no one is a bad guy. Wagers’ first book in the NeoG series is an unexpected and refreshing twist on military science fiction.

Book Review: The Champions of Camouflage by Jean-Philippe Noël

Cover of the book The Champions of Camouflage by Jean-Philippe Noel
The Champions of Camouflage
by Jean-Philippe Noël
Firefly, 2019

This review was first published by Booklist on January 17, 2020.

This science-focused photography book looks at the different ways that animals, fish, birds, and insects use camouflage in nature. The heart of the work is the photographs. They’re stunning, high quality, glossy work. It must be difficult to take pictures of effective camouflage in the wild. If the camouflage is effective, it’s hard to see. The images strike a perfect balance between showing the reader what they need to see and making it clear how effective naturally evolved camouflage can be. The accompanying text explains the different types of camouflage in living beings, how each affects survival prospects, and describes a variety of species that use these strategies. Most of the species mentioned in the text are also featured in photographic examples. The text is a very basic overview designed to explain these images, but readers will have to look elsewhere for deeper research. Still, readers will admire the photography and be left in awe of what evolution can accomplish.