Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Today I would like to honor Vioalle Hefferan, a citizen scientist whose work assisted in the advance of technology. Vioalle Hefferan wasn't an engineer, unless a person considers what a feat of engineering it is to inspire dozens of teens to spend long, cold, silent—and often fruitless—hours glued to a telescope. As far as I know, she never invented anything, although she clearly was able to bootstrap equipment and solve problems. She was a historian who became a science teacher primarily to challenge herself. In the process she played a role in the unfolding events of the space age and made her students equal partners with professional researchers around the globe.
Today, the earth is attended by a buzzing swarm of orbiting tools...
Not that long ago, hurricanes were virtually unpredictable until they were near landfall. Now, satellites can pick up the first spiral stirrings of tropical weather systems and make it possible to warn people of approaching storms. Our communication systems—telephone, television, radio—all rely on satellite uplinks. If you want to know if and when a Great White is cruising off the beaches of Perth, Australia, you can get an email update—thanks to satellite monitoring of tagged sharks.
But this is all a relatively recent development.
In 1957 a rocket launched with 184 pounds of payload on board: Sputnik. It is hard to imagine how that beeping ball changed the world. Yes, there were the geopolitical tensions...but there was also the straight-up fact that this was new technology. Orbits were nigh on impossible to predict. And there were no sophisticated tracking stations in place to monitor this new thing in the sky. To be honest, no one was even certain where to look. That is where Vioalle Hefferan comes into the story.
As part of her work as a teacher, she had started a science club, and she included the study of astronomy both in the classroom and as part of the club's activities. She had enjoyed stargazing as a child herself. She stated, the stars "always winked at me and and teased me with their mysteries." Her enthusiasm must have been infectious, because she created a group of well-trained, disciplined observers willing to spend their Saturday nights watching a patch of night sky—exactly the sort of citizen scientists mobilized by Operation Moonwatch to spot and track Sputnik.* Even though her team was composed of teens and many of their instruments and equipment were home-made, when it came to discipline and scientific rigor, Miss Hefferan's students were dependable members of the Moonwatch network. They did good science. Miss Hefferan wouldn't have it any other way.
The Moonwatchers made no individual shattering discoveries, but they made a genuine contribution. A truth about science, and about the advancement of technology, is that progress is often incremental. Great leaps forward are the aggregate of small achievements. Those teens in Albuqueque did spot Sputnik a couple of nights after the launch. The data that Vioalle Hefferan and her students collected was sound, and that data was essential to not only satellite launches, but all of the space exploration missions that follow. So, when you look at the amazing images brought to us by the Hubble, remember that bunch of kids working through the night so we could understand orbital trajectories. Because without that, without people like Vioalle Hefferan, there might not be a Hubble telescope at all.
* Moonwatch was the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory's program through which thousands of volunteer amateur observers around the world participated in tracking the first artificial satellites launched by the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R., as part of the International Geophysical Year. I've depended on W. Patrick McCray's wonderful history Keep Watching the Skies!: The Story of Operation Moonwatch and the Dawn of the Space Age for my information about Vioalle Hefferan and her students. This is only a little slice of the story he tells. You really need to read the book. Any errors in content are my own.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Broken business models. Deleted buy buttons. The Agency Four. The death of reading. Blah blah.
Don’t pity book people. We still know how to have a good time and get some stuff done while we’re at it. Perhaps the best example in my experience of this phenomenon is the Bologna Book Fair, for which I depart in 48 hours. I think I’m set for this trip, with a book full of appointments and a stack of business cards, air kisses at the ready.
What am I there for? Well, Bologna is largely a rights fair. Publishers come to buy and sell translation and other rights. I’m there to buy. A day for me will comprise a dozen or more half-hour meetings with foreign publishers, followed by drinks and dinner with colleagues from other houses. For the meetings, I have a list in mind of things that I’d like to acquire, plus I try to be open to pleasant surprises. The rights sales people show me things, and I may say not interested or I may say send me more (much more of the former than the latter). Afterward—the drinks and dinner part—is an opportunity to hang out with friends and colleagues I don’t see otherwise and to share industry gossip. All of this is wonderfully facilitated by the fact that Bologna has to be one of the best food cities in the world.
I’ve done Bologna a couple times, so it’s still relatively novel for me. I’d love to get you the real scoop from Maria, our rights director and a true Bologna pro*, but if I asked her to write something now, her head would explode, so I’ll try to get her to recap after the show. Stay tuned.
Ciao for now. I’ll try to post from the fair next week.
* Most important pro tip I got last year may have been when having breakfast with Andersen Press publisher Klaus Flugge. I poured myself a glass of the ubiquitous (and good) blood-orange juice from the carafe on the table. Klaus, on the other hand, called the waiter over and ordered spremuta d’arancia. Three minutes later, the waiter returned with glass of freshly squeezed blood orange juice, which was incomparably better. Lesson learned.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
How can I tell? It’s not the rivers of mud or the crocuses. It’s our shiny new imprint, Carolrhoda Lab:
Allow me a moment of inarticulate glee and giddiness about this announcement. It’s no secret how important YA is to me, both as an art form and as a part of an important conversation about our culture. I am so excited to be able to cast this new line into that teeming stream with Blythe, Steve, and Ilsa.
When I was imagining writing this post, I was thinking about that stock phrase in press releases: “For immediate release.” Man, that is true in more ways than one. We’ve been working on Lab for a long time, and now that it’s official, the release is indeed immediate. Sadly, I didn’t coordinate my desire to make a pun with Lindsay, so I see that phrase isn’t there. Ah well. True all the same. Launching something like this is a large amount of work for a lot of dedicated people, not least the authors who’ve put their faith in the new thing. So to all involved, I say thanks and bring on the books.
Thursday, March 4, 2010
…at least not until someone gets really famous and/or dies.
The video is interesting to me as a photography geek, but it also got me thinking about all the material that creative people and their publishers make in preparation for showing something to readers/viewers/consumers. In the case of the Magnum prints, these are not materials meant for the general public; they’re a step along the way to something for the public—a piece to help editors and curators and other gatekeepers make decisions that eventually result in a magazine piece, a museum exhibition, or a book.
All of us here at Lerner are up to our eyeballs in similar materials at the moment, all in advance of our fall 2010 lists. A lot of this material is still physical, especially as we get near the final stages, and it still bears the sometimes witty markings of artists, art directors, and various editors and production people.
More often than not, though, these little-seen steps between idea in the brain and book on the shelves take digital form, marked up with tracked changes and virtual sticky notes (still witty but more legible). While the paper proofs eventually get shuffled onto various shelves or filed away or simply recycled, the digital ones, which generally show up via email, tend to disappear in the Heraclitian stream that is my inbox (no, I don’t practice zero inbox, sadly). They disappear, that is, until I get this email:
I’ve gotten this email every night for the last couple weeks, despite daily purging of massive attachments (thanks, Attachment Remover). It’s okay, though. If tulips are a sign of spring, “over its size limit” emails are a sign that we’re almost done with a season’s worth of books. And what a season it will be. I’m very excited about what I can blog about next week.