Archive for October, 2007

Websites Going Up and Down

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

My websites have had some trouble keeping it up. This site and about 20 other of my sites are hosted by I have a business account for $9.95 a month with which I can host 50 different websites. Normally 1and1 is stable, but it has been down for a total of about 6 hours in the last week. This makes me nervous. I have the feeling that the physical PC where my websites live is getting old and starting to fail.

Also, over the weekend, my websites, about 10 of them, went down for four hours. This cost me about $8 in income because HostGator has my harmonica sites where I make my money.

I have not had the greatest luck when I go out and find cheap hosts. It may be, however, time to get a third hosting company.

Disturbing Faces in My Web Design Course

Friday, October 26th, 2007

There is a knot of dudes young male students who sit in the back of the class and have fun while I am teaching. Last night, while I was trying to teach, they had some fun with the scanner. I caught them at it and turned it into an extra credit project. If they would scan something, convert it to a jpg file and then upload it to their GooglePages site, I would count it as the third web project. This kept them busy.

The scanned themselves:

Heat Update

Friday, October 26th, 2007

Just another update about heat. The temperature has dropped into the upper 40s (F) here at night. The heat seems to work and the downstairs zone is kicking in so it’s warm when we come down for coffee.

When I built the upstairs, I ran the heat and radiators myself and when I did the bathroom I ran the heating pipes through the walls of the bathtub. I used the finned radiator tubing that had been thrown into the dumpster when we tore off the old attic and dormers. This morning the bathtub was cozy and warm. I like my creature comforts. As the weather grows colder, the bathtub will grow hotter. I expect that next month the cats will rediscover the warm tub and will sleep there all night. Gracie will lay in the tub and almost sizzle in the heat. She likes her creature comforts also.

I am very concerned with the heat. As you might remember the old Sears Roebuck system failed catastrophically and it was only by luck the house didn’t burn down. I installed the new expensive high efficiency computerized Peerless Pinnacle boiler system in a hurry and some of the pipe connections leaked. I redid the copper and now it doesn’t leak. Last February one of the thermistors failed. It didn’t outright fail, but it would work for a while and then give up. When I rebooted the furnace computer it would work for a while more. Although the furnace’s computer was pointing to the solution, I tried to fix some of the alternate reasons for failure before breaking down and buying the (expensive) thermistor. The system is purring like a kitten now and the house is comfortable. I won’t feel confident in it until we get a nice cold night and the house stays warm.

We have about two cords of wood left over from last year and Erica is of a mind to buy another cord or two. I hesitated. The prudent thing to do is have plenty of wood on hand for when the heat fails, but I think the problems with the furnace are behind us. The wood we have is already two years old and some of it has some rot. The bacteria that like wood go for the calories in the cellulose and it is the burning of the cellulose that makes the heat in the wood stove. Old wood doesn’t burn as hot. I think Erica is probably right, it is better to have too much wood than none at all when you need it.

One of the biggest mistakes that I ever made was throwing out the old gravity heater that sat in the middle of the living room. Originally, the house was heated by this one 4 foot square grate that heated up the air and natural air currents warmed the whole house. In order to get a mortgage I needed to have a radiator in every room and I had the conventional boiler installed by Sears. I should have left the old fashioned gravity heater in place. It was great for standing on after coming in on a cold snowy day. The gusts of hot air warmed you up nicely. I still have the old gas connection in place. I might just search eBay for a new old style space heater and re-cut the hole in the living room floor.

It occurs to me that the phrase “I like my Creature Comforts” comes from my mother via the writer Angela Thirkell. My mother found that phrase in one of her books and likes to quote it.

Downloading Audio Books

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

I have discovered torrents and I have used mininova to search for audio book torrents. I am using µTorrent as my p2p client. My taste does not intersect much with the tastes of those sharing their audio books, but I have found a few good things.

The best that I have found are BBC science, math, history and technology audio files that have the added advantage of having been released to the public by the BBC, so I think that they are legal to download. An example is their series about Infinity that had Rudy Rucker quotes and was very entertaining. I have downloaded a dozen of them and I am hoping for more.

I found Will Durant’s book The Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time to be dry and laking in interest. I had read some of Durant’s histories over the years and found them to be full of facts, and reasonably well written, but I was not as inspired as most people are by his writings. The audio book that I downloaded was a series of magazine articles, popularizations and speeches that he had given over the years. I had had the opportunity to buy the tape used for $4 at a flea market and I am glad that I passed it by. I found that I was daydreaming while listening to his various top ten or greatest hits lists. There seemed to be little new in them other than they were the great Will Durant’s opinions and therefore must be of value.

I listened to some of Jung’s Man and Symbols, and I am not finding it very inspiring. Being a firm believer in Freud’s conclusion that psychological analysis does not work on those of us of Irish extraction, the writer in me is still fascinated with his concepts of symbols and his broad definition of dreams. I have a much more mechanistic view of how the mind works – it is basically a meat computer. In my view the operating system employs a shell program that sometimes recasts the evidence of the various subsystems. The brains subsystems can present data that is not in general agreement with the supervisory program’s views and this can cause conflicts. Jung seems to be able to quantify this process well, but he uses the language of dreams and symbols to skirt around the more logical conclusion. I may listen a little more.

As far as fiction goes, I already own a huge audio library so there is little out there that I don’t already own. My friend bought the last Harry Potter book and the last CD was damaged so I downloaded the book for him and cut a better copy of the last CD. I paid good money for the tape, so I feel that Rowling has already gotten her royalties from me. I have found very few commercial recordings that I want to download.

There are versions of several novels that were originally recorded for the blind. These are not commercially available. The problem with them is that the quality is just awful. I tried listening to Andre Norton’s Witch World and found it badly read and poorly recorded. It was full of pops, ticks and muffled sections. I got about 20 minutes through and erased it. I have a couple of Heinlein novels that are recordings for the blind and they vary greatly in quality. I have tried listening to them, but I have yet to finish one. I have read the books so many times that I find the bad recordings ruining the experience.

I listened to Smith’s Skylark of Space that I haven’t read in 40 years. I found it to be a stupid novel, even though it had been obviously updated and all reference to the Ether has been removed and I think some of it was altered to make it more politically correct. I don’t remember it being that bad, but I was 15 or 16 when I last read it. Again, the production standards were very poor and the reader less then enjoyable. I own the 1920s Amazing Stories magazines where it originally appeared so I may go back and read those to see how it has changed over the years.

I’ve been downloading Blues, but I have not yet found any music that I don’t already own on cassette. It is convenient to listen to Muddy Waters on the Ipod Clone, but I don’t feel bad because over the years I have spent hundreds on Muddy’s CDs, Cassettes and LPs.

I have found that many audio downloads are not MP3 at all but FLAC files (an alternative audio format) and I am using a little VB program to decode them to WAV and reencode them to MP3. This takes hours to do, but it takes many hours to download anything and I don’t want to waste the files.

So far the little Inoi MP3 hard disk is very convenient and I like that it is small enough to carry around with me and easy to break out when I am stuck in line somewhere. I don’t like the ear buds that I have. I want to find something that fits my ears better. I am still looking for something worthwhile to put on the Inoi. I saw the complete discography of Tom Waites out there and I may go for it.

This is one race of people for whom psychoanalysis is of no use whatsoever.
Sigmund Freud (about the Irish)

Print SF is Dying

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

There have been a few blog articles lately about the last days of Science Fiction. Bob Sawyer wrote about it and several editors have been blogging reactions and opinions. Warren Ellis blogged about in the link above. He writes that there is some hard data about SF magazine circulation from 2006 in Garner Dozois’ Year’s Best anthology. Analog, the largest paper magazine, has a circulation down around 25,000. When John W. Campbell edited Analog, its peak circulation approached a million. F&SF is down around 15,000 and Asimov’s is about the same. In a world where about a billion people read English as a first or second language, it is obvious that SF is either dead or dying. My harmonica sites get three times the readership of the combined circulation of the top SF magazines. This blog gets more unique readers than the paid circulation of Interzone. My pages are all growing about 15% a year. SF magazines are all dying at 15% a year.

Technology is changing our reading habits. I am gradually getting used to reading stories on a monitor. I still prefer print for reading, and I buy used books when I see ones that I like. Audio is rapidly becoming my favorite medium for fiction because I can drive or walk or wait on the grocery checkout line and enjoy a novel at the same time. There is never enough time to read, but there is plenty of interstitial moments that can be filled with audio fiction. The last few times that I bought Analog or F&SF I was disappointed with the quality of the stories. I subscribed to F&SF in the 1960s and I have about 200 back issues of Astounding, and I learned to expect more for my money.

If I were one of the editors of the print magazines I would create audio downloads at 99 cents a story and post them on iTunes or Amazon. It is actually quite cheap to get a story produced in audio.

The pulps are dead. Publishing has killed off the 60,000 word novel that was the meat and potatoes of the market for 50 years. New novels are padded with crap to the point where they are unreadable in order to make fat books in three part series. Kids don’t get that kick of finishing stimulating books that can be read in a few days. The kick has been removed and reading these bloated tomes is dull and uninteresting compared to the high tech alternatives.

It is the same thing that is happening to all the legacy publishers. Newspapers and magazines are dying off. Sales of CDs and DVDs are dropping. Hard copy will be totally gone in 50 years. Even broadcasting is becoming fragmented and distributed as much online as via the ether.

As we switch to new physical models of publishing there are economic hurdles. A print magazine might cost as much as half its cover price to produce, but an electronic publication is virtually free to produce. A web zine with 40,000 words that pays 10 cents a word costs about $4000 plus the time of an editor to publish. Analog costs all of that plus about $100,000 (just a guess) worth of paper and salaries for each issue. The electronic zine with the same quality can break even on advertising revenue giving away content for free. The hard copy zine is almost guaranteed to lose money. Part of the slow change from print to pixels is the lack of understanding of the economic model. It is a good sign that the New York Times is dropping its subscription service because it is finding it makes more money from ads on free content than it makes by charging admission to its archives.

The barriers to zine publication are low, so the market is saturated. According to duotrope there are seven e-zines that pay professional rates and specifically publish SF. Several of these are primarily concerned with gender issues or do not publish Classic SF. Duotrope also lists about 90 zines that claim to pay for SF and another 100 that don’t pay. I once calculated that there are around 500 new spec-fic stories a month and writers produce as many as 5,000 new stories a month that are not published. From my own experience publishing an e-zine I figure that there are 2 million spec-fic readers or about 2/10 of a percent of the English speaking world.

It’s not just SF, but all of traditional publishing and broadcasting that is coming to an end. That doesn’t mean that SF will be dead. The proliferation of online zines obviously points to genre fiction as growing. It is up to us as SF writers and publishers to find the right economic model that will take SF writing from a poor man’s hobby to a real job capable of supporting anyone that is good at it.

Competitive Ads

Friday, October 19th, 2007

Someone is advertising using Google Adsense for a star naming service. The ads appear right on my pages.

Name a Star for $29.95
Not just some cheap email certificate

I think they might be targeting my website, because I give away email certificates for free. Adsense has a way where you can pick the sites where your ads appear. Actually this is OK by me because they have to pay if someone sees the ad and decides to check it out. I make nearly as much money from adsense on the site as I do selling the the free “extras”.

I checked out the site and they claim to register the names with an Official agency, which is bogus. Nobody can officially name a star. Some stars have old Latin or Arabic names. Others have a code name that indicate their constellation. The rest have just numbers and there is no official or government sanctioned way to name a star. All I do is record the stars name for entertainment purposes. Anybody who claims otherwise is mistaken, misleading or at worst, a liar and cheat.

I am happy to announce that I have my first paid star since I rewrote the system. The buyer paid $4 to get a star in the constellation Virgo. They also paid to get the “Free” removed from the certificate so I made $6 minus PayPal fees. I produce nothing but a link to the pdf file certificate. The other star naming sites have to actually print a certificate and put together a package and mail it out. I would guess that at least half of the $29.95 goes to direct costs like labor, shipping, printing and materials. Possible another 40% goes to promotion and they might have to pay for website design and maintenance. My costs, other than PayPal, are near zero. I get the domain free with my hosting package. I host 20 other sites in the same package so the cost is spread around. I maintain the site in my spare time and don’t need to pay anyone to design, code or keep up the site. I bet I sell ten times as many stars as they do and make more money per star. I turns out that it is far more profitable to give away free star names than to charge for them.

I have found a database of Near-Earth-Objects (NEOs). These are asteroids that have orbits which bring them close to the Earth. One of them may someday destroy civilization, if not all life on the planet. I am thinking of a new site using the star naming technology so people can register NEO names. Imagine naming a planet killing asteroid after your pet gerbil.

Seventh Sense

Friday, October 19th, 2007
I see dumb people.

In your dreams?

[Cole shakes his head no]

While you’re awake?

[Cole nods]

Dump people like, in clown suites? In political office?

Walking around like regular people. They don’t see each other.
They only see what they want to see. They don’t know they’re dumb.

Malcolm :
How often do you see them?

All the time. They’re everywhere.
They see only what they want to see.

(This is not original, versions have been floating around the internet for months, but I still think it is cute.)

The New James T. Kirk: Chris Pine

Thursday, October 18th, 2007

New talk on Trek XI movie.

Kirk: Chris Pine
Spock: Zachary Quinto
Scotty: Simon Pegg
McCoy: Karl Urban
Uhura: Zoe Saldana
Chekov: Anton Yelchin
Sulu: John Cho

I don’t read people magazine or watch comic book shows on TV so I don’t know these actors. According to one discussion they were chosen for their physical resemblance to the original actors and not any experience or talent. Hey, Roddenberry could not have selected the original actors for their talent either, so it might work.

I never saw the last Trek movie and I doubt if I will watch this. I am a purist and prefer the TV format, except for DS9 and Enterprise. Enterprise did not have the Trek feel and DS9 was just plain bad.

I miss Star Trek. I could settle down to a good Voyager tonight or a later episode of Next Generation, but they are just not showing them on TV anymore. Justine gave me a bunch of VHS tapes, but it is not the same without the commercial breaks. It is also good to not have to pick an episode.

I calculate that there is a still a minute chance that there is an Original Series episode that I have not seen. I did not watch much TV when the shows first aired. I had seen Trek a few times, but I never saw it in color until I watched an episode with Erica’s Dad in 1969. Over the years, I have caught the reruns, but I have never sat down and watched all the episodes in order, so there is that small possibility that there is an episode that I haven’t seen.
I know that I missed several Next Generation and Voyager episodes because I was either teaching or going to school or I was out on the nights that they aired. I made up most of them in the reruns. It is almost certain that I will be watching a rerun of one of the Star Treks some day and find that I am watching an episode that I have never seen before. I am looking forward to it.

Cool is not for everyone.

Thursday, October 18th, 2007

I went to see Little Charlie and the Nightcats last Tuesday night. I am sure that you have no idea who these people are unless you are a musician or a harmonica player. Little Charlie Baty is the greatest guitar player that I have ever seen in person. He plays guitar in many styles from Blues to Bebop to Surfer to Metal to Cool Jazz, but he always sounds like Little Charlie. He does this in the course of four hours of an intense musical event and it costs only $20 a head for 40 people to experience . In a cool world Charlie would be filling Madison Square Garden at $300 a head.

Charlie’s front man, Rick Estrin, is one of the greatest harp players and funniest stand up comics that I have seen. J. Hansen on Drums and Lorenzo Farrell on Bass are the top rhythm section in Jazz or Blues.

Why aren’t these people famous? Why aren’t they on the cover of Downbeat Magazine or packing them in at Shea Stadium? Rick Estrin explained it to me Tuesday night.

“Cool is not for everyone.”

The cooler something is, the fewer people “get” it. Mass marketing is based on the mundane, the ordinary and the largest common denominator. Something that is popular by definition is un-cool and is more likely to be a least obnoxious alternative with no real quality.

40 people who were intensely aware of the coolness of Charlie Baty packed into the dingy ancient cellar of the Turning Point Café Tuesday night to experience truth, beauty and absolute cool. It was a transcendent experience.

There is cold comfort in being aware of the cool. On one hand you get to see great players like Little Charlie for a pittance, but on the other hand, the advantages of success pass over your head. Most of the people that I like or respect are so cool that they have trouble making the rent. I think a lot about how to make cool work for me, but taking all things into account, I’d rather be poor and try for cool than rich and settle for square.

Free Name A Star rewrite

Wednesday, October 17th, 2007

I wrote the site about a year and a half ago. When I wrote it, I figured that 15,000 stars would last me three or four years. I did not anticipate how popular the site turned out to be. Friday I was getting 100 new star registrations a day. I ran out of stars over the weekend.

I finished the rewrite today and I am waiting for new registrations, but I am not seeing any. I tested it as best I can. I cannot test the PayPal payment for extras. I expect that I will be making a few refunds soon.

The new system allows a user to select a Zodiac House and north or south hemisphere. I am charging $4 for astrological sign, and I have no qualms about taking money from people who believe in Astrology. I think that I might bump that up to $6 after thanksgiving if it turns out to be popular.

The site makes about $100 a month right now, but with the astrology option it might go up another $100. In December I get a bump in traffic so I could make $500. The other big month is February with Valentine’s day.

Clockwise or Counter

Saturday, October 13th, 2007

Do you see the dancer as going around clockwise or counter clockwise (deosil or widdershins)?) It suppsed to have something to do with which side of the brain you use. The link above has the article.

Butch and the Beatles

Saturday, October 13th, 2007

Paul “Butch” Mastrada, one of my guitar playing friends, saw the Beatles at Shea in 1965. He was interviewed on TV and the footage made it to a film called The Beatles Anthology. You see him in the beginning, first in a row behind those being interviewed and then he is the only guy interviewed. It doesn’t look like him at all, but as soon as he opens his mouth, you know it’s Butch.

YouTube of Butch and the Beatles.

Environmental Adventurer – 1970

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

I was reading J’s Blog at Live Journal and besides being upset that I have yet another blog to read every morning, I started remembering about an Environmental Adventurer that I met in 1970. J is writing an environmental SF adventure story (you can read some samples on his blog).

Earth Day was first held in 1970. At the time I felt it was an attempt to swing attention from the Vietnam war. The war held my interest because around that time I was #12 in the draft lottery and had been given a date to go down to Whitehall Street to get my physical. By 1970 I had lost several friends over there. I agreed in principle about the environmentalists, but I did not want the anti-war movement to lose impetus, even to a worthy cause.

The engineers at Cooper Union tended towards conservative attitudes (not the misfits and hippies called group 6; we were identified as those not expected to make it through the first year.) However when a man drove up in an original Land Rover (not the plastic crap they make today) and started telling his stories, we were all impressed.

First off, when this guy (whose name I don’t think I ever knew) showed up, he had this amazing tricked out Land Rover. It had been modified heavily. It had a snorkel for the carburetor and was completely waterproof so that he could ride it under water if he wanted. It had fold down seats that became beds. Remember that Detroit had a deal with the motel industry to not make vehicles that you could comfortably sleep in. He had replaced the original bumpers with steel plate and he had reinforced the fenders and doors so it could not be damaged in an accident. He had re-engineered the car to correct all the stupid things that the automobile industry does to create planned obsolescence.

He spoke to us about the environment and how industry was actively lying to us. The were poisoning us while playing lip service to the weak environmental laws. He pulled up in front of the school one day, stood on the car and started talking. Soon there was a crowd of Cooper Union and NYU students listening to his incredible stories.

One story he told was about the Con Ed power plants. On smog alert days they were not allowed to burn high sulfur oil and were supposed to only burn natural gas. On one such day he had a helicopter lower him into a Con Ed smokestack to take readings and pictures. He had a fireproof suit, but he almost died of the heat and his instruments melted and the sulfuric acid in the smoke etched the lenses on the camera so he never got the pictures.

Another story was about the Florida manufacturers of synthetic fertilizers. They were fighting tooth and nail against pollution laws and had planted orange groves around their plant to prove that their emissions did not hurt the environment. This guy took the cool Land Rover, which had a winch in the front and lowered himself into a lake with just enough of the car exposed so he could take pictures. After a few weeks of camping in the car, the trees began to die and then one night he photographed crews going into the groves and digging up the dead trees and replacing them with new full grown healthy trees.

Now I always took these stories with a grain of salt. The guy seemed to be a bullshit artist. I wanted to believe him and I did get to ride in that incredible Land Rover. I guess that I was preoccupied with the War and didn’t want to give him any credence. I wonder what happened to him? More important, I’d love to find a 60s Land Rover in someone’s garage and buy it for a few hundred bucks.

Earth Days are still just a media event where politicians give speeches that are semantically empty of information. It still saps energy from the current crisis. I am an environmentalist, but I believe that it is a matter of science, and that politicians just talk about it. We need strong science based laws, but I don’t think that marching on May Day will make much difference.

Story Sale

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

I just heard from David Lee Summers at Tales of the Talisman. They are buying “A Nest of Flames”. It will appear in the September 2008 issue – that’s quite a ways out.

It has been a long time between sales.