Archive for September, 2008

The Coming Hard Times

Monday, September 29th, 2008

dow As I write this the DOW is up a little from its 700 point loss. My stocks are down around 5% and I expect they’ll keep sliding about 20%, 40% or more. I wanted to sell, but we didn’t see the edge of the precipice until it was too late. I still want to sell. I had a few thousand dollars worth of an insurance company stock that I sold a few months ago, thank goodness.

The price of oil and the lack of oversight in the financial industry has resulted in synchronicity that will force things down and down. Banks all over the world are failing and I just read that congress has voted against the bail out. I have no doubt the bailout would have not have done anything but line the pockets of financial executives, though.

My own losses might be about $300k in stock and $300k in the value of my house, before this is over. I would say that I would get off easy except that the county government is going to have to do some cost cutting and that usually means getting rid of contractors. One way or the other, I may be retired in the coming year.

But, in spite of the bad news, I am a little happy that the economic policies of the Republicans has failed so dramatically. Bush will be remembered as the president, like Coolidge and Hoover 80 years ago, who presided over the conditions that led to this crash. The republicans were kept out of the white house for 20 years as a result of the 1929 crash. The fault was not entirely with the republicans, but the blame certainly fell on them, as it will this time. I once said that the only good thing about Bush was that after he left office few would vote for a republican president for a long time. It looks like this may be true.

The republican policies of regulation and less government oversight have resulted in their logical conclusion. We are in for a world wide monetary collapse. I expect to stand in line to get free bread as my grandfather would have done. I imagine that soon my neighbors and I will not be able to pay our property taxes and local governments will go bankrupt.

If it gets too much worse, I may have to cut back on cats. If Ollie throws up on the rug one more time… Watch out cats!

Waiting for Real Estate Prices to crash

Monday, September 29th, 2008

Ram Island, Saco Bay, Maine. I found this house on an island off the coast of Maine for $555,000. I figure that in six months I can pick it up for $350K. I would add solar and a windmill and renovate it to be livable all year round. I would make a trip to the mainland (about a mile) every two weeks for food and supplies and other than that would not have to worry who was president.

I’d have to find out if I could get water and heating oil delivered. I might have to buy a used lobster boat to get the big stuff onto the island.

The cats would like it, although I might have to stock it with chipmunks and plant a few trees.

Any visitors would have to swim about a mile, unless they could rent a boat. I’d have to set up satellite internet service. I wonder if I could steal wifi with a good dish antenna at that distance.

There is a web page devoted to Ram Island with some great history and pictures

SACO, Maine Property for Sale


Sunday, September 28th, 2008

My grandfather was often asked the secret to his long life. He lived well into his nineties.

His answer was "Toadstools". He would smile a little and there would be a glint in his eye. "Toadstools," he would say, "I never ate a one of them."

There were toadstools in my back woods after the rain. These, if I am not mistaken, are the deadly kind.






And now for something COMPLETELY different

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

Ice Cream for Crow – Captain Beefheart. I can’t stop watching this.

SciFi Social Bookmark Link

Friday, September 26th, 2008 seems to be a social networking site for Spec-Fic geeks. It is a type of link site, but narrowed down to spec-fic.

The main page shows latest hot stories and you vote on them. All of the stories are tv/film Sci-Fi and not literary SF.

(Note to J. Erwine – you should join and use this to announce new SamsDot releases; you might get a few new readers.)

I have put it in my “good morning” list until I figure out if it useful to me. I read none of the popular stories because I don’t care what is going on in the private lives of SciFi TV actors.

42Blips – Top Science Fiction News, Videos, and Blogs

Netflix Prize

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

I like programming and I am especially good at working on large sets of data. I’ve always had a job where I have to work on fuzzy information and distill it down to a few essential nuggets. One of my first programming jobs was for the old Western Union (the original one that sent telegraphs, not the current “send money to Nigeria” one). I was on the SWAT team for making special reports. I had to learn a half dozen odd computer languages in order to extract weird information from their huge databases. I used tools like Snobol, Maxis and Ramis, which are long forgotten, to sort through data and summarize it.

The Netflix Prize is an award of $1,000,000 to the person who can improve on their algorithm to predict which movies a person will like based on their previous purchases.

I have some ideas that might or might not work. I’m going to give it a try.

A bad thing is that I have been given 5 new projects in the last week and each one is due yesterday. Screw that, I am badly in need of nice crunchy programming problem.

Netflix Prize: Home

The Underpeople – Cordwainer Smith

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

underpeople The Underpeople is actually the second half of a much longer novel called Norstrilia that editors broke up into two shorter novels. In the 1960s a paperback was about 160 pages plus or minus 10. Font size and line spacing was tweaked to arrive at this number, or failing that, they chopped the book up. As a result, I am reading the second half of a great novel without any idea of what came before. I imagine I’ll find the first half in the same box where I found this.

My first contact with Cordwainer Smith was in the pages of old pulp magazines. I only knew that he wrote wrenchingly intense poetic short stories and that you could only find him in magazines. This was because he didn’t write that much and died at the age of 53. The Underpeople was published after his death by his wife. His real name was Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger. He worked for the army during WWII and wrote a book called Psychological Warfare, which is considered a standard text on the subject. I am trying to find it, but the cheapest copy around is $200.

Smith doesn’t write fiction as we know it. I like to think of it as hallucinogenic poetry, but that doesn’t really describe it either. Smith was raised in China and his God-father was Sun Yat-Sen and and later was a close friend of Chiang Kai-sheck. He spoke 6 languages fluently and his stories have been compared in structure to the Chinese stories, which is why they sound so strange when you read them.

If you read Samuel R. Delaney, J.G. Ballard or R.A. Lafferty, you can see what I mean by hallucinogenic poetry. His stories are more metaphysical metaphors than linear narratives. The constant use of metaphor reminds one of Jurgen by James Branch Cabell. The stories are sharp, crystal clear, and intensely poetic. This works well with his stories.

I find that the flashing cuts of image works less well as a novel. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate this book. I am reading it slowly and sometimes rereading a paragraph several times to savor the language, but the plot and characters are not very real to me. It is like a prismatic dream that jumps from element to element before the glow can die down. It is intricate and surreal, but it is not necessarily good story telling. I don’t think that you could read Smith the same way you would read a thriller or a mystery. You would not be engrossed in the events or characters, just the emotional impact of beautiful imagery.

I am hoping that there is more Cordwainer Smith in the box. It doesn’t really matter if I read the two halves of this novel out of order. I am reading it for the exquisite element of Cordwainer-ness in the book.

2008 Republican Party Platform Opposes Bailouts

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

The Republican Party adopted 3 weeks ago explicitly opposes government bailouts of private companies. Here is the exact quote (from the section “Rebuilding Homeownership”):

We do not support government bailouts of private institutions. Government interference in the markets exacerbates problems in the marketplace and causes the free market to take longer to correct itself. We believe in the free market as the best tool to sustained prosperity and opportunity for all.

I wonder how this affects things. No one is too happy about bailing out wall street the Dems seem to want to punish evil doers as as they bail them out. The GOP side seems to want to avoid doing anything at all. My own opinion is that we should let the economy crash and see if anything valuable survives, but I realize that this is just my own nihilistic attitude towards institutions. This crisis is a very Darwinian test of our economic system and I am not sure that helping the unfit survive is a good idea. I am, however, worried about my own retirement accounts, of which about 2/3 is in stock or stock funds.

John Christopher – Planet in Peril

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

johnchristopherpip This was an awful book, just awful. I remember liking Christopher’s No Blade of Grass, so I was looking forward to this. After the first day of reading I was of the opinion that I should move on, but I had only about 80 pages to go so I stuck with it for another day. It was a big mistake.

Planet in Peril wanders about with nothing much happening. The characters are very polite to each other, even the villains. There seems to be very little motivation for any of the action. The main  character (I hesitate to call him a protagonist as he never actually does anything), who is a failed researcher is assigned to do research and seems to make no progress. He is continually fooled by competing powers in a 21st century stagnant society, but easily wanders out of one well guarded place into another well guarded place. There is a comet coming and a religious group called The Cometeers, but they don’t really have much to do with the plot. This future state is composed of economic management units rather than political units. It turns out that the project that the researcher is supposed to be working on has already been finished by the only capitalist political group on earth, which is going to take over the world. Ho-Hum. By the end of the book, you are just glad that it is over and that the endless wandering around is over with. They guy gets the girl, but you don’t really care.

This was first published in 1955 as The Year of the Comet. My copy of Planet in Peril has a copyright of 1959.

Added time limits to craigslist search

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

My craigslist search had problems that it returned lots of jobs for that were a month old and no longer listed. I added an option search the last month week or day to keep the results fresh.

Search Craigslist with Google

Portrait of Jennie – 13 Great Ghost Movies

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

Thank goodness for Turner Classic Movies. TV is very very bad and Erica and I watch TCM almost every night now. Last night was “Portrait of Jennie” from 1948. It is the story of an artist (Joseph Cotton) who is haunted by the ghost of a beautiful woman (Jennifer Jones). The woman first appears to Cotton as a girl and then reappears as she grows up, usually during some great change in her life. The artist’s friends think he’s crazy. Naturally the artist and the ghost fall in love. He traces who she is/was and then discovers that she was killed in a storm at a lighthouse in Cape Code. (It’s always good to have a at least one spooky scene in New England.) It turns out that the Artist and Ghost are destined for love, but have been separated by an accident of time.

The move is in black and white, but at the end it explodes into eerie colors during the storm. I was afraid the ending would be bad, but it turned out just right – romantic but sad.

I added it to my 13 great ghost movies lens. I now have 14 movies, but I am not changing the title.

13 Great Ghost Movies

Mark A. Rayner – Vintage ads of ficitonal futures

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

Mark A. Rayner created a photoshopping contest to see who could make vintage ads for classic SF. Unfortunately, most everyone there considers modern movies and TV to be classic SF. There where two that I liked, though.

One is based on the hired girl robot from Heinlein’s The Door Into Summer, which is my all time favorite SF novel. The other is from Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, which ain’t bad neither. The F451 one should have had a salamander on the badge.

Mark A. Rayner ..> Vintage ads of ficitonal futures (gallery page)

LHC webcam

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

I found this webcam of the Large Hadron Collider so you can watch in real time the progress towards discovering the secrets of the universe.


Poul Anderson – Three Hearts and Three Lions

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

PoulAnderson3h3l The history of the novel is traced back to the court of Eleanor of Aquitaine, the 12th century ancestor of some of England’s greatest kings. (Aquitane was part of England until a series of incompetent kings lost it.) In Eleanor’s court there were written the tales of the Matter of Britain or the Arthurian Cycle. There were, however, three “matters” that have contributed to modern literature. There was the Matter of Rome, which concerned itself with the ancient Greek and Roman legends, the Matter of Britain, which concerned itself with Arthur and the knights of the round table, and the Matter of France or the Carolingian Cycle, which is concerned with the legends of Charlemagne and his Paladins, especially Roland, and Oliver. The Carolingian Cycle springs from the ancient chansons de geste.

We are probably much more familiar with the Matters of Rome and the Matters of Britain. We all know the Arthur legends and Arthur has appeared in many modern Spec-Fic and Fantasy novels. The Matter of France, however, has had less coverage. The only one that I can think of is Andre Norton’s first novel Huon of the Horn.

Poul Anderson wrote several historical novels. Some were concerned with his own Scandinavian heritage, and some of these have no speculative element. They are all good.

Three Hearts and Three Lions is a modern telling of the fate of the Carolingian Paladin Oliver. Like Arthur, Oliver did not die, but was taken away by Morgan Le Fay to be cured and he would return again to save France. The hero, here, is a Danish American who returns to Denmark to fight the Germans at the outset of World War II. He is wounded and wakes up in the land between the world of Men and the world of Faerie. He has adventures, meets a beautiful maiden who can change into a swan, and has encounters with Morgan Le Fay. He discovers his relationship to the legendary Oliver and saves the universe of law from the forces of chaos.

There are other similar novels that involve a modern man being transported to a magical past, such as Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and Lest Darkness Fall by L. Sprague de Camp. Poul’s novel is probably the best of them and has had a great influence on modern Fantasy.

The theme of Three Hearts and Three Lions, conflict between the powers of Law and Chaos, was used by the creators of Dungeons and Dragons, and is directly due to this book. D&D also includes several characters from the book.

Poul Anderson is a Golden Age of Science Fiction Writer, but he is of a later generation. His style is more literary and the characters more modern. He has real women characters that stand out, such as the old witch, the Swan May and Morgan Le Fay. His heroes are complex and seek to work out internal as well as external conflicts. The quality of writing is way beyond that of John W. Campbell, Jr. who published the original version of Three Hearts and Three Lions in Astounding Magazine.

Three Hearts and Three Lions reads much like a Harry Potter book and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoyed those books and is looking for a similar title.

I have the original paperback version pictured above, but it has not stood up well in its 47 year life. The spine was dried out and the binding came apart leaving me with loose pages separated from the cover. I am going to glue it back together, but I will not be able to sell it as anything more than a reader copy.