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April 30, 2006: Detecting LightScribe

The optical drive on my 1.7 GHz Xeon croaked a few months ago, and I only just now bestirred myself to order a new one. (I'd been coasting on a 1997-era CD-only slot drive pulled from the junk pile since then.) The new drive is a Samsung SH-S162L, which intrigued me because it supports LightScribe. LightScribe is a new technology that allows you to flip an optical blank over after you burn it, and etch a label onto the top (non-data) face using the same laser that burns data onto the back. The blanks are special in that they have a burnable layer of foil on the top face, without the usual manufacturer printing.

The drive puzzled me because it didn't come with a custom driver—and remarkably enough, that's SOP in the optical drive world. Samsung does not post a driver for its optical drives on their support site. Nonetheless, it works. Win2K identified it as an optical drive, and installed the standard 1999-era optical drive driver. Nero understands all of its data-related functions (even those that didn't exist in 1999) and I've successfully tested all of its reading and writing modes. The one thing that I can't get it to do is execute the LightScribe functionality. Neither the OEM version of Nero that came with the drive nor MicroVision's latest SureThing CD Labeler (which claims LightScribe support) detect the drive as having the LightScribe technology.

So without a custom driver, how the hell does anybody know that it's a LightScribe drive? I've sent an email to MicroVision asking about this (Registry key? TSR? Black magic?) but if any of you have had any experience in this area, I'd appreciate a short note.

April 29, 2006: What the Hell Are Publishers For, Anyway?

Here we go again: A major NY publishing house got its head handed to it, for publishing a novel written by a 17-year-old high school girl who innocently (we hope) cribbed heavily from at least one of her major competitors, and perhaps others. The author is Kaavya Viswanathan, daughter of two Indian immigrant physicians. The book is How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life, a teen-angst YA potboiler about a studious girl who was refused entrance to Harvard because she didn't have a social life. The publisher is Little, Brown, a major house that has been around since the Flood and ought to know better. Go to Amazon, find the reviews, scroll past the schadenfreude tsunami, and see what people who hadn't heard about the scandal had to say about the book: "It reads like a mish-mash of every bad teen cliche and movie out there." And she got half a million dollars for doing it.

I won't scold Kaavya here. The best thing that could happen to her would be to get kicked out of Harvard, a school that specializes in giving its students the impression that they're receiving an education. Assuming that she actually has some writing talent, her literary career is not over. She simply has to go to a state school somewhere, actually learn something, and wait for the heat to die down.

The story interests me because it's yet another illustration of dysfunctional publishing. Little, Brown bought the book from a packager, 17th Street Productions, which grinds out indistinguishable YA novels using a stable of nameless word technicians who can follow an outline and receive a flat fee—but no royalties or byline—for producing a novel to template in six weeks flat. They didn't invent this mechanism. As best I know, that honor falls to the Stratemeyer Syndicate, a book factory founded in 1905 and responsible for household words like Nancy Drew, the Bobbsey Twins, and Tom Swift. Series packagers are everywhere. When I was in college I was asked by a local packager if I could write porn novels from outlines in six weeks, for a flat fee of $1800. (Major money for a college kid in 1974!) I tried—but hey, they always say to write about what you know. Kaavya came to the attention of 17th Street Productions through IvyWise, a big-ticket college entrance consultancy hired by her parents to get her into Harvard. In a stunning piece of thermonuclear networking, the staff counselor at IvyWise found Kaavya an agent and got 17th Street interested in a deal.

The real problem is this: A publishing house that can afford to pay a high school student half a million bucks for a lousy book should be able to afford front-line editors who know the genre and have developed feelers for plagiarism. This is a related problem to the one (famously tripped upon by Doubleday in the A Million Little Pieces affair) facing publishers of memoir, where somebody had better ask: Did this stuff really happen at all? Memoir is a species of mutant journalism, but still one that requires a certain level of fact checking, especially for truly outrageous statements.

It makes one ask: What do the big, rich NY publishers actually do? Little, Brown didn't go looking for the book. It was handed to them on a platter. They clearly didn't do much development on it, or it might have read a little better. They poured it into print, they handed it to the bookstores, and they made a fortune. I'm a struggling publisher who knows a lot of struggling publishers. We're scraping by, struggling to get decent books into bookstores, and barely making any money at all. Something's very wrong with this picture, but it's far from clear what could possibly make any of it better.

On the other hand, part of me has to cheer a little for the kid. I wrote three SF novels in high school, one of which (in my sophomore year) broke 200,000 words, hammered out entirely on my grandmother's rickety Underwood Standard typewriter. I was doing it for fun, and while I knowingly cribbed from a lot of things from Tolkien to Star Trek, I had an intuition that it was a sort of training, and never gave much thought to publication. Some of the cribbing was in fact unintentional: In my junior year I built a rather silly novel around the idea of a cubical planet, not knowing (until my friends at our Lane Tech lunch table told me) that what I had described was the Bizarro World, from the Superman comics. (I was not allowed comic books as a kid and had read only a handful in high school.) I do confess to some envy at her early success; after all, it took me 35 years after writing A Question of Flatness to get The Cunning Blood written, polished, and into print. What was lacking in 1968, and still seems to be lacking, is some mechanism for spotting high school kids with genuine writing talent and offering them some sort of adjunct education to give them some confidence and accelerate their grip on their field. I had absolutely no formal training in writing (apart from high school essays) until I went to the Clarion SF workshop in 1973, and once I knew how it was really done, I got myself published in a matter of months. One could imagine similar workshops for technical writing, for newspaper articles, for romances or any other genre with commercial potential. It smells like a low-grade entrpreneurial opportunity to me, and if enough scandals like Kaavya Viswanathan's cross my desk, I might seriously think about pursuing it.

April 27, 2006: Sympathy on the Loss of One of Your Legs

I've been staring at a story on my screen for the past hour or so, reading it over and over and trying to decide what, if anything, still needs to be tweaked. I'm stumped—and that means it's ready to be reformatted for submission, and packed off to Analog. It's the first brand new short story I've written since the fall of 2000, just before things started to get nuts in my life. (Coriolis imploding, moving to Colorado, etc.)

Some years back, I was in a greeting card shop looking for a card for some occasion or another, and in scanning the rows of cards I happened upon one that appeared (at first look) to have a very odd message on its front face: "Sympathy on the Loss of One of Your Legs." Damn, there really is a card for every occasion! On second look, alas, it was not so. The card really read, 'Sympathy on the Loss of Your Loved One."

Silly it might have been, but as mistakes go it was a keeper, and I filed it away for future use. It took a few years, but eventually a story spun itself around that unlikely card concept. It's short, light, and should make you smile. Let's see how long it takes to get it into print.

I have another story in revision that I hope to turn loose within the next couple of weeks. Assuming I do, it will be the first time that I've had two stories out on the street chasing markets at the same time in close to twenty years. Writing a story every four or five years is no way to make a reputation. I need to pick up the pace a little. Or more than a little. Way more.

April 26, 2006: Sturgeon's Sweetness

We had one of our little writers' workshops here at my house on Saturday afternoon, and George Ott submitted his best story yet—one that, with some polishing, will almost certainly be his professional debut piece. I won't say much about the story itself, beyond the fact that it was about a pair of unusual people working in obscurity for the good of humanity, while trying very hard to keep their efforts under wraps.

After I had read the story, one of the first things that occurred to me is that it reminded me of Theodore "Ted" Sturgeon (left) who taught at my Clarion in the summer of 1973, when I was barely 21 and away from home absent my parents for literally the first time. (I was slow to sieze the perks of adulthood.) There were other very big names at the workshop that year (Harlan Ellison, Ben Bova, Kate and Damon Knight) but Ted was different. Harlan was a talented blowhard, Bova had very little emotional flavor at all, Damon was rather hard-bitten, and Kate so blindingly brilliant that she terrified me. (She did a private Tarot reading for me, an offer that I found so intimidating that I have absolutely no recall of what she said.) Ted Sturgeon, on the other hand, had a sort of gentle, self-effacing brilliance that I had never seen before and have not seen since. I had always liked his fiction without quite understanding why, but during his week as teacher it became obvious, as I studied a couple of his stories and wrote a story of my own in imitation of his style.

I consider "Marlowe" one of my best published stories, though almost no one's ever read it. My one and only royalty report indicated that the hardcover anthology Alien Encounters had sold...125 copies. So it goes. It was my first big break from hardware-oriented fiction, and the first time I had tried to put some emotional nuance into a tale. The first pass was a mess (though I knew I was on to something when the artsyfartsy faction at the workshop dumped on it with vicious intensity) but I cleaned it up and sold it anyway, and part of that I credit to Ted Sturgeon's quiet encouragement. It's yet another "absense of father" story (I write those a lot) in which a strange disembodied intelligence adopts the guise of an abused young girl's deceased father to teach her to fight back against the neighborhood toughs in a chillingly effective way.

One of the things that Ted Sturgeon taught was to appeal to as many senses as possible. Too much fiction relates only sight and sound. There are smells and tastes and textures in the world too, and careful use of them in descriptions can add an additional dimension to a tale. He also developed the technique of falling into blank verse to change the mood in a story without necessarily alerting the reader, and tried to teach it to us. Some of the workshop knuckleheads ended up inserting rhymed couplets in their stories, to hilarious effect. (Few seemed to understand the "blank" in "blank verse.") I tried it in "Marlowe" and I think it worked, because no one has ever spotted the passage.

Howerver, Sturgeon's trademark as a writer of SF is a kind of disarming intimacy that stood out like a kleig light against the psychotic sexual paranoia of the 1950s and early 1960s. There was a warmth, a sweetness in many of his tales that I saw nowhere else in the SF world. Sturgeon utterly lacked cynicism. Utterly. Quite the opposite: There was an undercurrent of hope and goodness beneath his best stories that still brings tears to my eyes.

Ted Sturgeon died in 1985. I don't hear people talk much about him anymore, and while his stories are all still in print, I wonder if people still read him. If you haven't read him yet and are looking for something different, three come to mind that I consider his best:

  1. "Make Room for Me." Three talented individuals achieve a sort of higher intelligence in response to a small-scale and unseen alien invasion. The bond they share is not explicitly sexual, but still deeply intimate in a way that implies the sort of closeness that sexual unity facilitates. I'll never forget the tag line at the end: "What Vaughan inspires, I design, and Manuel builds." It's the humblest way I ever heard anyone say, "We work miracles."
  2. More Than Human. This is one of Sturgeon's few full-sized novels and probably his best known piece. Five variously wounded and weirdly talented children and a mentally handicapped man create a group mind that transcends the human weakness that invariably leads to evil. In doing so, they redeem a psychopathic killer, and almost casually invent antigravity to help an old farmer get his truck out of a muddy field. The novel includes a vicious attack on racism from an era when segregation was still legal (1953) and reads well today, fifty-odd years on.
  3. My very favorite Sturgeon, of course, will always be "The [Widget], the [Wadget], and Boff," a longish novella about two affable aliens who perform a sort of laboratory test on a group of human beings living in a boarding house. This is one of those stories that affects me differently as I grow older. When I was a teen, the suicidal obsessions of Phil Halvorsen were completely incomprehensible to me. Now, in my 50s, I understand depression, and Phil came alive for me on my last reading as he never did before. This is perhaps the sweetest of all the major Sturgeon stories, and some who've been infected by cynicism (our most insidious disease) call it corny. Don't be fooled. It's as good as SF gets.
It's been a few years for me, so I'm going to pull down all his books and go through them again, from one end to the other. I've had a tough six or seven years, and I need a booster shot against cynicism, and inspiration to write some new material about love, hope, and triumph. I'll let you know if it works, but Sturgeon can do it if anybody can.

April 25, 2006: The Wines of Colorado

This past Friday night, Carol and I and our friends David and Terry went up Highway 24 through Ute Pass, and stopped for dinner at The Wines of Colorado, in Cascade. It's a slightly unusual combination of wine shop and restaurant, with the twist that every single wine they sell is made right here in Colorado.

The restaurant is informal, with seating both inside in mountain lodge decor and outside on the banks of a small creek. (It was mighty chilly at 9,000 feet Friday night, so we ate inside.) The food is not fancy, but it was superb: I had a half-pound buffalo burger, Carol had an Austrian bratwurst (I guess they don't make them in Colorado), Terry had a steak sandwich, and David had a chicken caesar salad. All entrees were under $10. I'm partial to buffalo meat, and this was one of the best burgers I've ever had, irrespective of species. They didn't grill the mushrooms to mush, and even the roll was home-baked and tasty, if a little crumbly around the edges.

The best part of Wines of Colorado (which some might call a gimmick) is this: After you order your food, you go down the hall to the wine shop, where the tasting bar is located. They have twenty bottles of wine open for tasting, arranged in a semicircle from dry (on the left) to dessert sweet (on the right.) You can try as many as you want, and then order a glass of any of them for $4.25. Considering how often I've paid $6 or more for a glass of Sutter Home white zin or some crappy cheap Chardonnay that turned my mouth inside out, that's a steal.

I chose a late-harvest Zinfandel that surprised us all by not being as sweet as most dessert wines, while having a wisp of effervesence. (I've tasted the same thing a time or two with certain Gewurztraminers, but you can't always count on it, even with the same vineyard, wine, and vintage.) The subtle fizz took some of the edge off the sweetness, and while I wouldn't have chosen it to accompany a rare steak, it was fine burger accompaniment. The wine is from Balistreri, and is unfined (unfiltered), which makes the fruit borderline explosive. Not for everyone, but I've long been a Zinfandel fanatic (both dry and sweet) and bought a couple of bottles to take home. $24.

Overall, it's a great place to stop for dinner if you're in the Pike's Peak area. Just get on Highway 24 and go uphill (west) to Pike's Peak Highway at Cascade. Turn left and you're there; it's right off 24—and right on the road to the top of Pike's Peak. Highly recommended.

April 24, 2006: Dr. Ebola

I hate to be so negative two entries in a row, but this one deserves some discussion. Rich Rostrom sent me a pointer to an article by Forrest Mims, the author of many popular electronics books, who witnessed an almost unbelievable lecture by a progressive biology professor at the University of Texas at Austin. In this lecture (for which all recording was strictly forbidden) Dr. Eric R. Pianka told his audience that at least 90% of all humanity had to die for the good of the Earth. Furthermore, he described in detail his favored mechanism: An airborne form of the Ebola virus.

Forrest Mims is dissed in many circles because he's a Christian, and a lot of people assume that Mims exaggerated or made up the whole thing to discredit Pianka. This doesn't appear to be true; see this article particularly.

Assuming Pianka said what he did (and apparently teaches perspectives like that to undergrads) why did I have to read it on the Internet? Where's the outrage in the press and on TV? There are only two possibilities here:

  1. It's a hoax. This doesn't seem to be the case, but I readily admit that it's possible.
  2. The media is embarrassed because this weasel is a member of their tribe, and they're protecting him by omission—by not saying anything at all about the case, essentially declaring that it's "not news." The media did this before with Ted Rall, the progressive cartoonist who called our Secretary of State a nigger in one of his cartoons.

Keep in mind what this guy is saying: That somebody should hack the Ebola virus—one of the most deadly viruses ever discovered—from a pathogen that requires blood-to-blood contact to something that can float on the air and be inhaled, and then turn it loose. Like all charismatic individuals, he has worshipful followers who agree with him and, if the opportunity presented itself, could get down to business and begin hacking the virus. Doing this stuff will only get easier over time. The very worst of it is that Texas taxpayers—and to some extent, Federal taxpayers, whose money ends up as grants at a great many colleges—are paying this guy to encourage bioterrorism.

It is to boggle.

April 22, 2006: Rant: The Enemies of the Earth

Perhaps the most single most depressing thing in our current political scene is the way that obstructionists (many of whom know nothing at all about environmental science, nor care) have hijacked the environmental movement. Even setting aside nuclear power for the moment (it's actually our greatest hope for defusing the global warming threat) it boggles the mind how ferociously some self-styled "environmentalists" battle solar, wind, and hydroelectric power projects, no matter where they're located. Some of this is nimbyism hiding under the mantle of concern for the environment; the mansion trash class will reliably rise in indignation to "save the birds" from wind turbines any time someone wants to build one within driving distance, when the selfish fools are really thinking about nothing but proppity valyooz.

Other folks say, "We don't need to build more power plants. We just need to use less power." Perhaps they don't understand that we've been making huge advances in efficiency in all of our technology for thirty years and more, but with rapidly rising populations (especially in India and China) we're simply treading water, all the while dumping a steady stream of CO2 into the atmosphere. What some of these people are secretly wishing for is that three quarters of humanity would simply drop dead, so that they and their tribe could treat the Earth more gently. If there is a more damaging fantasy infecting the collective unconscious, I've yet to spot it.

None of this is original. You've seen it many times. Nonetheless, my point for this Earth Day is worth restating: The obstructionist faction of the environmental movement is destroying the Earth, by preventing any useful action on global warming. We need to be building tens of thousands of wind turbines, and dozens of new nuclear power plants, and we need to be doing it right now. If you actively oppose the building of non-carbon energy sources, I'll be blunt: You're helping to destroy the Earth. Do meditate on that, and Have a Nice Day.

April 21, 2006: Con*Tact Paperbacks

Reader Carrington Dixon wrote to tell me that he had caught my reference in The Cunning Blood to Stanley G. Weinbaum's novel The Black Flame, and prompted me to go downstairs and dig out the book, which I doubt I've seen (except briefly, to throw it in a box when moving) for thirty years. My copy is the Avon mass-market paperback from early 1969. Although the story itself was good, what I had found arresting as a teen was the cover art. I've always liked intelligent and strong-willed women, and the image of Margot of Urbs made my blood pound a little.

The book has survived beautifully across 37 years for a simple reason: When I brought it home for the store (and before I allowed myself to even open it) I covered it with transparent Con*Tact adhesive plastic sheeting, with which my mother often used as shelf paper. The adhesive was strong, and over a period of a year or so melted right into the carboard cover, creating a smooth matte finish and protecting the printed image from creases.

Between 1966 (when I first got an allowance) and about 1975, I covered all my paperbacks in Con*Tact transparent plastic. So I have a middling collection of SF paperbacks downstairs in which the pulp pages are brittle and crumbling, but the cover art looks as good as it did when I brought it home from Kroch's & Brentano's.

Maybe it's just the nostalgia effect, but I think that SF cover art in the 1967-1975 period reached a kind of peak. (That may also map to its explosion in popularity as Boomers like me started to have discretionary cash.) The Doc Smith series, William Tenn's collected works, and Heinlein's stories and novels all appeared about that time, with distinctive artwork unlike anything you'll see today. One of my favorites is the cover to the 1969 Larry Niven collection The Shape of Space, drawn by the late Peter Bramley, who worked at National Lampoon for awhile, and later did underground comics including Vinny Shinblind (the Invisible Sex Maniac) and Prophet & Loss. The cover is peculiar because whereas it's clearly a scene from Ringworld, the stories inside have nothing to do with the Ringworld, Louis Wu, or the Puppeteers. I'm wondering if Bramley was approached to do a cover for Ringworld, and Ballantine found his art a little less cosmic than the novel seemed to require. Doesn't matter; it's a great cover, and I wish that we could get away from some of the cheeseburgercake (i.e.cheesecake and beefcake art in one frame) and back to the genuine artistic imagination of SF's Platinum Age.

April 20, 2006: Reactions to Readerware

As time allows, I've been scanning and entering books and audio CDs into the Readerware book cataloging program. (See my entry for April 13, 2006.) In just a few hours I've gotten 752 books into the system. Although computer books are probably my biggest single category (I haven't cataloged several other major categories yet, including SF/fantasy and science) all 351 books in that category got slurped onto disk in only a little more than an hour. The key is that all but two of my computer books had ISBNs, and probably 85% of them had barcodes. Also, there's a certain knack to swiping a book with the CueCat that develops over time. Having chewed through two other categories before tackling computer books, well, I by then had the arm and was spending at most two or three seconds per book.

The program has a lot of interesting features that I'm just getting familiar with. It can export a catalog listing in HTML; here's my biography category. You can choose and order the columns any way you want. It's not fancy HTML, and it can be edited very easily.

It may take me another few weeks to get everything in. I'm guessing that I have about 1800 books right now, having shed over a thousand before leaving Arizona. A lot of my SF predates ISBNs, much less barcodes, and not all of the mass-market paperback editions are necessarily on Amazon. I still have quite a bit of work to do. Up next: Science.

April 19, 2006: Are We Short of Engineers?

This morning's Wall Street Journal carried a short opinion piece by Robert J. Stevens, CEO of Lockheed Martin, complaining how the US is short of engineers and therefore falling behind the rest of the world in technological innovation. His list of remedies is all the usual: Spend more on education, bring in more foreign engineers, work harder. The only thing he doesn't suggest is the one thing no CEO will ever allow himself to say: Pay more for engineering talent.

We are not short of engineers. I can say this with confidence because if we were, engineering salaries would be going through the roof (they're not), engineers would be the constant targets of headhunters urging them to jump ship (they're not), there would be no unemployed or underemployed engineers (there are many) and more students would be entering engineering degree programs. (They're not.) Between the lines I hear the constant mantra coming from everywhere in the business world: We want employees who are young, childless, and without significant medical problems, who are willing to work 80-hour weeks for under $50,000 a year.

If we are indeed falling behind the rest of the world in technology (and that's a highly debatable issue) the solution is not to generate more engineers, but to do more engineering. And that will require a whole raft of changes in the way business is done in the US:

  • Our patent system is hugely corrupt, and is actively hindering technological progress.
  • Obstructionism under the guise of phony environmental concern is holding back technology in many vital areas, especially energy and transportation.
  • Monopolistic powers held by telecommunications firms are holding back what we can do with cell and wired Internet technology. Just look at what they're doing in the Pacific Rim if you don't think this is the case.
  • Tort law is like molasses in the crankcase of every single area of American endeavor. Employment lawsuits, environmental lawsuits, product liability lawsuits are more and more disconnected from reality and any reasonable concept of justice—companies can be sued and destroyed for things they never did and over which they have no control.

With all of that hanging over your head, engineering just isn't much fun anymore. Nor does it pay especially well. Companies that say, "Well, we can't afford to pay our engineering staff more than we already do" always seem to find another $10 million to throw at the CEO or other top exective staff. No wonder all the bright young kids want to go into finance or management.

Everybody—CEOs in particular—must remember that labor is a market. You can only offer so little for wages before you get no takers due to the time and effort it takes to develop the skills required to do the job. I think we're at that point in a number of fields, primarily engineering and medical support. I have reflected that when markets get efficient enough, they force prices down to the point where nothing works especially well. Yet if you artificially raise prices to the point where everything works well, large chunks of the population can't afford the product. There's obviously a sweet spot somewhere (there always is) but the kicker is figuring out how to find it.

April 18, 2006: Go Local for Off-Dry Wine

Back a few weeks ago when I was in Chicago, I went walking, and north of Dempster along Waukegan Road I ducked into a small wine shop. In browsing the aisles I found a wine I had never seen before: St. Julian's Blue Heron White. It was cheap ($6.99) and the winery name recalled my patron saint, Lady Julian of Norwich. Who could resist that?

I had modest expectations, but the wine is actually pretty damned good. It's somewhat sweeter than a white zin (4% residual sugar vs. 2.5%) but with absolutely explosive fruit, and a distinct hint of peach. The acid was modest, and kept the wine from trending sour. Like most German whites, it's low in alchohol (9%) and very drinkable. I would guess this would make a fantastic summer barbecue wine.

What's interesting about Blue Heron is where it's made: Paw Paw, Michigan. The sticker isn't clear in the photo, but Blue Heron won a gold medal at the 2003 Indiana State Fair. One doesn't think of wines being made in Michigan, and one doesn't think of wine being awarded ribbons at state fairs. Contrarian (and small-town boy at heart) that I am, I consider those big pluses.

I can't find Blue Heron here in Colorado, and that doesn't surprise me. There is a whole subterranean layer to American wine culture under the category of local wines. And especially if you prefer something not utterly dry (once you get past white zin, most nationally distributed American wines have virtually no residual sugar at all) local is the best place to look. There are many wineries in Colorado (Cottonwood Cellars is one of my favorites) that simply don't distribute out of state, and many wineries in "odd" places (read here: anywhere not on the West Coast) don't distribute beyond a few adjacent states.

Not all local wines are good. We had a bottle of a semi-sweet wine from Indiana recently that was pretty bad (how it got into a Colorado wine shop is unclear) and only about half of the Colorado wines we have tried are worth mentioning. What local wines are is unpredictable, and I mean that in a good way. Virtually all conventional Chardonnays taste alike these days; for adventure you have to go to the vines less traveled: Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Niagara, Pinot Grigio, etc. Stay away from Chardonnay and Cabernet. Popularity has ruined them. And if you like a little residual sugar in your wine, find the local wine corner in your local wine shop, and start reading labels. I've found that local wineries are much more likely to list residual sugar levels than national wineries, where the assumption is that residual sugar on all wines is simply zero.

If you like semi-sweet wines and can find Blue Heron, grab it. St. Julian's has another off-dry white called Simply White with 2.5% residual sugar, which is a little less sweet. I'll try it next time I get to Chicago and report back here.

April 17, 2006: Odd Lots

  • San Francisco, that great haven of peace, love, and correct thinking, is by far and away the country's leading place for grab-and-run laptop thefts, some of them including physical attacks. Laptops aren't as compact as diamond necklaces, but then again, people aren't commonly seen noshing on bagels at Panera in diamond necklaces. Be careful—even if you're not in San Francisco. (If this becomes a trend, plan on seeing more drive-by bandwidth "borrowing" at unencrypted home routers, from inside the safety of a locked car.)
  • Egad. A Difference Engine built in Lego. I stand amazed. Thanks to George Ott for the pointer.
  • Building real computers with toy construction sets is not original to Lego. People have been making differential analyzers with Meccano (the British antecedent to Gilbert's Erector, and far superior in many ways) since the 1930s, not as stunts but actually to do the math.
  • And while we're talking Meccano, here is a photo of one of the most complex Meccano models ever made: A programmable crane, designed in the 1950s. The crane (called "Robot Gargantua") obeys instructions punched into wide paper tape, and can be made to stack blocks in arbitrary and very precise patterns. The crude "low-res" nature of Meccano parts reminds me of the molecular limitations of nanotech, and when I see those molecular models of nanoscale mechanisms, I always flash on the Meccano models of my youth.
  • Having scanned my way through a few hundred books, and realizing that I have lots more to go, I'm beginning to consider a $250 wireless Bluetooth barcode scanner. Wretched excess, I suppose, but it's easier to use than the CueCat and would allow me to leave the computer in the middle of the room and carry the scanner to the books and not vise-versa.
  • Several people have asked for contact information for the photographer who took the photo in my April 13, 2006 entry. On Location Photography by Chazz, 5792 County Road 26, Longmont CO 80504. 720-494-4441. 720-494-4446 FAX.
  • Pete Albrecht sent me a link to a Wikipedia entry on a very peculiar internal combustion engine. I love engines, the odder the better, and this is about as odd as they get. Give the animation a chance to download fully, because without it you don't stand much chance of figuring out how the damned thing works. For more on engines, see Pete's April 16, 2006 Infobunker entry.

April 15, 2006: Jeff and Carol as of March 2006

Readers may remember that two days before we had scheduled a sitting with a professional photographer, I broke my damned glasses and had to scramble to get a new pair of frames. Well, I got the frames the next day (serious luck!) and today we received the photo prints themselves.

We did a number of poses, separately and together, including a conventional suit-and-tie publicity shot for me, but the one I like best is at left.

The photographer was quite good, and his prices were much less than a place like Glamour Shots, probably because he doesn't have to maintain a retail presence in a mall. It was in part a fund raiser for our church, in that the church charged us $35 for the sitting and then we paid the photographer for the prints. As best we can tell, everybody's completely happy, and the church made almost $600. The people we used were out of Denver, but it's an interesting business model, and similar firms may be at work elsewhere. Look around.

April 13, 2006: Escape Strategies, Part 3

As my friend Roxanne Meida King commented on Contra's LiveJournal mirror, there are disasters to fit every location. Watching The Weather Channel certainly taught me that tornadoes range as widely as the Norwegian rat, and I've long adhered to the maxim, Never live near water. Then there's the ever-present hazard of neighbors who smoke in bed, especially in urban areas where the bungalows might be eight or ten feet apart. (When we lived on Campbell Avenue in Chicago, we would awaken to the sound of the guy next door's clock radio, even if both our bedroom windows were closed. He must have been a hard sleeper.)

So homeowner's insurance is your friend, and we have always had it. One challenge in making a claim is proving what you had, and I'm adderssing that right now. Shortly after we moved in I went around from room to room with our camcorder, making a Mini-DV tape of the entire house. It's about time to break open another tape and do it again.

Pondering losing the house here to fire prompted me to go back to something I have thought about now and then for many years: A database to record what books and audio CDs I have. I was thinking about writing my own in Delphi and just never got excited enough to do it. (Shortly afterward I began writing The Cunning Blood, which I think was a better use of my time.) What I actually did last week was purchase a three-utility bundle from Readerware. They offer separate programs to manage books, audio CDs, and video DVDs.

I had expected something kind of blah, but was pleasantly surprised. The programs are very well designed, and I was astonished at how quickly they've been devouring my books and media. The key is how information is entered:

  • If you have a barcode reader and the item has a barcode, scan it.
  • If there's no bar code on the item, type in its ISBN or other unique ID code.
  • If the item is pre-ISBN, look it up on Amazon, and drag the item link to a drop target on the database program.
  • If the item is so obscure that no major online service lists it, type in everything manually.

Using those four techniques as required, you create a list of items, and the list may contain as little as the unique product code. Then you connect to the Net and turn the program loose. It goes up to a pre-estabished list of online sites (which includes Amazon, B&N, the Library of Congress, Amazon UK, the british Library, and many others) and it gathers as much information on each item as it can find, including cover or jacket shots where available. I've cataloged 211 books so far, and only a handful (I think 4) had to be entered completely manually. I was amazed at how many ancient and obscure books (like the 1870 Old Catholic manifesto The Pope and the Council) are listed on Amazon. I found it, I dragged it to the target, and the program took it from there. Sweet.

The disaster recovery benefits of having such a database are twofold: First of all, they will indicate to the insurance company post-fire that you're not telling a fish story and that you really did have 2,000 books. Second, when you go to rebuild your library, you have a crisp record of what was there. I was surprised, in cataloging the first 200 books, how often a smallish title came to hand and prompted me to think, Damn, I forgot I had this!

The barcode scan feature was a godsend. For the 75% of my books that have barcodes, each book took maybe three or four seconds to process. The hand scanner itself is our old friend the CueCat, which was offered free if you bought the bundle of three programs. I'd heard a lot about CueCat some years back, when it was condemned as the tool of the Illuminati and the Siren singing to the Black Helicopters. It's a cheap little thing with a photosensor in the nose of a stylized plastic cat, and was manufactured by the millions by tech bubble startup Digital Convergence. After the bubble popped the Cats were remaindered and are everywhere, and you can get one for as little as $3.50 on eBay.

On some books, especially the grubby ones, it takes a couple of swipes with the Cat to get the barcode, but the vast majority of books clicked in three seconds or less. (Most of the time between books was spent moving books from the "before" pile to the "after" pile.)

I like the Readerware software and recommend it. Including the time spent entering or searching for pre-barcode books, I found I could do about a hundred books an hour. It'll take me a few weeks to get it all in, but by the time fire season gets extreme here, we'll have blown through the house and scanned it all. Then I can rest easy. Easier. A little.

April 12, 2006: Escape Strategies, Part 2

Abandoning your house to a wildfire is a little different from abandoning a hard drive to a fatal malfunction. I have a shelf full of software on CDs, and if a hard drive dies, I buy another one and reinstall everything from CD. Abandoning the house to a fire means that the CDs perish too, and although they're not impossible to replace, some of the older products that I still use are difficult to find because the vendors threaten online sites that sell legitimate used install CDs.

I have backups of a couple of install CDs, and could conceivably back them all up, but they're bulky, and even ripping ISOs requires somewhere to store the ISOs. The high road is to make a physical backup copy of each CD, pack them all in one or two CD wallets (I would need space for thirty or thirty five) and then put them in the safe deposit box. Saving them as ISOs on DVDs would save some slots, but I still don't entirely trust DVD-ROM over the long haul. Something in me keeps muttering, "smaller bits, shorter shelf life."

But damn, we're low on space in our safe deposit box.

In addition to the installer CDs, I have a fair number of downloaded install suites that are pure files and are not CD images. I already back them up (though most can be freely downloaded) but the kicker here is not the files themselves. Nearly all the commercial software installers require an unlock code. I have a document that gathers all the unlock codes into one place, but I've been careless about keeping it current, and I now have a priority item on my disaster plan for updating the unlock code file and making sure everything is in it. There aren't so many that it'll be an especially big file, and it can go on the backup media with all the rest of my workaday files. I may also print it out (the keys will fit on one side of one sheet, writ small) and tuck the sheet in one of the (many) pockets in my briefcase.

It's not exaggerating to say that the value of the commercial software that I've purchased far exceeds the value of the hardware that I run it on. Only two of the desktop machines I have here are worth anything at all (who pays real money for a Pentium 450 anymore?) and together they might be worth $1500. I probably have $3500 to $4000 worth of software on the shelf. This is something to think about if you decide to create your own disaster plan. Hardware is a commodity, and amazingly cheap. Software, by contrast, is startlingly expensive, and if those CDs burn, they're gone.

All's peaceful on the mountainside here, but July 4 is coming, and what the CSFD really worries about are kids setting the vegetation on fire with bottle rockets. Every year they put out one or two little fires caused precisely that way, and every year they worry about one that they can't get to in time to control it. That is definitely the stuff of local nightmares.

I guess I have some work to do.

April 11, 2006: Escape Strategies, Part 1

We watched a very serious desert wildfire from our roof in 1996, when Carol and I lived in the wilder parts of far north Scottsdale. It didn't come closer than five or six miles, but it scared me into getting an SUV. If I ever saw a wall of fire like that coming at us, I wanted a vehicle that would go through somebody's front yard without effort or complaint.

I thought that fleeing Arizona would get us out of the path of wildfires, but I was wrong. They happen here, and as my luck would have it, a bad one is overdue, just like they're overdue for a bad quake in San Francisco. (I mentioned this in my entry for April 7, 2006.) In the last few days, Carol and I have been pondering what we would do if we heard on the news (or saw from our back deck!) that a wildfire was heading our way. What indeed?

We've been thinking about what in this house is irreplaceable, and what is Just More Stuff. The greatest part of what we own are things we can always get again, if not precisely the same make and model: Clothes, kitchen utensils, furniture, etc. I have a longstanding collection of radio parts, but they are remarkably available even today; if I need a 6T9 radio tube, well, I can get any reasonable quantity for $5 each or less. I'd miss my two milk jugs full of tube sockets, but I made myself admit that in the last twenty-five years, I've used about fifteen of them, out of several hundred, and there are countless tube sockets for sale on eBay.

The irreplaceables sort out into three major categories:

  1. Important papers.
  2. Computer data.
  3. Items of sentimental value.

We've been proactive about keeping important papers in our safe deposit box, and Carol is considering which items of what we keep here we would need to include in our "grab and run" scenario. I'll return to this question in a future entry. She's researching what we might need and why.

We already have data backups in our safe deposit box across town, and update them monthly. I burn backup DVDs regularly and keep a set in my briefcase. All my current work exists on five Cruzer Mini thumb drives that live in the pencil groove of my Northgate keyboard. My laptop lives in my briefcase. If we have to leave here in a terrible hurry, I only have to scoop the thumb drives out of the pencil groove, dump them in my briefcase, grab the handles, and run.

Items of sentimental value are the real issue. The bulk of what we have in this category are photographs. I've scanned only a tiny fraction of what we have, which lives either in cardboard boxes or in about twenty five photo albums, which Carol has been keeping since literally before she met me. These are a problem, because of their bulk and their weight. I can move the loose photos and slides into a couple of suitcases or Rubbermaid storage bins, but the albums are big, many, and heavy.

As for "valuables," well, we really don't have any. Our wall art is poster art, and Carol has never gone in for fancy jewelry. My stamp collection includes the sorts of stamps that twelve-year-olds cadge from relatives who work in offices. I sold off most of my classic radios before we left Arizona, and apart from the big 1937 Zenith cathedral (and it's not going anywhere, sigh) I doubt I'd get more than couple hundred bucks for everything I have left.

What we end up doing in response to a wildfire depends on how much warning we have. Unless a fire starts very close to us, we'll have at least an hour to pack and go, and (especially since I've been in weight training) I can move a lot of stuff in an hour, if properly motivated, heh. The 4Runner will hold all the albums and a certain amount of other stuff. I'll throw in whatever I think I can manage, and then we will run.

I love this house, and paid a certain amount of stomach lining making it happen, but it's insured and I keep telling myself I could walk away from it if I had to. It's got stucco walls and a concrete tile roof, so it's about as fireproof as you can make a nice-looking house these days. That gives it as good a chance as anything, but a bad fire will take out almost anything except a cinder block bunker. The trees in the area are highly combustible, and a stand of burning scrub oak can light a house from radiant heat alone up to fifty feet away, more in a bad wind.

Life is risk; what can I say? If we lose the house we'll go somewhere else and build another one. With my Carol, my dog, and my briefcase I can rebuild my life, and in a pinch I can do without my briefcase. The key is being ready without being anxious, and that may be the biggest trick of all.

More tomorrow.

April 9, 2006: The Gospel of Judas

Several people have asked me in the last week or so what I thought of the Gospel of Judas, which is getting some serious publicity on a National Geographic special. I didn't know much about it, but having read up on it a little I think the fuss is misplaced. A "gospel" is simply a general word for an account of some events. The Christian Bible has four gospels, which are the accepted accounts of the Life of Christ. There are others; at least 20 are known from existing manuscripts or else quotes or accounts in writings of Church fathers like Irenaeus of Lyons. The Gospel of Judas is one of a group known as the Gnostic Gospels, because they were written and held as sacred by a Christian splinter group (or several groups) that we today call the Gnostics. The Gnostics were a mystery tradition that attempted to synthesize Christian teaching with non-Christian spiritual traditions, many of them from Persia. Most of the Gnostic Gospels say pretty much the same things, and Judas is no exception. If there's anything explosive in the Gospel of Judas, I didn't spot it.

Like the other Gnostic Gospels, it drops hints of secret knowledge that Jesus gave to the Apostles without making it generally known. Here's a sample:

Jesus said, [Come], that I may teach you about [secrets] no person [has] ever seen. For there exists a great and boundless realm, whose extent no generation of angels has seen, [in which] there is [a] great invisible [Spirit], which no eye of an angel has ever seen, no thought of the heart has ever comprehended, and it was never called by any name.

And that's the easy part. The rest makes my head spin. There are lots of gaps due to the bad condition of the manuscript, which is in a number of fragments that do not always represent full pages of the codex.

It's important to remember that the Church assembled the Bible from a large number of books circulating in the first centuries after Christ's life on Earth. The New Testament was defined in its modern form by Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria in 367, after a long and sometimes stormy discussion among the learned men in the Christian community. They drew a line around the books we now know as the new Testament, and quite a few books were left outside the canon. The Gospel of Judas is one of them. So although it may have some historical significance (and it's good to preserve any ancient writings we may come across) it won't change the Christian understanding of Jesus, Judas, or anything else.

Elsewhere in the world of Jesus scamming, Richard Baigent (co-author of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, from which The Da Vinci Code was lifted pretty much verbatim) has a new book coming out. He'd better, because he lost his theft-of-content suit against Dan Brown, and has to pay a fortune in court costs.

It's pretty clear where all the publishing money is going that isn't going into SF or computer books, sigh.

April 8, 2006: Odd Lots

  • I put a lot of work into my 10" Newtonian telescope, but I'm an absolute piker next to a chap who spent twenty years of his spare time building this 22" scope. I am in awe, and if I were wearing a hat I would take it off. Wow.
  • I can't imagine that anybody with two hands and a restless imagintion doesn't scan it regularly, but definitely put the Make Blog on your shortcut bar. This is a blog devoted to interesting (in any of several senses) "roll your own" technology, courtesy O'Reilly's Make Magazine. My favorite on the current scan (look quick before it scrolls off the bottom) is the bathtub-sized Tomato Soup Battery. (So tomato soup is good for something besides making me gag!) Engineering is by no means dead, nor does it lack imagination.
  • There were plenty of hoaxes floating around this April Fools' Day, but I humbly submit this as the best (or at least the most cerebral) of the ones I saw.
  • I am nowhere near hip enough to live in San Francisco, but I do think that the Frisco culture site Laughing Squid deserves some sort of award for Best Logo. Also, scroll down toward the bottom to see a map of the city implemented with little multicolored Jello cubes.
  • Pete Albrecht sent me a pointer to a 1945 Russell W. Porter illustration of one of the Japanese fugo balloon firebombs that I mentioned in my April 7, 2006 entry. Porter is legendary among telescope freaks for his finely-rendered Art Deco drawings of telescope equipment, including the 200" scope at Palomar. Drawing Japanese weapons was something of a deparure for him, but his style is unmistakable.
  • Finally, in one of the "Your Health" pages in a local magazine, we found the little bit of wisdom below. I'm sure you all remember when the air was 40% oxygen, right?

April 7, 2006: Wildfire and Fugos

Last night Carol and I went to a session put on by the Colorado Springs Fire Department to warn homeowners about the dangers of wildfires here where we live on the slopes of Cheyenne Mountain. It wasn't an especially good session. The gloomy message from the fire marshall cooked down to: We're going to burn badly at some point, and everything you have is going to go up in smoke.

The last big fire in this area happened in 1950. We actually found a couple of charred scrub oak trunks in the gully at the east edge of our lot that clearly were the product of that fire. The Hayman Fire of 2002 (Colorado's largest known wildfire) freaked a lot of people out, and it sure sounded like they're just giving up. Environmentalists have blocked most large-scale efforts locally to clean out underbrush within the environmental easement areas, and money for firefighting equipment, training, and personnel is scarce because Colorado's state government (like all state governments) prefers to spend its revenues on pressure groups with more influence than local fire departments.

I'm not sure what's to be done. It may be the case that nothing can be done apart from creating a strategy for escaping with Carol, QBit, and my data backups. (I'll write more on such strategies in upcoming entries.) We had a landscaping company clean out and trim the vegetation in the gully, and that may be the end of what's possible to protect our house.

Alas, the session reminded the SF writer in me of the Japanese fugos (fire balloons) of WWII, which were designed specifically to set the US on fire. (Two good fugo sites are here and here.) In 1944 the Japanese launched about 9,000 of them from the Japanese mainland, of which a few hundred were actually found in the US, one as far east as Michigan. They were not especially effective, but that was to some extent a measure of our good luck: The WWII years were especially wet ones in the western US. In fact, 1943 was one of only two years when the spillways on Hoover Dam had to be used. (The other was 1974, a year when my mother's basement flooded a number of times and parts of Loyola University were almost washed into a swollen Lake Michigan.)

The Japanese Fugos were amazingly crude (the balloon envelopes were made of paper) and it's not difficult to imagine a modern fugo: Something the size and shape of a 2-liter soda bottle, with a mylar envelope, helium canister, GPS receiver, microcontroller, and a small incendiary bomb. A few hundred of those could do an immense amount of damage (let's not imagine a swarm of thousands) and if done carefully, no one would ever really be able to tell where the fugos had come from. I guess such big, slow-moving things as balloons could be shot down, but to me that's only modest comfort.

I've long since ceased to worry about ICBMs. The real threat these days is anonymous warfare. The dangers of inexpensive cruise missiles are something I've written about in the past, but sizing up Colorado's wildfire hazards made me realize that you don't need nukes to nuke a countryside. All you need is a balloon and an igniter.

April 6, 2006: Odd Lots

  • More evidence that lack of sleep may be (at least in part) responsible for the modern plague of obesity and diabetes. Could this be one cause of the "freshman fifteen?" I put on zero weight when I went to college, perhaps because my diet didn't change, but also perhaps because I was in bed by 10:30 PM every night. (Thanks to Frank Glover for the pointer.)
  • In response to a number of questions over the years: As best I know, I am in some way related to every Duntemann currently living, and certainly to all that you may see on the Web. (Note that this means "Duntemann" with two 'n's on the end. There are many more one-n Duntemans, some of whom are relatives as well.) John Duntemann, Dr. Thomas J. Duntemann, Matthew Duntemann, Mark T. Duntemann, and Mary Ila Duntemann are my cousins. Their father John Phil Duntemann is the last remaining person of my father's generation to be born with the name. The Duntemanns living in Germany are distant but still related. It's a rare name, which has allowed me to draw the connections without a lot of dead ends. If I had been born Jeff Johnson, well, I would have taken up another hobby than genealogy.
  • I used to have an ASCII chart framed on my wall, back when I was doing a fair bit of assembly language. The chart's in a box somewhere, and I don't need to know hex or decimal equivalents of characters very often. When I do (which these days comes about while I'm looking at URLs from spammers and phishers) I use this page.
  • Impact theories dominate catastrophism right now, but there's another one with a good bit of drama and some reasonable science behind it: flood basalt eruptions. (Note: Very cool graphics!) Volcanoes are incremental magma flows; in FBEs a large crack opens in the crust and the crack just gushes lava in almost unimaginable quantities, releasing massive amounts of gas in the process. Supposedly, every known mass extinction in Earth's history maps to a major FBE. The iridium-rich asteroid that whacked us at the end of the Cretaceous could just have been a coincidence, or perhaps—and I haven't seen anybody propose this yet—the stress it put on the crust may have caused one or more FBEs.

April 4, 2006: Thinking of the Huddled Masses

The recent immigration reform furor is the guldurndest thing. The issue splits the body politic in some weird ways, which I think further inflames the debate. Several of my progressive friends advocate simply throwing the borders open and letting anybody who wants, in any numbers at all, come here, stay, and work. These are the same people who rant (rightly) about the lack of health care, about the high cost of housing, about wages trending downward, and so on.

They seem unable to connect the dots: Wide-open immigration hurts the poor, and helps the rich. If you fancy yourself a progressive, meditate on this a little.

The rich love illegal immigrants not only because they work cheap (our native-born poor will do that as well) but because they are absolutely docile workers. In particular, they don't go looking for employment lawyers every time they get fired or even find something in the workplace irritating. They'll do almost anything to maintain a low profile. They do their jobs, they take their envelopes of cash, and quietly go home.

There are only so many jobs at the bottom, and with illegals competing with our native-born poor and working classes for what jobs there are, lower-class Americans are the ones hurting the most. I've read that quite a few bloodline Democrats among the working classes are getting impatient with their party for not addressing illegal immigration, and they could cross party lines this fall, as many did in 2004 over gay marriage. A recent survey summarized in the Wall Street Journal showed both parties split on the issue, almost in the middle: 42% of Democrats and 57% of Republicans want stronger border controls without any amnesty program of any kind. It's the edges versus the center: The center wants border enforcement beefed up, and both fringes want amnesty and basically open borders. GWB favors amnesty and thus is (in a sense) to the left of some Democrats on this issue—now, how weird is that?

A line I hear a lot is that "immigrants built this country." Yes, they did, my own grandparents and great-grandparents among them. What might more correctly be said is that this country was built on the backs and with the blood of immigrants, who lived in miserable, crowded conditions, made very little money, and all too often suffered terribly or died young from the hazards and sheer exhaustion inherent in the work. Maybe unlimited immigration was necessary in 1900—as I've written before, industrialization had created huge labor shortages in the West between 1840 and 1970. It's certainly no longer necessary, and we have a tremendous and growing labor suplus, one especially acute at the bottom, and heartbreakingly acute among African-Americans, who are often the ones displaced from bottom-rung urban jobs by illegals from Mexico.

As I said, it's a very weird issue, and weird issues can be dangerous to political parties too tied to traditional positions. I'd like to see us integrate and employ the huddled masses we already have before letting in millions more.

April 3, 2006: The Difficulties of Fiction

I got a long, thoughtful review of The Cunning Blood on SFSite. It's not an unqualified rave, and I'm fine with that, because the reviewer very precisely fingered some of the weaknesses of the story: I didn't spend much time showing how the Canadian-dominated 1Earth society worked, and my characters are not especially deep. Characterization has always been difficult for me, and I create a situation and plot first and then devise characters to fit. Many writers first create a crew of interesting people, and then invent something interesting for them to do. I'm not sure that's better than what I do, but in truth that's not how I work, and I think it results in a whole different feel for novel-length works. As for 1Earth, well, if I can summon the enthusiasm to write a sequel called The Molten Flesh, people will see very clearly the ugly side of nanny-state Canada.

As for characters, several people have complained that Peter Novilio is kind of dull and immature to be the novel's key player, but they missed what I was shooting for: The Sangruse Device itself is the main character. It's the character who changes the most in response to the novel's events, but it was far from clear to me how to accurately portray the creature's innermost thoughts.

I don't much like sequels that are just "more stuff" happening after the end of the initial story. I'm a little tired of Peter Novilio, and I suspect he will not appear in The Molten Flesh, nor will Geyl, Nutmeg, or Filter Fitzgerald. My #1 priority is to give a sense for a peculiar world in which the secret nanotech societies are becoming more numerous and more powerful. Protea (the society that Cy Aliotta was worried about) is the starring device, and Cy was right: It makes Sangruse 9 look almost tame, but not for any of the reasons you might suspect.

I have a lot of research to do before I can even begin it, on nanotech as we understand it today (I wrote The Cunning Blood in 1998) as well as space elevators, really large gas lasers, quicksand, and a lot of other things. Creating interesting futures is not an easy business, and doesn't happen quickly. I'm working as fast as I can.

April 1, 2006: Gatheroo

I got a note from Mike Milkovich last week, telling me that he's in the process of creating an alternative to Meetup. (He read my March 14, 2006 entry.) His system is called Gatheroo, and although I just got back from Chicago and haven't had a chance to do much but the laundry, I think it's worth a look. At first glance I like them a lot, especially since they're being sued by Minnesota Public Radio for daring to use a made-up word with "gather" in it. Those ever-so-righteous maroons over at MPR think they own the word "gather." Will we ever put such thinking in its grave? It's a ridiculous suit that will only make MPR look silly and dry up donations—and if it goes any further, will generate a fortune in free publicity for Gatheroo.

Mike's intent is to keep it a free system, and I'm going to join and try to create a local Delphi group. I hope also to establish a local group for Bichon Frise owners, and will suggest to Mike that the system generate hand-out cards for groups. We walk QBit and run into other Bichon owners in the neighborhood a lot, and I'd like a card to dig out of my pocket and hand to them, directing them to the Gatheroo group.

More later, but from what little I've seen so far I like it a lot.