September 30, 2002

How much resolution is enough in a digital camera? I have a 2.1 megapixel Canon Digital Elph (see my September 26, 2000 entry) and I've always been pretty happy with it. But I always wondered if its resolution was enough to create good 4 X 6 photo album snapshot prints.

Now I know.

I recently tried out a service called Shutterfly, which accepts digital camera photos uploaded over the Internet and makes conventional snapshot prints from them. They have a well-crafted Web site that allows you to create "photo albums" on the Web (actually named directories) and upload photos to the albums. You can then order the hardcopy prints, which are (as best I can tell) genuine photo prints on photo paper, and not inkjet prints of some kind.

Short form: The prints are spectacularly good. Carol's been catching up on a year's worth of photo album maintenance, and we did a lot of travelling in the past year, all the way to Germany and back. We sent a whole bunch of prints to Shutterfly, and they shipped the prints back quickly. The price (about 43 cents per print) isn't outstanding, but what took me aback was how sharp the prints were, and how good the color reproduction. We know this because Carol has a point-and-shoot film camera, and in many places we took both digital and film photos of the same scenes. It was worthwhile putting film and silicon side by side and comparing them.

Silicon won, hands down. Whoda thoughtit?

There was no trace of aliasing or color artifacts. If I hadn't known which prints came from the digitial camera, I don't think I could have told you. So I guess 2.1 megapixels is enough resolution. More resolution wouldn't make the prints sharper, and would just take up more room on my hard drive. As I've indicated here before (see my entry for December 28, 2000) the little camera took close-ups of objects on which you can make out the dust grains on the objects. (Click on the picture of the 832A for a close-up.) I guess high-quality publishing might require higher resolution, but for snapshot guys like me, 2.1 million pixels is quite enough, thanks.

By the way, I'm not sure how well Shutterfly is doing, but they were a child of the dot-com boom, and they're still out there doing business. Those of you who once read Visual Developer may recall an editorial I wrote called "Picture a Billion," (June/July 1997) which predicted a huge business in hardcopy photo prints from digital cameras. I think I was spot-on. Shutterfly hasn't sold for a billion yet, but I say, Give 'em time!
September 29, 2002

Economics has never been my strong suit, and I found myself flabbergasted to learn that short-term interest rates are now lower than they've been since 1951—in other words, lower than since before I was born. (And that was a long time ago.) This I found puzzling, until a friend remarked that between Enronism and waiting for war, nobody wants to invest in the stock market. A multitude of idiots who have been selling at the bottom now have at least some of their net worth in cash, so there is an immense amount of cash kicking around the economy. Everybody wants treasuries because nobody wants anything else, hence the Feds get all the cash they need for almost nothing.

Here and there I'm sure are a few people who are quietly buying up blue chips and other nonspeculative equities at bargain prices, and in five years they'll be rich. The American economy isn't just going away.
September 28, 2002

One of the more interesting intellectual forms to come out of the internet culture is the FAQ. Like everything else, it's possible to write bad FAQs and good FAQs, and I stumbled across a really good one this morning: Robert Graham's Network Sniffing FAQ. I didn't know a great deal about packet sniffing except in very broad terms before I read it, and I learned enough from it to at least explain its dangers to the future readers of my Wi-Fi book.

As good as it is, the FAQ points up a still-bleeding gap in standard Web machinery: The lack of a good, industry-standard non-proprietary way to display vector graphics in an HTML document. To show a diagram of the OSI network model in action, the author had to resort to ASCII graphics, God help us. Why this is still true I'm not sure; the W3C released its SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) spec back in 2000, but nobody seems the least bit interested. I spoke of this in my December 20, 2000 entry, and while I'd rather use something vendor-neutral like SVG, Visio understands VML, and when I go to put my Wi-Fi Web site together later this fall, the drawings will be in VML format. You Netscape users out there: Does Netscape support either VML or SVG in its latest release? The last release of Netscape I installed was so wretched I pulled it and never went back.
September 27, 2002

Those of my readership who are old enough to recall the early 1980's (don't laugh!) may remember a peculiar cultural phenomenon that accreted around a peculiar B-shelf flick called The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Apart from being Susan Sarandon's first visible role in cinema it doesn't have much going for it as cinema—but egad, the weirdness that evolved at the art houses that showed it, sometimes for months on end, usually after the last showing of whatever first-runs were on the marquee. People would dress up as the major characters, recite the lines at the tops of their lungs, mock and heckle the screen, throw pieces of toast at the screen (I don't know why) and dance something called "The Time Warp" in the aisles. I know I saw it, but I don't remember much of what it was about, apart from proto-punk cross-dressing and perhaps the end of innocence. The film itself is almost irrelevant. The audience participation is now what people remember.

That was the 80's. This is...the naughties? The zeroes? (Who will know until the decade flips again?) Talk about a "time warp!" Rocky Horror may still be out there somewhere (just like the sun never sets on Gilligan's Island) but the new cinema participation phenom is Sing Along Sound of Music. It's just like Rocky Horror for a new generation of God-fearing, child-rearing, SUV-driving Boomers and Slackers. Sing the songs at the tops of your lungs! Yell at the screen! Hiss the nazis! Dress up like Julie Andrews, even if you were born male! (What is it about cross-dressing, anyway?) Waltz in the aisles to "Edelweiss"! The excitement has at times reached near-riot intensity, as the reviewer cited above relates.

Sing Along Sound of Music opened at Scottsdale Center for the Arts not long ago, and Carol and I are considering attending. She may dress up as Julie Andrews, and while I considered that for awhile, I decided against it. I actually have a genuine Nazi helmet out in the garage, and an old GI army coat in the closet that might look German if you squinted a little...but I'm not sure whether I would look better as a resigned nun or a Nazi. Still thinking about that. I'll let you know what I decide.
September 26, 2002

Over the past few years, Carol and I had accumulated quite a row of wine bottles, from wine that we liked more than typically. We intended eventually to soak the labels off to keep them for reference (which was a common enough ritual in the 1980s, though that was before I drank wine except with a gun to my head) especially for peculiar wines that aren't household words.

Well, today was Soak Off The Labels Day. And what we discovered to our dismay was that with the exception of three or four bottles of really obscure wine (like my beloved Coturri zins; see my entry for September 23, 2002) wine labels don't soak off anymore. Instead of the traditional water soluble gum adhesive, they're now using "pressure sensitive" labels that don't have a water-soluble adhesive at all.

So I was forced to jot down the vinyard and vintage and then dump the bottles, labels and all. I guess it made some space for us, but it lacks, well, romance. Or maybe I just don't buy expensive enough wines. So be it.
September 25, 2002

I was doing some research for my Wi-Fi book today, and clicked on a Google link to a chap in Poland who had done some work with the Linksys WUSB11 Wi-Fi client adapter. What happened then was something I'd never seen before: my browser was redirected to a dead-end page entitled "Not for MS IE user." The page contained a note to the effect that because I was using IE, I couldn't access his page! Apparently he's annoyed that IE has such a large market share, and is asking everyone to switch to other browsers, and won't let IE download his material.

I guess that's his right, though in truth I think it's kind of silly. What I can't find in my reference books is how his server knows that I'm using IE. I recall that it can be done, but I've forgotten the mechanism. Anybody remember? And can IE be prevented from "presenting its calling card" and identifying itself?
September 24, 2002

More odd lots:

  • You can buy Silly Putty (or, more properly, the underlying synthetic pseudorubbergoop that they make into Silly Putty) in 50-pound lots, direct from Dow-Corning. Its technical name is 3179 Dilatant Compound, and although it is white in its native form, you can mix it with dyes of numerous colors, including glow-in-the-dark. (Roll some into spheres with your friends, turn the lights out, and declare glow-ball war.) With shipping it comes out to about $10/pound, though note that Dow has a $100 minimum order, and that's a lot of goop! See this site for more details.
  • As of September 1, Dave Central has gone away. It was a very well-done download site, and I used to use it a lot. I often wondered, while bringing down one obscure utility or another, who Dave was. I guess now it's Tucows or nothing.
  • If you press and release the Shift key five times quickly, you activate the Sticky Keys feature. (At least in Windows 2000.) I discovered this quite by accident the other day when I happened to be tapping out the rhythm to an old New Colony Six song, and happened to be tapping on the Shift key instead of the Alt key, which usually takes the abuse. How long have I used this OS? This is a new one. Too bad it's such a useless feature.
  • The FCC declared at the dawn on Wi-Fi time that manufacturers of Wi-Fi gear must use "reverse polarity" coax fittings for the antenna connectors on access points and client cards. An "RP" connector is one where the pin is where the hole should be, and vise versa. Mark me, it's not illegal to make or sell such connectors, but the FCC wanted to make it "difficult" for people to connect external amplifiers and antennas and such. Bingo! Instant vertical market, and places like Fleeman, Anderson, and Bird sell all kinds of inside-out connectors for the express purpose of attaching antennas and amps to Wi-Fi hardware. Secure server. Overnight shipping. What's the point? Are the Feds really that dumb? And are these the people running our country?
Crazy world. More later.
September 23, 2002

It was at a wine tasting in the crypt of St. Paul's Cathedral in London a couple of years ago that I heard the story of a British woman wine expert who described a certain white wine (chardonnay—had to be a chardonnay!) as tasting like "cat's pee on a gooseberry bush." Sometimes somebody just nails something, and this was one of those times. That's why I don't drink dry whites. If I want to drink cat urine, my sister Gretchen can probably send it to me in liter quantities, for the cost of shipping alone.

I'll do an occasional semi-sweet white Riesling, and Beerenauslese is good when you can get it, which isn't often. Mostly, however, I like reds. I started out drinking sweet reds as a child at Easter and Christmas, though you really don't want to know what sweet reds those were. (If I'm not careful my sister will tell you...) It took me forty-odd years to develop a taste for dry reds. Now my contrarian streak has me yearning for a good sweet red. Do such even exist? And if not, why not?

Fortunately, I won't have to ask those questions. I found one. It's beyond a doubt the most peculiar wine I think I've ever had, but if you're a contrarian that's not a bad thing. It's a sweet Zinfandel, which is usually a pretty dry red, somewhere between a merlot and a cabernet sauvignon. Other sweet reds do admittedly exist. I bought a couple of bottles of a Hungarian sweet cabernet sauvignon, of all things, some years ago, but it was a thin, weak product that tasted like a dry cabernet that somebody threw some sugar into. (I've done that—though it was Sprite, not sugar—but what I got was not a good sweet red.)

What I've found is the other Coturri zinfandel. I had a couple of bottles of their Freiburg vinyard zin earlier this year, and it was less dry than most red zins, but way fruitier, and I like that in a wine. (Wine is made from fruit, not pressed cat bladders.) Then I tried their Chauvet vinyard, and it stopped me cold. It was sweet, but not treacly, sickly sweet like that stuff I used to drink at Christmas dinner. I don't use all that silly, pompous wine-freak language, but the Coturri Chauvet zin is a strong wine, dark red and about as fruity as it gets. It actually tastes like grapes, not apples, not oak, not asparagus, not pepper nor broccoli nor scrambled eggs nor the forest's ferny floor. It's like nothing else on Earth. I'm pushing it here because there are people who, like me as a younger man, can't abide dry reds. I used to think that such people (and there are times when I fall back into that camp for a week or two) had no recourse but to hit the stuff with the screw-off tops. Not so. Call around to your better local wine shops, and ask for something completely different. Coturri's Chauvet zin is definitely it.
September 22, 2002

What do you believe, and how does it stack up to what others believe? I ran across an interesting questionnaire-thing the other day, up on Beliefnet. It's a questionnaire that asks you where you stand on a number of pivotal religious issues, then tells you what major world faiths you align most closely with. If you're a thoroughgoing atheist it'll be either a bore or mostly irritating, but if you're not completely hostile to the idea of God it's a lot of fun. Of course, you're going to have to decide how many persons you believe God has within Him, whether faith or works are key to salvation, and probably what the whole idea of "salvation" means. But that may not be an entirely bad thing. I found I had to think a little harder about several of the questions than I expected, and when it was all over I was told I aligned most closely with:

1. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (100%)
2. Orthodox Quaker (81%)
3. Liberal Quaker (75%)
4. Unitarian Universalism (72%)
5. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (68%)
6. Reform Judaism (67%)
7. Eastern Orthodox (58%)
8. Roman Catholic (58%)
9. Bahá'í Faith (58%)
10. Neo-Pagan (58%)

The Quaker thing puzzles me a little bit, though I confess I know far less about the Society of Friends than I probably should. What is interesting is the fact than many Roman Catholic traditionists claim that Old Catholicism resembles mainstream Protestantism far more than Roman Catholicism. (Old Catholics are much more reserved in their enthusiasm for both Mary the Blessed Mother and the countless saints proclaimed down the years.) There was no results item for "Old Catholic" so I guess it read me pretty well.

Is it just me, or is the the four-way tie between Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Baha'i, and Neo-pagan really funny? (What the hell is a "neo"-pagan, anyway?)
September 21, 2002

Yee-hah! Cowboys in Outer Space! Carol and I broke with our longstanding tradition of mostly ignoring television last night and watched Firefly. (Fox, 7 PM here at least.) I have no idea what the show's title represents, but the starship is called Serenity and it's a cool mix of heat-stained utility and 26th century streamlining, with an antigrav core consisting of a rotating truck engine painted bronze.

The year is 26-something, and Mankind has terraformed a bunch of planets, at the edges of which things just sort of barely work. No aliens. There are still funky Western-style bars full of snaggle-toothed starpokes, and even though the bar's windows are force fields (through which one can throw Jimmy Joe in a brawl) everybody packs long-barrelled revolvers that look right out of 1837. Train robberies. And a sherriff! Howdy, howdy, howdy!

Oh yeah, the crew...let me see if I can remember them. Um, give me a minute here...oh well. There are a number of people on Serenity, including a pretty-boy doctor, a priest who needs a shave, a navigator who looks like a young Lloyd Bridges, a grouchy whore, and several others that I might recall in more detail with some effort. Oh yeah, a captain who's clearly seen Star Wars quite a few times, and while he's trying to act like Han Solo, he looks eerily like Michael J. Fox without the goofy warmth.

There's an abused 11-year-old girl who freaks out periodically and starts throwing things, and in between tantrums cowers in a corner, endlessly repeating the mysterious mantra, "Two by two, hands of blue..." Later on, in next week's preview, we encounter a pair of creepy skiptracers who are after the girl, and they look like Blue Man Group renegades in whiteface. About then I was starting to hear this jingle in the back of my head:

Two by two, hands of blue,
And oh what these blue hands can do:
Has anybody seen this girl?

Some nice touches: A stained and Siberia-esque maglev cattle train hurtling across the desert at 200 MPH full of nondescript peasants holding live chickens. The previously mentioned force field window in the bar. Some nice space stations, skies full of planets, and other computer graphics. A very cool embedded-in-the-desktop personal computer display. Best of all: No damned phony-looking rubberfaced aliens! No aliens at all! As my old Clarion '73 friend George Ewing WA8WTE said in an email 10 nanoseconds after it was over, "I'll buy that for a quarter!"

And, of course, a lot of typical TV dumbness. Do bad guys always have to have Russian accents? But let it pass. It was fun enough to make me plan on coming back next week, which I suspect is all its creators ask of it. We'll see how long that lasts. Yee-hah!
September 20, 2002

Back in the summer of 1997, Michael Abrash and I were sitting around plotting SF novels, just for the hell of it. I was getting the itch to write SF again, after having set it aside for most of fifteen years. The novel we tinkered together, The Country of the Blind, was never written—later that year I caught fire on The Cunning Blood and wrote that instead. The ideas behind The Country of the Blind, however, kept morphing and evolving, and there's still something there worth doing, though I wonder if I'll ever have a chance to make it happen.

The underlying idea is this: Sometime in the very near future, dream research programs have developed a drug that induces a particularly intense form of lucid dreaming. Under the influence of the drug, people dream in a sort of shared world in which they control their dream surroundings, retain their full mental powers, and remember completely what they've experienced when they awaken. Over time, as the drug is tested, the blind and disabled demand to use the drug so as to have a life outside their ruined bodies.

Those who dream Deep have agreed to conceal the Great Secret: That they encounter one another, talk with one another, and in doing so demonstrate a very deep and mysterious connectedness of human minds. They begin to create persistent dream constructs that all Deepers share and experience in the same way. In essense, Humanity's broken children begin to colonize the collective unconscious.

One snag: Those who sleep within sleep and dream within their collective dream experience nothing but nightmares, nightmares starring Cthulhu-esque tentacled monsters that look a great deal like gigantic squid. As it happens, the dream world inhabited by the Deepers is a collective unconscious for the squid as well—the giant squid who live in huge numbers in the ocean's depths. When the Deepers dream, they enter the group mind of the various hive cultures of the squid, which the squid don't much care for. Humans evolved to shape their environment—the squid evolved to move within it (since there's nothing to shape) and instead put their energies into purely mental power. So the "common space" inhabited by the great squid hive minds is gradually being reshaped by the invading humans, with predictable but peculiar conflict. As it happens, the famous eyes of the squid are hardwired to their bodies to function automatically as hunting sensors only. The conscious mind of the squid is blind to light, and like the Deepers, they have come to live consciously only in their dreams.

I bring this up because suddenly giant squid are in the news again, and sheesh, could I ask for better? See also this item on Plastic, through which I discovered the above link. Again, I'd write another SF novel but it's far from clear that I'll ever sell the first, so what's the point? Bug me if you'd like to read it, but I confess I'm growing bitter and losing confidence in the SF game.
September 19, 2002

This morning's Wall Street Journal ran an article about publishing house Bertelsmann pulling the plug on Rosie, the ill-starred magazine starring (unfortunately) the mercurial Rosie O'Donnell. The article raised a number of questions in my mind, foremost among them being Why do otherwise sensible publishers try to build magazines around celebrities? Rosie, who has no editorial experience, was demanding "editorial control," which, often as not, meant putting her family and friends in charge of everything, and throwing tantrums. More must be happening there than either the Journal or the publisher is letting on, as the magazine was actually making a profit, which these days is astonishing in and of itself. For a publisher to fold a profitable magazine...boy, Rosie must have gotten to be a real problem.

And to think that Rosie Magazine used to be the venerable McCall's.

The fact that a magazine focused utterly on a spoiled-brat celebrity turned a profit reminded me of something intereresting: Magazines are not about things. Magazines are for a demographic. If you can find the right demographic that allows you to sell ads, you have a magazine. It can be all blather. It can be totally incoherent, or about absolutely nothing at all. With ads, you're there. Without ads, you're dead. And ads depend on the demographic.

We get this thick and incredibly expensive looking magazine monthly here, called Arizona Foothills. It's not about anything. It's free; we didn't ask for it, and I cringe to think of the trees ground up to print it. It barely has articles. It has pictures of Expensive Houses And Expensive Stuff, generally in the company of anorexic blond women. We're in the demographic by accident; our scruffy little dirt-road neighborhood shares a zip code with some of the most expensive housing in Arizona. That's ok; we get the mag anyway, and the advertisers pay dearly for the privilege of trying to sell me diamonds, golf clubs, sports cars, titanium kitchenware, and other such crap. I get shoved off the road by their demographic, roaring around in their jags, every other day.

I really liked the magazine game, which I played for a little over fifteen years. I raged to think that Visual Developer couldn't pull the ads. We didn't have the demographic. We couldn't find a critical mass of people that advertisers would pay to reach. Our demographic was splintered five ways, and the advertisers wanted a single, monomaniacal crew that used Visual Basic and nothing else.

Hey, I just had an idea: I'll call Bertelsmann and suggest that they launch Bjarne Magazine, for C programmer suckups. Heh. That was funny for about a quarter of a second. The really scary thing is that it might even work.
September 18, 2002

I stumbled across this article by Jonathan Fast in the online edition of The Daily Standard. He does what most SF people (the filmfreaks, at least) will consider immoral and illegal, if not necessarily fattening: He endorses The Empire over the Rebel Alliance. Easily the funniest, most intelligent, and most scorching critique of George Lucas's epic I've ever seen—and it made me think a number of hard thoughts about the future of governance. Is democracy really our future? Or is instant communication and a planet awash in wealth fated to destroy participatory government?

I read somewhere (long since forgotten where) that George Lucas doesn't really believe in democracy—what he wants is a benign dictatorship. Fast's point is that the Empire, at least, works, which is more than we can say for either the stagnant Republic or the anarchic Rebel Alliance. You can tell, in a sense, where Lucas's sympathies lie.

What I think a lot of people have never pondered is that a democracy will always be inferior to a benign dictatorship in terms of keeping the peace and making the trains run on time. The great big honking catch, of course, is keeping any dictatorship "benign." When all the contending forces in a democracy are relatively equal in their access to the political process—and when the political process acts according to consistent and well-defined rules—democracy can work. But once Big Money, gerrymandering, attack ads, activist judges, and other forces overwhelm the political role of ordinary people, democracy is in very deep trouble.

I think the great challenge of a true liberal democracy—not the leftist whino-confiscatory ideology that masquerades as liberalism these days—is not redistributing wealth, but redistributing power. This requires a strong and detailed constitution, a strict constructionist judiciary, and laws that are consistently enforced, not only against the common people but also (especially, and perhaps brutally) against those who wield power. Absent that, corruption will continue, and eventually the people will demand and receive a dictatorship, which might well remain benign until it comes time to pass power on to the next dictator. Then there's always trouble.

Many people feel it "can't happen here." That may be why I will eventually be forced to write The First American Dictator. I know exactly how it could happen. If more people did, perhaps we could avoid it.
September 17, 2002

I've been using ZIP disk technology for a lot of years now, and recently migrated all my cartridges from 100MB to the newer 250MB format. My strategy for keeping my data files safe has served me very well, ever since I started using the 10 MB Bernoulli Box in 1985: I keep my data on cartridges, back them up regularly, and leave nothing but applications on my hard drive. Hard disk crashes can't eat them, and if somebody breaks in and steals the Dell, well, the data isn't in it. In all the years I've used ZIP technology, I've had only one cartridge go bad, and because everything was backed up I lost nothing.

My Thinkpad X21 has no room for a built-in ZIP drive, so when I switched to ZIP 250 I bought a very slick little USB-powered external drive for road trips. It weighs only 8 ounces, and pulls power from the USB port. No wall wart to wrestle with. It's very thin, seems to be built pretty ruggedly of translucent blue polycarbonate, and comes with a plastic "shoe" to hold it on edge if that's what you prefer. (I don't. Flat is fine.) It saw heavy use during our recent two-week trip to Colorado Springs, and its performance was brilliant. My only gripe is that it's a little noisy, and makes a peculiar "yip-yip!" sound when pulling its read/write heads back to home base.

But I'll live with that. It vanishes into my briefcase, doesn't add much weight to what I have to carry, and does everything it must through a single USB wire. $115 at Amazon. Two months on, it's a very big win, and I recommend it highly.
September 16, 2002

I don't believe in a lot of things, but I don't believe in some things a lot more than I don't believe in others. I don't believe in aliens a lot, for example...but I don't believe in cold fusion considerably less. One reason I read books like Nick Cook's The Hunt for Zero Point is to continuously calibrate my disbelief. Unless I know a little about the things I don't believe in, how can I honestly claim not to believe in them?

I don't believe in antigravity, but until I read this book I wasn't sure how much I didn't believe in it. Now I know: I disbelieve in antigravity significantly less than I disbelieve in aliens, but more than I disbelieve in several other things, like honest elections, psychokinesis, and poltergeists. (I've seen something that many people call a ghost, but because it didn't act the way I assumed ghosts would act, I'm not sure what to call it—but dammit, whatever it was, I believe in it!)

Cook's book is, first of all, a great read. The man is a smooth writer and an experienced journalist, long on staff at Jane's Defence Weekly in England. What he's written is primarily a journal of his search for what happened to all the Nazi "weird science" at the end of World War II. This is at variance with his title—The Hunt for Zero Point—and his subtitle, which is "Inside the classified world of antigravity technology." I have to wonder if his publisher forced them on him for the sake of getting the book to sell better. The biggest portion of the book is well-told history.

On the other hand, the book touches on both antigravity and the search for a way to tap the quantum vacuum froth, which many call the "zero-point field." Zero-point energy is dear to me, as I used it heavily in plotting my (still unsold) SF novel, The Cunning Blood. About antigravity I've thought a lot less, so the book brought me up to speed on what the various crackpots in the world are doing, God love 'em.

But again, the meat of the book is the ugly story of how American forces basically grabbed all the weird science and technology that the Nazis were working on, as well as the German scientists and engineers who understood it. It wasn't just V-2's and Werner Von Braun. The Nazis had evidently made a working laser during the war and were trying to weaponize it. They were tinkering with sensors and autopilots and all manner of oddball stuff, the oddest of which is known only through sparse European sources that survived the War. Tops on the list was a weird thing called the Bell, which contained some sort of turbine that supposedly spun at speeds reaching 20,000 RPM. It was intended to fly and supposedly it did, but research had not gotten far before the Reich collapsed in May 1945.

Endless tons of this stuff crossed the Atlantic—and basically vanished. Top secret programs allowed Nazis to enter the US and become Americans under something like the Witness Protection Program, even though the laws at that time specifically prohibited it. This may have included one of the most bloodthirsty war criminals in all history: Hans Kammler, who designed much of the death camp machinery that exterminated six million Jews. Kammler also ran the "weird science" labs under SS control. Cook thinks that we absorbed Kammler along with all the weird science, though proof is lacking.

A common theme through the book is this: Here and there over the past sixty years, scattered tinkerers have claimed that when you spin disks or turbines of certain materials (including high-temperature superconductors) very quickly, weird things happen, including the release of more energy than it takes to spin the material, and—weirder still—things above the apparatus getting lighter. No, I don't believe this, but it was great fun to read, and now I have a clearer sense for how much I don't believe in it...which is way less than I might have under other circumstances. Superconductivity, being a meter-scale manifestation of quantum phenomena, is a profoundly weird thing. If I were to expect some sort of weird physics to be discovered, it would probably be there.

In terms of sheer entertainment, this book is the best I've had all year. Obviously you have to temporarily disable your crap detector, but hey, do it, just for fun. It's a little like the outline of a great SF novel, or better still, a Nazi skullduggery movie. In the absense of good hard SF to read, stuff like this will have to do—and there is some small chance, small but greater than zero, that something interesting might actually come of it someday.
September 15, 2002

Another crucial distinction between Catholics—especially Roman Catholics—and Protestants lies in their understanding and veneration of Mary, the Mother of God. Catholics make much more of a fuss over Mary than other Christians, and the Romans have gone so far as to attempt (with strong pressure from the Vatican's conservative faction) to name her Co-Redemptrix of Humanity.

Catholicism has gotten in trouble over Mary before; in fact, it was ostensibly about Pope Pius IX's declaration of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception (holding that Mary was conceived and born without Original Sin) that led to the break between Roman Catholicism and Old Catholicism in 1870. This had been a folk piety for over a thousand years before Pius unlaterally raised it to a dogma, and declared himself infallible in the process. So maybe Mary was just a smokescreen for a Papal power grab. Hard to tell sometimes; my reading of Pius' biography indicates that he was borderline psychotic in his later years.

Perhaps the most intriguing chasm in the Catholic and Protestant understanding of Mary is the business of Mary, Ever-Virgin. Catholics take it as a given that Mary bore Christ and Christ only, and never had sex with Joseph nor anyone else. Unfortunately, Scripture mentions several siblings of Christ, including three brothers by name and an unnamed sister. James, who led the Jerusalem Church after Christ's death, is called "the Brother of the Lord" in several places. Catholicism tiptoes very lightly around these mentions, muttering under its breath that these were really cousins and not siblings. And although I can't read Koine Greek (the language in which the New Testament was originally written) people I respect indicate that the Evangelists really did use the Greek words for "brother" and "sister," and used them as we understand them today.

Christianity has always emphasized that Mary was a virgin when Christ was conceived, to remove any doubt as to who His Father was. After Christ was born it didn't matter, really, and in the early church no more is said about it. After the Manichaean heresy arose, however, sex became major ukky, and to imply that the woman who bore Christ would have had sex with another human being was too horrible to consider. So Mary became "ever-virgin" in the fifth or sixth centuries, and not much more was said until the Protestant Reformation placed Scripture above church tradition.

The Old Catholic tradition (along with several Roman Catholic theologians on the edges of things) holds that in the modern Roman Catholic Church, Mary has taken the position that should rightfully be held by the Holy Spirit, who is the true presence of God here with us on Earth. We have all but granted Mary divinity, and added her to the Trinity. (The "co-redemptrix" theology is a horrible muddle.) The weirdnesses that have accumulated around her are awesome to behold. (You should read the brilliant Suck series on Mary's co-option by anticommunists this century, if you haven't already.) On this score, the Protestants have it exactly right, and I wonder sometimes if anything will ever bring Catholicism (the Big Guys too, not just the one-in-fifty-thousand Oldies like me) back into line with Scripture and a reasonable understanding of the Mother of God.
September 14, 2002

I was cleaning up my office yeserday (scary notion all by itself) when I happened upon an envelope of old slides. It was an odd mix; everything from a picture of me dancing with my first girlfriend at the Lane Tech High School Military Ball in May 1968, to an interesting experiment in telescope construction that same year that I had almost forgotten.

I'll spare you the photo of me dancing as a 15-year-old, but the telescope is worth a look. What I did was take my 8" Jean Texereau-style square plywood telescope tube that I had made in eighth grade and retool it for a Porter Springfield focus. Those who don't know telescopes well won't have a clue about this, but it's a tricky thing done with mirrors to bring the focus of a large telescope out to an unmoving position at the center of the polar axis. You sort of swing the telescope all around your head, but the image remains in one place, and you look comfortably down at a 45 degree angle rather than craning your neck and falling off ladders and such. I used a 2" pipe cross with a spare eliptical diagonal mirror at its center, and a slide-focus eyepiece holder I had turned out of scrap metal in Mr. Brinkmann's machine shop.

The Porter Springfield mount is a brilliant concept, developed early in this century by Russell W. Porter, considered by most the patron saint (if not the father) of amateur telescope making. My own implementation of the concept was less brilliant, limited by what a kid in junior year high school could scrounge, including rusty pipe fittings and the bright pink leftover paint with which my dad had painted the kitchen a few years earlier. It may be the only Porter Springfield in history created with turn-on-threads pipe technology—but y'know, it worked, and I built it the summer I turned 16. Not that it worked well…I had a too-tall and too-wobbly pillar of 2" pipe to stand it on, and the counterweights were diabolical to adjust. (Note in the photo that I am using old TV power transformers, among other junk, to balance it.) Still, it was eerie the way I could stand stock still and make the stars cruise past my field of vision without moving my head, just by shoving the tube with two fingers. (Adjusting the balance was diabolical, but I got it there.)

I judged it too fussy to be practical, and laid it aside that fall, never to touch it again. My larger 10" scope saw first light the following spring, and although I kept the optics and most of the pipe fittings from the 8", the square tube remained under the back porch when my sister and I sold our parents' house in 1996, and doubtless it's now in a landfill somewhere.

I had some dizzy fun as a teenager, and none of it had anything to do with sex or drugs. Nerdy? Sure. Wonderful? Yes!
September 13, 2002

More odd lots on this sunny Friday The 13th:

  • My sister Gretchen points out this difference (see 9/10/2002) between Catholics and Protestants: In the Protestant version of the Our Father, they say, "Forgive us our debts..." In the Catholic version, they say, "Forgive us our trespasses…" From this we can surmise that Protestants are more interested in finance, and Catholics more interested in real estate.
  • Omigod, they're at it again. After having been laid to rest as a fad in the Fifties, the Flying Car has returned. This time it's more of a flying motorcycle (even its inventor admits that) that leaves its wings at the airport when you're tooling around about town. Of course, without your wings, you can't just hit the gas and take off when a pack of Hell's Angels on Harleys come up behind you on the Interstate and start dissing your wuss bike, which to their eyes probably looks like it has training wheels. I think I may still wait for antigravity.
  • The very formidable Rob Flickenger (co-inventor of the legendary Pringle's Can Wi-Fi antenna, and author of countless good articles on the subject) has orange hair. I used to say that I'd be happy to have orange hair (or green hair, or purple hair) if I could only have hair again. Now I'm not so sure.

September 12, 2002:

On 9/11, Yahoo did an interesting thing: They pulled all the color from their home page except for the special September 11 banner, which led to a memorial page on the terrorist attack. Instead, they rendered their home page in grayscale.

People, I like it!

(This morning, the page is already back to their customary primary-colors rainbow.) Quite apart from its role in commemorating the terrorist attacks, what Yahoo did is give us an example of something we almost never see: A major, professionally designed Web site done without color. It's an odd thing to try to describe, but the moment I saw it I discerned somehow that it was easier on the eyes than with every color in the rainbow splatted around wholesale.

Can we please make this a trend?

I like color—where it's called for. And where it's called for lies in certain areas like photographs, fine art, and complex technical figures, where conceptual clarity demands drawing lots of interwoven distinctions. In titles and columns of text, text borders and other textual treatments, there is absolutely no need for color. I have shelves full of books that explain lots of very arcane things, and almost none of them use any color at all. (You'd be surprised at how effective good grayscale can be, even in technical figures.)

One reason I print lengthy Web articles out before reading them (a reason I almost didn't understand myself) is that my printer is a high-resolution b/w laser, and printing makes all the color go away. There is the additional fatigue factor (which I've harped about for many years) that the human eye evolved to view reflected, not generated light, as comes off a monitor face. But I'm coming around to think that seeing lots of colors mixed together on a single page makes the eye's automatic focusing mechanism bounce around incessantly, and do that on enough pages and your eyes are gonna get real tired.

Yahoo did us a service. Now, who's going to take the hint and start rendering pages in grayscale?
September 11, 2002:

I'm sure people are expecting me to say something profound about what happened a year ago today. However, I found nothing much to say then, and I'm not sure what to say today. I can find it in myself to be angry or broken-hearted, depending on how I approach the memory and how things have played out. But what can one say about an attack that comes from no single enemy living in no single place?

Probably the only thing I can say belies my own usual optimism: There are no solutions. Note that I did not say "There are no good solutions." There are no bad solutions either. There are no solutions, period. This is what confounds Americans so much. We're used to fixing things, building the bridge, laying the highway, making it work. When a genuine Evil Empire threatened to take over half the planet, we invented the nuclear bomb and put an end to the Evil Empire.

It used to take an Evil Empire to make serious trouble. Now it just takes a handful of dedicated bad guys who think outside the box and don't hang out in any one place. This leaves us no options. Invading Iraq really only takes out one Bad Guy. Plenty more where he came from, and Saddam, at least, has a country and therefore something to lose—the guys I worry most about have little or nothing to lose, and no hesitation in taking their own lives along with as many of their perceived enemies (that is, us) as they can.

We have rules of engagement. They have none. So there will be other attacks, more deaths, and we all move closer to the kind of war in which we will lose much and the Arab world will lose nearly everything. Evil is almost always self-defeating, but the real bitch is that Evil doesn't care.

We're up against it, is fersure—and that's about the best I can say, pitiful though it is. I'd counsel vigilance, if I only knew which way to look.
September 10, 2002:

I'm fascinated by the cultural differences between Catholics and Protestants, and it occurred to me this morning that one very striking (though generally unremarked) difference is that Catholics come to the Bible through God, and Protestants come to God through the Bible. By this I mean that Catholics tend to be taught about God in general terms before they're introduced to the Bible in a systematic way. Protestants, on the other hand, get kids involved in reading the Bible almost as soon as they can read, and come to their understanding of God almost exclusively in terms of Bible stories.

It's certainly true that Catholics read the Bible more and earlier now than in times past, and in fact, when I was in Catholic grade school (1958-1966) we were not encouraged to read the Bible at all. (We had a large and elaborate Bible at home, given to my parents at their wedding in 1949, and it almost never came out of the box.)

Maybe I'm picking nits here; I'm not sure. (Doubts about one's religious convictions is an extremely Catholic thing.) I was taught mercilessly by the Sisters of Providence that God is Good, that God is All-Powerful, and a lot of other systematically Thomistic things that are probably lost on second graders, who are probably more interested in whether they can have hamsters in their rooms when they get to Heaven. The problem here is that when I began to read the Bible systematically myself (at about age 42) I was struck by all the things that really didn't align with the notion of an all-good God. This was more of an issue in the Old Testament than the New: There's a story somewhere about some poor Israelite spear-carrier who was trying to keep the Ark of the Covenant from falling off the back of the ox that was carrying it. He reached out to steady it, and zap! God knocks him dead. (So much for trying to be helpful...) So what kind of God would treat his people like that? (This is when I began to have some small sympathy for the Gnostics, who held the God of the Old Testament in disdain as nasty and inauthentic.)

Then, of course, there's the business of how Pharaoh was about to let the Israelites go, but then God "hardened his heart" so he would be steadfast in his refusal. Huh? Moses was wearing Pharaoh down, so God had to make him more of an S.O.B. than he already was—and then laid waste to Egypt in response to Pharaoh's hard-hearted refusal. There are other things in the OT that I find almost completely incomprehensible, like the passage in Exodus 4:24-26 in which, while Moses and Zipporah are on the road to Egypt to rescue the Israelites, God shows up and tries to kill Moses. Tries. Huh? (As Michael Abrash said to me with a grin, "When you're God, there is no "try.") What's even weirder, Zipporah then circumcises her infant son on the fly and drives God off (double Huh?) with what sure looks like a bit of pagan magick.

My Catholic doubts tell me that I just don't understand, which is fine. To be human is to be flawed to a greater or lesser extent. There is a profound danger, however, in assuming you understand something when you don't, and I've been creeped out by some discussions I've had with Bible literalists who insist that if the Bible paints God as nasty, well, God can be nasty if He wants to.

Perhaps the larger (and perhaps unanswerable) question is this: Does God rule the Bible? Or does the Bible rule God? I prefer to fall back on my earlier Catholic training that God is unfailingly good, and consider what Biblical weirdnesses there may be as lessons disguised in poetry, which is my understanding of how the Jews see it. (They're actually taught to understand Hebrew, which probably helps, and if I have any observent Jewish readers, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.)

I read somewhere of a Protestant second grader who (confronted by the unfairness in Exodus) wrote that God apologized to Pharaoh and gave him a medal when he got to Heaven for the difficult part he played in the Bible. Perhaps what's needed here is something like that, something of an eternal perspective. Perhaps God tells us what we need to know when we need to know it, and the Big Picture still awaits us. Perhaps. I certainly hope so!

There are other gulfs between Catholic and Protestant thinking, and as time goes on I'll explore a few more of them.
September 9, 2002:

Odd notes before I get back to work on my book. (I'm explaining how to build waveguide antennas out of Dinty Moore Beef Stew cans today, yippee!)

  • I whistled the orchestral passage I couldn't get out of my head (see my 9/4/2002 entry) for my sister, who instantly reminded me that it was the main theme from How the West Was Won. Am I losing my legendarily good memory? Or is hers just better than mine?
  • It rained the other day. That was such an alien occurrence that I just went out and stood in it. And the desert plants in our back 40 took about thirty nanoseconds to look greener.
  • There's a new successor to the Cappuccino PC (mentioned in my 11/12/2001 entry) that solves the problem that kept me from buying the previous model: It has a Type II PCMCIA expansion slot, in addition to the kitchen sink I/O it already posesses. That and 4 USB ports, including 2 USB 2.0 ports. I'm fascinated by USB and need to study it more closely. Take a look. I'm sorely tempted.
Back to work. This is good fun—I've never been able to combine personal computing and playing around with scrap metal and tin cans. Finally!
September 8, 2002:

For the first time ever, here's a picture of where our house in Colorado Springs is going to be. The person in red at the upper right is Carol, looking down the slope at our rock collection.

Somehow this photo makes the lot (which isn't much bigger than a quarter acre) seem immense. One odd consequence of the slope is that our two-story house will have its second story below the first, behind the basement, which will be the portion of the lower level closest to the street.

Not all of those big chunks o' granite are native to the site; our builder put some of them there when he built the house next door, which Carol is standing near. But all of them will be either moved or buried or arranged as part of the landscaping. I like boulders, and haven't lived on the side of a hill since our Scotts Valley days in the 80's. Getting from empty lot to finished house will be a challenge, but I promise, you'll hear all about it right here. Stay tuned.
September 7, 2002:

Carol and I took in My Big Fat Greek Wedding the other day. Go see it if you can! I was prepared for a sentimental chick flick full of anguish and tears and bathos (I'm not sure why; we knew very little about the movie when we went and I had read no reviews) and I am delighted to have been proven utterly, absolutely, antipodally wrong.

It's your classic Girl Meets Boy, Girl Falls in Love with Boy, Girl's Family Roasts a Lamb on a Spit in their Front Yard kind of love story. Nia Vardalos both wrote the film and starred as Toula, a plain-looking 30-year-old daughter of Greek immigrants who still lives with her parents in a Chicago bungalow (redecorated with Ionian columns and status of Greek gods) and works in her father's restaurant. This is funny in itself, in an insider's way: For some reason, Chicago is peppered with one-off family restaurants (like Kappy's in Niles) owned and run by Greeks, which have been happily keeping Denny's at bay for decades. (In fact, Kappy's took over a bankrupt Big Boy in the early 1970s.)

Toula's father wants her to do the usual Greek thing: Marry a nice Greek boy and make lots of grandchildren for him, like his older (and prettier) daughter did. Toula is seriously conflicted about that, and the Greek "boys" her father brings home to meet her are middle aged and quite full of themselves. Then one day Toula meets Ian Miller (John Corbett), son of two WASPish Lincoln Park lawyers...

Plot isn't the big deal here. Toula's family is beautifully and hilariously drawn, with Lainie Kazan brilliant in the role of her mother, and a completely marvelous cast, most of whom are Greek (judging by the credits) and all of whom have the Greek thing down cold. Ian loves Toula completely and almost inexplicably (she registers the same astonishment that we do) and does anything her family asks. Corbett does a great job (does anybody remember him from Northern Exposure?) but he's almost incidental. Toula's family are the stars that keep the film moving.

I won't spoil the rest. What I will say is that there is no "bad guy" and no reversals of fortune. We never doubt that love will triumph, and it does, in a wonderfully warm and completely hilarious way. I dare you to leave the theater feeling anything but terrific. Highly recommended.
September 6, 2002:

Reader Larry Nelson sent in his thoughts pertinent to my August 29, 2002 entry about keeping our national forests tolerably trimmed so as to avoid the worst of the wildfires that have been eating millions of acres this year. His note is so good I'll quote most of it directly:

I spent last weekend camping and picking huckleberries in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest near Mt. Adams (WA). It is part of a 50 year old annual pilgrimage tradition in my wife's family. As a mere 25-year member of the family, I am just a beginner at the fine art of picking. My wife Diana can pick me under table.

Your points on forest management are well taken. I stood in the forest last Saturday with nearly the same thoughts. We have thousands of under-employed rednecks (that is not an insult, some of them are my brothers) who would love to have the task cleaning up 40 acres of forest with their chain saw and four wheeler. Have a USFS biologist go through and mark some salable trees that could be taken out. Dropping just a tree or two a day could produce a decent income for my redneck brothers. The rest of the day could be spent in cleaning up the dense undergrowth. When they finish, let them up a placard that says "Welcome to the Bubba National Forest Park". They deserve the recognition for their sweat.

I might even be inclined to have the biologist mark a few good sized trees and create a forest that is a mix of tree stands and meadow openings. That kind of mix goes a long way toward increasing the recent holy grail of environmental extremists: bio-diversity. I read somewhere that life likes to grow at the edges; forest/clearing boundaries, English hedge-rows, endless stream banks, etc. Lets make lots of edges in the forest.

Damn right. I'm going to discuss this with my cousin Mark Duntemann of Natural Path Forestry, who is an internationally recognized expert on such things. I'll see what he has to say.

It's not a new gripe of mine, but it's worth mentioning again: The vast majority of people I've met who call themselves "environmentalists" haven't the least clue about how environmental systems work, or what's good for them. Environmentalism has been reduced to the simple mantra: "Cut no trees. Kill no animals. Build nothing anywhere." Those who do know what they're doing seem tremendously reluctant to call out the phonies in their own ranks. Environmentalism has become just another captive ideology of the extreme left, to the environment's and all of our peril.
September 5, 2002:

By sheer coincidence, my October 2002 Atlantic Monthly arrived yesterday, with its cover story on the cleanup at Ground Zero, which I devoured last night—and this morning, the Wall Street Journal published an A-head story on the problems with 9-11 heroism. The issue is deciding who the heroes are and what consideration they should receive in response to their heroism, and to all our discredit, the issue is getting ugly.

The Atlantic piece is the last of three on "unbuilding" the World Trade Center—actually a prepublication condensation of a book called American Ground, by William Langewiesche, to be published this October. The final installment begins with the account of the riot by firemen at Ground Zero on November 2, 2001, over the way the cleanup was proceeding. Because they lost more of their colleagues than police on 9-11, the firemen were insisting last fall that the cleanup had to be done stone by stone so that none of the firefighter bodies would be damaged by the heavy equipment being used to haul out debris. And each time a body was found, they insisted that work stop completely while they bestowed honors on their colleague and removed the body from the site with much ceremoney. Bodies of police were not afforded anything like the same honor by the firemen, and bodies of civilians were piled roughly into bags without any reverence at all. A weird kind of tribalism emerged, with the firemen claiming a sort of martyrs' high ground against the police and other rescue workers, fed by the sympathy accorded firemen in the national press.

As the team dug deeper into The Pile and the recovered bodies became fewer, the Port Authority people decided to pick up the pace, and tried to rein in the firemen, without a great deal of success. The eventual riot pitted firemen against the police, which in itself was tragic, but in the ensuing debates and screamfests, it came out that evidence had surfaced that certain firefighters had begun looting the second tower just before it fell. Cartons of brand-new designer bluejeans bearing the tags of a shop in the Tower were found in the cab of a crushed fire engine. Some of the heroes had evidently been a little more heroic than others.

Deals were brokered through the firefighters' union and the firemen both gave and lost ground in the surreal argument, and eventually the horrible job was completed. As the WSJ reported this morning, more ugliness has arisen over defining who was a hero in the whole attack, and who should be commemorated. Todd Beamer—the "Let's roll!" guy, sure—but what about those on the plane who had phoned back critical information on the hjackings before the plane crashed? What about people in the Towers who had helped other people to safety without anyone ever knowing? As one woman bitterly put it: Commemorate them all—or commemorate none.

Crisis certainly brings out the best in us, but it doesn't always suppress the worst. Because we will never really know who all the heroes were, nor what they did in those awful hours, I think perhaps we should commemorate them all. I can forgive the firemen their crankyness, given what they lost, and what firemen put on the line every day of the year. On the other hand, the highest of heroes do what they must without claiming any status based on that heroism. For heroes to fight heroes over honors accorded the dead stains the memory of those who died. That wound will bleed for years to come, and the worst is still before us.
September 4, 2002:

For reasons unclear, an orchestral theme has been running through my head all day, and I can't think of what it's called. It's definitely western in flavor, with lots of French horns, and it's probably a movie theme. It's not The Magnificent Seven; I have a recording of that here. But I don't know what it is, and the only way I can think of to find out what it is is to call people and whistle it for them on the phone, which seems ridiculous somehow.

At least one other such unknown instrumental item surfaces in my conscious mind from time to time, and I've long since abandoned all hope of discovering its name. It makes me wonder if it would be possible to create a sort of musical fingerprint database somewhere, allow you to upload a WAV file that would be fingerprinted and compared against existing fingerprint files for points of similarity. The search engine could then send back a list of likely prospects, with a likeliness factor for each one.

Anybody ever hear of something like this?

As soon as my sister returns home from Worldcon in San Jose, I'm going to call and whistle a few things for her. But boy, if ever a marvelous but useless challenge existed for the computer science set, this is it.
September 3, 2002:

I guess it's time to announce our Big Project: Carol and I have bought a small lot in Colorado Springs (well, small compared to the two-and-a-half acres we have now) and are designing a house to be built on that lot. It's going to take almost a year, we estimate, so as luck would have it we will be done just in time to miss being able to escape Summer 2003 there, sigh.

Interestingly, the lot is on the slopes of Cheyenne Mountain, about a mile northeast of that legendary steel door leading down into the NORAD air force station inside the mountain. The lot has a fine view of the mountain, and in the other direction, city lights. It's between a third and a quarter acre in size, and it's pointedly not out in the wilderness like we are here.

We did it because the heat here has been bothering us more and more in recent summers, just as the summers seem to be getting longer and longer and hotter and hotter. It went over 100 in April this year, and yesterday it hit 111. And it's September, gang! We may not lose the triple digits until October, giving us six months over 100 instead of the usual three. Maybe it's global warming, or increased solar flux, or just a bad heat season. But it's getting us down, and we decided to build us a refuge.

It's going to be quite an adventure, heh. I'll report here as things progress.
September 2, 2002:

My dear friend and writing mentor Nancy Kress has announced that her husband, the venerable SF writer Charles Sheffield, has been diagnosed with a Grade 4 Astrocytoma, a species of brain tumor, and is at home recuperating from surgery. Cards and letters may be sent to Charles at:

2833 Gunarette Way
Silver Spring, MD 20906

Prayers wouldn't hurt either. Charles is one of the Great Ones, and we can ill-afford to lose him.
September 1, 2002:
There was a time when I was much enamoured of live steam, and Pete Albrecht sent me this page documenting a steam hobbyist's re-creation of an American-class 4-4-0 loco at 7 1/4" scale. Most impressive—and it reminds me why, ten or twelve years ago, I decided not to chase a project like this. Immortality's great benefit (to me at least) would be the ability to pursue some totally gonzo hobbies, live steam being first on the list. Life's too short, sigh. (Maybe not forever. Maybe just for a few more hundred years. You want railroad? I'd give you railroad!)