29, 2007: Odd Lots
- No one has been left unmoved by the announcement of Amazon's
Kindle. Definitely see Scoble's
grumpy video rant about the little tombstone. The guy gets
worked up, but I do wish I had his energy.
- One possibility
for an ebook reader that I had not thought about is the XO laptop,
which most people know as the One Laptop Per Child device. It
has a tablet mode, it's an open system, and it's cheaper than
the Kindle. Of course, it won't read Kindle ebooks, but it should
be able to render all the more open formats.
- Mike Reith wrote with a
link to a report from Larry O'Brien that he emailed a PDF
file to his Kindle and it displayed just fine, given the physical
limitations of the display itself.
- Larry also wrote a
short item in SD Times a few weeks ago about Erlang that's
worth a read. The future is massively parallel, and neither Pascal
nor C were originally designed to handle parallelism. What they
have is something like a skin graft: It may work until you have
to replace your entire skin...
- Movie rights for the Tom Swift series have been acquired. There's
piece in Variety that doesn't give much useful information,
but the acquirer is the studio Worldwide
Biggies, run by Nickelodeon exec Albie Hecht. This could be
very very good, or very very bad. I'll try to keep an open mind.
(Thanks to Jeff Sekiya via Bill Roper.)
- Is anyone here medical enough (or biochemical enough) to describe
what happens when you dump large quantities of blood into even
larger quantities of water? (See my entry on Chicago's Bubbly
Creek in November 26, 2007.) Vampire
lovers everywhere (and Jeff too) want to know.
28, 2007: Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders
I quickly learned after building my first telescope, the real trick
in backyard astronomy is simply finding what's out there. Galaxies
and nebulae are generally faint, and there are a lot of stars scattered
about in the view. Just getting there (that is, locating an object
and knowing with certainty what you're looking at) may not be half
the fun, but it's well over half the challenge.
So I was delighted to see that Bob and Barbara Thompson have a
new book from O'Reilly in their very welcome DIY Science series:
Guide to Astronomical Wonders. It's a deep-sky observer's
guide, written for an era when 12" and 14" instruments
are in the hands of ordinary people, and deep-sky objects that were
once thought the province of "big science" observatories
only can be spotted on a good dark night outside major cities. An
alphabetical listing of 50 constellations (the remaining 38 are
too far south to be seen well in north temperate latitudes) provides
overall maps of each individual constellation, as well as 10°
finder charts for about 450 of the best objects to look for in the
night sky. Many objects are accompanied by 60' field photographs,
which are less to show you "how they look" (all are long-exposure
shots and thus deceptively bright) than to give you a sense for
their relative size in the sky: Most deep-sky objects are fairly
small, but a few (like M31, M33 and the Veil Nebula) are larger
than the full Moon, if orders of magnitude fainter. The photographs
put those size differences into perspective.
Those (like myself) without computer-controlled scopes have to
locate faint objects by spotting brighter nearby objects (generally
bright stars) and then "star-hopping" to the object of
interest. For me, the meat of the book lies in the 10° finder
charts, one for each object, each chart including one or more overlapping
5° finder scope field circles for hopping to a 1° eyepiece
field circle centered on the prize.
The first 65 pages ahead of the constellation listings present
introductory material, explaining how the charts in the book work,
how to choose and use modern observing equipment, and what all the
jargon means. Newbies won't necessarily come in understanding what
a "clean split" or a "dirty split" are, nor
how the Trumpler Classification system works for open clusters,
but it's all laid out in beautifully clear writing. I was particularly
impressed by the coverage of eyepieces and nebula filters, most
of which didn't exist even twenty years ago, and certainly not in
the late 60s when I learned much of what I know.
The book is full of wonderful small touches, like a note on why
there is no such thing as a truly green star, and how some amateur
astronomers observe with binoculars by lying in a partially inflated
(but empty!) kiddie pool, with the sides of the pool supporting
I don't have a lot of quibbles. The print seems awfully small to
me, admitting that there is a huge amount of information
in this book. I know enough about book publishing to recognize that
larger type could have blown the page count out to a physically
fragile and economically nonviable length.
To sum up: The stars haven't changed recently but our equipment
has, and today's larger aperatures and vastly better eyepieces have
brought many new objects into range for backyard astronomers. This
is the book that will tell you how to find them and see them well
with modern equipment. 520 pp. 8" X 9.75" (computer trim)
Lay-flat binding. $29.99.
27, 2007: Odd Lots
radiation may not be as deadly as conventional wisdom holds.
I've read sanity-provoking articles like this now and then down
the years, particularly with respect to the aftermath of nuclear
war. (One was called "Don't Plan to Die" but I don't
recall who wrote it or where it appeared.) Hiroshima does not
glow in the dark, and Three Mile Island is not swarming with three-eyed
mutant snake-squirrel hybrids. We're going to need nuclear to
get out from under hydrocarbon fuels, and to do that we're going
to have to get past the nutballs who don't understand that coal-burning
plants emit more radiation and kill more people than nuclear plants
by an order of magnitude or more.
- Berghoff Root Beer is still available, from the
same distributor that handles Green River. Note that there
is also a Green River Orange. Brown River? (How about a new line
called Bubbly Creek Soda? Urkkh...)
- Dark Roasted Blend
very nice compendium of "retro-future" art, Bonestell-style,
from the Eastern Block.
- A picture of the Turtle Wax Turtle can be found here.
Carol and I both saw it as kids while traveling to the South Side
to see relatives, so it was somewhere between the northwest corner
of Chicago and there, but we don't know precisely where just yet.
(That building it's on looks interesting as well, in a Frankensteinish
- Speaking of vampires (which yes, I admit, I loathe) they're
doing a big-budget
remake of I Am Legend that will appear in just a couple
of weeks. I missed the first one. I'm likely to miss this one
26, 2007: A Missed Vampire Opportunity
Calling all vampire lovers! (At least vampire writers, however
you wish to take it.) There's a dazzling missed vampire opportunity
that someone should sieze: Chicago's little-known but readily smelled
(1911 photo of the creek here.)
I hadn't thought of it as a tourist destination, but Yahoo Travel
review item for it. No jokes about it being the other Green
Although its name sounds bucolic, Bubbly Creek is more rightly
considered anoxic, and it bubbles because, for over a hundred years,
Chicago's meat packing industry dumped endless tons of animal fat,
blood, and offal into the two swales feeding its southern end. The
occasional fish spotted in its waters doesn't last long, and mostly
what live there are bloodworms. The creek doesn't move; what water
it has comes to it from the south branch of the Chicago River. And
bubbles of hydrogen sulfide are still rising to the surface almost
forty years after Union Stock Yards closed in 1971. I first read
about Bubbly Creek in high school while forcing myself through Upton
Sinclair's The Jungle. I thought he was making it up. He
"Bubbly Creek" is an
arm of the Chicago River, and forms the southern boundary of the
Union Stock Yards; all the drainage of the square mile of packing-houses
empties into it, so that it is really a great open sewer a hundred
or two feet wide. One long arm of it is blind, and the filth stays
there forever and a day. The grease and chemicals that are poured
into it undergo all sorts of strange transformations, which are
the cause of its name; it is constantly in motion, as if huge
fish were feeding in it, or great leviathans disporting themselves
in its depths. Bubbles of carbonic gas will rise to the surface
and burst, and make rings two or three feet wide. Here and there
the grease and filth have caked solid, and the creek looks like
a bed of lava; chickens walk about on it, feeding, and many times
an unwary stranger has started to stroll across, and vanished
Let's just hope it was "temporarily."
Apart from The Jungle, I know of no novel that deals with
Bubbly Creek. Even Andrew Greeley, for all his South Side sympathies,
has never treated it. (I can see it now: The Bishop and the Bloodworms.)
Nonetheless, Bubbly Creek is a golden, unexploited vampire opportunity,
for this reason: Under a thin layer of recent silt on its bottom
lies a substratum of clotted blood six feet thick. Who knows
what bacteria and associated phages are furiously evolving down
there? What sort of siren call does that much densely packed blood
put out onto the Astral Plane? Does that unwary stranger vanish
only temporarily because when he comes up, he's already dead but
still ambulatory? Is this why Chicago's ward heelers (remember,
Bridgport is less than a mile east) were called "bloodsuckers"
in certain households? (Like mine, back when Bubbly Creek was still
C'mon. Tell me you couldn't have some great greasy fun with that!
25, 2007: Ghost Signs and Ghost Sodas
went shopping for a few groceries yesterday afternoon, and scored
something I hadn't seen in a great many years: Green River soda.
(Diet Green River, at that!) Green River was a commonplace
when I was young, and after leaving Chicago in 1979 and realizing
that Green River was a local brand, I more or less assumed I wouldn't
be having it anymore. But hey and begorrah, there it was on the
shelf at Shop and Save in downtown Des Plaines, right next to Dog-n-Suds
Root Beer. (I bought a diet jug of that too, in a glass bottle!)
I was Skyping with Pete Albrecht last night while slugging entirely
too much of it, and reflecting on how, well, green it was.
Pete then told me he couldn't stand it anymore and had to run out
and get some, which he did. In Costa Mesa, California.
Who makes the soda now was a tough question to answer. Web research
turned up a
peculiar lawsuit, which implies that the Green River trademark
was licensed in 1985 by Sethness-Greenleaf,
a Chicago area manufacturer of food industry flavorings, to a couple
of entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurs eventually defaulted on their
payments, and (since they did not have the "secret formula")
created their own clone of the syrup. The judge in the case gave
the rights back to the Sethness-Greenleaf. Somewhere along the way,
Club Bottling Company bought the rights, and now produces the
soda. They also produce Dog-n-Suds Root Beer.
mulling Green River, Pete and I managed to recall the name of Lasser's
Beverage Company, a small bottler once located near De Paul University
on the north side of Chicago. They made their own syrup, in some
truly peculiar flavors like Maple Syrup and Pink Champagne, and
could be found in smaller grocery stores like Certified until at
least 1979, when we moved to Rochester, NY. Schweppes eventually
bought them. Their bottles and caps are now collectibles, and can
be seen at times on eBay.
Although I didn't mention it in yesterday's entry, Carol and I
Weather Bell downtown at Monroe and Clark on Friday. It's a
sign that has outlasted its owner by at least fifteen years. Bell
Federal Savings erected the sign in the early 1960s, and promoted
the location as "the Weather Bell Corner." My aunt and
godmother Kathleen Duntemann worked there for many years, and Carol
worked there the summer after she graduated high school. ABN AMRO
ate Bell Federal back in the 1990s, and a Walgreen's now occupies
the ground floor space. But the Weather Bell is still there, with
the Bell Federal name at the top blocked out, telling us the time
and (via color codes) how bad the weather is: Green = Ok;
yellow = lousy; red = Hey man, this is Chicago! Whaddaya
Speaking of Chicago's ghost signs, there's a
nice page from WTTW on ghost signs, which there means old painted
advertisements on brick walls. There is no mention of the Turtle
Wax Turtle, a turtle statue that sat high atop a building somewhere
in Chicago. We used to see it while driving down to the south side
to see my Aunt Anna and her family near 31st and Morgan, but I have
no clear recall of where it was. (I even had a blurry photo of it
once, but it's turned up missing.)
Pete gets Maurice Lenell Christmas Cookie Assortments at CVS Pharmacy
in Costa Mesa. Bay's English Muffins, once a Chicago specialty,
have gone national, and can be had even in Colorado Springs. I guess
the world gets flatter all the time!
24, 2007: Thanksgiving and Black Friday Downtown
Whew. It's been nonstop the past few days, and the machine here
has been off way more than it's been on. (You don't see that very
often back home...) We've had a great deal of fun, but it's been
very concentrated fun, and it hasn't been until this morning
that I've been able to kick back and collect my thoughts, much less
share them with you.
Thanksgiving dinner this year was at Carol's sister's house in
Crystal Lake, and Kathy knows how to set a table like nobody else
I've ever seen. The setting above may actually be a little spartan
by her standards, because we had so many people to seat (along with
one squirmy toddler in a high chair) that some of the fine touches
had to be sacrified. The dinner itself was dazzling, with contributions
from all corners of the family, including turkey, ham, mashed potatoes,
gravy, green bean salad, rolls, corn pudding, heavenly hash (a sweet
pineapple-orange-coconut mashup in a yogurt matrix, with fruit-flavored
mini-marshmallows), lemon cheesecake, pumpkin pie, and three different
wines, all of which went. (One of the wines, 7 Deadly Zins 2005
old vines zinfandel, did not meet my expectations, but we finished
few days earlier, on November 17, we had Katie Beth's first birthday
party. Katie is now not only walking but tearing around the house
at flank speed, climbing stairs and getting into everything that
isn't at least four feet above the floor or anything climbable.
One of the perks of reaching her first birthday was the addition
of wheat to her diet (pediatricians are staging cut-in of various
food groups these days as a hedge against allergies) and we celebrated
by presenting her with her first chocolate cupcake. After a hesitant
exploration (she first stuck her finger in the cupcake and then
in her mouth, considering) she decided that cupcakes were acceptable,
and then proceeded to demolish and devour it, taking care to paint
her face symbolically before making a suitable offering to the floor
gods. Gretchen's cooking, as always, was wonderful, and nobody went
home hungry, even (or especially) the floor.
But that was all relatively sane and peaceful compared to yesterday,
when we decided to undertake an adventure we haven't attempted in
literally decades: Hopping the Metra train (which I will always
consider the Northwestern) to downtown Chicago on the day after
Thanksgiving, to partake of what has come to be called Black
I'd done this before. In fact, in 1975 I was on the job wandering
around the Loop on Black Friday, waiting for Xerox copier service
calls on my pager, calls that never came. Most of the law offices
and other legal/financial firms in my chunk of the Loop had the
day off, and their staff were probably all out there on State Street,
elbowing each other and frantically spending money. I met Neuitha
Payton (the tech rep in the adjoining territory) for lunch, and
then (with no calls on the board for either of us) she and I wandered
around in the massive Marshall Field's department store, where at
one point we found ourselves on the escalator immediately behind
Illinois' governor Dan Walker.
32 years later, Carol and I did it all again. It was just as nuts
as we expected, if colder. State Street was a mob scene, packed
with cars and taxis as we recalled itthe State Street pedestrian
mall was a huge failure and reverted to ordinary traffic in 1997.
There were amazing street
drummers every few hundred feet, using 5-gallon plastic buckets
instead of drums, and a surprising amount of construction. Beside
the Picasso we took in the Christkindlmarket,
a German ethnic Christmas festival about which people wandered with
little shoe-shaped ceramic mugs of hot gluhwein,
munching bratwurst, strudel, and potato pancakes. The crowds were
dense, and it was intriguing to watch Chicago police officers weave
expertly through the chaos on industrial-sized Segway scooters.
A lot of stores and restaurants we had known 30-odd years ago are
now gone: The Berghoff vanished in 2005. Carson Pirie Scott on State
Street closed earlier this year, and Marshall Field's, as quintessentially
Chicago as anything else you could name, was engulfed and devoured
by tasteless New Yawk junkhaus Macy's in 2006. There is little left
of the classic Field's except for Frango Mints and the Walnut Room,
which Macy's retains mostly to suppress threats of rioting.
So it was a little sadly that Carol and I went from floor to floor
in Field's, realizing that the once legendary toy department was
now a poor colony of F. A. O. Schwartz, crammed up against three
acres of bras. We looked for but could not identify their nun's
lounge, and thus cannot reliably prove that it ever existed. The
selection of fine china didn't seem all that fine, and cookware
was dominated by merchandise branded by ex-con Martha Stuart.
least we lucked into a table at the Walnut Room about 4:30, and
I will readily admit that the food was as good as we remembered,
especially after an egg nog brandy alexander. Our older nephew Brian
joined us beside the four-story-tall Christmas tree, and we had
a wonderful time catching up on things. (Brian is now an investment
banker over on Wacker Drive. Things change.) After dinner we discovered
with delight that Garrett's
Popcorn is still there at 4 East Madison, and worked through
the considerable line to bring home a bag of each of their three
varieties. Carol, Brian, and I then wandered west to the plug-ugly
Richard B. Ogilvie Transportation Center which (wretch barf) replaced
the elegant Northwestern Station that was razed in 1984. We took
the Northwestern home again and spent an hour with our feet up in
front of the TV, decompressing and munching popcorn.
Don't get the wrong impression. We had a lot of fun. I grumble
a little because I'm an architectural conservative, and much of
the Chicago of my youth and young adulthood is now gone. We do intend
to make the trip more often (at least next spring once the weather
breaks) and see some of the more recent improvements to the skyline,
quirky but striking main public library. We also want to see
a few of the monumental local churches, like St. Stanislaus Kostka
and the little-known but incredible St.
Mary of Perpetual Help, where my parents were married in 1949.
In the meantime, once I caught my breath a little, I realized that
I was thankful for many things, friends and family foremost among
them, but also for having lived in such an interesting and pivotal
era, and having grown up in what was and remains the most dazzling
big city in the world. You win a little and you lose a little, and
history is nothing if not full of surprises. Chicago may eventually
cure the downtown infection that is Macy's, and we hear rumors that
Carson's may rise again. We didn't fully understand how great they
were until we lost them, but when is that ever not the case?
20, 2007: Correlation and Causation Again
I think I was the last person in the Western world
to see this. I'm hoping that there's some sort of award for being
19, 2007: Got Kindling?
The ebook world is in a strange state of quiet paralysis today,
while it chews on the details of Amazon's
announcement of the Kindle this morning. I'm still chewing and
will be for some time, but I'll lay out some thoughts. Here are
the Kindle's broad strokes:
- It's an e-ink display device, of a size similar to the Sony
- It connects to Amazon via Sprint EVDO,
a cell wireless technology available mostly in the US, but pointedly
not in Europe.
- It allows Web access through EVDO.
- It's a top-to-bottom system, and mostly a closed one; very much
the conceptual cousin of Apple's iTunes. You can't shop anywhere
but Amazon, and existing ebooks in non-Amazon formats (including
MOBI, remarkable) will mostly not be loadable/readable.
- It has a private (non-Internet) EVDO-based network called Whispernet,
and Kindle users will be able to email other Kindle owners and
send them files through Whispernet (Such messages are extra-cost
- It has a new "native" file format, AZW, which is very
similar (how similar is still unclear) to MobiPocket, which Amazon
- It has a (crude) keyboard, which allows for reasonable shopping,
bookmarking, and Web access.
- There is an SD card slot and some sort of USB bridge to a PC,
- It costs $400, with no additional monthly wireless cost. All
you pay for is the content, some of which (newspapers and magazines)
is in monthly subscription format.
This is like nothing we've seen tried in the ebook world so far,
and it deserves a serious shot. The wildest part is its use of EVDO,
which means never having to ask, "Where's a hotspot?"
Unless you're out in the serious boonies, you should be able to
get connectivity. The cost of the connectivity is not billed separately
but is baked into the cost of the content; when you pay $10 for
a NYT bestseller, part of that goes to Sprint to pay for bandwidth
used to shop for and buy the book.
That said, the cost of the content is less than a lot of what I've
seen in the past. EBook versions of popular books have sometimes
sold for as much as (sometimes more than!) a paper edition, which
is insane. Amazon tells us that NYT bestsellers will never cost
more than $9.99, which is a huge step in the right direction. The
Atlantic sells for $1.99 a month, a price I would gladly pay,
though I'd miss the color and the resolution in their artwork. Interestingly,
Amazon will be selling blog access to big-name blogs like Slashdot,
Instapundit, and BoingBoing for $0.99/month.
So what do I think? My early bullets:
- Sure, it's expensive, but I think affluent people understand
that you're not buying the slab; you're buying a system.
If the system is smooth enough, a certain number of people will
buy it and use it religiously. Whether there are enough of those
people to keep it afloat won't be known for awhile.
- Don't underestimate the draw of periodicals. Having Forbes,
Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, and The New
York Times magically appear in your briefcase in time to read
on the train to work will appeal hugely to a certain time-pressed
demographic, one with plenty of money. This is the reason they
can charge for blogs found free on the Web: EVDO brings blogs
down when you can't or don't want to screw with a full computer
and yet don't want to read something on a 1" diagonal cell
- Incompatibility with other ebook technologies has a lot of people
screaming, but the ebook business is still so small that Amazon
can grit its teeth and ignore the yells. There just aren't enough
rabid ebook readers out there yet to make this a killer issue.
They're trying to create a business the same way Apple created
a music business. MP3s have been around for a long time, but it
took Apple to create a top-to-bottom business around digital music.
People bitch about the closed nature of the system, but they bought
it in droves. Amazon is big enough to make it stick in very much
the same way.
- It's really all about big names, not obscure writers and outlets.
This bothers me some, as it will focus more attention on fewer
titles and worsen the "winner takes all" culture of
book retailing that has been a problem for a decade now.
All that said, I think it could work, and nothing I've seen so
far is enough of a problem to prevent its success. I may have to
buy one, though the size of the screen and its lack of PDF support
(a lack driven by the screen technology) makes me hesitate. I can
read computer book PDFs and CHMs on my Tablet PC, and that's an
ability we won't see on systems like Kindle for awhile yet. I'm
skeptical that the considerable cost of EVDO won't force Amazon
to raise prices or eventually charge a monthly bandwidth fee, but
who knows? Maybe the EVDO cream-skimming era is over.
The biggest single thing to realize about Kindle is that Amazon
is doing it. Damn few other firms could make it work. I still
need to find out what hoops publishers have to jump through to get
into the Kindle catalog, but as I said, Kindle isn't about small
publishers. It's about a system, and so far, from the perspective
of mainstream consumers, the system looks good.
I reserve the right to change my mind, but I'll report my insights
here as they arise.
15, 2007: Odd Lots
- I started using two nice little utilities this week, and both
are worth a look. The first is MozBackup,
a program that creates a single compressed backup file from your
Firefox settings and bookmarks, or your Thunderbird settings and
mail. It comes out of the Czech Republic, so some of the English
is a little rough, but it works beautifully.
- The other is MBoxView,
a no-install app that does only one thing: It allows you to view
an MBox file such as the mailbox folders used by Thunderbird.
I occasionally set up a mailbox folder for a project, and then
when the project is over I exile the folder to my archives so
it isn't cluttering up my Thunderbird folder hierarchy in perpetuity.
I don't refer to such archived folders very often, but when necessary,
the utility makes looking at ancient mbox folders completely trivial.
- Here's a great page on a plastic model I had almost fifty years
Von Braun Ferry Rocket, a three-stage finned behemoth that
nicely anticipated (in function if not in shape) our Space Shuttle.
It was featured in Collier's in 1953 (note one of the other
headlines on the cover: If they only knew...) and there
are some very nice paintings of how the device would operate,
including some scary-claustrophobic single-occupant re-entry capsules.
Thanks to Pete Albrecht (who also had the model back in the day)
for the pointer.
- Also from Pete comes a pointer to the
Fantastic Plastic site, with photos and brief writeups of
a lot of other space and aviation plastic models from the 40s
to the present day. Some breathtakingas well as sillystuff
was out there capturing young imaginations. I had this.
- From Ken Rutkowski's online newsletter come some interesting
stats: Only 12.5% of Americans drink wine. And those who drink
wine regularly fall into a fairly tight demographic:
More than half
of all frequent wine consumers are 50 years or older and that
adults who earn $50,000 in household income who are 45 years
or older with no children living at home are 85% more likely
to frequently consume wine compared to the average adult.
According to The Media Audit, adults who fit these criteria
are termed “Affluent Empty-Nesters” and they are a prime target
audience for wineries and distributors.
"Frequently consume wine" here means have a glass
of wine at least three times during a two-week period. Not surprisingly,
San Francisco is the wine-drinking capital of America, with
West Palm Beach and Fort Myers close behind. This is a pretty
concentrated demographic. Maybe I should actually write Sweet
Blindnessthink how many more Americans might drink
wine if they realized that not all of it tastes like cat-piddled
13, 2007: Another Jeff Sleep Rant, with Research
I just stopped an oncoming cold in its tracks, after not having
had one for well over a year. (I used to get two or three a year
minimum, some of them doozies.) My technique is the same one I used
to avoid colds this past year, and although it's simple you're not
going to like it: I stopped "doing." And I slept. Lots.
The approaching cold was payback for a mistake I made. Having been
in Chicago a great deal this spring and summer, I got back early
in October and set about catching up. I started and finished a 200-page
Carl and Jerry book in two weeks. I wrote several thousand words
on a "practice novel" thategad!I may even
finish. I built some catwalks up in the attic that allowed me to
mount a three-band discone under the peak. All this in addition
to my usual paying projects. The result? I stayed up too late, threw
off an enormous amount of energy, and just ran myself down.
So last night I went to bed at 9 PM. And I will do so again tonight.
Tomorrow, the cold will be gone.
In addition to that, I took sleepless "naps" mid-afternoon
today and yesterdayI don't expect to sleep, but I get horizontal
and try to relax. But while trying not to think, I got this thought...could
the runup in cancer rates these days track lost sleep? I remember
reading somewhere that when people from traditional/rural societies
enter modern Western life, their cancer rates rise and soon match
our own. Everybody points at diet. But I wonder if simply sleeping
less and doing too much is the real culprit.
Most of you have heard my longstanding suspicion that, after factoring
out diet and genetics, weight gain tracks sleep deprivation. (Freshman
fifteen? Dorm life? Connect the dots?) Sleep, in fact, is the uninvited
guest at the health care debates. I find it telling and inwardly
amusing that several people have gotten growlingly, almost screamingly
angry at me for suggesting that they might be healthier (in several
respects) if they just shut down all systems at 9 PM and got more
sleep. I grumbled about sleep's necessity myself for many years,
but eventually I realized that you can't escape it. I have since
built my life around sleep. I budget time for sleep first,
and everything else has to stand in line. When I sleep, I'm healthy.
When I don't sleep, I get colds and infections. When I really
don't sleep, I gain weight. The causes and effects seem pretty clear
to me by now. Your mileage may vary, but our engines are for the
most part the same design. (I'll freely admit that I'm a bit of
a crank about this, but my father died of cancer and I'm trying
to give myself every advantage that I can.)
There is, of course, a strong genetic component to most health
issues, and obviously we need more research, but let me quote some
existing research that I've stumbled on over time. Not all of it
is brand new, but it adds up:
analysis of a nationally representative sample of nearly 10,000
adults found that those between the ages of 32 and 49 who sleep
less than seven hours a night are significantly more likely to
- "We suspect
that chronic sleep loss may not only hasten the onset, but could
also increase the severity of age-related ailments such as diabetes,
hypertension, obesity and memory loss."
found lack of sleep is not only linked to a greater chance of
developing high blood pressure but is also linked to increased
death from cardiovascular causes."
who habitually slept for 5 hours were found to have 15% more ghrelin
than those who slept for 8 hours. They were also found to have
15% less leptin. These hormonal changes may cause increased feelings
of hunger, leading to a foraging in the fridge for food."
deprivation is now recognized as an increasingly common condition
inherent to modern society, and one that in many ways, is detrimental
to certain physiological systems, namely, immune function."
a study involving 9,000 people between 1982 and 1984 (NHANES I),
researchers found that people who averaged six hours of sleep
per night were 27 percent more likely to be overweight than their
seven-to-nine hour counterparts; and those averaging five hours
of sleep per night were 73 percent more likely to be overweight."
loss increases an individual's vulnerability to infectious diseases,'
said Dr. Bruce C. Corser, MD, medical director of the Sleep Management
Institute in Cincinnati, Ohio. 'Even a mild disruption in sleep
can reduce the body's immune response and lower your natural resistance
against illnesses such as the flu.'"
a statistic put out by NYU’s Sleep Disorders Center last March
claims that 90 percent of college students suffer from sleep deprivation.
And whether myth or not, the infamous freshman fifteen concerns
many college students. Could more sleep be the solution?"
How many links do you want? Sleep is not optional. I'll
bet we could cut billions from the national health care budget by
persuading everyone to knock off whatever they're doing at nine,
be in bed by ten, and sleep until six. (Or be in bed by eleven and
sleep until seven, work permitting. Not everybody is a morning person.)
Instead, we're blasting away until 1 ayem while outlawing fast food
in south LA. Small wonder that we're a nation of staggering wrecks.
9, 2007: Odd Lots
- Those with an interest in the Writers Guild of America strike
should pick up a copy of this morning's Wall Street Journal.
On page W13 (at the end of the Personal Journal section) is an
essay by Rob Long, a veteran Guild scriptwriter, that says almost
everything I said in yesterday's entry, but wasn't quite as charitable.
now on OpinionJournal, a paid WSJ site, for those who subscribe;
thanks to Rich Rostrom for spotting it.)
- Here's another
item about scriptwriting that, while ancient (2005) speaks
to the heart of the conflicts within the union itself: Between
writers who look at the process as a moral challenge (to get what
we deserve) versus an economic challenge (to get as much as we
can get, however we can get it.) The idealistic at the throats
of the pragmatic. Where have we seen that before?
- And as an excellent example of the sort competition that conventional
TV/film media face, Jim Strickland sent me a
short clip of electric arcs modulated with music audio. Singing
sparks? Fascinating thingit reminds me very clearly of the
flame speaker my friend Art Krumrey built for his science fair
project in 1970. I know people who spend time they used to spend
watching sitcoms searching YouTube for the odd and the novel.
Yes, TV should be worried.
- There's an interesting new Web site that processes raster images
into vector images. VectorMagic
was created at Stanford and is free to use. Basically, you upload
a bitmap, do a little configuration, and download a vector equivalent
in EPS or SVG format. The vectorized image can also be downloaded
as a PNG in case you're after it for the artistic effect. I tried
it on the Interstellar American Republic flag logo I'm designing,
and it works reasonably well, although the logo is still not ready
to show anybody. (I converted a photo
of myself and guldurn if it doesn't look like a Seventies
- Although Linspire has
all but explicitly abandoned their WYSIWYG Web editor NVu, another
group has picked up maintenance, at least for bug fixes, and
hopes to attract enough contributors to continue evolving the
project. I tried NVu, and it has a lot of promise, and if Linspire
isn't going to keep the project going, they should explicitly
turn it loose, with blessings. Thanks to Terry Roe for the tip.
- Those who are tired of wrestling
with buffalo should try wrestling
with "had." (Thanks to Tim Goss.) I saw that somewhere
when I was in college, I think, but had completely forgotten about
- On a tip from Dave Lloyd I ordered a promising partitioner/boot
manager utility called Boot-It
from Terabyte Unlimited, and will report here when I try it.
If anyone else has had any experience with it, I'd appreciate
a short reaction.
8, 2007: The Necessary Guild
Well, Hollywood's writers are on strike, and have been for several
days now, though in truth I'm not sure who apart from other writers
has actually noticed. I'll go on record as supporting themwriters
should certainly be paid more, as writing is foundational: Performing
cannot happen without writing, and any competent scriptwriter is
worth ten competent actors. (It really isn't the singer. It's the
song.) That said, I hope the Writers Guild of America isn't expecting
any significant public sympathy. Scriptwriters who have anything
like steady work make a great deal of money compared to the public
in general and especially writers in other fields. The work isn't
always steady, and the money distributes itself as it does in mainstream
fiction and (to a somewhat lesser extent) nonfiction: 80% of the
money goes to 20% of the writers, and everybody else fights over
the scraps. (Though in scriptwriting, even the scraps dwarf what
people get for short stories or, God help us, poems.) When writers
making over $100,000 a year walk a picket line, people will roll
their eyes. Get used to it.
That's another discussion, however. What I never hear talked about
much is why the Writers Guild exists at all. There is no Novelists
Guild, and certainly no Computer Book Authors Guild. The answer
is relatively simple: There is a lot more money at stake
per project, and screen media companies have no better idea what
will click with the public than any other species of publisher.
An established book publisher has to front perhaps $30,000 - $80,000
to field a mainstream midlist book. The failure of any single book
(or even several of them) may be regrettable, but not fatal. A single
episode in a TV series can cost several million dollars, and the
series as a whole represents a lot more money than the sum of the
episodes. And movies, heh. The Golden Compass will have cost
almost $200M by the time it's done. The schedules are unforgiving,
especially in TV. There's not a lot of time for making mistakes
and doing things over. When there's that much money on the table,
ya gotta be careful.
Screen media is careful. They can only steer future efforts by
past results, and even though that's no guarantee, they are desperate
to put the odds in their favor any way they can. What they want
in their writers is a sort of cultural uniformity: Not only do they
want people who understand the business (which is not unreasonable)
they also want people who belong to a common culture and for the
most part think the same ways about life and especially about entertainment.
The Guild does that for them. It's a closed shop and a very tight
one. You don't get in just by asking. In a sense, you don't get
in unless and until they recognize you as one of their own, in terms
of both ability and culture. I've met a few scriptwriters over the
years, and they have been uncannily alikefar more alike than
science fiction writers or technical writers. The Guild's goal is
not so much to keep quality upit's unclear how much that can
be discerned before the public actually votes with their remotesso
much as to keep the product consistent.
So unlike heavy industry, where companies consider their unions
a costly nuisance and would love to rid of them, in screen media
the companies would feel naked and fiscally vulnerable without the
Guild to keep the pool of writers predictable. The relationship
isn't adversarial so much as symbiotic. If the Guild didn't exist,
the industry would have had to create it.
This doesn't mean the screen media companies aren't doing some
maneuvering. The ongoing move in TV from sitcoms toward reality
shows isn't accidental, and isn't entirely a matter of public taste.
Reality shows are far cheaper to produce than sitcoms, adventures,
and dramas. Among other things, there's just less writing involved,
and what writing there is tends to be a lot simpler and less dependent
on constant inspired wit. (Being funny is one of the hardest things
I've ever tried to do, and I feel I've succeeded only infrequently.
I powerfully respect those who succeed most of the time.)
What will happen is what always happens: The writers and the media
companies will snarl, bitch, and moan at one another, and then meet
somewhere not in the middle, but about two thirds of the way toward
the companies. There will be no armageddon. The writers will get
a little more money, and the companies will make it up by continuing
to steer the industry in directions where there's less writing necessary.
Both writers and companies know they're not in a strong position
in the public mindTV and film are losing audience slowly but
steadily every year, to video games and nonunionable things like
YouTubebut they want to keep the party going as long as they
7, 2007: Warranty Void...
today's mail I received a pair of 1 GB DIMMs that I ordered a few
days ago, and when I opened them this afternoon I found the notice
at left on the ID sticker.
I was careful not to tear up the DIMMs while installing them, and
they're now happily remembering away in my new SX270. Good things
happen when you follow instructions!
5, 2007: Boot, Boot, Master Record!
I've done some boot loader work in my time, but it's a classic
example of a skill most people don't use often enough to get good
at, and that's certainly true in my case. I have used System
Commander for several years now, and always did well with it,
and even understood it reasonably well. Then a few days ago I discovered
(after much virtual hair tearing) that System Commander does not
play well with Ubuntuin fact, does not play at all. This was
odd, as System Commander recognized a bootable instance of Red Hat
for me five or six years ago, and I assumed Linux in general was
no problem for it. In fact, I'm very annoyed at V-Comm right now
its own Web pages it says it supports "Linux (All)"
and yet on its support forums you'll find this
So System Commander is out, and plug-ugly GRUB is in. I've played
around with LILO and Linux-hostile NTLDR in the past, but had not
met GRUB until Ubuntu/Kubuntu installed it. It works well enough,
but boot loaders are a tricky business, and I discovered something
a little surprising while researching it: There is no book (even
from O'Reilly!) on GRUB or boot loaders generally. Wrox has an entire
book on DotNetNuke Skinning (whateverthehell that is) but
nothing on boot loaders. This is in part a slicing problem: Most
general books on Linux include some verbiage on boot loaders (typically
LILO) somewhere. I want to slice it the other way: I want a book
on the PC boot process, including a lucid description of the master
boot record and how the whole thing works, with detail chapters
on NTLDR, LILO, GRUB and perhaps System Commander. (There are some
minority players that might warrant mention as well.) Alas, that
book does not exist, and I don't know enough myself to write it.
I could see a book called Master Bootwith cover art
depicting an old boot with useless little arms, a pack of onion
rings, and a naked chicken wing with a dopey grin.
Maybe it's time to entertain some new ideas about the PC booting
process. Just this morning I spotted this
on Wired, though details are sparse and I'm not quite sure how it's
supposed to work. And I keep thinking that virtualizers like Xen
should themselves replace and become the bootloader, "booting"
a clean snapshot of an OS in a VM while keeping a vigiliant hypervisor
in an inaccessible memory space and a separate core. Xen does seem
to be moving in that direction, but boy, with System Commander down
in flames and the intricacies of GRUB looming in my face it can't
happen fast enough for me.
2, 2007: Ring RingWho's There?
who saw my rant on phones in my October
27, 2007 entry will have to forgive me for compromising a little.
I bought a brand-new Cortelco
2554 (PDF) on eBay that same day, and it arrived a few days
ago. It's not made out of Cycolac, and the plastic case isn't quite
as thick as the venerable Western Electric 2554 that it's modeled
on, but after some testing I'm confident that it has a very
tight hold on the mounting plate, and won't go flying without a
great deal of persuasion. Even if it did, the thing is ruggedly
built and I have some hope it would survive the adventure. Alas,
Cortelco doesn't make them in green, so I had to take brown and
like it. With shipping, it cost me just over $40.
But people, it has a bell. It doesn't beep. It rings.
That said (and as much as I disdain some of the fritzy new phone
features that Radio Shack's phones are crusty with) Caller ID does
have its uses, and I had a standalone Caller ID box on the shelf
from forever ago. So I did a little sheet metal work, made a bracket,
and managed to mount the Caller ID box to the phone without drilling
any holes in the phone, or even removing the plastic case from the
(metal! Gloriosky!) frame. What I did is slip the aluminum bracket
between the phone's plastic case and its metal frame at the top
edge. Simple friction holds it there, and because there's not a
lot of finger work in using a Caller ID box, I don't think it'll
get loose or start shifting around.
The rear view is below. It took me very little time to make the
bracket. What tripped me up was the difficulty of connecting a short
run of modular phone cord to the wall plate's internal junction
posts through a small hole in the edge of the plate. The modular
cord's wires aren't wires, strictly speaking: They're thin spirals
of copper wound around a core of threadlike fiber. I had to solder
the wires to a couple of very small solder lugs and get the lugs
under the screws inside the wall plate, which was more like neurosurgery
than I like in electronics projects. But it's done, it works, and
I have a real phone in the shop again. Whew.
1, 2007: Why Not NaNoWriMo in March?
National Novel Writing Month
begins today, and a lot of people are already furiously cranking
out text in order to finish a 50,000-word (or more) novel by the
end of the day November 30. I've been encouraged to participate,
but I really can'tNovember is much too busy a month. Thanksgiving
takes considerable time and doing, especially if you have to flyor
drive, God help usto Chicago and back. And then the Christmas
season begins the day after Thanksgiving, when I traditionally write
our Christmas newsletter, with decorations going up shortly after
Nonstarter. Perhaps this would be better: Move NaNoWriMo to March.
March is the least fun and most worthless month of the year, full
of long-naked trees, grim gray skies and dirty leftover snow, without
a single national holiday to its name, and not much cheer of any
flavor except for St. Patrick's Day, which is when the Irish officially
drink enough to forget about...March. It's a good month to stay
indoors and keep busy, and what better way to do that than grind
out a quick novel?
At the encouragement of Jim Strickland, I took notes on a non-SF
novel last summer for execution during NaNoWriMo, but couldn't free
up the bandwidth during November to actually do it. Then March happened,
and in the space of a week or so I got 13,000 words down on Old
Catholics. It's a promising enough concept to finish, though
I'm far from sure if it has any commercial potential. (It's basically
an Andrew Greeley Chicago novel written about Old Catholics instead
of Roman Catholics, and will be good fun if nothing else.)
Alas, my life got very busy in March and didn't let up until October.
(Were she looking over my shoulder right now, Carol would doubtless
make a face and object that it hasn't let up yet, and she's probably
right.) Old Catholics remains unfinished, though very much
a live project. So let me make this an official suggestion: Move
NaNoWriMo to March. Nothing much else happens then but clinical
depression, so why not get some creative work out of it?