THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 477 July 30 - August 5, 2007
Highlights this week:
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This is a Day Book. Pages are in chronological, not blogological order.
July 30, 2007
The mailbag is posted over in Chaos Manor Reviews. There's a spectrum of letters on wireless telephone service. Tomorrow we'll post the final July column, with the rest of the AT&T/Cingular story. Don't miss it.
We are still at the beach, and I am getting incredible amounts of work done. Our trusty house sitter tells me that Sable is fed, the humming birds and oriole feeders are kept full, and my plants are watered. Sable wonders where we are but she likes Joe a lot, so she's satisfied. I think I'll try swimming this afternoon. The water is said to be 72 degrees. Up to now I have hardly left this computer....
There is a great deal of mail, more than I'll be able to post. Some will wait for a weekend I suppose. To those who send good letters that don't get used, then see something fluffy that does, I can only say it's in part timing, part whim, and mostly what I see when I have some time. I am periodically urged to have a mail section where subscribers can post anything they like, but I have resisted that. By continuing the tradition that mail is to me, I think I get better letters than I would if people were putting up their own essays without any filtration. I know I learn more that way. I have seen sites where everyone comments and I have found few that I spend much time at, even when they are run by people I respect and admire.
We could use more subscriptions. I realize that sounds a bit odd coming from a beach house. I can only say we bought this place a long time ago during a real estate bust, and under Proposition 13 the taxes have not skyrocketed so we can afford to keep it. Obviously if I were to sell I could live off the proceeds for a considerable time, but I don't want to liquidate assets for current expenses. A writer's income is almost all boom and bust; for a long time I had the steady income from the columns to mitigate that. We still get a bit of steady income from foreign rights to the "International Edition" of the column -- the chief source is Nikkei Business Publications, where I have been a columnist since the early 1980's -- and every now and then my agents sell many of my older books to some other country. This year has been good for income from Russia; under the USSR they published my books but paid in rubles that could be spent only in the USSR. Now they pay in real dollars. That's progress.
I'm not crying poor mouth. We got a respectable advance for Inferno II. Alas, I had expected the acceptance payment in July, and now I have to deal with the -- most welcome -- notes from our crack editor Bob Gleason before that happens. the fact that he found real places where the book needed work is a Good Thing; but it is a lot of work. And that's enough complaints. If you're thinking about subscribing or renewing this is a good time.
There is mail on an important subject regarding scientific integrity.
There is also an update of the saga of Frank Forman, Cochlear Cyborg; the diary of a music lover who has had a cochlear implant.
And if all that isn't enough to read, try this:
(On Dante as a Self Help Guide)Jerry,
Given your current project, I thought I would draw your attention to this WSJ article. The online version is free today.
Thanks. I found that fascinating.
For those unfamiliar with this place -- probably many of you -- there is a "REPORTS" section with a large number of essays and observations by many people including me. I try to update the Reports Summary Page when I add something new. If you have never had a look, it may be worth your time.
One last question: am I using fonts that are too small?
Would it be better if the default font were like this? I don't want to overwhelm anyone,
|This week:||Tuesday, July
I have numerous letters about the font size. It's about evenly divided between making the default font larger,
as opposed to leaving it the way it is. What I also get is a plea not to change font sizes capriciously within the page. I am not quite sure what to do about that; do I need to reduce the size of the day headings? I can do that by changing the template.
With the VA 1930 ViewSonic wide screen set at 1440 by 900 this font size is at the edge of readability even as I compose it, although it is not a problem at all on the La Cie monitor I have at home. If Vista were stable enough to install on the laptop I carry here, this wouldn't be a problem, and it's not all that big a problem here. I can read this. It's just a bit small, which is what made me ask in the first place.
I'll probably do nothing, inertia being what it is.
Mr. Hoagland, comcast is rejecting your welcome message
If you have an iPhone or are planning to get one, GO READ THIS:
Now we can discuss it. (It being a $3,000 phone bill for 2 weeks of roaming.)
First, it's a warning; if you have an iPhone and plan on going abroad, you need to know all this, and pay attention. Pay attention. Pay attention. What I tell you three times is true.
Second, part of the story doesn't ring true. How could a web developer not know that a per kilobyte charge is going to mount up, fast and high? In any event, you need to know that before you take your iPhone abroad.
The moral of the story is about the same as from my column: know what you are doing. Letting The Phone Company give you the default without paying attention can be expensive. It was expensive for me (although not THAT expensive); it can be expensive for you.
Note also that when you make use of third party services through your telephone, The Phone Company doesn't set the rates, but will collect the charges incurred. The Phone Company doesn't feel any responsibility when those charges are outrageous. I suspect that the $400 courtesy rebate offered in this case may have been a substantial part of what AT&T actually charged, the rest being what others charged The Phone Company.
Once again: pay attention. Find out what services you must have and what you will pay for them.
If you don't know, then buy a telephone at a kiosk when you get to your destination, and use a pay as you go plan. It will cost more (perhaps) than some other alternatives, but it will limit what you have to pay.
August 1, 2007
I have done another thousand or so words on Inferno II. Niven is looking it over and will comment shortly. I am working hard, with a short interval each afternoon to do some body surfing. That's fairly strenuous. I do miss my dog...
It is cool here. Kansas City has had the coolest summer in 70 years. Oslo has had the least sunshine in decades. It has to be Global Warming.
Next week's column will be from here. I've brought down stuff to review.
There is considerable mail, including an Iraq assessment from Colonel Couvillon, notes from Russell Seitz, a meme from Mencken, and a complaint from the physicists about outsourcing...
Thanks to all the new subscribers, and those who renewed. Now back to work.
August 2, 2007
I got another 500 words or so done with Inferno II yesterday. This work goes slowly because it is adding scenes in places that were already finished work. It's hard to break good conversation and insert something different without rewriting much of the conversation. If you need to add more descriptive material to a scene -- say at the opening -- then you have to check to see what description may have been put into dialogue and is now redundant or even silly; and again rewriting conversations isn't easy.
We don't have any elementary silliness like Tom Swifties or funny hats or said book errors -- if you don't know what those are and you want to be a writer, look them up -- and in fact we have no line item notes at all. When we first started, Mr. Heinlein found lines and words to note on half our pages, but that was a long time ago. I don't mean that we don't have any lines that need rewriting, but there aren't many.
That's one of the major changes wrought by technology culminating with small computers. It used to be that if you made a typographical error you might choose a different word to avoid having to make corrections on an original and carbon. When good correction tapes came out, and Xerox made carbon paper needless, that sort of thing went away; but you still had the problem of bad paragraphs and miscast sentences, which had to be fixed by hand; enough of them and the page had to be retyped; enough substitute pages (particularly if you needed to add pages) and the whole darned thing had to be retyped. No one enjoyed that, including paid typists.
With small computers you fix all those errors as you read. When Niven and I first began writing with computers we would print out the work, edit by hand, and then make the changes on the electronic copy; but over time we dispensed with paper copies altogether, and now as we read we rewrite so there's no such thing as a "first draft". When a book is finished every chapter except the last one has been reviewed and rewritten many times, which is why our editors don't find many line item notes.
Instead we get notes about empathy, lack of scene description, insufficient motivation for characters, notes like "I think you take a lot for granted. You assume the reader has an in-depth knowledge of Inferno I--which most readers clearly won't have--and to a lesser extent, Dante's Inferno." There follow two paragraphs of explanation of that topic sentence. Now that's the kind of thing that once seen is obvious -- should have been obvious to us from the beginning -- but which takes considerable work to fix.
Now imagine ten pages single spaced of observations as astute as that. Also imagine that the book wasn't bad to begin with -- as some of you know -- and you'll understand why this is hard work.
As of today there are four parts up, all linked. There are also many comments, most of them derisory.
I find the interviews interesting and I have come away with slightly less disrespect for TSA. At some point I'll make my own responses (here and directly to the senior DHS people with whom I have contact). Of course Mr. Hawley cannot say "And I have to implement all this with the kind of people who apply for jobs as TSA screeners, and I know very well what kind of people will take that job at the wages we can pay," but he clearly wanted to say it. He has -- some of -- my sympathy.
I can imagine him cringing over the story of the attempted confiscation of a Medal of Honor carried by a retired general. I can also imagine the consequences of any policy that directs TSA officials to treat retired generals in any way different from how they treat an obnoxious passenger unable to comprehend simple instructions. "I got to have my rights same as anyone else!" Dancing the line between silliness and common sense in a litigious egalitarian society can never be easy.
Incidentally, the way to treat the General would have been to invite him into an office for "special screening," establish his identity, and once out of sight of the other passengers, apologize profusely, give him his medal, congratulate him and thank him for his understanding, and send him on his way. I think it's a damned shame that you couldn't just establish his identity, salute him, and send him along in full view of the other passengers, but I also understand the aggressive egalitarianism of some of our citizens and resident aliens. I have never believed that equal protection under the law required the injustices we have now, but that's another matter for another essay.
I continue to believe that the TSA practices are evil: not, I think, due to any intention by Mr. Hawley; but if the purpose of TSA were to convince the people of the United States that we are no longer citizens, but subjects of an Imperium, it is hard to see how they would be different from what they are now. This is always a problem when "security" is involved. I've already said much on this, but this interview does make me want to think about the subject again. When I have time, which just now I don't.
I am rambling along because I don't really want to go back to Hell and get to work, but I suppose I must.
I should have remembered that HIGH JUSTICE is available from Baen in electronic book format. Go get a copy. It's worth reading.
August 3, 2007
Happy Birthday Alex
For those interested in education, I
found the Weekly Standard major essay,
It's worth your while. But if you are concerned about your children, teach them to read. Do it yourself, or in concert with other parents, but do not entrust them to either the public or most private schools. The teaching profession is dominated by professors of education, few -- if any -- of whom ever taught small children to read. Their experience is almost all with college students and other adults, and of course adults don't read like children. We do not "sound out" even big words like Constantinople and Timbuktu. On the other hand, we certainly do not read diethyldimethylphosphotoluene by word recognition, nor do we "recognize" portmanteau words like slithy.
`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
You can read that, and many of you will read it by sight because you've seen it before; but for those unfortunate enough never to have encountered Alice Through The Looking Glass, you'll have no choice but to "sound out" some of the "words".
As to how to teach your kids to read, the best way I know is to buy Roberta Pournelle's Reading TLC program and use it. It works on just about any version of Windows, including in Virtual PC on a Mac. It certainly will work on a dual boot Mac booted into Windows, and I am told that it works in Windows under Parallels on a Mac.
We don't have a Mac version any longer. The Supercard version for the Power Mac I did used the Mac's text to speech program, and it worked well enough, but Apple doesn't support that any longer and I haven't time to rewrite it; and many didn't care for the "computer voice" although that was a great improvement over the first version which used a parent or reading tutor (we know of one 11 year old who taught a whole class of first graders to read using it) as the text to speech device. Human voices can express disapproval in the wrong places and times. The "Agnes" computer voice on the Mac had great success in teaching, and a lot of kids learned to read using the old Mac version, but we just can't maintain it any longer.
The current (it's a good ten years old) version for Windows has about 10,000 recorded instructions, sentences, phrases, and sounds. Roberta painstakingly recorded each one of those and Robert Ransom took my old Mac Supercard version and with considerable ingenuity turned it into Delphi; instead of text to speech he was able to reference Roberta's recorded sounds.
The program is hokey. The "music" is from the old Basic "Play" function. The game is hokey. It all looks as if it were done in DOS and ported to Windows, which is essentially true. It doesn't matter to the kids: they learn to read in about 70 lessons at half an hour a day, and when they are finished they can READ: which is to say they can take a newspaper and read it to you. Or a Dickens novel. Will they "understand" everything they read? Depends on their age. Most newspapers are aimed at a mental age of 11 to 12; bright 5 year olds will not comprehend everything and dull normal 5 year olds won't understand very much -- of a newspaper. But they can sure read about Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter without having to ask what the words are, and there's a wealth of reading material for 4 and five year old children, and lots more for older. Once you are no longer confined to the awful controlled vocabulary readers, there's a wealth of material for children. Steven Vincent and Rosemary Benet wrote a lot of great stories. There's poetry including Stevenson's Child's Garden of Verses which I remember from when I was five. (And, yes, I had to ask what in the heck a counterpane was.)
Her program works. It isn't considered by most school districts (although some schools have adopted it with great success) because while it doesn't preach anything, it does contain the word God and takes that concept seriously in the lesson that teaches those phonemes. This appalled the California evaluation committee. They didn't much care whether the program worked or not; indeed they never tried to find out.
But if you want to insure your kids against the known failing techniques that still flow from Departments of Education, this is the way to do it. Get Roberta's Reading TLC instruction program and use it for half an hour a day (max; some kids get through faster) for 70 lessons. You can then forget about reading instruction and teach them the addition tables (to 12 + 12, please) and the multiplication tables (to 12 x 12 at least) by rote learning -- yes the awful Drill and Kill -- and you can be sure they can at least do elementary arithmetic and won't flunk algebra because they can't add. But that's for another essay.
And when you have done this, help your friends down the road. The US needs bright kids who can read, write, and cipher. We used to think the public schools would do that. Alas.
We all know that the way to be sure that no child is left behind is to see that no child gets ahead. Jacobin egalitarianism knows no limits. Particularly when the leaders of the Jacobins are quite certain that they are more equal than the others. As they always are certain...
I should have remembered that HIGH JUSTICE is available from Baen in electronic book format. Go get a copy. It's worth reading.
The last of Bruce Schneier's interview with the head of TSA is up on his web site. Following it is an interesting note:
I'd call that a spectacular success. If we have the computer resources to recognize faces at 30% average in such a test, I would think that with some improvements in lighting and conditions that average could get up to 75% eventually. This is no bad thing. Of course there are all the implications of camera watching crowds.
But in an airline security line it imposes no additional hardship to have passengers look directly into a camera then turn to profile; it takes a second or so. This is certainly worth discussion.
For the horror story of the week:
I have recently been told about Technocrati,
However, I know for a certainty that I have more circulation (unique site visits per month) than a number of sites ranked much higher than mine, but I won't give those examples. My guess is that this, like many other such ratings places, puts highest value on links, and that some sites spend a lot of time working on getting mutual linkages. Also, since I divide this place into MAIL and VIEW and most of you never go to the home page any more but go directly to View, I am sure that has a large effect on ratings and popularity.
I am just vain enough to wonder if it's worth working on site organization to change some of this. Alas, I haven't any ideas on how to do that, but I haven't thought about it either. I suppose I could force everyone to funnel through one page to get to MAIL and VIEW? Whatever my "ratings" I know I have one of the highest quality readership in the world. My mail is probably the most learned mailbag on the web (I include what I publish and what is sent in confidence). Even the mail I can't publish -- as you imagine I get far more than I can put up -- reads to me a lot better than 90% of the weblog comments I see on other blogs.
Suggestions welcomed, but please not idle speculation. I know I have experts in the readership: let us hear from them. As you will have surmised, I'm still deep in Hell, and I don't have a lot of time to read mail anyway (I do manage to read it all, but sometimes it takes time).
This was mentioned on Rush this morning. It was instantly overwhelmed, of course. It sounds interesteing.
And if you want to know more about the vicissitudes of authorial marketing, try
Once again, my thanks to those who have recently subscribed or renewed.
August 4, 2007
We are at the beach house, but about to go over to Peter Flynn's house for the afternoon. Mail will have to wait until tonight. I'm drafting the column and the week's mail and they're partly done but again it will all have to wait. We leave in a few minutes.
Between Niven's touches and my somewhat longer additions in response to Bob Gleason's editorial comments -- this isn't a complaint -- Inferno II is greatly improved. It's also about five thousand words longer, and it will probably grow some more. We have a better picture of many of the inhabitants and it's a bit clearer what we have in mind as the purpose of something so strange as the Christian notion of Hell. I am now going through looking for more people with short biographies who belong in Hell. Dante was a master at that; it often takes a page of notes to explain someone Dante deals with in a single triplet.
I'll go back through some of your suggestions, but many of those are long lost. (And I incorporated others from the readership.)
What I am looking for is people one might be astonished to find in Hell but who clearly belong there, along with short lines on why; particularly short speeches the character himself might make. I have some. I think I have dealt with people who we do not think should belong in Hell (and whom we hope will get out); what I need now is people who clearly belong there along with good reasons. At all levels. Famous gluttons? Hoarders and wasters? (Although that section is already pretty long...) One thing we do not need is anything connected with Katrina and New Orleans. We have more than enough on that.
August 5, 2007
Someone sent me this story. It is worth your time to read.
This is a day book. It's not all that well edited. I try to keep this up daily, but sometimes I can't. I'll keep trying. See also the weekly COMPUTING AT CHAOS MANOR column, 8,000 - 12,000 words, depending. (Older columns here.) For more on what this page is about, please go to the VIEW PAGE. If you have never read the explanatory material on that page, please do so. If you got here through a link that didn't take you to the front page of this site, click here for a better explanation of what we're trying to do here. This site is run on the "public radio" model; see below.
If you have no idea what you are doing here, see the What is this place?, which tries to make order of chaos.
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