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THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR

View 494 November 26 - December 2, 2007

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Monday, November 26, 2007

I didn't make it to LOSCON this year. Next year we'll have a book to promote, and I'll book a room at the convention hotel early on. This year it was too much. Thursday we drove out to the desert to have Thanksgiving dinner with Richard and Herrin, the first time in 40 years or so that we haven't had a big spread at Chaos Manor. Friday we drove home. Saturday I woke up with a scratchy throat, my eye messed up (normal with Bell's Palsy -- I am astonished at how many of my friends have had Bell's Palsy at some time in the past) -- and the opening of Don Giovanni looming up Saturday evening. I'm not as fond of the opera as Roberta, particularly since one ear needs to be stopped up or I get really odd harmonics and sound effects; but she's very fond of it, and she wasn't feeling up to going alone, and when I contemplated driving down to the airport hotels -- 45 minutes if everything goes well, more like an hour and a quarter as expected value -- and then driving back and then downtown to the opera, it was just too much. I went back to bed. My apologies to everyone who was expecting me, including the Writers of the Future. I'd hoped to have dinner with WOTF and Tim (another failing: I accepted the dinner invitation without noticing that Don Giovanni opened that night; probably because I'd rather have dinner with Tim and Larry and Laura Brodian Freas and the Writers of the Future gang than go to Giovanni). Fortunately Alex was able to take my place at dinner. He's pretty good company.

So today I have the blahs, the column and mailbag are due, it's already late in the day, and I now know the rest of the Mamelukes story and I want to get it written. And perversely, I keep flashing on scenes for a novel set in the Higher Education universe...

We interrupt this reverie for a commercial. It's high pollen season. If you use

this gadget it will help a lot. It flushes out the pollens. I get a couple of bucks if you buy it through this site, but I'd recommend it without that (and in fact did; they got so much business from here they set this up).

While we're on commercials, it's year end and a good time to renew your subscription (or subscribe if you haven't), but if it hasn't been a very good year, I thoroughly understand. I'm not after anyone's eating or rent money. Beer money, yes.

And now I'm off to get the mailbag and column done so I can get upstairs. I have a goal of 4 pages of Mamelukes a day until the story is done. It's a good story too. So is the other one. I do like telling stories...

For the record, I have found nothing that will fix the problem of Vista not finding either the DVD-ROM or DVD-RW drive when I put a CD in either of those drives. I am going to experiment by putting in a brand new Plextor drive to see what will happen; that should be in the column.

Regarding the makeover, the consensus seems to be not to do anything drastic. I still need to organize this place along more modern line, so that I can refer selected items to digg and del.icio.us and such like (and so others can). I also want at some point to have a way I can, at my leisure, and a little at a time when the mood strikes me, go through past mail and view and put together some links to past work, and make some of it up into reports. For those who don't know about the reports page, there is a wealth of information referenced there, some frivolous, some humorous (if you haven't seen dogs in elk you really need to) and some deadly serious.

What I need is an easy way to do some of the stuff that "modern blogging" software does, without really making any fundamental changes in the way this site works. I will never have a "standard blog" with everyone commenting on me and each other, I will never go to "blogological order" because I don't think that way, and I probably won't put up many whizbangs. I suppose there are a lot of good ones out there, but I haven't acquired new ones for years.

Suggestions on what I should do about organizing welcome, but I warn you, first comes fiction, then the column, then keeping up these pages, and finally some kind of reorganization, and I don't have quite as much energy as I used to. On the other hand, I would like to make life easier for subscribers.

===

THE H. BEAM PIPER MEMORIAL PROJECT

On Friday morning, I and Dennis Frank left Boalsburg at 9:00 a.m. to meet with Bill Shauf of the Altoona Memorial Studio. Dennis had worked up two nice designs for Beam's new granite headstone based on the conversations we had during our previous visit to Altoona Memorial Studio. We were meeting with Mr. Shauaf to go over our plans, pick out an appropriate granite headstone and work up a price.

We are working towards dedicating the memorial headstone and having an unveiling in the summer of 2008. As soon as we have finalized the memorial design, we'll start collecting donations for the stone itself. We are hoping to involve the mayor of Altoona and Piper fans from all over the U.S., who will be there to join in our celebration of H. Beam Piper, an author who has brought us all so much reading pleasure.

The day was slightly overcast but had a real winter bite -- temperatures in Altoona hovered around 27 degrees. The drive was pleasant, allowing us to catch up on current projects, my new War World novel which was just published and several Paratime projects. I recently finished the first draft of the new Kalvan novel ("The Fireseed Wars") and a new Paratime short story -- The Transtemporal Man. Dennis does all the background research for the Kalvan Time-Line maps that appear in each book; the new book shifts a lot of the action to the New York City area (Agrys City) and the Upper Middle Kingdoms (Great Lakes area) and we are working out the details of several new maps.

We arrived at the Studio at 10:00 a.m., right on the dot. Bill was waiting for us and we went right to work; after viewing a number of samples, we finally decided to go with a gray granite stone with an unfinished surface as something Beam, a true outdoors man, might have liked. We decided the black and white etching of Beam would be done in an oval of black granite set into the gray stone with the epitaph underneath. The oval will feature H. Beam Piper's head-and-shoulders taken from the painting done by SF artist Alan Gutierrez, which is the proposed cover art for my upcoming H. Beam Piper biography ("H. Beam Piper: A Biography" from McFarland & Co.). It is now listed on Amazon with a publication date of March 30, 2008.

We left Bill Shauf a disc with a high resolution scan of the original artwork; Bill will e-mail us some sample designs as soon as he meets with his artist. When we have a final design, I'll post it on my website and Dennis will post it on his for everyone to view.

Neither of us had realized the many grades of granite and other choices (flower pots, etc.) that faced us. Pricing headstones was a first for both of us and quite informative! As with most things, the more attractive and stronger granites cost the most: I suspect we'll choose the Rock of Ages granite as it's the only one with a warranty against cracking. The Memorial Studio offers a very reasonable insurance policy against vandalism, which will be included in the purchase price. Since the demise of the railroad yards, Altoona is no longer the safe harbor it was during Beam's youth... And Fairview Cemetery has seen much better days; fortunately, the Piper grave site is at the front of the cemetery, underneath a security camera, across the street from the Altoona Hospital.

After our meeting with Bill, we went to the Altoona Public Library to go over the old telephone directories for more information on Beam's Altoona residences. It was a good choice: we discovered an unknown Piper family residence at 320 Howard Avenue in the 1906-07 Directory, when H. Beam Piper was only 3 years old. The next surviving phone directory was the 1910 edition which listed Beam's father, Herbert Orr, at 400 Wordsworth. The 400 block is at the end of Wordsworth, about a quarter of a mile from a small stream, and was declared a flood plain in the 1970's, according to a local neighbor we questioned, and all the houses were bulldozed. On our previous trip to Altoona, we found evidence of several foundations on the 400 block, but none far enough from the "road" to be 407 Wordsworth.

The source of the 407 Wordsworth address is the heading of a September 21, 1939 letter from Piper to Ferd Coleman, which Don Coleman has preserved and photocopied for use in the Piper biography. We were unable to find any evidence of the 407 Wordsworth in the address in the 1939 telephone directory (unfortunately, there was no 1940 directory either on the shelves or on microfilm). The 1941 directory listing for Herbert O. Piper gives the Piper address as 400 Wordsworth. It's our conclusion that Beam mixed up the two address in his 1939 letter, after just having moved from 400 Wordsworth to 407 Howard Avenue.

We did make one serendipitous discovery: we found Beam's grandparents' address in the 1896-97 telephone directory! It listed the Piper address (under Mary E. Piper, widow of Henry Beam P.) as 2110 W. Chestnut Avenue. Also listed as occupants of 2110 W. Chestnut Ave. were Henry A. Piper, Herbert O. Piper (Beam's father), James E. Piper, Katherine E. Piper and William G. Piper. H. Beam Piper was named after his paternal grandfather, Dr. Henry Beam Piper, who fought in the Civil War and was also known as H. Beam Piper. It's obvious Beam was named after his famous grandfather: why he kept it a secret and told people his first name was Horace is anyone's guess...?

Our next visit was to the 320 Howard Street address which was near Fairview Cemetery, a location we've walked several times. Sadly, Piper's first home no longer exists and, like all three of the other known H. Beam Piper Altoona residences, is the site of a parking lot. In this case, a SubExpress deli parking lot...

We were disappointed, but not surprised; another reason why the Piper memorial headstone is necessary and important.

Also at the library we located three other residences (that have been torn down) on the 1950's 1314 8th Street Piper residence. Most of the foundations are long gone, which is why we were interested in finding out how many other 8th street residences were on the 1300 block. The corner house, 1300 8th Street, is still standing. Beside it is a large garage, with two two-door garage doors, that looks as if it pre-dates the 1950s. It's a small block and it's impossible at this time without a photo or map showing individual residences to locate the exact position of Beam's final Altoona residence.

Our final stop was 2110 West Chestnut; not an easy location to find due to intersecting rail lines and dead end streets. To add to the confusion of finding places, many Altoona streets lack street signs at intersections. We finally located the house on an unmarked corner; it's a three story red-brick stately Victorian home, fallen on hard times. The neighborhood, like much of Altoona, is depressed and most of these stately old Victorians in the 2100 block of Chestnut have been broken up into smaller apartments and boarding houses. The Piper family home is a large old building in what was once one of the better Altoona neighborhoods. When we got out of the car and examined the house, we discovered several "Condemned" signs on the front door on dating back to 2007. It appears we were just in time to visit it before the wrecking crew arrived! Regardless, we were ecstatic as this was the first Piper residence of any kind either in Altoona or Williamsport that has not been razed and turned into a parking lot...

On our next trip to Altoona to finalize the Piper memorial design, we will take along cameras so that we can document it and add it to Dennis's website along with all the other Piper/Lord Kalvan related pictures he has up. Here's the link to Dennis's website: http://users.penn.com/~djfrank/Lord_Kalvan/Lord_Kalvan_page.html 

John F. Carr www.Hostigos.com  <http://www.hostigos.com/

=====

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007   

I have the JVC Everio GZ-MG255U, and I took it on our morning walk. It's a great improvement over the several hand camcorders I had last year. It's easier to see things, the zoom is great, etc. More in the column, and a lot more next year, I hope. But I already have enough experience with this to recommend it as a reasonable mid-cost ($729) camcorder. The pictures are clear and it's easy to use.

The mail bag is done and should be published shortly. I'm working on the last November column installment.

 

 

 

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Wednesday,  November 28, 2007

Ethanol and foreign policy

This morning's Wall Street Journal has a front page article on the decline and fall of ethanol. It appears that it's even more expensive than everyone thought. We wrote about that here when the ethanol craze first began.

Burning food is not a great idea. Ethanol is an inefficient use of electricity: that is, you burn coal, or use nuclear power, or hydro-electric power to generate electricity; the kilowatts are then used to fix nitrogen and make fertilizer. More kilowatts are used to pump water. Gasoline or Diesel fuel is used to harvest the crop. Then the corn is processed to make ethanol to mix with gasoline. In order to protect domestic ethanol production we have a 50 cent a gallon tax on importing the stuff: absent that, we'd simply import it and not bother growing it here.

There are easier ways to pay out farm subsidies than this. Ethanol is an idea whose time never came.

Sure, ethanol from biowastes makes sense -- assuming you have to use energy to dispose of the waste in the first place. Ethanol from sawgrass and non-edible crops may make sense but that's an economic decision: cut the tariff in half and see what happens. But burning food isn't the right way to go.

Of course if we had used $250 billion of the money poured into the Iraqi sands to build nuclear power plants -- we could certainly have built 200 1,000 megawatt nuclear plants for $250 billion, even if the first one cost $50 billion to use as a pattern for the others -- then this wouldn't be so critical.

Of course I said all that before we invaded Iraq. That was when we were assured that the war wouldn't cost any $300 billion. It didn't -- it cost more than a trillion. But it wasn't my decision. Once we send in the Legions, we've given up cost/effectiveness arguments. They're learning that now; it's a damned shame that the war hawks didn't think all this through at the beginning. I told them -- and you -- that this war was going to cost a lot more than they thought. It was elementary arithmetic to show that Veteran costs would be very high, since more troops survive crippling wounds now than they did in Viet Nam; as more survived Viet Nam than Korea, and more survived critical wounds in Korea than in World War II. I have seen no evidence that the war hawks even heard that said before the invasion, much less that they paid any attention to it.

And then for reasons I will never understand, Bremer was allowed to dismiss the Iraqi army and send 2 million young men home with rifles but no jobs; and no one seems to have predicted the result. But all that is another story for another time.

Our energy policy has been to "stabilize" the Middle East. This is a terribly expensive way to get energy. It would be cheaper to drill for oil here at home; to build nuclear power plants; to do research on electrification of the transportation system; and to invest in what it takes to build Solar Power Satellites, which can deliver electrical energy anywhere in the world. Imagine having that for a foreign aid program.

I have not done the math, but I bet we could replace the energy Egypt gets from the failed High Aswan dam, and let them empty that basin and remove the stupid dam, for a marginal annual cost not a lot greater than we send to Egypt in foreign aid right now. Space Solar Power Satellites can be a potent foreign policy weapon; couple those with energy independence of the United States, and we are in a different and better world.

But that too is another story for an0ther time. At least we are learning that Ethanol isn't the answer. And I think we have got past the bureaucratic idiocy that for a while demanded that wounded soldiers return part of their re-enlistment bonus because they didn't finish their hitch. At least I hope so, for the stability of government. Beware the fury of the Legions.

===========

And on a related subject:

Subject: Pinup Calendar

http://www.blackfive.net/main/2007/11/send-a-pin-up-c.html

"Over the past year, I have heard and read incredible stories about the injured soldiers returning from military service. Their hardest battles have just begun, as they attempt to recover in Veterans Hospitals all across America . I was touched by each story, and knew that I had to try to do something to help our hospitalized Vets.

I came up with an idea to recreate a World War II style pin-up calendar that would have the dual purpose of raising money for programs that support hospitalized Veterans, and also serve as a GIFT for each and every Veteran, as they recover in a Veterans Hospital."

I have to say this seems a worthy project to me.

Graves

===================

I have found that the JVC Everio GZ-MG255U is a great family camcorder, but it won't do for video podcasts. We're getting one that is better suited for that. The 255U is the easiest camcorder to use I've ever tried; good stability, and the screen is bright in bright daylight.

=============

Last night for some reason I looked up Rocketboom. I had trouble understanding it, and it wasn't terribly interesting. I haven't actually watched the show or much cared about it since Amanda Congdon was fired.

She was that show, and made it interesting. Oh. Well. Wonder what she's doing now?

Does anyone watch Rocketboom any more? It once had the fastest growing audience of anything on the web, but I have not hear anything about it for over a year now.

 

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Thursday,  November 29, 2007

I am going to do some critical scenes for Mamelukes today. Meanwhile, over in mail, there is a reference to a video you ought to watch. That will have to do for the day.

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Friday,  November 30, 2007

SFWA has done the right thing, restoring the anti-piracy committee under the name of the Copyright Committee. For those unfamiliar with the matter, see

http://www.chaosmanorreviews.com/open_archives/jep_column-326-a.php

 The only problem is that Dr. Andrew Burt is both Chairman of that Committee (because he was Chairman when it was suspended) and VP of SFWA. While it's not forbidden for an elected officer to be a committee chairman, either job is more work than I would care to do. It would be better if we can find a new Chairman, but we'll see.

It is my firm opinion that ebooks are going to replace paperbacks in mass market distribution. Not entirely, of course, but the paperback book distribution system is seriously broken, and publishers are not making the profits they used to. Since a great deal of my life income has come from paperback book royalties, this is a matter of great concern to me. If the "information wants to be free" Web 2.0 people have their way -- and already they are denouncing SFWA and Dr. Burt for existing -- then it will not be possible for people to make a decent living writing. The model will be that you sell as many copies as possible as quickly as possible, because there won't be any more income. That's a pretty serious.

We'll see.

============

Today I have had the blahs; not much sleep last night. But there's a lot of good mail.

 

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Saturday,  December 1, 2007

I took this day off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sunday, December 1, 2007 

I'll be involved in family activities all day tomorrow. The Mailbag will be up, but the first December column will be delayed, as will tomorrow's View.

SFWA and Copyright

For those who have some interest in copyright and author rights, there's a new SFWA vs. the Web 2.0 group flap.  For the original story see

http://www.chaosmanorreviews.com/open_archives/jep_column-326-a.php

Mr. Doctorow and others have a somewhat different view, but their rhetoric gets in the way of factual accounts. Mr. Doctorow's latest account says

The Board of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America has reinstated Andrew Burt as chairman of its copyright committee, despite the recommendations of the group that was chartered to investigate SFWA's work on copyright in the wake of August's illegal and damaging campaign against the text-hosting site Scribd.

http://www.boingboing.net/2007/11/29/science-fiction-writ-2.html

In fact, the President and Board adopted all the recommendations of the study committee.

The opposition's side of it is stated here as well:

http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-
static/2007/11/sfwa_attempts_to_commit_public.html . Mr. Stross seems to have an entire misunderstanding of how SFWA works and who appoints whom to committees. The President is responsible for all committee chairmanship appointments, and in the particular case at hand both President and Board by a vote of 8-1 acted to reactivated the old anti-piracy committee under the new name of Copyright Committee. The board also adopted all the recommendations of the study committee on which Mr. Stross served, although apparently Mr. Stross and Mr. Doctorow are unaware of this.

For a somewhat different view, see

http://grrm.livejournal.com/26184.html in which George RR Martin tells why he is a SFWA member.

Mr. Doctorow refers to scribd as "the text-hosting site". While this is true, it fails to point out that some of the text scrbd hosted included the entire works of the late Jack Chalker, much Poul Anderson, nearly everything Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle had written separately or in collaboration, considerable work by Asimov and Silverberg, and literally thousands of other copyrighted documents without any permission whatever of the copyright owners, who, in some cases (Chalker for example) are widows and orphans.

There is also reference to the terrible harm done by the SFWA action. That harm consisted of this: for a few days Mr. Doctorow's novel (not posted on scridb by Mr. Doctorow but by a third party who did not include Doctorow's name in the header) was not available for download by those who cruised through scribd. (The major attraction of scribd seems to have been free books. See paragraph above.)

When it was discovered that several documents legitimately on scribd had been included in the SFWA communications, they were removed from the list, the error was acknowledged, and apologies were issued. There is no evidence that at any time during its absence anyone actually attempted to download Mr. Doctorow's free document from scribd, and of course the document was available elsewhere. The following is the third Google hit (and the second is like unto it):

Down and Out In the Magic Kingdom Download for Free

[ Skip Next | Next 5 Sites | Random Site | List Sites ]. Down and Out In the Magic Kingdom is proudly powered by WordPress Entries (RSS) and Comments (RSS).
craphound.com/down/download.php - 18k - Cached - Similar pages
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Moreover, the scribd posting of Mr. Doctorow's document didn't show up on Google, or at least not on early pages. Under the circumstances it is difficult to see just how much harm was done by having it unavailable for two days or so on scribd. The error was regrettable, but perhaps did not merit quite the anguish and ire that it seems to have stimulated in Mr. Doctorow and his friends.

The Piracy Issue

The matter of control of electronic piracy is more serious than it might appear from the above.

Tomorrow's mail at Chaos Manor Reviews has several letters on new readers and the future of electronic mail. While the Amazon Kindle probably won't do it, it is closer to Good Enough; eventually there will be a reader that makes it easy enough to read the kind of books that typically sell in mass paperback markets. The mass paperback industry is already fragile, with very low profits for publishers: at the moment, authors actually make more money when a paperback book is sold than the publisher makes profits. To sell 100,000 paperback books requires printing 150,000 and possibly many more. Worse, for those that don't sell 100,000, the sell through ratios are a lot lower.

Paperback books that don't sell are pulped. In many cases, more copies are pulped than sold. Most of those have been shipped, sometimes far away from where they were printed. All that is costly. Paperback book distribution is a chancy business.

Yet most author profits are made from paperback sales. Some authors make a lot of money in hardbound books, but most do not. In my case, more than half my lifetime income has been made from mass market -- paperback -- sales. Many millions of copies of Lucifer's Hammer have been sold in paperback; the original hardbound edition didn't make the best seller list at all, and the book has never been reprinted in hardbound. I understand that Norman Mailer made more than half his lifetime income from paperback copies of The Naked and the Dead, which stayed in print in paperback for most of his life.

Thus the future of the paperback market is of great interest to fiction writers, and particularly so to science fiction writers since our works are seldom kept in hardbound, but do tend to stay in print in paper long after Pulitzer Prize novels are forgotten.  I don't know who won the Pulitzer for Literature in any year in the early 1960's, but I would bet most haven't been in print for 20 years; while the Hugo winners have probably been in print more or less continuously.

The same is true for mysteries, and probably for romance and horror. Paperback sales are the bread and butter, the means for sending our kids to school and paying our mortgages.

Ebooks threaten those sales. If we don't have control of ebook sales; if the price point of an ebook is set at zero; then instead of perhaps 75 people able to make a living at science fiction and another 200 able to make enough to keep them writing a book every couple of years, those numbers will deflate and by a lot.

Now a number of people have said that's all right: the future belongs to performers. Write books, give them away, and then charge people for readings and lectures. This works very well for some. Harlan Ellison doesn't give his works away, but he does sell copies of his books at his well-paid lectures. I could probably manage. Alas, there are many writers who just don't enjoy lecturing and performing, and who couldn't afford to live that way.

My own view was stated way back in the 1970's in one of my Galaxy Science Fiction columns (and repeated in A Step Farther Out): publishing may well move to ebooks, with payment direct from reader to author. At the time I hadn't realized just how important publishers (and editors) would be, but Amazon and others are ready to step into that void.

The publishing industry is evolving. We don't know quite where it is going. I do believe that setting the price point for the kinds of books that are now published in the paperback mass market at zero will be a disaster for nearly everyone including readers. We need to evolve the fiction industry in the same way that the iPod seems to be moving the music business: where it's cheap and convenient to get books; where distribution costs are kept very low; where the average buyer expects to pay a reasonable price for a work of fiction, and the author gets a fair share of what is paid.

To do that, it seems to me, we have to keep some control over copyrights. That is what SFWA is trying to do. As I have said before, I can live with having my books available for free on line if you have to spend considerable time looking for them. I can't live with having a pirated copy of my book be the first hit when you Google for it. I want the first hit -- the first page of hits -- to be places that will quickly and conveniently send you my book and send me some money.

SFWA and other author associations are trying to work toward a long term situation we can all live with. SFWA has aggressively acted to protect the rights and interests of authors. That's what author associations, like unions, are supposed to do. I don't think we need to apologize for that.

=====

Apologies for the lengthy diatribe. I may not live long enough to see the paperback book business collapse. So far I'm all right, Jack. But I do wonder -- and they keep telling me I'm going to live another twenty years. I'll need to keep eating all that time. And while I am grateful for subscriptions, I like to earn my keep by singing for my supper.

 

 

 

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