View 726 Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Over the weekend, we recorded Hemingway and Gellhorn, the HBO movie about Ernest Hemingway and his third wife Martha Gellhorn, and watched it last night. I’m not sorry to have seen it. There was little remarkable about the performances except that Nicole Kidman showed great versatility in being both younger and much older than her present age. If you like sex scenes there were plenty of them, not quite hard core but certainly what would have been called pornography only a few years ago. They went on longer than I cared for, but there were plenty of them with lots of intensity. The real life Martha Gellhorn once made a point of saying in interviews that she didn’t enjoy sex, and Kidman almost says that in her comments to the viewers done, supposedly, thirty years after Hemingway’s death, but that hardly comes through in the sex scenes.
Much of the film takes place during the Spanish Civil War, and much of it purports to be an objective account of the war as seen by Gellman and Hemingway, who were of course Republican sympathizers and dedicated anti-fascists. Neither Gellman nor Hemingway was a member of the Communist Party, but both were ardent supporters of the Republican side during the civil war, and their reporting from Spain contributed to the nearly universal intellectual view that there is only one respectable view of that war, and anyone not for the Republican cause must be a fascist sympathizer. This is of course the communist party line on the war, and it has been so successfully promulgated that few know there is any other possible view.
In the real world matters are not so simple.
The film shows John Dos Passos and other western intellectuals, all supporters of the Republican cause, and it does show, without much emphasis or explanation, some of the actions of the Russian communists who operated as allies of the Republic. It shows Nationalist atrocities in plenty, but barely mentions the communist operations against the anarchists and their frequent purges. There is no mention of George Orwell’s accounts.
It is highly unlikely that neither Hemingway nor Gellhorn was aware of the violent divisions within the Republican cause (at one point a near civil war between POUM and Communist forces). There is some hint of these activities, with John Dos Passsos’ friend shown kidnapped by NKVD agents causing Dos Passos to question the Russian involvement, but it is not given much emphasis. Actually, Dos Passos moved from being a committed left wing writer to a libertarian position. He retained much of his sympathy for the IWW and some of his old comrades, but also recognized that not all good comes from the left, and in fact the old slogan that there is no enemy to the left was false and dangerous. The result of all this, not mentioned in the film at all, is that Dos Passos wrote Midcentury, his last and some would say his greatest novel. Like his earlier trilogy collectively called U.S.A., Midcentury is a “collage”, consisting of many scenes and viewpoints woven together to form a story as seen from many angles. I read it as an undergraduate and it had a great influence on me, presenting a viewpoint I had not seen before. The film merely dismisses Dos Passos as having moved to the right. That too is the standard left view – Dos Passos has become an unperson in modern academia, and Midcentury is never discussed in intellectual society.
But Hemingway and Gellhorn does a reasonable job of showing the standard intellectual view of the Spanish Civil War, and particularly the period before the Hitler-Stalin pact that united the Communists and the Nazis. That happened after the Franco victory in Spain, when Hemingway and Gellhorn were together. The film makes no mention of that pact and what followed with communists proclaiming the fall of Paris to the Wehrmacht as the victory of the working class. If Hemingway or Gellman has ever written of that event I am unaware of it. It was traumatic to many left wing intellectuals, and played a massive role in converting Trotskyite leftists toward libertarianism and what became “neoconservatism”.
The film is, as nearly all major films are, mostly sympathetic to the left wing cause, and while purporting to show a distance between the communists and the anti-fascist popular front, it doesn’t do much of that, and shows none of the stresses that resulted from the massive change in the party line the day after Hitler invaded Russia. Of course there is no reason why a biographical film should cover such intellectual events unless they impacted on the principals: but one does wonder why there is so little information on that period in the lives of Hemingway and Gellhorn. They were certainly together then.
All told it’s a good film with good performances, and shows something of the intellectuals in America in that formative period. And if you like sex scenes, there’s plenty of them. Maybe Julianne Moore will be jealous.
Mail 726 Sunday, May 27, 2012
First glory, then gold; then?
Now that Dragon capsule has docked at the ISS, people are saying that the era of commercial space-flight has arrived. The New World was explored for three reasons; God, gold and glory. Government spaceflight
- Apollo especially – was about glory; commercial spaceflight will be about gold; but looking to the future, who’ll go to space for God? What mission would there be?
I propose two. The first is the clearing-away of the Earth-crossing asteroids. A long-term project, for the good of all mankind, indeed of all life on Earth. Some of the commercial spacefarers have expressed an interest in mining the Earth-crossers for precious metals and water; which is fine, but there will be a residue of worthless but deadly flying mountains. Who disposes of those? This is where private charity can step in. I foresee the Mormons and Greenpeace launching ion-driven gravity tugs on search-and-tow missions; remote-operated for decades by unpaid volunteers.
The second mission is the terraformation of Mars. This is a very long-term project; many generations of hard and dangerous experimental labor on an alien world; of no benefit to anyone on Earth except the pleasure of having neighbors. The time-scale and reward structure favors a religious organization doing this job. Terraformers have to believe in terraforming; so whatever the source religion, Terraforming itself would become newborn Mars’s de facto founding religion.
I would think the first goal is to become a sparefaring civilization. There’s plenty out there. We need to make it possible to go get it. Then we can pick paths and missions.
A great day dawns
re: Dragon Docks and the commercial space era begins. <http://>
An associate asked me what I thought of the Space X launch. I said it opened a new era in space transportation and for the better. He asked me why, and I launched into a lecture on operational efficiency versus performance which led to a lecture on propellants and ended with my prerecorded rant against NASA ("Kill ‘em all. God will know his own").
He then brought up that ‘some guys’ were planning to mine a ‘meteor’. I said that there was a new corporation formed to mine near-Earth asteroids and that they would use commercial launch services.
Yeah, it’s a great day.
Live long and prosper
h lynn keith
It is indeed.
Backdoor found in Chinese-made US military chip
I have always wished for my computer to be as easy to use as my telephone; my wish has come true because I can no longer figure out how to use my telephone.
Bjarne Stroustrop, Developer of C++ programming language
I have always been concerned about security in manufacturing routers and other important electronic equipment. It’s an obvious thing for an intelligence agent to want: a secure and hidden way to see what’s going on in telephones, internet mail, you name it. Of course one can try to get one’s electronics Trojan horses into equipment manufactured in the US, but it had got to be easier if you’re the one providing the security…
If we put the Bunny Inspectors out of business, they can retrain as Henhouse Inspectors.
I saw nothing in the Constitution about eggs and hens, and I cannot think that the Framers had any such thing in mind for the federal government. States can decide to be kinder to chickens than tro chicken farmers; but I do not think there is any such power for the Federal government. Nor should be.
TV Truth Revealed
I maintained for quite some time that "content" refers to the commercials and "fill" refers to the crappy shows between the commercials e.g. Dancing with the Stars, America’s got Talent, CSI, Creeping Around with the Kardashians. Well, Fox filed suit and in that suit they prove as much in their arugment:
"We were given no choice but to file suit against one of our largest distributors, Dish Network, because of their surprising move to market a product with the clear goal of violating copyrights and destroying the fundamental underpinnings of the broadcast television ecosystem," Fox said in a statement. "Their wrongheaded decision requires us to take swift action in order to aggressively defend the future of free, over-the-air television."
No, you did that when you put more commercials in an hour than content I would want to see if it wasn’t so watered down that I would have to have an IQ below 85 to want to watch it. As far as it being an "ecosystem", I hope the judge laughs you out of the courtroom. But, we all know government is a tax-payer funded enfrocement agency for big companies like Fox. And, if Fox fails, they’ll steal MORE of our money to "bail out" the too big to fail company. What a joke.
The Journal also reported on this:
Joshua Jordan, KSC
I confess that I have taken to recording my TV shows and watching them half an hour later so that I can skip past the commercials. I generally watch any commercial I haven’t seen except for a few that I know are designed to be irritating, and I often go from fast forward to play when there’s an ad that might or might not be interesting; and I generally feel a little guilty because I know that without the ads no one would pay for the shows I like (which turn out to be more now than a couple of years ago even though the ones we have now aren’t as good – it’s just that I seem to watch a bit more mindless TV than I used to). But it’s like newspapers: they have made the print so small, and so filled the papers with ads to the detriment of news, that I generally get news on line now. I prefer what we used to have in news, with properly written stories, but that takes money for real editorial staff, and the papers don’t have that or say they don’t. A death spiral, perhaps. My local papers clearly hate their readers, and work to make the paper harder and harder to read. I’d pay a lot more for subscriptions if there were some good stories once in a while that were printed in types I could read…
‘A 2010 study by Chinese economist Wang Xiaolu found that the top 2 percent of households earned a staggering 35 percent of national urban income.’
Based upon my experiences in China and the fact that thisstudy was produced by a Chinese economist, my guess is that the actual amount of concentrated wealth is considerably higher, somewhere on the order of 50% – 60%.
We all know that most of the wealth and nearly all the progress comes from about 10% of the population; ‘equality’ is very expensive, and if enforced in allocation of education resources leads to ruin. We all know this, and apparently choose ruin.
Stupidest Event Ever
Now, I’m constantly irritated at stupidity, stupid people, and stupid events. But, this takes the cake and — as always — it invovles public servants who are also stupid as well as stupid parents and the aquiesence of a stupid society:
A 17-year-old high school honor student who works two jobs and financially supports her two siblings is heading into summer on a sour note after spending a night in jail for being too tired to attend school.
Diane Tran was arrested in open court and sentenced to 24 hours in jail Wednesday after being repeatedly truant due to exhaustion. KHOU reports that Tran, a junior at Willis High School, was warned by Judge Lanny Moriarty last month to stop missing school. When she missed classes again this month, Moriarty wanted to make an example of Tran.
“If you let one (truant student) run loose, what are you gonna’ do with the rest of ‘em? Let them go too?” Moriarty asked, according to KHOU.
Tran told KHOU that in addition to taking advanced and honors classes, she works full-time and part-time jobs in an effort to try to support her older brother at Texas A&M and a younger sister in the Houston area. After Tran’s parents divorced, they both moved away from the honor student and her two siblings.
Tran was also fined $100.
Why is a 17-year old being ordered to attend school when most kids are allowed to drop out at 16 anyway?
Why didn’t the judge note the girl is an honor student?
Why didn’t the judge note the girl’s parents both moved away from their children after their divorce?
Other than that, I have questions that any person with two brain cells working in unison could ask and I will not insult anyone by asking those questions here. Stupid people cost this country a lot more than money; I believe we need to have an IQ test before people work in society or in government. Imagine cops that had high IQs, imagine elected servants with high IQs, imagine teachers with high IQs. WOW! What a great society that would be. Let the epsilon semi-morons wear their khakis, go to work, and shut up. We don’t need more idiocy. I’d rather have that than the bs I read on a daily basis in the newspaper.
Joshua Jordan, KSC
Come now, I suspect we can all think of even greater stupidities. One should be careful with superlatives when rating follies. And it’s a brave new world that has such people in it…
Excellent article on long term voter preferences
Partisan voters really color issues by party. Independents don’t.
. ‘The ubiquitous distribution of abiotic organic carbon in Martian igneous rocks is important for understanding the Martian carbon cycle and has implications for future missions to detect possible past Martian life.’
Transfer of Life-Bearing Meteorites from Earth to Other Planets.
I was critical of the original Viking experimental design, and have been of all the ones since, but I am not really much of an expert on biochemistry. Still, you’d think they could come up with something definitive given how much they have to spend.
: NYT 3 part series on Philip K Dick
In case you haven’t seen this.
May 20, 2012, 5:00 PM
Philip K. Dick, Sci-Fi Philosopher, Part 1
By SIMON CRITCHLEY <http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/author/simon-critchley/>
The Stone <http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/category/the-stone/> is a forum for contemporary philosophers on issues both timely and timeless.
PHILIP K. DICK <http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/tag/philip-k-dick/> , PHILOSOPHY <http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/tag/philosophy/> ,SCIENCE FICTION <http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/tag/science-fiction/>
This is the first in a three-part series <http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/tag/philip-k-dick/> .
Part 1: Meditations on a Radiant Fish
When I believe, I am crazy. When I don’t believe, I suffer psychotic depression.
— Philip K. Dick
Philip K. Dick is arguably the most influential writer of science fiction in the past half century. In his short and meteoric career, he wrote 121 short stories and 45 novels. His work was successful during his lifetime but has grown exponentially in influence since his death in 1982. Dick’s work will probably be best known through the dizzyingly successful Hollywood adaptations of his work, in movies like “Blade Runner” (based on “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”), “Total Recall,” “Minority Report,” “A Scanner Darkly” and, most recently, “The Adjustment Bureau.” Yet few people might consider Dick a thinker. This would be a mistake. <snip>
There is a good TV special on Phil Dick in the Masters of SF series. I was interviewed for the one on Mr. Heinlein. The one on Dick used Tim Powers, perhaps not as much as it should have: Tim was close to Phil and has thought about him a good bit. Phil Dick was arguably mad, but he was a very intelligent madman…
scribd and DMCA
The "scale" thing is important. I recall an article where someone pointed out that back when the DMCA was first written, the most common method by which Americans connected to the Internet was by a land-line modem running at 56 kilobaud. Yahoo! was the big name in Internet search and there was no Google. AoL and Prodigy were still going concerns. Amazon was some niche thing that college students used to score cheap CDs.
It’s actually kind of funny, because all along the anti-copyright crowd has been saying that technology has outpaced litigation, and you know what? They’re *right*. But that doesn’t mean that copyright needs to go away.
Mike T. Powers
scribd, specific urls, and the amount of work required for takedown
I read this:
"Our agent is painstakingly accumulating a list of URL’s to works by her clients that are up on scribd. It takes a good bit of work on her part, but it will be done,"
And I immediately wondered why she was doing this by hand. This seems to be the perfect application for a computer! Every morning, your script runs, searching for new posts related to each author, for each one found, the URL is compared to your database of already cited URLs, the correct paperwork is printed (or formatted for electronic submission), database is updated. Agent scans each submission quickly for accuracy and content, signs it, and submits. Minimum work, maximum effect…
Distribute the script /app /whatever to several agents, and then scribd starts getting hammered daily with takedown orders. When it gets too expensive for them to deal with, they change their policy. (Best possible outcome, maybe least likely though.)
FWIW, I have used scribd for manuals, and other tech support documentation, but never for works of fiction. Never even looked for that. On at least 2 occasions I was able to find the documents in their original online location, after finding them on scribd. For whatever reason, search engines found them on scribd, but not in their original locations.
Please keep producing new fiction, and re-releasing your old. Keep up with the site as best you can. I think it is one of the best on the web. I’ve stopped consuming mainstream media completely, knowing that if something is important, it will end up on your site. Saves me a lot of time, and yelling at the TV.
Thanks again for all you do,
View 726 Sunday, May 27, 2012
Memorial Day Weekend
I found the following at Chaos Manor Views for May 26, 2003.
In Memoriam. RIP
"It was a noble cause."
Ronald Reagan, on the Viet Nam War.
And indeed, a million people did not flee South Viet Nam until it fell; but for many years, there are those who fled to South Viet Nam from Tonkin.
Freedom is not free. It is bought at a high price. It can be squandered cheaply.
I also found this essay on our Iraqi adventure. When Bush Sr. entered the White House as president he fired every Reagan supporter he could identify, so there were few left to listen to people like me when we went into Iraq the first time, and fewer when Bush II was inaugurated. Even so, I wish someone had listened back then. I suspect the United States would be better off.
We mourn our dead, in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On establishing democracies:
If you establish a democracy, you must in due time reap the fruits of a democracy. You will in due season have great impatience of the public burdens, combined in due season with great increase of the public expenditure. You will in due season have wars entered into from passion and not from reason; and you will in due season submit to peace ignominiously sought and ignominiously obtained, which will diminish your authority and perhaps endanger your independence. You will in due season find your property is less valuable, and your freedom less complete.
Government by public opinion poll is about the same as plebiscitary democracy. America was established as a Republic. The States could have democracy if they so chose. The Federal government had not that power and for good reasons, the Framers in 1787 having already known what Disraeli tried to tell Parliament some fifty years later.
On that subject:
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Sunday indirectly confirmed recent remarks by the Ambassador to Israel that the U.S. is “ready from a military perspective’’ to stop Iran from making a nuclear weapon if international pressure fails
It may become a very hot summer.
My 40” Samsung television has developed a strange problem: when you turn it on, it fails to find a valid signal source, and it won’t listen to the controls. Over time, it will suddenly work for a few seconds, then go off again. This continues for about fifteen to twenty minutes after it will suddenly act as if nothing were ever wrong, and operate perfectly after that although it doesn’t always listen to the TV clicker (nor to the cable clicker when it is being told to act as if it were the TV clicker). The cable clicker works, digital recording works, indeed the TV works just fine, and of course the simplest remedy to our problem would be simply not to turn the TV off. For reasons I won’t go into, I’m generally not so comfortable with doing that..
TV’s similar to our four year old Samsung now sell for about $500, and since I doubt that anyone repairs televisions any more I think it is probably time to replace this one. When we went online to look at modern TV we were offered a bewildering variety of High Definition sets at around 40” diagonal (which is plenty big enough for our TV room, some Samsung and some “major brands at prices too low to advertise”, some LED and some Plasma, and I have to say that I now wish I had gone to CES this year.
I thought while we were at it we’d replace the bedroom TV, a very very ancient flatscreen low definition 20” TV with something around 25” HD at whatever low price we can find.
It used to be that the guy I’d ask advice from on this would have been me, but I haven’t paid much attention to that end of the electronics revolution for a while. I’ve never been much use as a judge of audio quality, and as far as I am concerned the 40” Samsung HD we have is at least Good Enough in both size and video quality, so I’, more interested in reliability and price than blacker blacks and other such things. Recommendations appreciated, but please, either know the subject or have personal experience worth sharing; my mailbox is pretty full lately, and every day I have to write yet one more set of rules for my spam filters. Who’d have thought I’d be getting hundreds of emails ostensibly from myself about Rolex watches (or at least they say they are about Rolex watches; whatever they are, they get deleted if they are “from” me and mention Rolex… All the rules slow my mail reception down something awful, but the good part of the computer revolution is that the electronic brainpower keeps getting better and better..
Anyway. If you know much about 20” and 40” TV sets please let me know.
Actually, since I wrote that I sent copies to a few friends and Marty Winston has pretty well brought me up to date on this stuff. LED sets cost about $40 more and last years longer. As I suspected, nobody repairs TV’s now – I can remember going down to the drug store and using the tube tested to find out what was wrong with my old TV and that would take care of its problems as long as the bottle hadn’t died. And I lugged an early color TV to a repair shop. Now it’s just pointless. It costs about the same to repair a TV as to buy new, and new is better. Moore’s Law in action. So we’ll be off to see what looks good and replace the TV with something about the same size but better.
Doesn’t mean I won’t read comments from readers, but there’s no necessity unless you know some reason to challenge Marty on those conclusions.
All this will be in an upcoming column, and yes, that’s overdue. We really like our new Sandy Bridge system built in the stunning Thermaltake box, and we’re set to build an Ivy Bridge system for Windows 8 sometime along the line. I need to write up Alien Artifact (named because of the Thermaltake box, actually). Here are two views of Alien Artifact in action, complete with a solid state USB 3 external drive. The case is well designed for access, convenience, and air flow, and is very quiet. I’ll have a full report presently.
While I was looking for photos I found some shots I took of Sable after she went to a new groomer last week. Her old groomer has lost her lease and closed, and we had to find a new one, which in fact worked out well. Here’s Sable just home telling us about her experience.
The final result was pretty good. Sable likes the place. I used to wash and groom our dogs – Huskies all for the past three decades – myself, but over time that got a bit harder to do, and wasn’t particularly kind to the dog, so we have it done now, not as often as we should probably, but Sable looks pretty good. We sort of judge the quality of the place by her attitude when we take her there – if she doesn’t seem eager to go in after her first experience we look for somewhere else – but this time it was really interesting. As soon as we got to the parking lot, a place she had never been before, she got eager to get out of the car and go in there. We think she must have smelled happy dogs. Whatever it was, she likes the place, and she looks pretty good.
If you were looking for something to worry about, try this:
Backdoor found in Chinese-made US military chip
I have always wished for my computer to be as easy to use as my telephone; my wish has come true because I can no longer figure out how to use my telephone.
Bjarne Stroustrop, Developer of C++ programming language
View 725 Friday, May 25, 2012
The Space Station has caught the Dragon by the tail. It’s the first instance of the success of the new NASA policy. A long time ago some of us said that NASA shouldn’t be running operations, they should create markets and let the industry take care of the rest. The government doesn’t operate the railroads, or the airlines, or the trucking industry, even though a great deal of rail, airline freight and passenger, and highway freight is government stuff. Fort Hood doesn’t operate trucking lines to go out and bring food to the mess halls. It pays for delivery. Thus should it be with NASA, and this was the 1980 recommendation of such outfits as The Citizens Advisory Council on National Space Policy – sometimes known as one of Reagan’s “kitchen cabinet groups” that wrote the transition team papers on space policy for the incoming Reagan Administration of 1981. One of the papers in that report was “How to save civilization and make a little money,” by Art Dula and Larry Niven after a discussion with the full panel. It outlined how to create a commercial space policy.
Congress passed the Commercial Space Act of 1988 with the purpose of encouraging commercial space development. It was followed by other Commercial Space Acts, and the transfer of commercial space regulation to a special section of the FAA, and over time a generally more favorable atmosphere for commercial space. Henry Vanderbilt’s Space Access Society and other such outfits have annual meetings. Space X, X Corp, Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites, Kistler Aerospace, Carmack’s Armadillo Aerospace, and a whole raft of private space companies, some big, some small, some successful and some not so much so have sprung up. The engines of capitalism were turned on, and the successful docking of the Dragon is a major step in the renewal of interest in space.
Government arsenals can do great things. Projects organized to implement a strategy of technology can be very successful, as witness the X projects, and for that matter Apollo; but projects don’t build industries. The best thing government can do to build industries is to provide certain markets, or in the absence of markets, prizes. Of course we’ve said all this before, and many times. See ACCESS TO SPACE.
This is just the first step, but it’s a big one. I have been asked by a colleague why this is different. NASA paid for this, didn’t it?
Yes, but not in the old NASA way, with cost-plus contracts and with NASA trying to run things as they did with Space Station. Dragon wasn’t designed at Marshall or in Houston, and NASA inspectors weren’t wandering around the factory floor and insisting in “testing” components (as Marshall did with the tanks for DC/X, which they managed to break and had to weld back together – it was the failure of the weld that caused DC/X to burn up, thus ending the DC/X threat to NASA’s plans). Just as NASA doesn’t operate the trucks that deliver the chow to Fort Hood mess halls, it’s not NASA’s job to build and fly the Falcon and Dragon. They just collect the cargo. And that cargo was delivered.
It’s a first step but it’s a big one.
This is supposed to be “Everybody blog about Brett Kimberlin Day” but since I never heard of Brett Kimberlin I can hardly do that. More interesting is that looking for Brett Kimberlin gets a little complicated. His Wikipedia entry is gone, gone gone, although there is considerable controversy over why. It does not seem to be controversial that he was convicted of domestic terrorism and sentenced to 50 years, but was released on parole after some 17 and is out now, possibly unsupervised. He seems to have generated rage among some – see http://wormme.com/2012/05/25/you-are-not-a-terrorist-brett-kimberlin/—as an example – and he is certainly no favorite of Glenn Beck — http://www.glennbeck.com/2012/05/25/glenn-talks-to-bloggers-about-brett-kimberlin-terrorism/ – but finding a news report about him is a bit more difficult. He seems to have friends, some powerful, as well as many enemies. http://atlasshrugs2000.typepad.com/atlas_shrugs/2012/05/speedway-bomber-brett-kimberlin-threatens-blogger.html
I’m not sure I have ever come across a situation in which someone this controversial has no Wikipedia entry. It may say something about Wikipedia and it may not. Of course one cannot rely on Wikipedia since articles there change like dreams, but it can be a good place to start.
T H White (Sword in the Stone) wrote a charming novel suitable for children although it’s not really a children’s book: Mistress Masham’s Repose. There is a Kindle edition and I strongly recommend it not only to all my readers who have children of ten or older, but to readers who like a good story. It is full of White’s observations about the world. One of the characters in the book is The Professor, who has spent his life verifying quotations. He would have greatly enjoyed the Internet, I suspect. Incidentally, children who read this book will not know it’s not a children’s book; like Sword in the Stone there are a number of levels at which it can be read, and most people like every one of them.
Aside: Mistress Masham’s Repose is a fantasy, whose premise is that a small colony of Lilliputians were brought to England in the 18th Century by Lemuel Gulliver after his travels; they were exhibited in a travelling carnival until they escaped and took refuge in a small folly in an island on a great English estate, where they have lived in seclusion ever since. The story is about a little girl who discovers them, Since it’s a Tim White story, you’ll believe it without much effort and be disappointed to realize when you’ve read it that it was just a story. (Or was it? White seemed to know many things…) The Wikipedia article on the book will tell you more.
Anyway have a good weekend. I’ll try to get out a couple of mail bags. I’ve been working on fiction.
View 725 Thursday, May 24, 2012
There is more pressure for the government to get involved in the Facebook Fiasco. I am sure that will build. Government would love to get further involved in regulating IPO transactions since regulation means an opportunity for shakedown. Some “investors” are complaining that they were misinformed about Facebook’s expected revenues. It turns out that the worst misinformation still had the price to earnings ratio of more than thirty.
My only comment remains: anyone who bought stock at more than 30 times earnings, and any financial advisor who touted stocks at more than thirty times earnings, probably has other foolish habits. Facebook may be a wonder, but surely it is not going to grow three times as fast as Apple or Google – or if it is, I at least would like to see an argument more powerful than ‘financial analysts advice”. Why is Facebook going to grow faster? And of course it didn’t. I would still predict that Facebook is going to fall well into the twenties, and probably lower.
scribd – problems and solutions
Regarding problems with scribd takedown notices:
The DMCA almost explicity disclaims any "affirmative duty" (as the lawyers say) to police for copyright infringement, so long as one follows the takedown provisions. The law is perhaps a surprisingly reasonable recognition of the fact that "internet scale" operations cannot possibly police all their content, and is a decent rule for ISPs and web hosts and other general-purpose platform providers. It seems scribd is happy hiding behind this barrier, and is legally, if not ethically, clear in doing so.
The DMCA is pretty old-fashioned, in that it doesn’t recognize (1) the possibility of free and very low-friction copies, and (2) the sheer size of the modern Internet. It also makes no distinction for things like scribd that are not really general-purpose hosts and could, quite reasonably, prohibit the same content from re-appearing, or at least make an effort, especially since it was written before lots of modern pattern-recognition techniques came into common use. But the law, in general, can never keep up with innovation, so none of this is much of a surprise.
So if it’s not reasonable for providers to police and barely possible for owners to police, what’s the legal solution? Possibly providers could be required to prevent material explicitly registered with them; that is not an unreasonable thing for large-ish operations to automate, but it would be a burden on startups and smaller outfits.
Anyway, I’m a tech guy, so I think of tech solutions. It woudn’t be too hard to create a tool to scan scribd (and similar) to automate the search for titles you own, and it could probably even generate the takedown notices. It may be fast and easy for people to post copies of your books, but I bet it’s not fast or easy enough to beat such a tool. Get enough authors on board, and it may actually encourage scribd and similar to put their own solution in place, just to save their time.
There’s probably something like this, but my quick searches haven’t turned it up. Perhaps a more determined effort will show some fruit; if so, I’d like to know, just to take a look. (I don’t think anyone’s re-publishing my book. Both too old and a bit too niche to bother, probably. Though you never know.) If not, and you think it would be of use, I’d like to know that too–in that case I’d probably knock something together, just because someone needs to.
J Cameron Cooper
Thank you for the succinct summary. I have a great deal of mail on this, and most of it will go in the mailbag.
Any individual author can send a list of copyright violations as part of a properly executed DMCA takedown notice, and scribd will very likely act on that in a timely manner. The most onerous part of this process is collecting the exact URL of each copyright violation on scribd. That can be quite a lot of work, since not all mentions of an author or of specific titles are in fact acts of piracy. Some are reviews. Some are copies of Amazon “look inside”. Those latter, of course, are certainly copyright violations since Amazon does not obtain permission to allow others to republish their looks inside. Some are incomplete, like the copy of Lucifer’s Hammer that I referred to yesterday. That too is still a copyright violation. And note that once the takedown notice has been honored, there is generally nothing to prevent the same poster from putting the same stuff back up again, and it’s up to the author to find that out and start the process over again. This can get tedious.
In the Lucifer’s Hammer case has that partial (about a third of the book) republishing of Hammer done sales any harm? Probably not. It could even be argued that it might intrigue someone into buying a properly formatted eBook copy. I understand that argument, and I have mixed data on its accuracy. But there is more here than commercial value. Do note that some authors are simply horrified at the notion that someone has the ‘right’ to publish a badly chopped up, horribly formatted, excerpt of the author’s work without regard to the financial consequences.
I like the notion of a software tool that would automatically find copyright violations and generate a DMCA takedown notice. It would certainly annoy scribd, perhaps sufficiently that someone in authority at scribd would actually try to work with authors, agents, and author associations to come up with some meaningful way to let scribd continue to work its business plan without trampling on author rights. As I have said: it is possible that there is no commercial harm and it’s rather likely that there is no great commercial harm from scribd’s activities; but that’s not the point. Authors should have some control over their works. In particular they ought to be able to insist on well formatted pirate copies!
I have this from an author:
The loathsome scribd.com posts XXYYZZ (the single most
valuable thing that I own, not excepting YYXXZZ whose
movie sale made me financially independent) over and over
and over again.
They allow anybody, without identification, to post
anything, but hide behind every clause in the law to make it
hard for writers to get their work taken down when it’s
illegitimately posted. I have to make them take it down
every single damned time.
I got into a nasty Facebook squabble with one of their
toadies a while back (he was promoting "information wants to
be free" and "being stolen from is good for you so STFU and
lie back and enjoy it"), and after several public go-rounds
he sent me a private message to say he had changed his mind,
I was right, but he couldn’t say so in public.
He sounded scared. I have no idea what was going on there; I
It’s time for scribd to have a serious conversation with agents and author associations. This isn’t going away, and their habit of stonewalling isn’t really going to help. And there’s this:
Niven + Pournelle = zipper + heroin
Another problem with scribd is that once copyrighted or trademarked materials are left in the public domain, the property holders’ rights can be lost. For instance, both "zipper" and "heroin" were trademarks, but once they had fallen into general use without the property-holders’ objection, they became generic terms. Try using Kleenex without the capitalization in a general publication and a stern letter will arrive from Kimberly-Clark Worldwide.
In a kind of related matter: Much has been made about Elizabeth Warren’s "plagiarism" of recipes. Under copyright law, recipes and jokes cannot be copyrighted. That’s one reason chefs are so jealous of their recipes.
I hadn’t even thought of that one.
View 725 Wednesday, May 23, 2012
The reverberations of the Facebook IPO continue. Now there’s to be an investigation because the bubble didn’t get larger.
I don’t know what financial analysts do, and after this I understand it even less. I’m an old operations research man. When we projected performance for a new airplane or rocket, we did so based on existing systems, and on visible calculations.
Facebook was offered at a price of 40 times expected earnings. As I have said earlier, Apple and Google were around 10 times earnings. If there was supposed to be a reason why Facebook would grow four times as fast as Apple or Google, I never heard it.
Now there are rumors of inside information about the expected earnings – and some people thought that Facebook was being offered at only 30 times expected earnings, others that earnings were going to be lower and — and who cares? There never was a reason other than hype and razzle-dazzle to make anyone think Facebook was worth even 20 times earnings, or if there is I have never heard it.
The Facebook thing was a pure speculation. People were betting that other people would be more stupid than they were. The results were predictable and predicted. And now the government is going to investigate? But of course the government never wastes an opportunity to get its nose into another tent.
They are saying now that Facebook has found a stable level at 32. I am no financial analyst – I still don’t know what financial analysts to – but I see no reason why Facebook is more likely to take off than Apple or Google, or why anything more than 20 times earnings can be justified. But that’s just me. Keep remembering, I’m an old OR man, not a financial analyst.
The scribd affair continues. Scribd is a profitable company which advertises itself thusly:
“Scribd is the world’s largest social reading and publishing site”. It is basically a place where anyone can post nearly anything, and people can not only read, but download those posts. They include books and short stories.
This policy gets scribd a lot of traffic. Much of that traffic is perfectly legitimate. Some may be questionable – here is an example I found this morning — http://www.scribd.com/chichocha/d/38435859-1969-Harlan-Ellison-The-Beast-That-Shouted-Love-at-the-Heart-of-the-World-09-10-23 which may be legitimate, but there’s a distinct possibility that Harlan didn’t authorize that.
Here is another I found this morning: http://www.scribd.com/doc/91550228/Lucifer-s-Hammer. It’s not a very good copy – if you want to read the book on a computer or tablet you’d be far better off getting the free Kindle reading app for whatever device you read books on and buying the Amazon copy – but it seems to be complete. There’s no question about it being authorized. It’s definitely not. I suppose my agent will send in an order when she can – she does have other things to do – and eventually it will go away. I make no doubt that it will appear again presently, and we will have to go through all this again.
There are others. A few years ago they had the entire oeuvre of the late Poul Anderson, the late Jack Chalker, and a number of others (as well as just about everything Niven, I, and the two of us together ever wrote). I wrote about that incident at the time, and there was a brief internet storm about it. Eventually that died away.
I recently got reports from a reader that a number of my works and Niven’s works were available for free download from scribd. Rather than get involved I informed our agent to let her handle it.She found that not only were there Niven and Pournelle copyrighted works available for download on scribd, but many from other clients. She sent polite letters to scribd. They replied.
Her experiences were not encouraging. Scribd is perfectly willing to remove any copyrighted material provided that an authorized agent for the copyright holder sends a valid DMCA takedown order, asserting under penalty of perjury that she is the authorized agent for the work, that it is copyrighted, and that it ought to be removed. I am told that scribd is fairly prompt about doing that – but it wants an exact URL for the offending material, and a notification of each and every instance of the unauthorized publication to be removed. If there are multiple unauthorized publications each must be specified.
Without that, scribd will do nothing. And there are dozens of copyrighted documents available for download from scribd. Dozens we know of; I suspect hundreds to thousands.
This in effect declares that scribd posters have the benefit of the doubt: it is assumed that they have permission to post whatever they put up. Authors have the right to “opt out” each time their copyright is violated. Each time. Every time. You cannot, for example, tell scribd that no one is authorized to publish “Higher Education” by Charles Sheffield and Jerry Pournelle, and all instances of it should come down and no new ones accepted. That, apparently, is too much work for scribd; if the authors (well, in this case one author and one widow) don’t want their works posted on scribd, that’s fine with scribd, and scribd will cooperate in removing them: just send a valid DMCA takedown order for each instance of the violation of the copyright. And keep watching the site, because it’s not scribd’s job to see that no one posts it again tomorrow.
When Google decided to scan everything in a number of libraries, and post electronic copies of the works, they gave authors a chance to “opt out” – that is, you could go to Google, get a list of all of your copyrighted works, and tell Google to stop it. The Authors Guild with others sued Google to get them to stop all this, and Google settled with an agreement to make it even easier for authors to opt out, and also to pay a nominal fee – about $60 for each work scanned without authorization – for the insult. I thought that a reasonable settlement, but many did not, Google was denounced as evil, and a judge has thrown out the settlement. The going insistence is on “opt in”, meaning that Google can’t scan a work without the copyright owner’s permission, which effectively ends the purpose of the whole exercise which was to preserve works still in copyright but whose copyright owners can’t be found. These are what is called orphan works, and it is a problem for anthologists. But the general consensus was that authors should not be required to opt out – Google had to get them to opt in.
Note that scribd is given a free pass on this. Not only are they not paying any fee for the insult of their having published copyrighted works – and they are, surely, the publisher of those works posted on scribd are they not? – but authors must opt out, not opt in – and must do so each time someone decides to upload an author’s work. I am not sure why scribd is allowed to do this while Google is not.
The last time we went through this with scribd, the value of eBook rights wasn’t yet determined. Now it’s clear: they’re valuable, and backlists have become important sources of income to authors.
Our agent is painstakingly accumulating a list of URL’s to works by her clients that are up on scribd. It takes a good bit of work on her part, but it will be done, and DMCA takedown orders will be sent on each one. It’s work she didn’t expect to do, but it’s part of the modern world of digital publishing. DMCA sucks dead bunnies.
One question is, shouldn’t Amazon be concerned here? It’s true that the main victim’s here are authors and their estates, but Amazon makes a profit on eBooks too. So does Barnes and Noble. And Apple. Perhaps they should pay some attention to this matter?
From Leslie Fish’s Robbin’ the Poor
What can we do, where can we go?
It takes much coin to learn how to know
Folks with cash can scratch where they itch,
So it’s not that easy robbin’ the rich
And there’s more profit, too, in robbin’ the poor
To be done with scribd, I found this: http://www.scribd.com/doc/23403387/The-Burning-City-by-Larry-Niven . It has a bunch of stuff, then a word file of The Burning City, It’s an early copy, as far as I can tell from one of our drafts. It has significant differences from the published version. The formatting is abominable. If anyone wants to read The Burning City – and if you haven’t you should, it’s a good novel that Niven and I wrote not too long after the Los Angeles riots – it’s available as a Kindle Book on Amazon, and that would be the way to go. I don’t consider this scribd thing much of a threat to our BURNING CITY income (which is small, a couple of dozen copies a month, but it is steady, too). What I do object to is having a badly formatted copy of our book up there – someone might take a look, and decided not to buy the book because it reads badly. Sigh.
I don’t know what ought to be done about scribd, but I do wish they’d be more cooperative with agents and author associations.
And you’ll like The Burning City.
View 725 Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Probably the most important news of today:
spacex and NASA
SpaceX’s historic demonstration flight to the ISS is well underway, and I had a thought after watching the launch video here: http://www.youtube.com/user/nasatelevision/
Look at the pictures of "mission control", at around 10 minutes. Things sure have changed… Long sleeve button shirts and ties are gone, replaced by t-shirts and jeans. Even more telling, given the commercial nature of the program, is the physical layout of the area. No expensive custom built consoles in sight. The room still has the traditional NASA layout of rows of workstations facing a common front where multiple large displays show common information, but the consoles are now sturdy but moveable desks with multiple monitor workstations. While the capability of this setup must be far beyond what was possible even just a few years ago, it is also trivially reconfigurable and probably cost a mere fraction of the original NASA setup.
Flexible responsiveness to business and operational conditions will be a key to SpaceX’s success and I thought it was interesting that my very first impression of their mission control was how they could completely reconfigure it during a lunch break. It looks like a startup operation, but that startup just put more tech into orbit than any private organization in the world has ever done, demonstrating a capability that maybe 4 organizations in the world could match. These guys are still warming up, and their mission control could probably be completely reconfigured for another mission in an hour. That just feels promising.
The link is to a NASA site, which is interesting because NASA didn’t have a lot to do with this launch. At the end of the video they switch to NASA Houston mission control for ISS which looks a lot like the old days. The video is real time. There was a time when an uneventful rocket launch and burn was something thrilling to watch, but it does go on for a while. If you like, just after 9:45 seconds into the mission you get the final burn, and the scene changes to the Space-X launch control. When you tire of that you can jump to the end to see the NASA mission control center.
It’s interesting to watch. I was present for some of the early manned spacecraft launches, where we never knew what would happen – as Wolfe says in The Right Stuff, in the early days there was the fear that “ours always blow up.” Of course they didn’t, and we got all our people back, but you never knew. And we had our heroes. I said my piece on that when Columbia went down. That link will lead somewhere to a link to Julia Ecklar’s Phoenix, a fitting memorial to the crew of Capsule 12.
But there was no tragedy in this launch. Significantly it showed the reliability of the engines, which a few days ago were lighted up then shut down because one of the engines had significant overpressure – and the bird was retuned, refueled, and lit up again to make a nominal and uneventful flight. Nominal and uneventful is what’s needed if we are to be a spacefaring nation. When I was in first grade I recall the class being led outside to the schoolyard to watch the American Airlines DC/X fly over. We need space flight to be as routine as air flights are.
It will happen. Space-x has obviously mastered the gas generator engine, running on kerosene and LOX. That sacrifices performance for reliability. One of the features of the SSX proposed by General Graham, Max Hunter, and me to then US Vice President and Space Council Chairman Dan Quayle was that we learn more about designing for savability and reliability, not just for performance; that operation be the driving factor even if that means sacrificing payload. (See the Council Report on SSX.) We favored gas generator and expander engines over staged combustion, precisely because gas generator and expander engines can be shut down and fail gracefully. The cost is lower performance.
Today’s launch by Space-X is a significant step towards becoming a space faring nation again.
(For more on this subject, there’s my old getting to space stuff.)
Of course one wonders why NASA is showing the Space-X liftoff. NASA didn’t build the Merlin engines. Probably because NASA can’t resupply its own space station, and the Russians are charging for filming their rocket launches? And NASA has all the cameras in place.
If you want less of some activity, fine people for doing it. Taxing the activity has much the same effect. If you want more, stop fining them. Lower taxes.
I would think this elementary logic and fairly obvious. It’s what I had in mind yesterday when I suggested that we give dividend income the same tax break as capital gains. One reason we have economic bubbles is that it’s so much more profitable (after taxes) to have your stock grow than to collect dividends from it. That distorts management strategy toward economic manipulations rather than business operations. It also encourages all kinds of razzle-dazzle and hype, including actions that deliberately encourage bubbles. That’s what happened with the big Internet Bubble, and it’s a good part of the genesis of the housing bubble.
I have never understood why dividend income – which is, after all, based on return from the investment of income that has already been taxed – should be taxed at the ordinary income rate. Indeed, if you want to encourage people to work, it would make sense to keep the fines for working low, but of course there has to be income. On the gripping hand, if income tax were pretty well reserved for the States or for the Federal Government in Time of War, that would have an interesting effect too.
More on this tomorrow, but scribd seems to be at it again.
For the scribd story see http://www.jerrypournelle.com/archives2/archives2view/view481.html#DMCA and
I will have more on this shortly. SCRIBD has a policy of allowing anyone to put up anything including the entire oeuvre of an author – including deceased authors, thus harming their widows and orphans – and making it very difficult to get the request to have this taken down submitted in the proper format. And they want a different takedown request for each and every instance, which means that it can be taken down and immediately reposted and that requires another – in other words these profiteers make life fairly difficult for authors. Their web site makes money largely because it gets a lot of traffic. How much of that traffic is due to their ha having a lot of copyrighted content up that should not be there I don’t know. I refer you to http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Is_scribd_legal
And see http://www.chaosmanorreviews.com/open_archives/jep_column-326-a.php
Mail 725 Monday, May 21, 2012
Russell Seitz attempts to inject something new into the climate debates:
As we discussed , I have some new ammunition on offer for both sides to try out on each other– here is the WaterWired link.
For those interested in heavier artillery, the April 2011 _Climatic Change_ paper is attached
It is available as a free preprint pdf at <a href="http://arxiv.org/abs/1010.5823"></a>
I’m chuffed to report it has also been mentioned in dispatches in an Annals of Science piece, entitled ‘The Climate Fixers’<a href="http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/05/14/120514fa_fact_specter">
in the May 14 issue of <i>The New Yorker</i></a>
Fellow of the Department of Physics
What seems to me to be certain is that we will not ‘conserve’ our way to lower CO2, We may replace fossil fuels as a primary source, but we will not do it by starvation. Changing albedo by painting roofs, or with microbubbles to make brightwater, or through biological means all seem good alternatives to investigate – but we need data, both scientific and engineering, and while we’re at it operations data on finances. The one thing that seems certain to me is that if the United States beggars itself there will be no power with the financial and engineering resources to Do Something when we finally understand what it is we must do.
Climate scientists say they have solved riddle of rising sea, and it ain’t global warming:
How interesting that we had our global religion theory first, and the measurements are only now happening.
Interesting. I am not sure I agree, but I do think it would be well to get some data. Of course it’s always a good idea to have some data…
Comment on Mixed bag, May 17, Florida school testing
The problem is that the Florida Dept of Education, in their nigh-infinite wisdom, toughened the writing section of the test this year (given to grades 4, 8 and 10), and succeeded in driving the passing rate from around 80% depending on grade, to around 30%. Reference from FL news bureau http://www.sunshinestatenews.com/story/fcat-writing-scores-plummet-force-question-what-do .
While I’m all in favor of testing students’ achievement, the idea that passing rates declined by roughly two-thirds in one year does not suggest a sudden plunge in teacher performance; the reality seems to be that the test-MAKERS in this case changed the rules with little-to-no guidance to the school districts as to what to expect, and have reaped the whirlwind for their efforts.
That certainly seems a reasonable argument. It also seems to be a dilemma best attacked at local levels. Try many approaches in many places, and observe what happens.
‘A tiny 0.03 percent of California teachers are dismissed after three or more years on the job. In the past decade, the LAUSD — home to 33,000 teachers — has dismissed only four.’
And yet it is clear that firing the worst 10% of the teachers brings startling improvements in schools. Alas, it is nearly impossible to fire an obviously incompetent teacher. The system exists to pay bad teachers perpetually: that’s far more important than any service to students or any educational accomplishment. The education outcomes go lower and lower, the schools get worse and worse, and the teacher unions wring their hands – and threaten strikes to protect incompetent teachers. So it goes.
Maturing beyond Byte Magazine
I have followed your columns since they began in The Byte Magazine. You inspired me to get into engineering and then IT. I find that the expanded scope of topics that you include in your own web site to be of even more interest. Keep up the good work.
Thank you for the kind words.
I’d gladly keep the Department of Bunny Inspecting if we could eliminate every OTHER department that contributes a dime to maintaining this guy and his herd in the lifestyle to which they have obviously become accustomed:
What is clear is that a system that can’t fire bunny inspectors but instead borrows the money to pay them (and give them raises) is no longer under rational control. By anyone.
‘So the lunatic theory that Barack Obama doesn’t meet the minimum eligibility requirements to be president of the United States was first advanced by Barack Obama’s official representative.’
I find this startling.
You asked: "Want to bet that they will be advertising them just before the election? "
Yes. If they are not advertising them already, making the bet moot.
Do you think it possible to find someone who will bet that they won’t?
Nothing attracts a US voter more effectively than the prospect of obtaining another citizen’s money without the use of (personal) force. So they will definitely be advertised.
In the 1970s, I worked at a grocery store. I was running a cash register on the day after Valentine’s Day. All holiday candies, from marshmallow eggs to chocolate bunnies, were marked 50% off. A customer came up with a shopping cart full of (mostly chocolate, if I recall correctly) candy, nothing else. The total came to $49 and change. She gave me food stamps to pay for this purchase. Candy wasn’t then (and may not be now) on the list of ineligible items. That much money went a lot further in those days, but $49 is still a lot of candy. Back then, it was a cart heaped full.
I’m a bit surprised that the USDA doesn’t have chocolate candy bunny inspectors. Wait until the next Federal Register is published, I suppose.
Vote for Obama and Get Stuff from the Obama Stash.
Sounds like what you’ve been saying for years
“The physical sciences produce detailed and precise predictions, but social sciences do not.”
CAPT Chris Christopher, USN (Ret.)
Indeed. I wrote The Voodoo Sciences for the CP Snow Memorial Lecture I gave decades ago…
Well, it gets more interesting:
A witness told Florida cops that he saw Trayvon Martin straddling George Zimmerman and pummeling the neighborhood watch captain “MMA style” shortly before the unarmed teen was felled by a gunshot to the chest.
Joshua Jordan, KSC
It does seem that the evidence increases that the local authorities made the correct decision in the first place. One may draw one’s own conclusions from that.
Federal Concert Inspectors
Now we have concert inspectors! The last concert I went to was in Orange County; they had several deputies dressed in olive drab uniforms. I decided that I would not be attending a concert in the state of California again — ever. Why bother going in public if you’re going to have some bureaucrat staring at you the whole time? Well, now the federalis are ruining concerts nationwide:
Lawmakers are scrambling to save the summer concert season from federal agents poised to seize the instruments of rock and country stars because the wood used to make them may have been illegally harvested–and without their knowledge.
Scrambling, eh? I can just see them scrambling around to make my life easier. *snorts* The sarcasm is thicker than clam chowder… Maybe next they’ll have inspectors to make sure everyone wipes their bottom properly after they poop? Though, I am unsure as to how many bureaucrats can do this properly anyway…
Joshua Jordan, KSC
I have been following this bizarre case from the beginning, and I can’t say I understand it, or why the Congress doesn’t just put an end to it. Or the President for that matter. It’s not as if it were a matter of partisan politics. This is the Iron Law of Bureaucracy run riot.
View 725 Monday, May 21, 2012
The tumult and the shouting dies, the Goldman Sachs and the Sovereign funds depart…
Which is to say that the Facebook IPO is over, and on today’s trading those who invested money in the notion that Facebook is worth 40 or more times earnings per share have lost money. I don’t know why anyone would be surprised. Think on it: if you bought Facebook at the initial price of $38 (and thus put money in the bank for the founders, employees, and early private investors in Facebook who certainly would like to have your money) you have bought paper that Facebook will need forty years to be able to buy back. The alternative is that Facebook will cleverly invest its earnings in a way that causes other people to buy that paper for what you paid for it. Or that enough people out there will decide that this is such a good deal they have to get in on it, and they will bid more for your paper than you paid.
By contrast, Apple is trading at about ten times earnings, and Google trades at about 12 time earnings.
Of course Facebook can grow. It only has a billion members. It can get more. Surely there is great potential for growth here. And we can advertise to them, and companies will pay to run those ads. Facebook shares will rise, double in value –
And thus are bubbles created, but it didn’t happen that way. Facebook is now down to below the initial offering price, and is likely to fall more. Those whose orders got lost by the buggy NASDAQ software and thus didn’t get in on the IPO turn out to be lucky. Even more lucky – or astute – would be the initial stockholders who sold out at the IPO price – at least it certainly looks that way. I would think that the end of the hype is the end of the Facebook bubble, and the price will continue to fall until Facebook is down in the region of ten times earnings. Even at that it will take Facebook ten years to earn enough to buy your share (just as it takes Apple or Google that long to make enough to earn enough to buy their own shares. Which is to say that given current earnings, Facebook would be worth about $38/4 which is to say less than $10 a share.
Will it fall that far? Who knows, really? But without a lot more expected revenue – either for real, or expected from exciting new ideas in converting that huge membership to a revenue source, either directly or through buying something that can be advertised on Facebook – it’s highly unlikely. Microsoft shot up from its first days after going public because Gates had the vision of a computer on every desk, and in every home, and in every classroom, and Microsoft software running on every one of those computers; and Microsoft pretty well achieved that. Apple almost died until the Return of King Jobs with his visions of smart phones and elegant tablets brought it back from a minor player to a giant worth ten or twelve times earnings, and stays there partly because of momentum and partly because Jobs infused Apple with his vision of how to take the inevitable new technology and make it something everyone wanted. Google is there because – well, that depends on to whom you listen. But for Apple, or Microsoft, or Google to get up above 20 times earnings is going to take a lot of vision along with the razzle-dazzle to sell it.
There was a time when people bought stock based on expected dividends. American tax laws have made it far more worthwhile for corporations to use their revenues to increase the value of their stock rather than concentrate on long term steady profits and dividends. That encourages speculation and bubbles – you pay less tax on money ‘earned’ by razzle-dazzle than on income from making good stuff and selling it at a profit. The result is that companies devour each other, buy their competition, and generally do whatever they can to increase capital gains. One remedy would be to tax interest, dividends, and capital gains at the same rates – after all, they are returns on investments made with money you’ve already paid taxes on – but that doesn’t seem to be in the realm of political possibilities. Thus we have all this focus on growth and razzle-dazzle, and not much on just building a solid company that makes stuff people want and will buy.
That’s not the way capitalism is supposed to work, but it’s what we have.
I’m off to work on fiction. Mail bag tonight, I hope.
Space-X launch tonight.
View 725 Sunday May 20, 2012
I’ve been busy with a bunch of stuff. We’ve seen the eclipse. Sable went to a new groomer yesterday, and she loves the place. She looks gorgeous. I’ll do a photograph tomorrow.
I was digging about looking for some other stuff and I found my 2002 walking tour of Rome. I’ll have essays tomorrow sometime – tomorrow is part of the new regime which includes a Monk’s Cell tour – bit if you’re looking for some observations about life and times in 2002 and a photojournalist walking tour of Rome, it starts here: http://www.jerrypournelle.com/reports/trips/rome1.html and goes on through three more parts.