Mail 761 Saturday, February 09, 2013
This place operates on the Public Radio model. It is free to everyone, but it exists on subscriptions. I do not bug you about subscriptions except when KUSC our local good music station holds a pledge drive. This week is pledge week for KUSC, so this is the week I remind you that if you don’t subscribe you ought to, and if you haven’t renewed recently you ought to. If we get enough subscriptions during pledge week we don’t have to have these exhortations. So this would be a great time to subscribe if you don’t already, and to renew if you haven’t for a while.
The ultimate e-book is printed on the Espresso Book Machine
You can create a print on demand version of your daughter’s e-book on the Espresso Book Machine. It does mean re-formatting the text and creating a different cover, but those are minor costs. There are more than 50 EBM locations in the USA and Canada. The machine prints and binds each book in a few minutes while the customer waits. I sent you a release about our Virtual Booksigning for my new thriller MELTDOWN, but it may have gotten lost in the clutter of your in-box.
These books have to be priced for the print market rather than the e-book because there is a cost of production. Many of the bookstores that have EBMs offer shipping service. The one closest to you is the Flintridge Bookstore and Coffeehouse in La Canada.
We plan to use this as a way to have a print edition for new products of uncertain demand. We can maintain the same list price and still make money and we will not have stocks of books sitting idle in our distributor’s warehouse. We are also working on the audiobook editions of "The Shenandoah Spy" and "The Queen of Washington" through ACX.com with wonderful narrators. Those will only be available on Amazon, Audible and iTunes. We already have four shorter ones and they have a new program where a customer can buy the e-book on Kindle and, for a slight additional amount, the audiobook, which can be listened to as they read. The system is called WhisperNet.
So, there is always a new development in electronic publishing. For what it’s worth, our tax statements reveal that we made ten times as much from Amazon as from any other channel last year. Of course. we’ve just started with the EBM. There are still a lot of people who want the print edition.
Brass Cannon Books
I have no experience whatever with self-publishing of printed books. The Strategy of Technology was published by a small university press, which in some ways made it indistinguishable from self-published in that there was little publicity and uneven distribution, but the book did sell many copies in the Brentano’s in the Pentagon basement, and was later adopted by the service academies for a while. Alas by then the press was out of business.
I have had considerable experience in eBooks, but of course Niven and I started as ‘names’ before we did any eBook publishing, so we began with a readership. For those who don’t start with that advantage, the trick to eBook success is to get the word out to the proper niche – to those who will enjoy the book. I am beginning to suspect that almost every reasonably well written book has a potential niche of ten to twenty thousand readers. The problem is making the book manifest to them.
Anyway, thanks for keeping me up to date on your experiences.
The world’s first Virtual Book Signing through the Espresso Book Machine
My new novel, MELTDOWN, is now available through the Espresso Book Machine at about 70 locations across the nation. Locally the EBM can be seen at the Flintridge Booksote and Coffeehouse at 1010 Foothill Blvd in La Canada. There you can see the trade paperback edition printed and bound before your eyes in just a few minutes. And at the same price as the regular trade paperback, $21.00.
This is a pretty impressive technology, and not that much different from producing an e-book. The cover requires a different file and we format the interior for print production rather than e-book with page numbers and headers. The content is the same. We also have the e-book in different formats at a slightly lower price. The difference is the cost of printing a print-on-demand copy. Regardless of format, most of the price goes to the retailers and distributors.
Here is a link to the Espresso Book Machine site. http://net.ondemandbooks.com/odb/selfespress/9781595954022
The machine costs about $100,000. Some large independent book stores in major cities, such as Tattered Cover, Politics & Prose, and Powells have EBMs and can produced the virtually signed edition. Creating that was simply a matter of adding a signature and inscription on a blank page. This signing will run about two months, rather than two hours. We’re hopeful everyone will buy a copy, just as a collectible. We will be publishing other EBM editions, too.
Brass Cannon Books
Good luck. Thanks for reminding me of this – it had got lost in the swim. I do like fast computers that can find things no matter how badly lost…
While we are at it
Coming Home From ‘Nam
This is a link for a new book project that Leigh and I came up with yesterday. We have high hopes for it, but need a little community support. Please pass this on theanyone you think can help.
An interesting concept for an anthology. Good luck.
Thinking about the area the Romans called “Africa,” I am moved to ponder: Does Algeria today produce as much wheat as it did when it was the Breadbasket of the Empire? If not, why not? I have to go to work, so I cannot pursue this burning question.
A related query: could the Romans have sown enough salt over a wide enough area to cripple the Carthaginian agricultural capacity? Does Tunisia today produce as much grain as Carthage did?
I will go to work now with visions of the great grain fleets in my mind, held hostage to the winds while the Great City went on short rations . . .
North Africa does not produce as much wheat and grain as it did in Roman times. But of course the ritual sewing of Carthage with salt was done in the Republic days, and what is today Tunisia was much more productive during the days of the Empire than it had been under the Carthaginians, who were traders first and farmers second. When I was growing up the conventional explanation for the fall in North African productivity was overgrazing, particularly by the goat introduced after the Muslim conquest. Overgrazing killed off the ground cover, and bare ground is hotter and causes rising hot air, thus lowering annual rainfall. That may be a Just So story; I don’t think I can prove the hypothesis and I don’t recall ever thinking it needed to be proved. And it may be the Vandals had much to do with it.
A Dark Age comes not when you forget how to do something, but when you forget that anyone was able to do that; it may well be that the Vandals brought a Dark Age to much of North Africa. Hippo wasn’t desolate when St. Augustine was Bishop there. It became so later.
I am no expert on the history of North Africa. I do know that in Dark Age France the peasant working the fields for three bushels to the acre yield had no idea that the same field in Roman days had produced eight to ten.
In America we seem to have no knowledge that at one time we had more the 90% literacy, and the conscripts who were illiterate had essentially no education: the number of illiterate conscripts who hade four or more years of school was essentially zero. But by 1950 that number began to rise. It seems to be rising still, but we don’t have conscription and teachers unions oppose any true literacy tests.
Asteroid Impact That Killed the Dinosaurs: New Evidence,
It seems that the book on the dinosaur-killing asteroid was not quite shut:
“However, further work suggested the Chicxulub impact occurred either 300,000 years before or 180,000 years after the end-Cretaceous mass extinction. As such, researchers have explored other possibilities, including other impact sites, such as the controversial Shiva crater in India, or even massive volcanic eruptions, such as those creating the Deccan Flats in India.”
Oops. But hold on! New data is in:
“New findings using high-precision radiometric dating analysis of debris kicked up by the impact now suggest the K-T event and the Chicxulub collision happened no more than 33,000 years apart. In radiometric dating, scientists estimate the ages of samples based on the relative proportions of specific radioactive materials within them.”
Whew! Close one. "The impact was clearly the final straw that pushed Earth past the tipping point," Renne said. "We have shown that these events are synchronous to within a gnat’s eyebrow, and therefore, the impact clearly played a major role in extinctions, but it probably wasn’t just the impact."
“Although the cosmic impact and mass extinction coincided in time, Renne cautioned this does not mean the impact was the only cause of the die-offs. For instance, dramatic climate swings in the preceding million years, including long cold snaps in the general hothouse environment of the Cretaceous, probably brought many creatures to the brink of extinction. The volcanic eruptions behind the Deccan Traps might be one cause of these climate variations. "These precursory phenomena made the global ecosystem much more sensitive to even relatively small triggers, so that what otherwise might have been a fairly minor effect shifted the ecosystem into a new state," Renne said. The cosmic impact then proved the deathblow.”
I guess the take-home lesson is that even the most likely theories need to be tested. For decades, likely theories in psychoanalysis were accepted as settled fact. Only later when the theories were tested they turned out to be wrong or only partly true.
I am sure that the whole story is not known. Niven and I were greatly pleased when de Alverez recognized us at a AAAS meeting. But whatever killed the dinosaurs Lucifer’s Hammer sells well, and it should, being a whacking good story if I do say so.
Suppose Atlas shrugs and the Algoreans "win"?
"Our industrialized and technological civilization does not run on rainbows and moonbeams. Nor is it likely to at any time in the foreseeable future. Renewable energy sources such as wind and solar are not viable replacements for fossil fuels. It is not a question of politics, but limitations imposed by the laws of physics and chemistry. Instead of apologizing for the use of fossil fuels, we ought to be damn glad we have them."
We sow the wind, but I would say the greatest danger to our civilization is that we have a school system that Glenn T. Seaborg described thusly “If a foreign government had imposed this system of education on the United States we would rightly consider it an act of war.” It has not improved since Seaborg wrote that in 1983. We no longer seem to notice that we now teach in college what just about every student learned in high school, and we joke about The Blob, but we continue to hold that teachers are entitled to tenure, and when we consider the right of the teacher to teach we don’t seem to ask what the students did to deserve a bad teacher. We sow the wind. We may yet reap a Dark Age.
Richard III alternate history
Dear Doctor Pournelle,
You wrote: "One could write a pretty good alternate history novel on the premise that Richard III found a horse."
This has already been done but in a TV series format. It occurs in the first episode of the original Black Adder series – although Richard III (played by Peter Cook) is killed by Rowan Atkinson’s character for trying to steal his horse! There’s even a nice bit with Henry VII moaning that all is lost (at the battle of Bosworth Field).
S&P being sued
Dear Dr. Pournelle,
I have my doubts. Here’s what I had to say on http://yardsaleofthemind.wordpress.com/2013/02/05/us-state-prosecutors-throw-us-a-bone-no-meat-on-it/
Now, maybe this is the first small step in a bigger plan – maybe the prosecutors have explained to some mid-level lackey at S&P that he could be rooming with Bubba and Vinnie the Neck for the next 10 years, unless he cared to share with them the names of the people involved in making sure that S&P didn’t look too hard at those mortgage-backed securities, but instead gave them the AAA-rating Goldman and others needed them to have in order to sell them to unsuspecting retirement funds. Because there were dozens of people in those rating agencies that knew MBS were some seriously bad stuff well before they started to stink – math & logic insist this is so.
Then, the prosecutors could have a remarkably similar discussion with the people that lackey fingered. Lather, rinse, repeat, until you’re having a little talk with senior execs at Goldman – and at Treasury and the SEC, and maybe (let’s dream a little here) with a few Congressmen. Then – when Wall Street Presidents and CEO are doing time and having their assets seized, Treasury and SEC heads are rolling, and (dreaming again) Barney Frank has his retirement plans changed to live off our tax dollars in an entirely different and more confined way – THEN I’ll admit I was too cynical.
Until then, the more likely scenario is: The government prosecutors are under enormous political pressure to DO SOMETHING about all these Wall Street fat cats having worked the system in order to not just stay out of jail, but to make off with enough tax-payer funded plunder to make Black Beard blush. So, who can they go after, that calms the little people without really bothering the big boys? How about the rating agencies? Yea, because OF COURSE S&P wasn’t under ANY PRESSURE AT ALL to give Goldman and others the ratings on MBS that Goldman and others needed to pull off their scam – it’s not like Goldman pays them for the ratings, after all.
Oh, wait – they do.
So, prosecutors can bag S&P, hit them with a billion-dollar fine, nobody does any time, and everybody else – the real perps from Wall Street to DC – skate, to fund another reelection campaign another day.
This is big news, but I’m not sure exactly how.
It is interesting that in all the reforms that came in the wake of the crash there was no reform of the rating system that allowed junk to be sold as safe.
Proscription vs. war
Hi Dr. Pournelle,
I have to say that the legal opinions on assassination-by-drone of American citizens make me squeamish. However, though they walk right up to the line I don’t think they cross it so long as one accepts the fundamental legality of the assassination of enemy combatants (which is another discussion entirely).
The power to order these strikes seems to derive from a legislative grant of power to the executive to wage warfare (though perhaps not “war”) against Al Qaeda and associated groups. The power to wage warfare against an alien force has always included the power to use lethal force at will against American citizens in the enemy ranks. That MUST be part and parcel of the war powers, or the military could be rendered ineffective by a small number of naïve volunteers for the other side. I don’t believe this means that the president has the power to put his political opponents on a kill list (and certainly not if they are resident in the U.S.).
Now, if you want to argue that assassinations per se are too dangerous a tool to be left in the hands of individual politicians… Like I said, that’s a whole other discussion.
I believe in rule of law, and that means explicit procedure. If we act as if we already have in effect the Ultimate Decree, there is no limit to the power of the executive. On what meat does this our Caesar feed that he has grown so great…
Subj: This is a breakthrough!!
Will the Dangers of Radiation Exposure Ever Make Sense?
By William Tucker
<http://www.nucleartownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/image/Tucker%20headshot.png> You have to wonder how there can be a scientific issue of extreme public importance where the disputing parties differ by about 10,000 orders of magnitude.
That’s the way things stand over the question of whether low doses of radiation are harmful and whether there have serious health effects from Chernobyl and Fukushima.
Jim Conca, writing in Forbes <http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2013/01/11/like-weve-been-saying-radiation-is-not-a-big-deal/> , thought the matter had been settled a few weeks ago. The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation – UNSCEAR – had just brought out its annual report. For the first time since World War II, UNSCEAR stated specifically that it does not make sense to try to project the effects of high doses of radiation down to the very low levels. Here’s what the report had to say <http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/67/46> :
In general, increases in the incidence of health effects in populations cannot be attributed reliably to chronic exposure to radiation at levels that are typical of the global average background levels of radiation. This is because of the uncertainties associated with the assessment of risks at low does, the current absence of radiation-specific biomarkers for health effects and the insufficient statistical power of epidemiological studies. Therefore the Scientific Committee does not recommend multiplying very low doses by large numbers of individuals to estimate numbers of radiation-induced health effects within a population exposed to incremental doses at levels equivalent to or lower than natural background levels. [Emphasis added]
There it is. The nuclear community has been waiting for such an admission for almost half a century. In the 1980s, the nuclear industry was forced to spend billions of dollars in order to reduce the emissions at the property line of a nuclear reactor from 5 millirems per year to 1 millirem. All this was performed in communities where the normal background levels stand at anywhere from 200 to 500 millirems. It was about the equivalent of paying $1 billion to prevent someone from smoking a single cigarette in your living room.
The evidence against the linear no-threshold (LNT) hypothesis is overwhelming. There has never been any data to support it. Evidence from Japanese bomb survivors shows a clear dose-response relationship down to 10 rems. Below that the incidence disappears against the background noise of normal cancer rates. There are plenty of studies showing the body has repair mechanisms that can handle low doses of radiation or is even strengthened by them. One recent study at Berkeley <http://www.rdmag.com/news/2011/12/low-radiation-doses-might-not-be-proportional-risk]%20%20Another%20showed%20that%20mice%20exposed%20to%20400%20times%20natural%20background%20showed%20no%20DNA%20damage,%20%20[http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/?term=10.1289/ehp.1104294> actually filmed damage cells migrating to the repair sites within 30 seconds of exposure. Another showed that <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/?term=10.1289/ehp.1104294> mice exposed to 400 times natural background showed no DNA damage.
So you’d think the UNSCEAR report might finally make a small dent in hysteria about nuclear radiation. But no, Conca’s two columns have unleashed a firestorm of criticism from people claiming there is all kinds of evidence that Chernobyl and Fukushima have already wreaked harm on nearby populations. Dr. Timothy Mousseau of the University of South Carolina claims to have discovered that birds living in the Chernobyl evacuation zone have smaller brains <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3033907/> due to low levels of antioxidants. Dr. Wladimir Wertelecki from the University of South Alabama spent ten years investigating <http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2010/03/22/peds.2009-2219.abstract> newborn birth in the Ukraine and found all kinds of spinal and nervous system defects, including an increased incidence of Siamese twins. Then there was a study just a month ago <http://truth11.com/2012/12/12/over-40-percent-of-fukushima-children-have-thyroid-disorders-officials-not-helping-ways-to-protect-yourself/> where a Japanese doctor claims that 41 percent of 57,000 children have tested positive for early signs of possible thyroid cancer, and four out of five evacuees are experiencing thyroid abnormalities.”
I have no trouble dismissing Greenpeace’s wild claim that 985,000 people have already died from Chernobyl. Nor do I have any difficulty in casting a skeptical eye on the notorious New York Academy of Sciences publication, Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment <http://www.strahlentelex.de/Yablokov%20Chernobyl%20book.pdf> . I recall opening that volume and immediately discovering a study by the notorious Dr. Ernest Sternglass, who used to command so much attention in the 1990s showing that every blip in cancer rates around the country was a result of nuclear fallout. This time Sternglass was claiming that an uptick in breast cancer rates in Connecticut in the 1990s must have been due to Chernobyl.
Still, I must admit, some of these studies send my head spinning. Are all these people just making stuff up? Is it that they don’t know how to establish control groups? Can a doctor from Alabama really spend ten years monitoring all newborn babies in the Ukraine and not know how to interpret his own data?
In the end, I have to go back to my own experience. In 2006 I spend a week sitting in the F <http://www.radonmine.com/> ree Enterprise Radon Mine in Boulder, Montana <http://www.radonmine.com/> , absorbing 400 times the EPA’s “action level” of radon gas. Radon spas have long been the rage in Europe and had their heyday in the United States for awhile until the EPA began its scorched earth campaign against radon in the 1990s. (Apparently frustrated because it couldn’t regulate cigarettes, the EPA now attributes 20 percent of lung cancers to household radon.)
At Free Enterprise I met people who had been coming to the mine every summer for 25 years to treat arthritis and other ills. Some claimed to have arrived in wheelchairs. There was one memorable delegation of Amish with white beards and glistening teeth who had taken the train all the way from Pennsylvania because their religion doesn‘t allow them to travel by air. Nevertheless, they made the trip to Boulder every summer to brush up on their health. Patricia Davis, whose family has owned the mine since the 1950s, says they have never been sued in all that time. I noticed she was one of the first people to congratulate Conca on his article.
I have no way of confirming whether the rate of spinal bifida in the Ukraine is above what is to be expected or whether the number of children with early signs of possible thyroid cancer in Japan is outside the norm. Not having yet experienced any ill effects from my own deadly exposure to radon, however, I can’t help but thinking that the doctrine holding even the smallest doses of radiation to be dangerous is highly suspect.
I think the evidence is overwhelming that radiation is like poison: the dose makes is deadly. There are levels of radiation that do no harm.
Indeed I think the case may have been made for hormesis: that there is a level of radiation that may even be beneficial, but it has not been proven and is not widely accepted.
EPA Doubles Down on Unicorns
One of my favorite analysts writes about the cellulosic ethanol requirement for blending with gasoline that is enforced by the EPA.
EPA Doubles Down on Unicorns
In my previous column — Why I Don’t Ride a Unicorn to Work <http://www.energytrendsinsider.com/2013/01/29/why-i-dont-ride-a-unicorn-to-work/> — I used an analogy to describe the US government’s approach to cellulosic ethanol mandates. In brief, they have mandated that something that does not exist — commercial cellulosic ethanol volumes — be blended into the fuel supply in the hopes that they can incentivize the industry into existence. They decided to require gasoline blenders to purchase the fuel, which as it turns out was a bit of a problem since it didn’t exist.
Robert K. Kawaratani
And apparently it is still the law: you must buy this non-existent product. The ways of bureaucracy are marvelous to behold.
‘They have been charged with possession and distribution of child pornography.’
And the times continue to change…
Printing a 3-D Moon Base
The European Space Agency is exploring the idea of using a 3-D printer to build a structure on the moon using moon dust, rather than hauling materials from Earth. 1:02 PM
Trouble is the money’s in the ink not the printer <GRIN>
Michael Montgomery, MD
And more on this as we learn more. Of course I participated in a NASA study in which the Administrator took part back in the Carter administration. Marvin Minsky were roommates during the study. The study was whether we could build robots who could go into space and replicate themselves (or possibly build factories which could then build robots; you harvest robots or factories at need). At the time we could not close the loop.
Much of what was said about the effect of changes on the middle class seems on target. The problem is that roughly fifty percent of the population has an IQ < 100, and few of these people can make significant contributions to the creative opportunities of the 21st century. So, apart from make-work solutions, call centres for public utilities, checkout chickery and hamburger flipping, there are few opportunities for what is becoming the unemployed underclass. The relevant occupations of the past, like domestic service, labouring, agricultural work and so on, have become unavailable to the superior white people, who become dependant on charity while the dignity of work is exported. I have no solution, but what cannot go on forever will not.
I have said before that a Republic with half its voters no longer capable of useful contributions cannot possibly last. And our education system appears to be designed to produce that result.
No Science Courts
While it’s not really on the subject of genetic engineering I thought I should point out a partial exception to the lack of science courts.
Since the eighties any litigation against vaccine makers that involved CDC recommended vaccines have had to go first through a special court where a tribunal of judges decide whether any damage claims have validity. While the judges themselves don’t necessarily have to be experts in the vaccine field they are given access to those who are so that they can make informed decisions.
If the court does decide that a claim is valid they can give reparations to the harmed party though a special fund set up for the purpose. There are some more details but that’s the essentials.
My understanding is that this was set up because of a slew of law suits back in the seventies that threatened to cause the pharmaceutical industry to abandon vaccines because no company could afford the liability. In a rare moment of foresight congress, realizing the potential disaster, set up this special court.
Arky Kantrowitz spent a great deal of time arguing for the establishment of science courts to settle questions of science. His arguments seemed sound to me. The notion of a jury selected from people who have no opinion on the matter in a case involving scientific principles seems bizarre.