Science Fiction Writer

dmk

Six questions to ask every prospective candidate to separate the wheat from the chaff:

1. Do you believe that Creationism should be taught alongside Darwin’s Theory of Evolution?

2. Do you believe that prayer has any chance of providing any practical help in times of emergency?

3. Do you believe that astronomers and astrologers should be given equal funding?

4. Do you believe that any major industry will effectively self-regulate itself, without the need for external controls?

5. Do you believe that UFOs are spacecraft full of aliens?

6. Do you believe that people will voluntarily limit themselves to combat global climate change?

If they answer yes to any of these, you know not to vote for them. This doesn’t necessarily mean you will get good government – just somewhat intelligent government.

Surely that has to be better?

Strange use of the word ‘stunned’ on the CBS page.

http://www..cbsnews.com/stories/2007/11/15/world/main3504859.shtml?source=RSSattr=HOME_3504859

“it is only one piece of evidence and it’s one person’s view, the
viewfinder of one individual,” said RCMP Cpl. Dale Carr, adding that
something made the Mounties take the action they did.

hmmmmm… blatant police sadism? The common police mindset that the
they have the right to act in any gung ho brutal fashion that they want?

“The RCMP urged the public not to rush to judgment.”

Yes.. don’t you naive public people rush to any judgements… err…
like the police do…

Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomy guy (I don’t really want to call him the Bad Astronomer 😉 ), recently brought up a post by Will Wheaton, known almost entirely for playing the part of the endlessly-irritating Wesley Crusher on the equally endlessly-irritating Star Trek: The Next Degeneration.

For what it’s worth, I like a lot of what appears in the Bad Astronomy site, including Phil’s blog posts. I also don’t have any problem with him ‘diversifying’ as some do; he has a right to his own views and politics and I support his right to express those things, even if I don’t necessarily always agree with them. I also don’t have anything against Will Wheaton (apart from the aforementioned role, and I guess that’s the show producer’s fault rather than his personal responsibility).

The article by Wheaton is one of these along the lines of nasty-rich-and-powerful-old-media just don’t understand the web and are trying to kill it off or control it. They don’t understand how it has changed the world and set all of us free to become newly-discovered overnight dotCelebs(tm) in a new and better dotRenaissance(tm) and not only that it won’t cost anything either.

The main gist seems to be that nowadays anyone can post anything online – youtube, blogs, gallery etc. So now magazines, newspapers, movie companies and the like, are just dinosaurs doomed to extinction by the fall of the digital asteroid.

What so many people who live on the Internet fail to realise is that this ‘freedom’ is itself the problem; removing barriers to ‘publishing’ sadly doesn’t mean we all become overnight Shakespeares or Mozarts or Kubricks. All it means is that every talentless prat in the world can now attempt to force his or her detritus on an unsuspecting (and largely uncaring) world. Talent requires somewhat more than an illegal copy of (insert creative software package name here) and the ability to click on a nice friendly ‘upload’ button.

Some of the responses on the Bad Astronomy post have put forward another viewpoint: that the products of ‘old-media’ at least guarantee a certain basic level of quality to the book/movie/article. Come again? If that’s the case you people must have access to a whole network of TV channels that I don’t, you must have different movies coming to your theaters than I have appearing in mine and your book stores must be full of books I’ve never heard of. In fact TV became so bad that when we moved over to Canada, we just didn’t bother getting any. We have a TV, we watch occasional DVDs (99% of which are complete rubbish) and that’s it – we have no TV ‘channels’.

It’s not really that old-world-media provides quality and new-world provides errr… doesn’t. The quality is almost universally bad – it just ranges from bad to very bad in most cases. And if nasty-old-media is dead then they sure don’t seem to know it. What was the biggest media event this summer? Harry Potter? The Transformers movie? Something with Disney Pirates in it? Yet-another-Marvel-comic-turned-into-a-disappointing-movie (YAMCTIADM – also ™)? What it certainly wasn’t, was something from youTube, or BookLocker, or in fact anything from the Internet.

There’s no doubt that there have been some ‘successes’ in the ‘new media’ world. I’ve heard of a couple of youTube people being made offers that undoubtedly wouldn’t have come their way if it wasn’t for their online activity. I’ve also heard of a couple of writers being picked up after self-publishing on places like BookLocker. The point is that once their talents are discovered – they’re being picked up by ‘bad-old-media’ and the Internet has just been a vehicle for them to get noticed. What I don’t hear is people saying, “Hey no, we don’t want your filthy stinking nasty-old-media money, we prefer to stay as we are, freezing cold and hungry thanks very much.” Even Phil Plait has books published by nasty-old-media. And as for Will Wheaton – well we already mentioned his past ‘evil history’.

So if nasty-old-media is dead or dying and we’ve finally got the uppers on those selfish money gougers that must be good – right? Instead of giving them all that money, now we… oh yeah, we give it to Google, and Microsoft and youTube, and presumably all of those wannabee authors are making BookLocker a tidy sum too.

Replacing one set of rich controlling media companies with a new set hardly seems to be progress.

In fact, it’s quite easy to say how new-media is the best thing since sliced (insert product placement here) bread when you’re not actually relying on it to pay for that bread. The expenses of the Bad Astronomy site are, I’m sure, more than covered by Phil Plait’s undoubtedly generous University stipend (and the proceeds of his book sales). He boasts how he has 30,000+ readers, a substantial fraction of any astronomy magazine, but what has he done with those readers? All he’s really done is drawn away 30,000 of people who at one time would have probably bought magazines and provided employment and helped to convince them that everything should be free. Oh… and collected a rather nice audience for his next book (and I applaud him on doing that!). He even says, “My publisher appears happy to have me working hard on the ‘net to promote the book as well.”

Phil also makes a good argument for the speed of publishing on the Internet. But again, speed isn’t everything. In 2006, members from the Duke Lacrosse team were charged with raping a black dancer. The news was splashed about the Internet at the speed of light. The responses came in from all sides just as quickly – it was a violation, the worst kind of sexual assault and bigotry committed by a bunch of sadistic, selfish, over-privileged white boys. The only problem was… it didn’t happen. The evidence was fudged, the prosecutor lied in court (that would be Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong lest we forget), withheld evidence, and the victim’s testimony was shaky at best. Eventually the case was dismissed, but by that time the boys were already tarnished. Opening the box is a lot easier than closing it again – just ask Pandora.

Speed of information dissemination is no boon if the information itself is incorrect, or from a tainted source. The Bad Astronomy site itself is littered with posts about people publishing bad information; in fact as the title suggests, that was its prime motivation for being created. Speed kills – not just people, but objectivity.

Most of the success stories I have heard that have come ‘from the Internet’ have come about not because of the Internet but rather the people involved. They were determined, they plugged away, they kept on beating on those doors, bugging people, pleading with people, irritating the hell out of people – until eventually someone said, “Oh Jesus, just buy the damn thing if only to shut them up.” They have been a success because they had the essential characteristics of successful people – resilience, persistence and sheer bloody-mindedness.

They used the Internet for sure; but if it hadn’t existed, they’d undoubtedly still have succeeded – because of those characteristics. Without the Internet being there, they’d have just found another way.

I once heard that Billy Gibbons said in an interview that ZZ Top was: “an overnight success, it just took seventeen years to get there”. In the ‘instant world’ that most people seem to live in, it seems scandalous almost sacrilegious to say this, but success takes those three things: resilience, persistence and sheer bloody-mindedness. Yes, you may get lucky. Yes, you really may be an ‘overnight success’, it does happen – just don’t hold your breath. It takes hard work.

According to this report a number of schools who were presented with free classical books had them returned as being ‘too boring’ for current students.

I can sympathise to an extent. When I first studied Shakespeare in class it was mind-numbingly dull, the presentation was fundamentally flawed – Shakespeare’s work are plays meant to be performed, not read as if they were novels. Nor were they meant to be analysed and pored over until every bit of fun and entertainment was wrung from it until all that remains is a ‘carcass fit for hounds’.

Once I saw Shakespeare performed (especially by the RSC) I was hooked and realised just what these great works were all about. Not only that, I could then go back and ‘read’ the plays and gain an even greater understanding of them so that when I watched them again for a second or third time (which I did willingly) I was able to get even more out of the repeated performances.

What was needed wasn’t that these works be abandoned, but simply that they should be presented well.

Where my understanding and sympathies run dry though, is in reading the quotes from the ‘librarians’ at these thankless schools, who hold the opinion that Manga comics and “magazines” (and I’m sure my assumptions of puerility en masse are not entirely unfounded) some how equates to ‘reading’. Continue reading

When the Corvette was first conceived the idea was that it would be a lightweight, cheap (more or less…) car aimed at younger drivers unencumbered by the delights of mortgages, educational plans, pension plans or families. After all, who else would be interested in an impractical two-seat sports-car anyway?

Sadly, the relative price of the Corvette has risen dramatically in real term costs. When introduced in 1955 the base price was 84% of the average wage. As can be seen below, by the ’80s the base price had risen to almost 150% of the average wage and this trend has continued ever since.

Year Average Wage * Base Price %
1955 3,301.00 2,774.00 84.04%
1965 4,658.00 4,321.00 92.77%
1975 8,630.00 6,810.00 78.91%
1985 16,822.00 24,878.00 147.89%
1995 24,705.00 36,785.00 148.90%
2005 36,952.00 44,245.00 119.74%

*Wage data courtesy of the US Dept. of Social Security

That’s not to say that the later model Corvettes are poor value for money, the technology and power levels being achieved are incredibly impressive, especially when compared to other exotica such as Porsches and Ferraris. What it has done though, is made it much more difficult for the average guy in the street to buy one and, especially with rising insurance costs, it effectively puts them way beyond the budget of a lot of  (if not most) younger drivers.

The Corvette demographic is an aging one, sadly myself included, and seems to consist largely of people trying to recreate the misty golden days of their youth mixed with stockbrokers and other wealthier types hoping that they will be able to buy something that they can cash in on and see the kind of vastly inflationary prices seen recently on the early ‘vettes Younger drivers appear largely confined to children of existing owners who have received ‘hand me downs’.

So the question is – where are the next generation of Corvette owners going to come from? Continue reading

So finally the promised and much vaunted 1% cut in GST has finally arrived and everyone is suddenly fantastically richer than they were this time last week.

Or not.

Conservatives ALWAYS pledge to cut taxes. It’s their number one sales pitch to the poor, overtaxed downtrodden. In fact often it’s the only card they seem to play. I saw this repeatedly in England and Canada’s Conservatives are grinding out the same stuck record. Elect us and we’ll cut taxes.

To be fair, they often do. The Conservative governments of England under first Thatcher, then Major, cut lots of taxes. They also then increased lots of other taxes too. Many of these were not ‘direct’ taxes such as income taxes, but rather indirect taxation such as reducing entitlement to benefits, cutting provision in schools and grants etc. The net result however was an overall increase in the overall tax burden for the majority of people.

One group of people who did seem to benefit from the changes however were people who were already rather well off. Strangely, these people enjoyed quite a bit of direct benefit from the changes in the form of saving them thousands on fancy houses and cars etc.

When Labour came to power in England it was under the banner of ‘no tax rises’. Since then, again there have been tax rises and it’s fair to say that the overall tax burden probably hasn’t changed a great deal; in fact it might even have risen again. With Labour though, the benefits do at least to occasionally benefit the poor instead of the rich (admittedly, probably only by accident).

The new GST cut is showing exactly the same trend. A lady buying a 700 thousand dollar house is happy to see an extra 7 thousand dollars in her pocket. While the rest of us see little change or even an increase in the overall taxes we pay because of the increases in income tax and higher duty on alcohol.

It would be easy to draw the conclusion from this that Conservatives always tax to benefit their rich friends to the detriment of the poor and that Labour/Liberal parties tax to take a little more from the rich to help the poor. In fact this position is often stated and repudiated by one branch of government or another (or indeed by the various media channels supporting the different factions).

The truth is somewhat stranger than the politically driven, newsworthy fictions though. Continue reading

“I felt a headache coming on, but a headache  powder  is one thing I do not take. I did once – and you all went away.” – Robert A. Heinlein

I guess I must have taken a headache powder!

What actually happened was that my (now former!) webhost, suffered from a problem with one of its servers losing this site and several others I manage for various people.

This should have been a slight inconvenience. One quick restore from the daily backups and we should have been up and running again.

However, the backup was corrupt.

No problem you think, just go to the next backup set.

That’s what I thought too. But it seems there is only one backup set.

Now uniqueness can be a celebrated status, as human beings we are all unique and as such incredibly valuable. As a Highlander immortal, being ‘the only one’ is a state to be persued with grim determination and bloodshed.

As a state for a backup, uniqueness is about as desirable as sex addict’s visit to a nunnery.

Even after contacting the company repeatedly to ask for further efforts to recover the data for the affected sites, I received only a single reply that brushed off the incident with only a ‘we sympathise and will get back to you’. A week later, they haven’t.

I don’t expect miracles. I don’t expect people to run around doing my every whim on five minutes notice. But I do expect a company to act professionally and responsibly, especially when I am paying them for precisely that.

Host Depot has proved themselves to be thoroughly and totally unprofessional in this matter. I strongly urge people not to use them.

So, Mr. DumbAndSelfish has just been on vacation and lost, presumed stolen, a substantial amount of cash. Now everyone knows that carrying large quantities of cash around is pretty dumb, and especially when going on holiday where you’re staying at hotels with lots of unfamiliar people are coming and going and crooks deliberately target people looking for the one idiot stupid enough to take cash or valuables with them.

Now, having returned from this rather costly sojourn, Mr. DumbAndSelfish concerned contacted the police to report the loss. Naturally, the police can’t do anything (even if the could be bothered to try) but it’s essential to get that all-important crime report number so that Mr. DumbAndSelfish can now claim from his insurance company for the loss caused by his stupidity. After all, that’s what insurance companies are for isn\’t it?

This kind of selfish thinking goes much further though. You may have heard the news recently of a ruling by a Canadian court that an unborn baby can sue it’s own mother for injuries that occurred as a result of a car accident. It was already legal to sue the Father in such cases, but now this insanity has been extended to cover mothers. Continue reading