Monday, April 30, 2012

The Fixer

There's been a lot of hoo-hah coming out of the recent case involving (in various roles) the federal government, Apple, Amazon, and the various "big six" publishers. Lots of predictions of doom and gloom, hysteria, cries of foul and more. Widely circulated were variations on a theme (probably ghost-written, or at least ghost-"fact fed" by the publishing industry) on why eBooks really aren't cheaper to make than "real" books.

Most of those articles, though, ignore the publishing houses that do this. Let us look towards, as the best example, the fine folks at Baen Books. Not only do they have books in multiple formats and that are not loaded with DRM, but you can get them ahead of when the physical version comes out and a brand-spanking new hardcover will run about $6.00 as a eBook.

This is not new. Baen has been doing this since the late 1990's. But most of the publishing industry does not seem to recognize this (and the reporters writing these stories are too lazy or time-pressed to do "original research" and take a broad look at the field).

A second thing to think about is how you buy eBooks and why that should make them cheaper. Because the reality is you don't "buy" and eBook. Money exchanges hands, yes. You don't own the bits, though, you lease them. Think it is not so? Dig deep and read all those bits of fine print on the publishers site or Amazon's site, etc. They can decide to yank those files from you the next time to hook your gadget up to the internet, if they so choose. It happened to me, not with Amazon and a publisher (Hachette), but between Fictionwise (now owned by Barnes & Noble) and Hachette. Hachette and Fictionwise got into a pissing match over books and Hachette picked up its marbles and pulled a number of titles. If you had downloaded them, you were safe. You could still read them on your current gadget. But, woe unto you if you changed computers or changed gadgets. Thanks to DRM (more below) you would not be able to read those files on your new computer or your new eBook gadget because you would need (in this case) to register your new gadget and download new encrypted files. And those pulled books would not be on your "bookshelf" so you would be screwd. Do you "own" these books? No. You do not.

And that's another reason why eBook prices should be lower. DRM. It's crap bought by the publishers and foisted upon the distributor and we end up suffering under it. We are blocked from reading a book across several platforms. Some schemes involve sensitive information (such as credit card numbers) and if you think that information is secure, guess again. Thanks to DRM, you can lose access to books, such as I outlined above. Another example was one small distributor that used a DRM scheme that nobody else in the industry was using. I bought several books from them as I could not find them anywhere else (Stan Schmidt's Lifeboat Earth dueo and L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt's tales of Harold Shea as two examples). The distributor went out of business, and I'm left with files I cannot read on my current PC or eBook gadget because not only are they a format that nobody uses...but I can't register the new gadgets.

(And to be honest, DRM punishes honest readers. It is aimed at the pirates but hurts the customer. And it forces, through actions listed above, those who are savy enough to put on the eyepatch and find a way around it.)

Frankly, I don't see why most author's are siding with the publishers. No, Amazon (or Barnes & Noble) are not your friend. But the publisher is not your friend, either. The business model is broken, the companies are inefficient and they have too many stakes in the past to adopt to the future. Most authors are what might be called "mid-list". They have a small following, do sales bit by bit, but might—over a long enough period of time—prove themselves to be hefty sellers of books. Publishers do not work this way. Blame narrow vision, blame a yearly (or less) business cycle, blame tax codes that punish holding inventory, but if you are mid-list writer you need to move up list or you will die.

With eBooks and the avoidance of "inventory" mid-list authors might survive long enough to grow. If you disover somebody you like on the mid-list you'll be able to buy all their books rather than either searching out the old stuff (second-hand, so it won't help the author) or giving up in frustration.

Authors and publishers are in a unique spot here. They can see, if they pull their heads out of the sand, that the landscape is changing. They have the lessons of the music industry to look at and avoid. They can evolve before evolution hits them upside the head.

Will they do so?

Addendum: This posting grew out of my comment to a posting on a friend's blog.

Addendum: A view by author Teresa Frohock.

Addendum: And how could I not include John Scalzi's thoughts?

Addendum: Blame Charles Stross! (Just kidding.)

Addendum: Closely-related posting by Tobias Buckell.

Addendum: So how much should you charge for an eBook, anyway? Some analysis here.

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day looks like something from another world...but it is set right here on Earth.

Sunday, April 29, 2012


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a bright morning on Gliese 876d, the closely held planet around Gliese 876. Use of sunblock is indicated.

Saturday, April 28, 2012


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows some finds from the recent minivan-sized meteor that broke up over California and Nevada this past week. Obviously, the universe was celebrating the announcement this week of mining in space.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Two Planets, Two Moons

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows two "moons" of Earth: the Moon and the International Space Station; as well as Jupiter. Not mentioned is another planet that is visible. Can you spot it?

Addendum: "Embigging" (what a word) the picture shows two for sure, possibly three, moons visible around Jupiter. Two are below, there is possibly one above (but it might be an "artifact", in other words, a blip in the digital picture, not a moon).

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

How Much?

So you may recall that this historical (hysterical?) object was up for sale a while ago. Looks like it sold, but final price was not announced (was it as much as $40,000 or more?).

A little background can be found in this Wall Street Journal article.
Night Lake

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the night sky over Crater Lake.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Test Your Skill

Know science? Better yet, know the science of science fiction? Take your best shot! (Refresh to get a new question...) With thanks to Bill at the Technovelgy site (one of the two best places to visit on the web).
Rock Rats

I never thought I'd see the day where they were discussing asteroid mining on CNBC and other outlets.

While you wait for the first launch, here's a little reading.

Addendum: The Help Wanted sign has been lit.

Addendum: David Brin has a few thoughts.
Java Jive

Good thing I don't have one of these. I'd probably wear it out.
To the Belt!

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a video of Rosetta's 2010 encounter with asteroid Lutitia. Will private enterprise soon be beaming back similar video?

More on the private effort here.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Soup Bubbles

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows evaporating bubbles. Cosmic-sized bubbles in a gaseous "soup", the Great Nebula of Carina.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Flowing Dunes

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows flowing barchan sand dunes on Mars. The explanation for these are fascinating and they really do look like flowing water to me!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Skies of Chile

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows three Auxiliary Telescopes at the Paranal Observatory in the Atacama Desert Region of Chile. Look at those skies!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Return of an Old Friend

Allen Steele; Angel of Europa (Subterranean Press; 2011; ISBN 978-1-59606-412-6; cover by Ron Miller).

Otto Danzig is checking over a spaceship when his ship, Zeus Explorer (see this for what that is based on) is out around the orbit of Mars, en route to Jupiter when the airlock door opens and he is almost sucked out. He wakes up to find that months have passed, the ship is now in Jupiter space. Why was he wakened from hibernation? Well, not to see how he almost got sucked into the big black beyond, but because two members on a diving expedition into Europa's ice-capped global ocean died. Danzig is the ship's arbiter, somebody outside the chain of command that acts to ease difficulties within the crew. The ship's captain has taken him out of medical hibernation to investigate what actually happened in the deeps of Europa.

This is a relatively short work for Steele, a novella rather than a novel (but it is between covers, so I'm counting it as part of the 2012 Year in Books!). I could easily see the events in the story being placed into a larger tale of humanity's first crewed visit to Jupiter and his moons and what they discover there. I'm not sure if this is part of Steele's Rude Astronauts tales (it feels like it could be, and the ship that Steele uses as the basis for the Zeus Explorer was the basis for at least one other ship in the short stories of the series, see Sex and Violence in Outer Space which also features sketches by Steele); it stands well on its own or as part of the series.

While there is no real surprise to the mystery, that might be fixed if this was embedded into a larger tale. A good short work from Steele and a nice break from the Coyote series that he has been working on. about eBooks of the installments of Rude Astronauts that haven't made the transition (including this one)?

Part of the 2012 Year in Books.
Going Goth

Bruce Sterling; Gothic High-Tech (Subterranean Press; 2011; ISBN 978-1-59606-404-1; cover by Aleksa Gajic).

Made up of: Favela Chic: I Saw the Best Minds of My Generation Destroyed by Google; Kiosk; The Hypersurface of This Decade; White Fungus; The Exterminator's Want Ad. Dark Euphoria: Esoteric City; The Parthenopean Scalpel; The Lustration. Gothic High-Tech: Windsor Executive Solutions (with Chris Nakashima-Brown); A Plain Tale From Our Hills; The Interoperation; Black Swan.

Counts as two (2) stories in the 2012 Year In Shorts.
Ring of Fire

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a interesting new look, courtesy of a composite image, of the Ring Nebula (M57, in Lyra, a regular stop for me during summer months).

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Hope your day is going better than mine so far...

Lost the upper/right bridge when I flossed last night. This was one of the teeth I lost on 09/11/01. I think maybe the endodontic guy was tapping that one thinking it was still a real tooth when he was checking the tooth that has been bothering me. It should be fixable (with dental quality "glue"), but my dentist is closed on Wednesday.

Took the dog for a walk, came home to find The Young Lady and the two kids that ride the bus at her stop still waiting there. High school kids got picked up, still no bus for the middle school kids. So ran into the house, grabbed my wallet, car keys, and briefcase and rushed out to drive them to school.

The bus came as I was loading them up, but instead of going back in and freaking the dog out, I decided to leave.

Halfway to work and I realized a few things...the sink is full of dirty dishes, the garbage was not put out to the street to be picked up, I did not start the load of wash I was going to do, I had no breakfast, I have no lunch…

...and I’m wearing the wet socks and shoes that I wear when I talk the dog for a walk.

Flight Deck

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the flight deck of Space Shuttle Endeavour. Yesterday, Space Shuttle Discovery flew past a bunch of monuments on its way to become a monument. These vehicles do not belong in a museum. They belong in space.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Reading Project

I've mentioned this before, but now it has grown: a few months back, a bunch of fantasy folk (those that write, those that publish or edit) got together for a little game.

I've decided to make my reading project this year (and probably next) to read at least one book by each of the folks who participated (or were scheduled to participate. I actually have several books by most of these folks (from memory, I might have books by many books, so little time, so many ex-lover's to bury).

Participants were (and the books I own by them are):

Joe Abercrombie: The Blade Itself (being read); Before They Are Hanged; Last Argument of Kings; The Heroes; Best Served Cold.

Saladin Ahmed: Throne of the Crescent Moon, some short works.

Elizabeth Bear: Range of Ghosts (plus a few others I bought earlier not at Amazon).

Peter V. Brett: The Warded Man; The Desert Spear; Brayan's Gold; The Great Bazaar and Other Stories

Myke Cole: Shadow Ops: Control Point (being read).

Jim Hines: Libriomancer (not yet published). Goblin Series: Goblin Tales, Goblin Quest, Goblin Hero, Goblin War. Princess Tales: The Stepsister Scheme, The Snow Queen's Shadow, The Mermaid's Madness, Red Hood's Revenge.

Jay Lake: Trial of Flowers and Madness of Flowers look the most appropriate for this project, along with Green and Endurance (not yet purchased). Possibly Mainspring, Escapment and Pinion, the three volumes of the "spacepunk" trilogy might work for this project. I also own number of books not through Amazon (paper and electronic), anthologies and novels.

Scott Lynch: The Gentleman Bastard Sequence: The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Under Red Skies.

Pat Rothfuss: The Name of the Wind.

Brent Weeks: Beyond the Shadows, Shadow's Edge, The Black Prism, Perfect Shadow, The Way of Shadows.

Let's see what I can come up with!

Addendum: One wonders if something like this happened during that game session.

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows us the view around Antares. Nebular clouds, a globular cluster and stars.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Peak Nebula

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the Eagle Nebula (including those famous "Pillars of Creation") as taken by the 0.9 meter telescope on Kitt Peak. Pretty good for a ground-based scope!

Sunday, April 15, 2012


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows one possible explanation as to why the Titanic did not see an iceberg on its course: was it the victim of a so-called Fata Morgana mirage?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Ringed Wonder

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is of Saturn and six of his moons. You see something like this in your backyard telescope and you wonder how it can all be.

Friday, April 13, 2012


A map relating to the works of Anne Tyler. I don't read her stuff (my wife has), but I love things like this.
Fighting Soldiers from the Sky Get Sky Pilots

Airborne priests of the Russian military. I kid you not.
The Devil's Chaos

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows chaotic terrain on Mars and a snapshot of a dust devil caught by one of our orbiters.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Cat in the Box

It's stuff like this that convinces me that I live in a book. A book written by Robert Anton Wilson, Philip K. Dick or Edward Whittemore. How can I get moved to a book written by Cordwainer Smith?

Addendum: And it's spreading...
The Dogs of War

Dogs in the combat zone, both now and then.
Radio Ga-Ga

One tweet about a weight-loss book and suddenly Lady Gaga is the "saviour of the book industry". Oh. My. Aching. Head.
No Reservations

Anthony Bourdain on work, life and over-extending. While The Layover may have been the televised breaking point, he's not slowing down: a new imprint, and talks even more here.

Have you bought his new comic, yet?

Lessons learned from a ten-year long grudge. Rejection is sometimes correct!
Jewells on a String

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is actually a movie: why don't all the stars in the sky move?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


Wowza. Take a look at this Lego Exoskeleton!

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the amazing complexity in NGC 2264, a nebular region in the constellation of Monoceros. Can you spot the cone? The fox fur? The Christmas tree? How about the unicorn?

Monday, April 09, 2012

What, Me Worry?

David Brin speaks about a problem we have: attacking SF for being optimistic. While I would not be in favor of a constant stream of only happy stories, it can lead to people dreaming...dreaming big...and maybe becoming those who find solutions to our problems. More than one scientist, engineer or explorer has cited the works of Verne, Heinlein, Clarke, Asimov, Bradbury and more as the inspiration for their path through life.
China, My China

Steve Squyres has been appointed as chairman of NASA's Advisory Council. He offers some hard advice to NASA: move forward or die.

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is of Globular Cluster M35. It really is full of stars!

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Trade or Aid?

Can aid save nations (societies)? How about trade? Here's an interesting story about how coffee might help.

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is another nice shot of the conjunction of Venus and the Seven Sisters.
Listening Habits

I'm preparing to switch from my current computer to a new computer (the current computer will still be used, but as it is getting creaky...I think we bought it in 2004 or 2005...time to get a new primary!). As a result, I'm copying, backing up, deleting, checking various things.

In looking at my iTunes list of tracks, I noticed how much time I've spent listening to podcasts. Unfortunately I only have back to 2010, as I switched to a new external hard drive then and lost the previous years record in the swap. But from 2010 to now, my podcast listening time is as follows:

2010: 158 days (24 hours per day = 3792 hours of podcasts).

2011: 63 days

2012: 15 days

2009 would have been on part with 2010. During 2009, I was traveling to Pennsylvania a lot, to visit my parents. I also drove to work, drove on various errands. My father died in 2010, so travel tapered down a bit, but picked up in the second half of the year as I drove my father-in-law to his chemotherapy appointments. My father-in-law died in 2011, so driving tapered off again.

Video killed the radio star? Not in my case, podcasts killed the radio. Period.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Among the Sisters

I hope you all saw this earlier in the week: Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows Venus among the Pleiades (sometimes known as the Seven Sisters). Fantastic sight!

Thursday, April 05, 2012


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows something I've only seen once: zodiacal light, a dim band that can be seen stretching across the sky under conditions my area never attains anymore (I haven't seen the Milky Way from my backyard in many years, either!).

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Space Is Big

And it's empty. But occasionally things happen. Galaxies do collide. And, when they do, you get something like today's Astronomy Picture of the Day: Centaurus A, an "active" galaxy in our southern sky.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Hey Kids, Let's Build A Big Sphere In Our Basement!

Building a Dyson Sphere in five (relatively) easy steps. An engineering problem for the enterprising student.

Or maybe not.
Moving Readers

A collection of people reading on the subway.
Cluster & Eno

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows two star clusters in the night sky: one young, one old. Without reading the text, can you guess which is which?
Game of Chumps

Thus spake The New York Times:

What "Game of Thrones" needs if it is to expand its fan base beyond Dungeons & Dragons types...

Wow. That's almost as dismissive as their previous comments on the miniseries. The New York Times should have as good a fanbase as George R. R. Martin. The makers of Dungeons & Dragons should have as good sales!

Strike two for the Grey Lady.

I have never considered any of my dogs "equipment" so it is nice that the military might be moving away from such a designation.
The Glen Cook Interview

Author Bryan Thomas Schmidt talks to Glen Cook before I get a chance to meet him and earns my eternal hate. HATE, I say!

No seriously, wander over to SF Signal and read the interview. It is a shame that Glen Cook seems to be invisible to much of genre readers, he has multiple books that are excellent (the Black Company series, the Garrett, P.I., series, a number of SF/space opera novels). Please read the interview and then take a look at some of his books!

Sunday, April 01, 2012


Another month, another Ansible!

R.I.P. M.A.R. Barker (Prof. Muhammad Abd-al-Rahman Barker, 1929-2012), creator of the science-fantasy world Tékumel as a setting for Empire of the Petal Throne (1975) and related role-playing games, died on 16 March aged 83. [AW] Tékumel outdoes even Tolkien's Middle-earth for its density of historical, cultural and linguistic detail; besides 'nonfiction' treatises on the world, Barker also set five novels there, beginning with The Man of Gold (1984).

R.I.P. Jean Giraud (1938-2012), highly prolific and influential French comics artist who cofounded the seminal magazine Métal Hurlant in 1975, died on 10 March aged 73. [GW] Much of his sf work appeared as by Moebius. Genre films using his design concepts include Alien, Tron, The Abyss and The Fifth Element. He was commissioned to draw a 1988 French postage stamp in honour of himself, and was inducted into the SF Hall of Fame in 2011.

A sad month, indeed.
Alien Invasion

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows Earthlings fighting back against the alien invaders from Omicron Ceti.