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Odd Lots

  • I get asked several times a year: “What are your politics?” Tough question, given that I think that politics is filth. But now Jon Gabriel has answered the question for me: I do not join teams. I create my own. I’ve been doing this all my life. I’m not going to stop now.
  • Side note on Jon Gabriel: He used to work at Coriolis back in the day. So although I’ve been seeing him online for years, I never realized until very recently that he was our Jon Gabriel. (There is another who does diet books.)
  • Twitter is experimenting with doubling the size of tweets to 280 characters. I wonder if Gab had any least little bit to do with that?
  • Cirsova Magazine posted a short excerpt of something called the Denham Tracts from 1895 on Twitter, with a longish list of British supernatural beings, among which are “hobbits.” You can see the whole fascinating book on the Internet Archive. It was published by the Folk-Lore Society and it’s exactly that: Short notes on British folklore, including local saints, odd little ceremonies, song lyrics, and supernatural creatures I’ve never heard of, like the dudmen, wirrikows, gallytrots, miffies, and loads more. (The list starts on page 77.) Great fun!
  • At last, it looks like a popular treatment of sleep science is coming to us. Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep will be released on October 3. This long-form piece provides some background. Walker is willing to say what I’ve been saying for decades: Do not short your sleep. Bad things will happen, including cancer, obesity, Alzheimer’s and who knows what else. Unlike me, Walker is an expert on the subject, so maybe you’ll believe him.
  • Lack of sleep can kill you. So, evidently, can low-fat diets, according a Canadian study of 135,000 adults in 18 countries, published by The Lancet. Note the reactions of NHS physicians, who aren’t convinced. (In their defense I will say that the Mayo Clinic is still pushing a low-fat diet in their newsletters.)
  • Here’s a long, rambling, but worthwhile discussion of how the fake science of fat demonization came about, and how, faced with the spectre of being shown to be wrong about something (impossible!) governments are doubling down on the fake anti-fat message. Government actions cause harm because we can’t throw the responsible parties in a cell and leave them there. The King, after all, can do no wrong.
  • Via Esther Schindler: The history of email.
  • I’d prefer that it be in Pascal, but so it goes: There is a Javascript code baby onesie. My grand-niece Molly is now a month old. Decisions, decisions…
  • In his will, philosopher Jeremy Bentham specified that he was to be mummified, dressed in his ordinary clothes, and put on display. So it was written. So it was done.

The Great American Eclipse, Nebraska-Style

Total Eclipse 500 Wide.jpg

A little over five weeks ago, Carol and I threw the Pack into the Durango and blasted north for Colorado Springs. We spent a day there visiting, then passed off the Pack to Grandma Jimi (the breeder from whom we bought them) and headed north again. We didn’t drive past our old house. We decided, in fact, that we would never drive past our old house ever again. Closure is good, trust me on that.

We got the the Denver airport just in time to pick up my oldest friend Art, whom I had met in kindergarten, and who in 1969 had dragged me away from my pile of broken TV chassis long enough to meet my wife. All along northbound I-25 were dot-matrix signs from Colorado’s DOT, warning us about heavy eclipse traffic. Well, we had a plan for that. Instead of going straight north into Wyoming, we headed NE out I-76. We left I-76 at Sterling, Colorado, and drilled almost straight north into deepest Nebraska.

This was not an impulse. This was something I had had in mind since we began making plans for the trip several years ago. I had a hunch that most people would make a beeline for places where the path of totality crossed an Interstate. That’s why we didn’t keep going east to North Platte. And forgive me for being right: We saw very little traffic once we got away from I-25. Many other people we know, including Charlie Martin, got caught in some nasty traffic jams coming down I-25 from Casper, Wyoming. Not us. Nebraska’s backroads are excellent, and there was almost no one else on them. We reached Alliance, Nebraska about 3 PM the day before the eclipse. I had reserved a hotel room there a full year before, practically the day they began taking reservations. That was a good thing, as there are (I think) all of three hotels in the whole town.

With the hotel room squared away, we roared off to Wells Ranch, a few miles south of Alliance. There we met my high school friends Pete Albrecht and Ernie and Michelle Marek, along with their daughter Laura. Ernie had reseved space for us all at Wells Ranch, which had cleared one of their cattle pastures (you can guess what that entailed) and set up to receive as many as 1,000 visitors in tents, RVs, and trailers. Ernie brought his Airstream trailer, and Pete a tent. We had a nice little encampment fairly close to the portapotties and the building where the Wells people were providing hot meals, especially burgers and sausage made from (extremely) local beef.

One startling thing we saw on pulling in was that the sky was full of kites. I hadn’t seen that many kites flying in one place since the old WIND kite festivals at Chicago’s Grant Park downtown while I was in college. I hadn’t thought to bring one, but a nearby camper had a few extras and I actually got to join the other campers in sculpting the sky, as they say.

Art did a little better than kites: He brought his professional-quality 4K video camera drone. He didn’t fly it a great deal, but he took some video footage and a few stills of the campers in the Wells pasture.

We spent an hour ot so catching up, and laying our plans for the next morning. Come five PM, we all piled into the car and headed back to Alliance. For that Sunday they had blocked off pretty much the entirety of their main street, and threw one helluva party. A local rock band played, and all the restaurants had tables and catering trucks outside. Beer flowed like water. It was a beer crowd, as you might expect; I looked in vain for wine.

When Monday morning came, Alliance and its surrounds were covered in very dense fog. I got a little nervous at that point. Back in 1972, some friends and I (including Art and Ernie) had driven almost 2,000 miles to the mouth of the St. Lawrence River to see a total eclipse, only to be clouded out a mere hour before totality. The fog lifted eight-ish, with only a few scattered clouds remaining, and we began setting up our equipment.

Art, Pete, and Ernie are hobby photographers with fabulous cameras, filters, telephoto lenses, etc. I’m not. I didn’t plan to photograph totality at all. Instead, I brought my Criterion portable scope (which I had bought to see Halley’s Comet from Bonaire in 1986) and arranged it to project a magnified image of the Sun on a sheet of foamcore board. This worked very well for the partial phases of the eclipse. No need for glasses; we were never looking at the actual Sun.

Partway through the partial phase, some denser and far less scattered clouds wandered in. My blood ran cold. This was how it had begun in 1972. Fearing that this was as good as it was going to get, I took a couple of remarkably good shots of the partial phase right through the clouds, with the clouds acting as their own solar filter. All I did was aim my Canon G16 at the sun, and snapped away on auto. But damn, I was worried.

Very shortly after I took the shot above, the clouds dispersed in a hurry, as though God had leaned over the railings of Heaven and yelled “Shoo!” I stilled my pounding heart; it would not be 1972 redux.

As the partial phase of a total solar eclipse nears its end, the quality of the light changes. It gets “thin” in a weird way, which I have always characterized as “elfin.” Some people say it seems a touch green. It does seem more than a touch spooky. We put my spare sheet of white foamcore down flat on the ground, in hope of glimpsing the mysterious and hard-to-see shadow bands. Carol and I had seen them during the total solar eclipse of 1998, from a cruise ship in the Caribbean. It helps to have a large area of plain white to look for them. We had the side of a bright white ship, and the shadow bands were immdiately obvious in the last few seconds before totality. Nobody quite knows for sure what causes them; see the link above for several theories. The Sun became an ever-thinner sliver, putting the area into something like deep twilight. I looked at the foamcore, and damn! Shadow bands! They were hard to see and only lasted a few seconds, because then…

Totality.

Everybody all across Wells Ranch cheered. It got dark, but not midnight dark. Twilight-gray faded to a weird off-black. The Sun’s corona was much larger than I had predicted, and cast quite a bit of light all on its own. Yes, it really did look like Art’s photo at the beginning of this entry. During totality you can look at the Sun through a telescope, and we did. There were several pink-violet prominences at points around the Sun’s limb. You can see some in the photo below (from Pete Albrecht) if you look carefully:

This was a short eclipse, with only a little more than two minutes of totality. I took some quick looks through the Criterion, but mostly I just stood and basked in the strangeness of the light and the weirdness of the corona. I wondered what our primitive ancestors might have thought, when chance placed them in an eclipse’s path. Were I even a hard-headed Neanderthal (and they were very hard-headed) I would have been hard-pressed not to ascribe the sight to supernatural activity.

And as a quick aside, I need to point out that eclipses of the sort we see are a consequence of a truly weird coincidence: That the Sun and the Moon present almost precisely the same angular diameter to people on Earth’s surface. A smaller Moon would merely transit the Sun’s disk. A larger Moon would have blocked out the prominences and even the corona. So why did it work out this way? Nobody knows. It seems an astonishingly unlikely thing. In truth, the Neanderthals’ guesses are pretty much as good as mine.

It lasted for two marvelous minutes and change. The end of totality is signaled by something no less astonishing than the eclipse itself: A dazzling point of light appears along the limb of the Sun, forming what people call the diamond ring effect. Like the shadow bands, it lasts only seconds, before the exposed point of the solar disk broadens to a slowly growing and painfully bright crescent. Again, people cheered, not so much because the eclipse was over, but because we had driven a long way to see it, and succeeded. (Unlike us in 1972.) This was my third total solar eclipse. I expect to make it four, come 2024. I hope to make it five, but more than that…unlikely. So I cheered with the whole gang scattered across the cowfields. We came. We watched. We triumphed.

Then it was over, and before the Moon moved entirely away from the Sun, people were throwing stuff into their cars and trailers and heading for the exits. I expected that, and it was the reason we had all decided to stay the rest of the day and the coming night in Alliance, so that the mad rush out of town would be other people’s problem.

And well that we did. That night, in the mostly empty cowfield, we were graced with some of the darkest skies any of us had ever seen. The air was clear, and apart from Alliance’s lights on the northern horizon, there was nothing to dull the stars. The Milky Way was as bright as I’d ever seen it. We leaned back in our lounge chairs and reminisced about Lane Tech, while spotting a few satellites and several very bright meteors, probably late Perseids.

Earlier in the afternoon, we had taken a quick trip a few miles north to Carhenge, one of the most peculiar things I’ve ever seen. Back in 1987, an eccentric artist created a model of Stonehenge, only made out of 1960s and 70s cars, all painted gray. There is something delightfully human and weirdly Rural American about it. Nobody would do something like Carhenge in the Seattle suburbs. Sure, it’s a tourist trap. We were tourists.

Worked as designed.

And so it ended. In a way, the expedition redeemed our ill-fated coming-of-age adventure to Cap Chat, Quebec, in 1972. Closure, as I said, is good. Pete took a photo of the three of us who had gone that time, along with a little blue souvenir flag that Ernie had somehow managed to retain for 45 years. Better late than never–and it had been well worth the wait.

Odd Lots

The Other Fry’s

Sure, you’ve got Amazon Prime. (I do too.) But I have something that (most of) you don’t have: Fry’s Electronics. It’s a 12-mile drive from here, so I can’t just dash over anytime I want, like I can to Artie’s Ace Hardware. However, I realized after stopping in after a 15-year hiatus the other day that I need to go there more often.

Fry’s is hard to describe. It’s a double-big box store, done up in Aztec decor to look something like a pyramidal temple. It’s the ultimate nerd supply house, and has everything you might expect: motherboards, memory sticks, power supplies, cases, monitors, hard drives, Flash drives, software, and so on. Want to build your own desktop? It’s all there. However, Fry’s is remarkable for going even deeper into the wild country of the word “electronics,” right down to resistors and capacitors, soldering stations, shrink tubing and wire in any color you could name, and aluminum chassis. Good lord, they even have panel meters. Tools, wow: multitesters of every sort, needle-nose pliers, dykes (sorry; I still call them that), Dremels, Internet cable connector crimpers, and on for page upon page.

It gets a little nuts after that: toys, kites, CDs, DVDs, candy, all kinds of snacks, light bulbs, night lights, swamp coolers, refrigerators, camping gear, CB radios (!!), and fifteen varieties of fidget spinner. There was a display of something I truly don’t understand: body shapers (which is I think the generic term for things like Spanx) printed to look like bluejeans. Yes, I know, there are plenty of women nerds…but underwear in a resistor shop?

Crazy world.

Why was I there? I’ve noticed over the past year that the Mozilla codebase has grown ever more memory-hungry. Waterfox has taken to gagging with just six or seven tabs open. I’ve been meaning to add more RAM to my quadcore for some time, on general principles. It started out as an XP machine, and so had a scant 4 GB since I bought it. Now I had an excuse. Windows 7 Pro 64-bit can manage 192 GB of RAM, so throwing 16 GB at it is no big deal. But since I dropped those sticks into the quad, I haven’t heard the least little feep out of Waterfox.

Excellent prices, overwhelming selection, and people in the aisles who know what they’re talking about. Still another expression of the boggling richness of Phoenix’s retail sector. Fry’s Electronics is legally unrelated to Fry’s supermarkets, but was created by the sons of the man who founded the supermarket chain. If you’re ever in town for some reason, make sure you go over there. If you do, call me and I’ll come along.

Buy some hot pink shrink tubing. Dare ya!

Odd Lots

Monthwander

Wow. We’re almost out of July, and until today I’ve posted only one entry here this whole month. I won’t make excuses. Ok, a few: I was traveling the first week of the month, and came back only to have extensive oral surgery a couple of days later. I had two teeth pulled, two bone grafts done on the sockets, and implant posts placed where two of my other teeth had previously gone missing, one of them in the early 1990s. I was on heavy-duty painkillers for a couple of days, during which time I mostly read books that didn’t require a lot of brain cells. Writing was just not on the menu.

Nor was eating. For the first five or six days I subsisted on Glucerna, cottage cheese, and scrambled eggs. Eating was unpleasant. I lost five pounds. Eating is still tricky (and not entirely pleasant) because I have gaps (with stitches) on both sides of my mouth, so chewing on just one side isn’t an option. Chewing with my front teeth works to some extent, although I feel like a hamster when I do it. I haven’t eaten this much cottage cheese since, well, never.

This has made me grouchy. I wrote a rant for Contra here a few days ago that was so grouchy I’m still not entirely sure I’m going to post it. Let me think on that a little.

I began to suspect I was coming back to life when I got another thousand words down on Dreamhealer. It was supposed to be a short novel. True to my pattern, it’s getting more complex all the time, and I seriously doubt I’ll be able to pull it off in 50,000 words. I’ve already got 16,000 words down, and am just now getting out of second gear.

Dreamhealer is a very recent idea, and I haven’t said a lot about it. Here’s the elevator pitch:

A lucid dreamer discovers he can enter and heal the nightmares of others, and declares war on the mysterious creatures living in the collective unconscious that create nightmares and then feast on the terror that they invoke.

My back-cover hook is this:

Meet Larry. He’s your worst nightmare’s worst nightmare.

It’s a bit of a departure for me. It’s got nerds, PDP-8s, dogs, romance, programmable thought-forms, and some very weird dream footage. Oh, and something else: Julian Jaynes’ theory of bicameral psychology. I mentioned this in my May 10, 2017 entry about berserk Marian apparitions. Back in May I hadn’t re-read Jaynes’ book yet, and a lot of what I’ve done in the last two weeks has been devouring as much of Jaynes’ thought as I can manage. His book has hands-down the longest title of any in my library: The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. He’s not a dazzling writer, and given my generally foul mood, I managed to slog through no more than a chapter a day. There is an interesting (and far better written) gloss on Jaynes’ theory in the book The Dark Side of God by Douglas Lockhart, which I reread after finishing Jaynes. Quite honestly, I don’t recommend the book on its own merits, but Lockhart had some useful insights on bicameral thought and the origins of religion.

One of my friends asked me the other day: “Whyinhell aren’t you writing the sequel to The Cunning Blood?” Good question, especially since I got the idea for The Cunning Blood (and the whole Gaeans Saga, including the Drumlins stories) almost exactly twenty years ago, in mid-July 1997. The easy answer is that I’ve never written a sequel and am not entirely sure how to go about it. I’ve got some characters (including an AI Oscar Wilde) some tech gimmicks, a few action scenes, but no plot to speak of. I do have a prolog for the story, which I published here some time back.

Honestly, guys, when I finish Dreamhealer, I’m going to finally take a good run at The Molten Flesh. Really. Cross my heart and hope to have more damned teeth pulled, which right about now strikes me as worse than dying.

I’ve Been to Chattanooga at a Con with No Politics

Well, that won’t be the title of a Top 10 song, fersure. However, it’s true: I went to my first SF convention in five years. It’s called LibertyCon. It was in Chattanooga, Tennesee, thereby taking my list of un-visited states down to 11. I had a truly marvelous time. I’m going next year, 1,500-mile air distance be damned.

I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. Libertycon reminded me of the 1970s, minus the hormones, the frizzy hairdos, and the leisure suits. Back in the 70s, when we went to cons it was for the writing, the art, the authors, the huckster room, the parties, and all the other people who were there. We didn’t go to cons to talk about politics. In fact, we avoided the handful of losers who insisted on talking about politics, and if they got too much in our faces, we chewed them out. This element of con culture began to disintegrate in the mid-1980s, which, not coincidentally, is about the time I stopped going to cons, beyond the occasional Worldcon that was within easy driving distance.

Just imagine! There were no panels on how Gambians are under-represented in fantastic fiction, nor panels explaining why setting stories in Gambia is cultural appropriation. The insufferable John Scalzi was not present, and was not yelling that everyone could kiss his ass. (He does this so much I wonder if he’s mispelling “kick.”) There was no code of conduct granting the concom the power to throw you out of the con if you said something that somebody at the con didn’t like.

No. We listened to panels and solo presentations about designing alien species, collaborating on writing projects, overcoming writer’s block, satellites vs. space junk, future plagues, junk science, the New Madrid fault system, the future of military flight, space law and space treaties, writing paranormal romance (with the marvelous subtitle “Lovers and Stranger Others”), inventions and the patent system, the future of cyberwarfare, cryptozoology, and much else. See what’s not on that list? Well, I won’t drop any hints if you don’t.

Note well that this is about con programming and con management. Here and there politics crept into private conversations of which I partook, but I heard neither Trump bashing nor this “God-Emperor” crap. There was occasional talk of governance, which some of us called “politics” in ancient times before partisan tribalism polluted the field. There was much talk of guns, and nobody had to look over their shoulders before speaking. There was also much talk of swords and knives and how such things are made.There was a great deal of talk about whiskey, but then again, this was Tennessee. (And nobody held the fact that I don’t like whiskey against me.) There was, in fact, talk about damned near everything under and well beyond the Sun. What was missing was shaming, whining, and tribal loyalty signaling. (There is no virtue in “virtue signaling.”) It was nothing short of delicious.

The list of authors present was impressive: my friends Dan and Sarah Hoyt, John Ringo, David Weber, Tom Kratman, Peter Grant, David Drake, Jason Cordova, Stephanie Osborn, Karl Gallagher, Lou Antonelli, John Van Stry, David Burkhead, Michael Z. Williamson, Richard Alan Chandler, Jon del Arroz, Declan Finn, Dawn Witzke, and many others. Baen’s Publisher Toni Weisskopf was the con MC, but she always attracted such crowds that I never managed to get within several feet of her. Space law expert Laura Montgomery was there, and I lucked into breakfast with her and her friend Cheri Partain. I also had some quality time with master costumer Jonna Hayden.

In truth, I had quality time with quite a number of online friends, most of whom I met at the con for the first time. I made a special effort to talk to indie writers. Most said they were selling books (generally ebooks on Amazon’s Kindle store) and making tolerable money if not a steady living. The question that has been hanging over the indie crowd for years is still there, flashing like a neon sign: How to rise above the noise level and get the attention of the staggeringly large audience for $3-$5 genre fiction ebooks. I talked to a number of people about that, and there are still no good answers.

But the conversation continued, untroubled by identity politics, or indeed politics of any stripe. The food was good. But then, I don’t go to cons for the food. I didn’t get a room at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, which is in fact a weird accretion of a train station, some old train cars, and a conventional hotel building. I stayed at the Chattanoogan a few blocks away, just to be sure I had a dark, quiet room to escape to when the revels were ended each night. About all I can complain about are aching feet, but then again, that’s why God created Advil.

As best I know, there is nothing like LibertyCon anywhere in the country, and certainly nothing in the West. I will be there next year, with sellable hardcopies of The Cunning Blood, Ten Gentle Opportunities, the Drumlins Double, Firejammer, and (with some luck) Dreamhealer. Many thanks to all who spent time with me, especially Ron Zukowski, Jonna Hayden, and the Hoyts, all of whom went to great lengths to make me feel welcome and part of the club.

It’s amazing how much fun you can have when you agree with all present to leave the filth that is politics outside the door, and ideally across the county line. That’s why LibertyCon is what it is, and why they limit membership to 750. My guess is that there is room for other events like LibertyCon elsewhere in our country. If you ever run across one, please let me know!

Odd Lots

  • Solar cycle 24 is crashing, and we’re still three years from Solar minimum. 24 really does look to be the weakest cycle in 100 years or more.
  • And if you don’t think the Sun influences Earth’s climate, read this, about the Sun’s indirect effects on climate and why they make climate so hard to predict.
  • I doubt the payback would be more than the cost of the equipment and the electricity, but you can mine bitcoin with a Raspberry Pi–or better yet, a whole farm of them. (Run them from a solar panel?)
  • Speaking of the RPi: I burned a new NOOBS micro-SD last week, and used it to install the latest stock Raspbian. What I discovered is that this latest release has a terrible time detecting any monitor that isn’t straight HDMI. I’ve been using the RPi with older 4:3 DVI monitors through an adapter cable ever since I got my first board, and the board had no trouble figuring out the size of the raster. I’ve screwed around with the config file with only partial success; even telling the board precisely what mode your monitor speaks (1600 X 1200, 75 Hz) doesn’t guarantee correct video.
  • When I was much younger I wanted a PDP-8. And then a PDP-11, which I almost got because Heathkit actually made a hobbyist PDP-11 desktop. I settled for an S-100 8080, because there was actually software for it. I recently stumbled on a hobbyist PDP-8 system based on Intersil’s IM6120 chip. It’s not hardware you can buy; you download the PCB design and the software, get somebody to make the board (not hard these days) and then stuff it yourself. Runs FOCAL-69 and OS/8. Paleocomputing at its best!
  • From the It’s-Dead-But-the-Corpse-Is-Still-Twitching Department: Aetna is pulling out of the Obamcare exchanges entirely next year, citing $200M in losses.
  • You won’t believe where Earth’s atmospheric xenon comes from! (Actually, you will…but you have to say that these days because clicks.)
  • Excellent long-form piece on why we should fear an ideologically uniform elite. From the article: “If you really want to live in a world without tyranny, spend less time trying to show others why you are right and more time trying to show yourself why you are wrong.” Bingo. Because no matter what you think, you are always wrong. About everything. Nothing is simple. Nobody has the whole story. Ambiguity is everywhere. Certainty is poison.
  • How many times do we have to say this? Eat fat to lose weight.
  • We could use more research here (can’t we always?) but it’s certainly possible: Eating more salt may help you lose weight. Could be; I determined by experiment that salt doesn’t affect my blood pressure, so it couldn’t hurt to try.
  • A correlation has been found between consuming lowfat or nonfat dairy products and Parkinson’s disease. No such correlation is seen with full-fat dairy products. My guess: Your brain is mostly made of fat, and people who eat low-fat dairy tend to eat low-fat everything. So this is yet another reason to go low-carb high fat, even if you don’t need to lose weight. Fat is a necessary nutrient!
  • After decades of difficult research, scholars have finally decoded the lyrics to the “O Fortuna” movement of Carmina Burana. And…they aren’t in medieval Latin at all. (Thanks to Sarah Hoyt for the link.)

A Tappy Kind of Life, Re-Examined

I did a really dumb thing a few days ago: I was hosing off the pool deck, and fell in. With the water at 83 degrees and outside temps at 106 that would ordinarily have been a welcome break…except that my Samsung Note 4 smartphone was in my gym shorts pocket.

I tried hard not to hit the water, and bruised up my left arm a little in the process. However, the phone was underwater for a few seconds (more than five, less than ten) and has not yet come back to life, even after several days in a ziplock bag with all the dessicant packs I could scrounge around the house. This is a serious bummer. I liked that phone. Carol has one too, and in a number of ways, it changed the way we live.

We bought the Note 4s in November 2015, and came to love them almost immediately. They were part of the process of moving from Colorado Springs to Phoenix. We’d had Droid X2 phones since 2011, and used them as…phones. They were good workaday phones, granting that we had a landline in Colorado and used it for talking to relatives or any time a conversation was expected to take longer than a couple of minutes. Although we’d expected to get a landline in Phoenix, a few weeks of using the Note 4s showed them to be so effective that we just didn’t bother. Carol bought a Bluetooth headset for long conversations with her sister, and mostly I just put it on speaker. The fidelity was superb, and there was a lot less packet-loss than with the Droids.

What startled me about the Note 4s was how much else they could do. I’d tried texting on the DroidX, but the screen was too small and my fingers too big. On the phablet-sized, stylus-equipped Note 4, no problem. I had tried reading ebooks on the DroidX, and again, it just wasn’t big enough to be comfortable. I marvel at how well the Note 4 handles the Kindle app. I have a Kindle Paperwhite with a bigger display, but because it’s another slab, I mostly use it at home. If I’m waiting in a doctor’s office or somewhere, the Note 4 serves spectacularly.

Then we started trying some apps. Two that we use a lot are Raindar and Weather Underground. Raindar shows where the rain is, how hard it’s falling, and which way it’s moving. Period. That’s all we wanted, and that’s all we got. Win! Weather Underground is more complicated: It’s a formerly independent weather geek site (founded in 1995) that was bought by The Weather Channel and somehow hasn’t yet been turned into a global warming shill operation. Its magic lies in its architecture, as a network of “hyperlocal” weather stations. The app can determine which one is closest to your house, and when you bring up the app, it will show you data from that station. Phoenix alone has thirty or forty such stations, a couple within a mile of our house. I was a bit surprised at how different the readings were from one station to another, but I tested the closest stations against my own thermometers, and chose the one that was the best match. We use it to find out when to open the windows on summer nights, and when to close them again in the morning. We use Raindar to see when there’s a lull in a thunderstorm long enough to let the Pack out to potty. Weather matters.

After getting stuck in traffic once too often in Denver, I searched for and discovered Waze, which crowdsources data on traffic conditions and lays it all out on a map. It knows (from the phone’s GPS logic) how fast you’re going, and it plots bad traffic in different colors. Users report construction, accidents, vehicles on the shoulder, and speed traps, all of which also appear on the map. We did a lot of driving between here and Colorado Springs from 2015 to 2017, and Waze was surprisingly helpful.

The local classical music station, KBAQ, has an app that will stream their audio if you have an Internet connection. That’s useful. However, what’s even more useful (especially since we listen to KBAQ on a real stereo system when we’re at home) is that they tell you what’s currently playing, so if an unfamiliar piece comes on, I can yank out the phone, tap up the app, and see what it is, following the links on the composers if they’re new to me. I’ve had no better education in classical music since the course I took with Dr. Raymond Wilding-White in 1973.

The Note 4s came with Flipboard, a news aggregator app that I doubt I would have sought out on my own. We don’t have cable TV anymore, and although I’m not a news hound, I generally like to know how close the fires and riots are. Alas, Flipboard seems to emphasize UK news sources, and has an almost inexplicable obsession with celebrity trivia, particularly celebrity women showing off their baby bumps or going topless somewhere. Most of these celebrities are people I’ve never heard of, and even when a genuine celebrity appears, the context is, as often as not, banal. There have been a few reasonable science and tech stories on Flipboard, but mostly it’s catch as catch can. I check it most mornings to make sure that the world still exists. (Given the stuff they post, sometimes it’s a little hard to tell.)

Samsung’s S-Health app does a lot of different things, the most useful of which is to track steps, pedometer-style, and present step data in various reports. It also uses the camera to test blood oxygen levels, but the software is fussy and my cheapo pulsox does the job much better. As a pedometer, though, it’s first-rate.

I like GPS Test, especially since it can tell me my current altitude. It also works as a compass. The SoundHound app is much less useful, and I’m being charitable. I tried and generally dumped a number of games, most of them puzzle games. The screen is a little small for Mah Jongg, given the complexity of the patterns on the tiles. However, Ultimate Jewel (a Bejeweled clone) is a sort of software fidget-spinner that handily gets my mind off of vexatious people and their damfool drama.

I have a flashlight app that’s been useful a time or two. The camera is decent, though it has nothing on my Canon G-16. It’s a reasonable photo viewer, especially with a 128GB Micro SD card inside to hold my photobase. (The lack of an SD slot is primarily what kept us from buying Note 5s.)

However, all that said, the biggest single use that Carol and I put the Note 4s to is voice search. We had voice search on the Droid X2s, but somehow it just didn’t comprehend us as cleanly as the Notes. Now, if we’re sitting around talking about something and an unfamiliar concept or person comes up, one or both of us grabs our phones, taps “Google Voice Search” and speaks the search terms. It’s still a little astonishing how reliably the app understands spoken search terms. Granted, a 5 1/4″ diagonal display is on the small side for doing research, but for quick orientation, well, it’s like nothing else.

Five days since I went swimming with my Note 4, I miss it terribly. This has nothing to do with Facebook or Twitter, which by agreement with myself I only use on my desktop. The strange part of the adventure is that I integrated the Note 4 with my life so slowly that I never fully grasped how important it had become. Some things come at you fast. Others sneak up on you when you aren’t looking. A very few just have this talent of dissolving into the background noise of ordinary life, where you never miss them until they go away. So it was with the Samsung Note 4.

I ordered a new Note 4 from Amazon a few days ago, and it should be here by Monday or before. It’s white, which is a feature, since the two phones Carol and I bought are both black and physically identical. To know which it is, you have to hit the button and parse the wallpaper. Now we can tell from across the great room.

There are rumors that Samsung is preparing a Note 8 for release later this year, with an SD card socket if not a replaceable battery. I’ll give it a fair hearing, but in truth, if it has no strong advantage over the Note 4, I may give it a pass, especially if the rumors are true that it will cost $800. I promised Carol I would no longer skim the pool with a $400 phone in my pocket. An $800 phone? No promise necessary.

Ten Gentle Opportunities in Trade Paperback

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I’ve been promising to do a trade paperback edition of Ten Gentle Opportunities for over a year now. Printed books are always good to have around for promo purposes, but I’ve gotten eight or ten explicit requests for paperbacks since the ebook edition was first released in January 2016. Why disappoint customers?

Buy Ten Gentle Opportunities from the CreateSpace store.

Buy Ten Gentle Opportunities from the Amazon store.

Sorry it took so long, guys.

Anyway. Why two sales links? It’s yet another peculiar kink in the increasingly kink-y world of independent publishing. Simply put: I make significantly more money per sale on books ordered from the CreateSpace store than from the conventional Amazon store. I’ll lay it out for you, though you can calculate it yourself using the CreateSpace royalty calculator, with a detailed explanation of how it all works on their Understanding Royalties page.

The book’s specs are these:

  • Black and white interior
  • 6″ X 9″ trim size
  • 310 pages
  • $12.95 Cover price

Basically, my share of the book’s cover price is the cover price minus the portion that CreateSpace takes. Their share is the sum of three things:

  • The sales channel percentage
  • A fixed per-book charge
  • A per-page charge

The sales channel percentage is basically the retailer’s discount. There are four sales channels available through CreateSpace, each with an associated discount:

  • Amazon US: 40% of cover price
  • Amazon Europe: 40% of cover price
  • The CreateSpace store: 20% of cover price
  • Expanded distribution: 60% of cover price

Expanded distribution is basically retail wholesaling to B&M stores and libraries through distributors like Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and NACSCORP. As you can see, orders coming in from Amazon take twice the amount off the top as orders coming in from the CreateSpace store. I get so little from each expanded distribution sale that I decided not to both with expanded distribution. Sure, it would be cool to see the book on the shelves at bookstores…but the chances of that happening at all are pretty slight.

The fixed per-book charge is a sort of minimum charge for manufacturing the book. For b/w books having 110-828 pages, the fixed charge is $0.85 per book.

The per-page charge is the rest of the manufacturing cost, and depends on page count and whether the interior is b/w or color. For a b/w book in the 110-828 page count range, this charge is $.012 per page; i.e., 1.2 cents per page.

Turning the crank, it comes out like this:

  • $12.95 X 20% = $2.59, calculation of channel discount
  • $12.95 – $2.59 = $10.36, cover price minus channel discount
  • $10.36 – $0.85 = $9.51, minus per-book fixed charge
  • 310 pages X $0.012 = $3.72, calculation of per-page charge
  • $9.51 – $3.72 = $5.79

My share of each sale through the CreateSpace store is $5.72. For a sales through the Amazon store, the channel charge is 40%, or $5.18. With all else being the same, my share would be $12.95 – $5.18 – $0.85 – $3.72 = $3.20. So by ordering through the CreateSpace store, I get $5.72 rather than $3.20.

However….there is a significant gotcha: You have to set up an account with the CreateSpace store. Also, Amazon Prime shipping does not apply to CreateSpace sales. I recognize that these may be show-stoppers for some people. That’s ok; I won’t be annoyed if you order from the Amazon store.

Mostly, I wrote this entry to provide a little insight as to how authors are paid for paperback editions of books offered through CreateSpace. Because I don’t expect to sell a great many copies of the paperback, it’s a matter of no great importance. Like it or not, we’re hurtling toward an ebook future at most of the speed of light. The ebook is $2.99 and it’s delivered Right Damned Now rather than sometime next week. The ebook is selling well (considering I haven’t been pushing it much) and I’m happy with the money I’m making. Even $3.20 per copy is about par for royalties I’ve received on traditionally published technical books, and this is fiction.

If you still like printed books, I’d be honored if you’d buy a copy. And on that note, I’m going back to writing my latest novel. There are worse ways to be retired than this!