Book Reviews: Rollback, 13 and Rainbows End

I’m 3 books into my attempt to resume reading sci-fi on a regular basis.  First was Rollback.  It was okay, it talked about real science, real speculation. It was also about rejuvenation and had some clumsy talk about morality.  Thirteen was another action packed adventure by Richard Morgan.  Rainbows End is what the internet will be like in the future and…another rejuvenation story.  Do old sci-fi writers necessarily have to turn to rejuvenation stories?  Rainbows End was also the most self-referential, with a lot of chatter about books, libraries, fandoms.  Rainbows End had the best climax, but post climax, the loose ends of the story sort of got tied up over a wandering couple dozen pages and you could hear the author sighing, “Done, gotta ship this to the publisher.”  In that respect, I liked how 13 ended, where the villains just said, “Ok, here’s how it was all done.”  A few paragraphs and bing, it was all clear.

I’d rank these in order of quality: 13, Rainbows End, Rollback.  All are above average.

From my unscientific sample of 3, it looks like US sci-fi is tiltling towards works written by old guys. And at the library, the new Sci-Fi/Fantasy shelf was all Fantasy.   What does this mean?

Any how, 2 of these were books posted as book club meetup, neither attracted any attendance at all.  On the otherhand, amateur writing groups are getting record turn out.  I think a third trend is that people have more interest in writing than reading.  And that is all I have time to write.

News: Economics, Networking, No one blogs

Econo-comics. The economy is in the crapper. The unemployment rate on my facebook friends list is up.

My stocks are down 50%.  I guess the efficient market hypothesis doesn’t take into account that markets can’t price assets when *everyone* in the market is stupid.  Markets are very good at extracting information from the heads of many people when each person know a little bit.  When no one knows anything, then prices aren’t exactly efficient.  In particular, apparently no one was thinking what would happen when the banking sector tanked. All my stocks suddenly had positive correlations to the banking sector.

Meetups. I’ve decided maybe I’ve been approaching meetup half wrong.  I’ve come to the realization that I’m not the show at a meetup and I try not to talk much.   That’s pretty easy because half the time I don’t feel like being talkative anyhow.

But on the website itself, when people are posting comments, messages etc, they aren’t communicating so much with the community as with the organizer.  The organizer is the only one on a meetup group that is always paying attention to the conversation for a group.  So if the meetup market is efficient (and everyone knows that posting a message to the meetup group is likely to be ignored by everyone except the organizer), then messages are mostly for me.  So I’m resolving to try harder to respond to all messages on meetup– the mailing list, rsvp comments, event comments, shout outs, sign ups and profiles.   That is six different human to computer interactions that on the surface don’t look like direct communications to me, but probably are most of the time.

Other Networks. I’ve noticed that just about no one that I know in real life blogs.  However, about 1/5 to 1/3 of the people I know do mini-blogging on facebook. Here is my recommended use for each networking technology:

Podcasts. Fame beyond what you deserve, all strangers, you probably won’t get to know your audience.
Blogs. Less fame than hosting a podcast, but still global fame amongst a dozen strangers, you probably won’t get to know your audience.  Guaranteed that you won’t get to know your audience if you do non-fiction writing, like many technical blogs.
Twitter. Low quality attention for low quality content.  You might get to know your audience, but don’t count on it. Interesting for the numerous proposed uses for such a limited-looking service.
Facebook. The double opt-in nearly guarantees that you probably know everyone on your list in real life.  The status updates and home page stream is 95% crap with 5% interesting gossip. and the like.  An inefficient way to meet people once and never see or hear from them again.  Talking to strangers on the metro is the comparable social situation and is free if you were going to commute anyhow.

Craigslist Groups.  50% spam and mis categorized entries, 5% are just reposts of meetup groups, 5% are suspicious groups targeting girls that weren’t in the ‘in group’ in highschool and might be willing to pay $ for the false hopes of joining a club of best friends forever.  15%  are meetup wanna-bes that probably don’t have the technical savy to do the book-keeping to organize a bookclub/motorcycle gang/etc of computer connected strangers. 5% are woman only book clubs.

Mailing lists. All strangers, you probably won’t meet in real life.  For some reason, I just can’t get excited about these conversations anymore and I certainly don’t have the bandwidth to deal with active mailing lists.

Social Book Sites.  Mostly strangers, interestingly these seem like a good place for ‘in real life’ book clubs to organize, but I don’t see it happening.

Star Wars Names- Language riddles?

Darth Vader = (Dark) Weather (Swedish)  I’m not sure about the roots of Darth, but it looks like a variation of Dark.

Han Solo = He Alone (Swedish/Spanish)

Luke Skywalker = English, duh.

Ben Obiwan Kenobi = Been (as in a has-been) … Cannot be

Obiwan is probably OB1, the same sort of play on letter and number sounds and 3Po/Threpio or R2/Artoo.

Obviously George Lucas stopped this naming system.  Earth common names like Leia disappear from the rest of the movie.

Plans for a new study group format

My Swedish study group has a problem with people who show up only once.  This causes a few problems.  I’m re-doing chapter one over and over again.  Sometimes I get zero turn out, meaning people RSVP’d yes, but no one shows at all.  

I don’t think it is the format, the Icelandic study group I lead has regular attendees, but they’re motivated by the complete lack of alternative ways to learn Icelandic.  

I’m thinking of charging $20 a month, refunded after four weeks, less $5 for each missed meetup.

I’d use the money to pay for spare books (very few people are motivated enough to mail order the book) and feed my IKEA habit.



News: Busy. I’ll be back soon.

Work.  Too much of it.

Play.  I’m overcommitting myself.

Study. If you study enough words, eventually the words start to echo in your head hours later and you have no idea what they mean.

Gym.  I gotta figure out how to there there more often during the week.

Wealth. I haven’t checked by stock account in months.  I have no idea what my 401K is invested in.  I hope it doesn’t default to baseball cards or foreclosed mortgage mutual funds.

Hair.  I need to cut it.

Status.  I am updating my status.

Health.  Shoulder hurts, not sure what I did to it.

Music. 3 good German bands: L’âme Immortelle, Untoten, Blutengel, Deine Lakaien (mostly English).  1 Good Italian: Helalyn Flowers.  2 Good US bands: Emelie Autumn, Abney Park.  I like the Swedish band Basshunter, but they are just fun pop.  Zombie Girl is better music than the not-so-serious albumn theme implies.  I wish Last.FM had a better selection of Mongolian Pop, I guess I’ll have to get those tunes from youtube, much slower way to discover music.

Computer woes: I don’t like webhost4life anymore

I should have listend to my two bloggers who had negative things to say about webhost4life.  As long as I didn’t have to deal with people, they were just fine.  The help desk service was irritating and mostly not helpful, but as a professional developer I figured I could do fine on my own.

The control panel allowed for creating ASP.NET applications, so you could put several applications onto your account.

The site also allowed for adding multiple domains so long as they all resolved to the same place.  I wrote an app that redirected based on the request header to a suitable folder.

Then one day, they complain that they don’t like how my site is set up and want me to pay them more money for my site.  That is a hobby site that gets like 10 visits a week.  I’m not going to pay extra for that.

Plus, if they want me to pay more for, well, I got like 7 thematically different domain names and 4 thematically different sites and about as many again test, sample and demo sites, also thematically different.  I’m not going to double my web hosting rent everytime I upload a new web.config, configure a ASP.NET application or buy a domain name.  So either A: they are stupid and are trying to charge me for something I don’t owe them or B: they charge for each thematically different folder, but haven’t caught on that by that reasoning I owe them a mint.

My website can move back to my linux box at  Lunarpages leaves me alone and is always up.

My two wiki’s can move to any ASP.NET host, even if it doesn’t have a SQL Server.

My calendar site is a different issue, it currently needs a SQL Server, but that seems to run about $10 extra per month.  I’ve been considering converting to SQLite, and maybe this $120 a year penalty for using SQL Server will convince me to do so.

This nightmare started about Saturday.  Monday I’ve already started moving my websites.  The process will be over shortly and the nighmare will be over hopefully in a few days.

Learn Something Everyday

Maryland Wine. I learned that there are about 4 wineries right next to where my Aunt & Uncle live.  I visited two of them today, Loew Vinyard and Elk Run Winery.  I learned Loew’s wines are not sold in Virginia because of the high transaction costs of dealing with the various agencies that regulate liquor.  I bought a mead/white wine, plus two more bottles.  From Elk Run I got “Maryland Merlot” (ha-ha), and another red.  Next time I visit them, I’ll have to visit the other two wineries, Black Ankles and Linganore, whose website implies they have a bunch of exotics including mead!.

Personal Inventory. My wine inventory is now up to about 14 weeks worth of wine.  I guess the advantage of having a wine inventory is that I have some options and I can defer shopping again for a long time. I suppose if one were to be scientific about it, one could calculate the optimum order quantity, given the cost of holding a bottle of wine on the shelf (about 10-30cents per year), the cost of driving out to buy wine (about $24 of gasoline, but can be neglected if you are driving out to the countryside for some other reason), etc.

Cheap Farmland Near Washington, DC

I did a quick study of where there was cheap farmland. I picked a minimum size of about 10 acres, because that is the size of a farm that a supports one person in subsistence farming. My goal isn’t subsistence farming, but right now I don’t have a better algorithm.

I picked a goal price of about $50,000, because anything more than that and one would have to operate the farm as a serious business.

I checked the prices of land without houses in the states of WV, VA, MD, PA and DE, which is about a 175 mile radius. Here is what I found:

There is a cluster of cheap land ($50,000 lots) on the west wing of West Virginia, about 175 miles away from DC, this area extends into Allegheny County is PA, but disappears fast as you move north or east from that point where there is *a lot* of farming still going on.

There is a band of cheap land ($50,000 lots) SE of Richmond, about 175 miles away from DC.

There is a band of affordable land in Shenendoah ($75,000-$100,000 lots)

The concentric circle bound by Richmond, Charllottesville and Harrisonburg has lots of $200,000 and up.

There is nothing particularly cheap in MD, DE or NJ.

If nothing else, this points out how big Bos-Ne-Wash city has become. It is so big that the residential real estate market in these cities has driven up the price of farm land for the surrounding 300 miles! Why do I think so? Because a $50,000 lots can be found as far as you can drive west *only* after you get away from the DC supercommuters.

Small Houses, Small Farms

I’ve been researching what it would take to set up a weekend farm for myself.  Learnings:

1. Distance.  Two hours away from DC, you can get a 5 acre plot for $100,000.  Three hours away you can get a 15 acre plot for $50,000.  Those are minimum prices an additional 1/2 hour out it you can find that with a better selection.

2. Modern Cabins/Small Houses. I found out that housing designs exist in the 100 to 400sqft range.  They tend to have all custom built in furniture.  Without the custom fixtures and build in futurniture, they would be too small to put conventional stuff into.  Even with that, these ultra small houses will leave almost no room for extra stuff, like extra shoes or extra dishes.  Prebuilt on wheels they sell for $35,000 to $45,000.  When built on a foundation it costs $100 to $200 per sq foot.  I also found out that when building on undeveloped land, you have to budget an unknown quanity of money for wells, septic and road building, or an unknown quantity of time and money to get a muninciple hookup.

3. Farming.  Some good crops for plants that a weekend farmer could grow would include plants that sometimes grow wild, like paw paw, persimmon, hazelnut, black walnut, crab apple, grapes and some berries like the serviceberry.  These can be turned into juice for fermenting into cider or wine, or in the case of nuts crushed for oil.  Completely unprocessed, they aren’t worth enough to sell, although they could help offset grocery bills.

4. Financing.  Undeveloped land requires up to 50% downpayment, building the house requires financing.  The house part requires a construction loan which is a loan that starts out as a line of credit, then turns into a mortgage.