Week of 11 April 2011
Update: Sunday, 17 April 2011 10:29 -0400
Taxes are due Friday, so with everything else I have going I'm not likely to be posting much here or on the forums.
did a Costco run and dinner with Mary Chervenak and Paul Jones
yesterday. They'd actually stopped by our house earlier, but I didn't
see them. Barbara was working out in the yard when they arrived with a
dogwood for us to plant as a memorial to Malcolm and Duncan. Barbara
planted it out front and officially named it for them.
If you have any interest in DNA, you might want to grab Mobile DNA: Finding Treasure in Junk
while the getting is good. It's ordinarily priced at $59.99, print or
digital, but is currently on sale for the Kindle at $0.00. The science
is there, but apparently the book focuses considerable attention on the
scientists involved rather than just the technical details.
I ended up getting locked out of one of my own forums yesterday. The
homesciencelab.com forums apparently expired my cookie and required me
to log back in. When I attempted to do so, it presented me with the
captcha from hell. I tried 12 or 15 times, getting a new and unreadable
captcha each time.
This was actually one of the *easiest* ones to read, although I
missed it. I thought it was 1-8-K-1-E, but apparently not. I finally
succeeded on the next captcha, but I was nearly ready to give up.
Amazon is making headlines with their announcement of a new
ad-subsidized Kindle. It's the standard $139 Kindle Wi-Fi, but
with the price cut by $25 and the screensaver and main screen now
populated with ads. Everyone is focusing on the ads, of course, but to
me the more significant issue is that there is no 3G version of the
Kindle With Ads. Amazon seems to be taking their first small steps in
backing away from 3G support.
When $9.99 was an "inexpensive"
ebook, the cost of delivering books by 3G was trivial. Now that prices
are falling, with $0.99 to $2.99 the new "standard" ebook price, the
cost of 3G delivery has become significant. Amazon must be kicking
themselves for what in retrospect has turned out to be a major blunder.
After all, what percentage of Kindle users are within range of a Wi-Fi
AP what percentage of the time? I don't know the answer to that
question, but it must be very large. And, even if a user is
out-of-range, it's not like the Kindle is useless. It has storage for
several thousand ebooks, so it's not like someone is likely to find
themselves without something new to read just because there's no Wi-Fi
AP handy. In retrospect, 3G support is one of those "features" that
seemed like a good idea at the time, but has turned out to be a an
expensive and unnecessary option.
Amazon might be concerned
about looking foolish if they discontinue 3G support in new models, so
my guess is that the next refresh will continue to offer 3G and Wi-Fi
only models, but with a price differential a lot higher than the
current $50. If I had to guess, I'd expect the next Wi-Fi Kindle to
sell for $99, with the 3G model at $199. That's enough difference that
Wi-Fi models are likely to outsell 3G models 10:1 if not 100:1.
thing that really gets me about the so-called budget cuts is that the
numbers are so gigantic that even people who are comfortable with math
have trouble grokking them. A reader on Jerry Pournelle's page
yesterday pointed out that Jerry had made a math error that was off by
an order of magnitude. The reader said that the federal government
wasn't spending $100 billion every 29 days, but every 2.9 days. Jerry
quickly acquiesced. I think they're both wrong.
If I'm thinking
about this correctly, the federal budget is just under $4 trillion,
which is $4,000 billion. Call it $10 billion per day. On that basis,
those "historic" tax "cuts" of $38.5 billion are about four days worth
of federal spending, or about 1%. Looked at another way, faced with
crippling deficits, our brave Congress has "cut" spending (or, in
reality, proposed spending; actual spending will still be higher
year-on-year) by about 1%. So, for every $100 they were intending to
spend, they'll now spend only $99. Whoopdedoo.
What they should
have done, if they really had any intentions of regaining fiscal
responsibility, was decrease proposed annual spending by at least
$1,000 billion and preferably $2,000 billion. Instead, they cut it by
$38.5 billion. Even if the Tea Party had gotten its way and managed to
cut proposed spending by $100 billion, that would have been a drop in
the bucket. So, we are doomed.
I expected the flood of articles on the 150th anniversary of the first
shots in the War Between the States. What I didn't expect was that most
of them are about, or at least mention in passing, whether slavery was
the ultimate cause of that war. It wasn't, as anyone understands who
knows even a little about the events leading up to that war. It was all
about the relative powers of the state governments versus the federal
government. States' Rights, in other words.
Slavery was doomed
even before the war broke out. It would have collapsed of its own
weight, probably within 20 years. It's hard to imagine a less
efficient, effective, or productive system. It is the antithesis of a
free market. Free men are productive; slaves are not.
twenty years ago, Jerry Pournelle and I were talking on the phone
when for some reason he mentioned Abraham Lincoln. I interjected, "He
of evil memory." Pournelle replied, "Boy, you are
a Southern boy." I told him that in fact I wasn't, but that I valued
the Constitution and Lincoln had done it irreparable harm. I was born
and raised in northwestern Pennsylvania. My great-great-grandparents on
my mother's side were part of the Underground Railroad, and more than
one of my ancestors fought to preserve the Union. And if you'd asked
any of them, or nearly any other Union soldier, that's exactly what
they would have told you: that they fought to preserve the Union, not
to abolish slavery. Just as nearly any Confederate soldier would have
told you that they fought to preserve States' Rights. Only a tiny
percentage of them owned slaves, and most of them were little better
off financially than the slaves. They fought because they deeply
resented the federal government way up there in Washington DC telling
them what they could or couldn't do.
The simple fact is that
almost no one, North or South, much liked black people. It's no
coincidence that the Underground Railroad transported escaped slaves to
Canada. They weren't welcome in the North. Nearly everyone, North and
South, was religious, and their bibles told them that slavery was a
just institution; "Slaves, be subject to your masters". Slaves who
fled had sinned against their masters, and few had any sympathy for
them. The idea of humans as property, so abhorrent to modern
sensibilities, was accepted as the norm by nearly everyone, other than
the Abolitionist fringe, and most Northerners would have turned in an
escaped slave without a second thought.
If Lincoln had tried to
raise his volunteer army to free the slaves, there wouldn't have been
many takers. Lincoln himself was concerned only with preserving the
Union, and he was willing to destroy the Constitution and Bill of
Rights to do so. He had no particular sympathy for slaves, and in fact
proposed gathering them up and shipping them back to Africa. His
Emancipation Proclamation is notable for freeing the slaves only in
states where he had no authority or influence. Those slaves that
remained in border states, over which he did have authority, remained
What disturbs me is that I see parallels today with the situation
that existed leading up to that war. States are feeling extreme
pressure from the federal government, and there are rumblings of
rebellion in several states already. Some are even considering minting
their own coinage. As our economy continues to implode and the federal
government becomes more and more intrusive, I sometimes wonder if I'll
wake up one morning and read that one or another state has seceded from
the Union. If it happens, I'll happily be a citizen of North Carolina
rather than the USA. I just hope that, if it does happen, it will be
peaceful. The last thing we need is another War Between the States. And
if it does happen, we won't have slavery to blame it on.
- I know my regular readers will be shocked, but I actually agree with something Nancy Pelosi said. Pelosi: 'Elections Shouldn't Matter as Much as They Do'
She's right. They shouldn't. But they do, and she's a big part of
the reason they do. Pelosi, Reid, Obama, and others on the far left,
working hand-in-hand with their co-nutters on the far right, have
nearly eliminated the center in American politics. Voters can no longer
choose mainstream candidates, because essentially all of the candidates
have migrated to one or the other extreme. Mainstream,
middle-of-the-road, pro-freedom, small government candidates like Ron
Paul are demonized by both left and right. Our only choices are
statists from one or the other extreme. No matter who wins, the
electorate gets raped.
I wonder how much longer peaceful
transitions of government will last. With the extreme polarization in
American politics, one day in the not-too-distant future losing an
election may come to mean losing one's head, literally. Compromise is
becoming impossible. Pelosi and her fellow extremists in both parties
are destroying the American political system. I am reminded of the
street battles in Germany in the 1920's between the Communists and the
Nazis. Of course, that couldn't happen here. Could it?
Taxes are done and off. As it turned out, I didn't have to do them
today. Federal taxes aren't due until Monday, but I thought the state
taxes were due today. I finally realized that the state had also
delayed the due date until Monday, but I already had them finished by
that point. We're getting a refund, anyway, so there really was no
North Carolina provides downloadable and web-fill PDF
forms, which for some reason they've forbidden to be saved. Your
only option is to fill them out and print them. At least North Carolina
puts your name and SSN at the top of each page, so the filled-in forms
can be printed without duplexing. Some of the federal forms do not
include your name and SSN on page 2, which means they have to be
printed duplex. For some reason, duplexing wouldn't work on either of
my laser printers, so I ended up manually duplexing them by feeding the
sheets through the printer twice. Neither the feds nor the state
routinely mail printed tax packages starting this year, so I had to go
off in search of envelopes as well.
death of printed novels is happening even faster than I thought it
would, and I was far more optimistic about growth in ebook volumes than
anyone else I've read. According to official figures from AAP,
ebooks in February claimed 29.5% of the market and outsold all print
formats. The reality is even worse for print books, because those
figures are based on dollar sales, not unit sales. And they cover only
traditional publishers, not indie ebooks, which are
cumulatively selling millions of copies a week on Amazon and B&N.
Furthermore, the traditional publishers are underreporting their own ebook sales, sometimes apparently by a factor of 10 or more.
for all of those factors, I'm pretty sure that ebooks account for
at least 50% of total unit sales. That's as of February, and ebooks
have continued to grow explosively since then, while print books have
continued to tank. And, keep in mind, only a minority of readers have
e-reader software installed on their phones and pads, and an even
smaller minority have purchased hardware e-readers. Hardware e-readers
continue to sell like hotcakes, and all of those new owners will be
buying many more ebooks and many fewer pbooks.
That also impacts
brick-and-mortar bookstores, which are already in critical condition.
As they continue to lose pbook sales, I think it's likely that B&N
will follow Borders into bankruptcy. With very few exceptions, indie
bookstores are already on their death beds. I think it likely that
within a couple of years, bookstores will essentially cease to exist.
You'll still be able to buy print books at Costco and Wal-Mart and in
airport shops, but the selection will be limited to a few
bestsellers. And even those won't be around all that much longer,
because the Big Six traditional publishers can't stay in business with
all of the bookstores gone. There'll still be Amazon, of course, but
even their selection of print books will decline dramatically. They
can't carry what publishers are no longer publishing, and publishers
can no longer afford to publish anything other than bestsellers.
Traditional publishing is in a death spiral, and I think we'll see the
end of it much sooner than anyone else seems to think.
Just as a
single datum, since I bought my Kindle three months ago, I've
downloaded 108 ebooks from Amazon and other sources, all but one of
which cost $0.00 to $2.99, and I've bought zero p-books.
A few months ago, a nice young couple moved in across the street and
down a couple of houses. I'd met them and talked with them briefly, as
had Barbara. Yesterday, the wife showed up with her two young kids at
my front door, along with a delivery man who was looking for an address
on our street. We soon concluded that what he was looking for wasn't
here, so the package must have been misaddressed. I ended up standing
on the front porch talking to her for a couple of hours, with her kids
expending energy in the front yard the whole time.
is a self-employed carpenter who does kitchens, bathrooms, and other
home projects. She mentioned at one point that she was going to have to
have him build her some new bookshelves to accommodate her ever-growing
book collection. I told her she might want to think twice about that,
because she'd probably end up with an ebook reader sooner rather than
later. She'd never seen a Kindle other than in images, so I brought
mine out to show her, and told her she was welcome to borrow it for a
couple days to play around with it. She was a biology major in college
and is a vet tech, although she's a stay-at-home mom for now. I suspect
some of the biology books I have loaded on my Kindle might interest her.
was more than mildly surprised when I told her that I'd let her borrow
my Kindle. Especially since I don't remember the girl's name.
We're fine. Thanks to all those who inquired. The storms moved through
here yesterday about lunchtime. They weren't severe in our immediate
area, although there was a tornado not far down the road. We lost
power, but only momentarily. Other areas, mostly to our east, were
badly damaged. I understand there are still about 100,000 homes without
power. There was at least one death in North Carolina when strong winds
blew a tree over and onto a vehicle. Still, we got off relatively
lightly compared to some other states in the Southeast.
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010,