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Week of 11 April 2011

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Monday, 11 April 2011
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09:29 - Taxes are due Friday, so with everything else I have going I'm not likely to be posting much here or on the forums.

We 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.


Tuesday, 12 April 2011
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08:05 - 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.

The 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.


Wednesday, 13 April 2011
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10:04 - 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.

Fifteen or 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 slaves.

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.


Thursday, 14 April 2011
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09:44 - 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?


Friday, 8 April 2011
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10:53 - 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 hurry.

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.

The 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.

Adjusting 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.


Saturday, 15 April 2011
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11:15 - 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.

Her husband 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.

Barbara 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.


Sunday, 16 April 2011
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10:29 - 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.


Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.