July 29 2011

New Covers for ‘Bitter Seeds’ and ‘The Coldest War’

Here is the new cover for ‘Bitter Seeds‘ by Ian Tregillis:

and here is the cover for ‘The Coldest War‘:

I am quite pleased that these are appearing. I really liked Bitter Seeds last year (I put it on my Hugo nomination form.) Then I waited just about forever and then Ian was kind enough to let us know that the sequel, The Coldest War was delayed in the Never Never Land that makes up the publishing industry. So, it is with great delight that I see they are progressing towards a reinvigorated release.

July 28 2011

The Debt Thing

Congress continues to run in circles and all of the serious people are busy wringing their hands about debt and the deficit. The immediate problem is that the debt ceiling has not been raised. The debt ceiling is the total aggregate amount that Congress has authorized the US Federal government to borrow. The power to borrow money is granted to Congress in Article 1, Section 8 of the constitution. So, if the debt limit is not raised, then the Federal Government runs out of money to pay all of its bills on approximately August 2, 20111. The exact effects of this are unknown but almost certainly bad. And here, bad means things like possibly plunging the whole world back into a recession. Not raising the debt ceiling is entirely a political problem. There are 0 structural reasons not to do so at this time. So, this part of the problem is wholly manufactured and can be resolved by a simple vote–if Congress just gets its act together.
Then, there is the problem of the actual federal debt and deficit. The deficit is the difference between Federal receipts and Federal expenditures for a given fiscal period.
Here is a graph of Federal expenditures versus receipts2:

Federal Expenditures vs. Receipts

The red line is receipts and the blue line is expenditures. As you can see, receipts are currently less than expenditures.
The debt (in this case) is the total amount of debt owed by the Federal government. As of June 29, 2011, the Total Public Debt Outstanding of the United States of America was $14.46 trillion. The trillion unit is a source of panic among many as people aren’t typically used to dealing with numbers in that range. For another number in that range, the total US gross domestic product (GDP) is about $14.94 trillion.
Here is a graph of Federal debt vs. total US GDP:

Total debt vs GDP

This means that the Federal government currently owes about 96.8% of the total value of the US GDP for one year. Now, how to interpret this data? Listening to sources from the Right would lead one to believe that the problem of the debt and deficit are immediate and about to result in the heat death of the universe in serious consequences. As near as I can tell, no actual data supports this. While it might be nice to have zero debt the total size of the debt should be viewed as a long time problem (think in terms of your mortgage–it is often greater than your yearly income, but is a long term (15 or 30 year) payback.)
Given the current state of the economy, it should be expected that Federal expenditures will be higher than Federal income. The economy is just barely starting to recover, unemployment is still high, and the rate of taxation is low compared to other developed nations. Here’s a graph:

As you can see, the US tax revenue as a percent of GDP is the bottommost number. A search of Google for “us federal tax rate” will give you a plethora of data and a vast number of ways to slice it that all show that US tax rates are low.
So, tax rates are low and the total taxable base is lower than it “should” be due to the effects of recession.
On the income side of things, then, there are two levers. As GDP increases, total revenue will gradually increase. The current rate (2011) of GDP increase is 1.9%, so that is a fairly slow increase in revenue over time. Increasing tax rates is a much quicker way of increasing the revenue side of the deficit picture. As the above chart showed US relative taxable income is low, so this lever is quite available–even now in a weak economy.
The other lever that is available is decreasing expenditures. As the economy is in a weakened state, an immediate decrease in expenditures would seem to be unwise. As a long term measure, expense control should certainly be part of any deficit reduction plan. In fact, the Health Care reform act is exactly an example of a measure that is expected to reduce the long term deficit. Reducing total unemployment would both raise revenue and reduce expenditure (through lower unemployment support) and so is an example of a measure that wins on both sides of the equation. Exactly how to reduce unemployment is, of course, a complex problem.
So, to summarize: The deficit can be addressed through a combination of income increases from structural and tax changes and from long term expenditure planning. Now, if Congress could just realize that.
1The August 2, 2011 date, is the date that from the Treasury Department, when the U.S. government would run out of cash to pay all its bills. There may be somewhat more money available from July receipts than was estimated and the exact date of payments may extend the actual default out to around August 15.
2Source, St. Louis Fed economic data

July 22 2011

Space Travel

There are a lot of things converging right now to remind us of the rather sad state of manned space travel. Even the International Space Station isn’t really pumping out results. A culture of cheapness and caution seems to have slowed things down to a crawl. I’m feeling a bit perturbed about the whole situation, so here are some brief thoughts.
July 20 is the 42nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing (1969.) I was 5½ at the time, but I still recall watching Cronkite and Heinlein talk about the mission. It made an impression. I was pretty sure that easy space flight would be available by the time I grew up. Oh well.
The last flight of the space shuttle touched down on July 21. While the shuttle may not have been what we were expecting when it first came out, at least we were able to get people into space. Regardless, right now the only way to put people into space for the US is to have them hitch a ride. Now, of course, whether it is the US or some other country that really gets space travel working isn’t relevant from a human species perspective, but it is annoying from a national perspective.
Why is manned space flight useful or any space flight at all for that matter? All sorts of arguments (it costs too much, there are too many problems here on Earth, …) are raised for why spending money on space is a bad idea. I can pretty much imagine all of those arguments being raised about sailing to the New World back in the 16th century. And, I think pretty much the same answers to those arguments will pertain:
Space travel in general:

  • New resource sources (metals, rare earths, helium, …)
  • Technology improves and costs reduce as scale increases.
  • Exploration increases knowledge.

Manned space travel:

  • Free form laboratories — robotic labs too limited.
  • You can’t do colonization if you don’t send the people.
  • Man, I really want to go.
June 22 2011

Cyber world here we come.

This article from researchers at USC shows they have figured out a method for blocking or enhancing long term memory in rats, at least.
They were able to:

Using a model created by the prosthetics research team led by Berger, the teams then went further and developed an artificial hippocampal system that could duplicate the pattern of interaction between CA3-CA1 [hippocampal] interactions.

Long-term memory capability returned to the pharmacologically blocked rats when the team activated the electronic device programmed to duplicate the memory-encoding function.

This seems like a fairly major step forward to me.

June 22 2011

Experiment Results

Back from vacation. We went on a cruise to Alaska (pictures eventually when I get thing organized) and the scenery and such were amazing. As I mentioned previously, we only took an iPhone and iPad in lieu of a laptop and books.
The book portion of the experiment went fine. I expected this to work well as we’ve already been doing a lot of reading with these devices. This probably gave us about 8 free pounds for our luggage, so good showing for e-Reading.
The laptop replacement worked fine also. For checking email and small amounts of writing, the iPad works quite well. The one problem we did have (and would also have had with a laptop) was that the ship internet was both slower and more expensive than I would have thought by this time. So, while we were at sea, I only checked email occasionally. Interestingly, once we were in port, the AT&T 3G connection worked great in all of the cities we visited so the iPhone actually worked better than a laptop in those places for connectivity.

June 8 2011

Brave New Experiment

So, on Saturday we’ll be going on vacation. Usually this means packing sufficient books to last the trip and lugging along a laptop. This year, we’re going to untether from both. We’ll just be taking an iPhone and an iPad to serve as book readers and laptop replacements. This lightens our load by a number of pounds and actually drastically increases the number of books available.

May 23 2011

Hugo Packet 2011

I downloaded my Hugo awards packet (~900M) this weekend and loaded it onto my iPhone so I can read everything before the voting deadline. The ballot closes July 31st, 2011. Whew, I’ve got some reading to do. By the way, I plan on doing a post on each of these as I read them.
Ahh, what is the Hugo packet you ask? Well, if you are a registered member (even supporting at $50) then the the publishers of the works have provided DRM free versions of nominated works and related items in a nice downloadable packet so that you can read everything (even things you might not have been inclined to.) The packet includes:
Eight full novels of nominated works:

  • Blackout by Connie Willis (pdf)
  • Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • The Dervish House by Ian McDonald
  • Feed by Mira Grant
  • The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
  • I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells (Campbell nominee) (pdf, rtf)
  • Monster Hunter International by Larry Correia (Campbell nominee) (pdf, rtf, epub)
  • Moxyland by Lauren Beukes (Campbell nominee)(pdf, prc, epub) And an excerpt of Zoo City
  • Novel excerpts from Lev Grossman–Endgame, Magicians(Campbell nominee)

Five graphic novels:

  • Fables: Witches by Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham
  • Girl Genius, Volume 10: Agatha Heterodyne and the Guardian Muse by Phil and Kaja Foglio with colors by Cheyenne Wright
  • Grandville Mon Amour by Bryan Talbot
  • Schlock Mercenary: Massively Parallel by Howard Tayler with some colors by Travis Walton
  • The Unwritten, Volume 2: Inside Man by Mike Carey and Peter Gross

Best Novella — RTF/PDF/EPUB/MOBI formats

  • The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen’s Window by Rachel Swirsky (Subterranean Magazine, Summer 2010)
  • The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang (Subterranean)
  • The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon by Elizabeth Hand (Stories: All New Tales, William Morrow)
  • The Sultan of the Clouds by Geoffrey A. Landis (Asimov’s, September 2010)
  • Troika by Alastair Reynolds (Godlike Machines, Science Fiction Book Club)

Best Novelette — RTF/PDF/EPUB/MOBI formats

  • Eight Miles by Sean McMullen (Analog, September 2010)
  • The Emperor of Mars by Allen M. Steele (Asimov’s, June 2010)
  • The Jaguar House, in Shadow by Aliette de Bodard (Asimov’s, July 2010)
  • Plus or Minus by James Patrick Kelly (Asimov’s, December 2010)
  • That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made by Eric James Stone (Analog, September 2010)

Best Short Story — RTF/PDF/EPUB/MOBI formats

  • Amaryllis by Carrie Vaughn (Lightspeed, June 2010)
  • For Want of a Nail by Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov’s, September 2010)
  • Ponies by Kij Johnson (Tor.com, November 17, 2010) (Nebulla Winner)
  • The Things by Peter Watts (Clarkesworld, January 2010)

Related Works

  • The Business of Science Fiction: Two Insiders Discuss Writing and Publishing by Mike Resnick and Barry N. Malzberg
  • Chicks Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the Women Who Love It edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Tara O’Shea
  • Excerpt from Robert Heinlein Vol 1 by William H Patterson
  • Links to Writing Excuses Season 4

And a bunch more short stories and examples of artists works and …

All in all a lot of good stuff. Remember, these are provided as a courtesy by the publishers for the convenience of Hugo voters. If you like something, please do buy it.

May 10 2011

Fun from the past.

Doug and Steve in College
Here’s a fun picture from the college days at ISU from around 1984. Every spring room pictures and then posted on a (physical) bulletin board (an early form of Facebook) would be taken to make it easier to find people. Someone would write clever sayings underneath each one. For some reason Doug (my roommate) and I decided this was the most representative of us. The sacred idol statues came about as a desire to find trinkets/curios from odd places.