May 3 2011

Prognosticators

Here’s an interesting paper:
Analysis of Forcast Accuracy in the Political Media.
A class at Hamilton College, led by public policy professor P. Gary Wyckoff, analyzed the predictions of 26 prognosticators/pundits between September 2007 and December 2008. They randomly sampled the predictions of these prognosticators and looked at the outcomes. They assigned scores and ratings. A prognosticators with a score of over 5, they classified as good. A score of 0 to 5 they classified as bad and a score under 0 as ugly. A score of under 0 means that the prognosticator did worse at their predictions than if they had flipped a coin.
Paul Krugman scored the highest with an 8.23. Out of 17 predictions, he was only wrong once.
Running some statistics upon their data resulted in a couple of indicators for whom you should not listen:

Individuals who hold law degrees are less accurate when making predictions.
Conservatives, according to our data, are also less accurate.

It’s actually a fairly fun paper to read.

April 25 2011

Minicon 46 recap

Back from Minicon 46. I had a good time. I also discovered that an iPad does work just fine as a laptop replacement for a weekend like this. Sunday was also our anniversary and we went to Collete–a French restaurant in the Sofitel across from the convention hotel and thereupon ate too much.
On Friday I went to the panel The Future Isn’t What It Used To Be – 4:00PM, with panelists John Scalzi, Laura Krentz, Neil Rest, Greg Johnson and Magenta Griffith. This was a good discussion on how the present isn’t quite the future that has been envisioned in SF of the past (no flying cars–probably a good thing). This was the first time I had heard Scalzi in person. His con persona is pretty much what I expected from his blog persona–witty and energetic. Since he was GoH I didn’t get any chances to have any sort of in depth discussion with him, so the dark secret tides of his underlying angst remain undiscovered. 🙂
At 7:00 I went to the opening ceremonies where music GoH Chas Somdahl sang us a song a Scalzi was formally introduced.
At 9:30 I listened to Patrick Nielsen Haden and the Deaf-Tones (Teresa Nielsen Hayden and Elise Matthesen) do a variety of songs. They were quite good. Steven Brust dropped by to listen, but I didn’t get a chance to talk with him and tell him Tiassa was quite good. Teresa did mention at a later panel that Tiassa is on the extended NY Times bestseller list–well deserved.
At 10:00 I went to Successful Writing In the Digital Age with Aaron Vander Giessen(M), John Scalzi and Ctein. This was mostly a discussion on Scalzi’s and Ctein’s experiences with translating blogging into sales. The general consensus being that on line presence doesn’t necessarily translate into sales figures, but it doesn’t necessarily hurt either.
On Saturday at 11:30 AM, I went to Science Literacy Vs. Human Knowledge with Chas Somdahl, Kelly Strait, John Scalzi, Howard Davidson and Rob Callahan. The base idea of the panel was that as human knowledge expands, it becomes harder to keep up. The main focus of the panel was the general lack of scientific literacy.
Then, at 1:00 was Don’t Read What You’re An Expert In with Rachel Kronick (M), Marissa Lingen and Magenta Griffith. This was a fun discussion on the astounding number of errors that occur in just about every form of entertainment (books, TV, movies …) and that you tend to notice when you are an expert in the particular area that is being mangled. Computers being magic boxes always irritates me. For example the “infinite zoom” of image enhancement you see all too often in crime shows.
At 2:30 came my own panel–Malazan Book of the Fallen Recap with Beth Kinderman(M), Steven Halter and Greg Johnson. 2:30 turned out to be the most heavily booked panel hour of the con, including Scalzi’s reading. So, we ended up with the panelists and 1 audience member. We forged ahead and had a really good discussion on the books and writing of Erikson. It was a good time and probab;y a good break in for my first time. Hey, I discovered I liked it. As a panelist you get to talk a lot more as an audience member and if it’s a subject you’re good at that’s not a bad thing. I think I’ll give it a try again.
At 5:30 was the Scalzi interview with David E. Romm.
At 8:30, Scalzi gave a slideshow of his tour of the “Creation Museum.” There is a Creation Museum in Kentucky that shows how Dinosaurs and people all lived together from about 6000 years ago. Scalzi had made the unfortunate remark that you couldn’t pay him to go there. About $5000 IN DONATIONS and a few months later, Scalzi found himself and a friend on the tour. He took a lot of pictures. This was probably the most fun and semi-surreal hour of the con. It also tied in really well with the lack of scientific literacy discussed in the earlier panel.
At 10:00 I went to a reading of Atlanta Nights by Teresa Nielsen Hayden. Atlanta Nights was a book co-written by about 30 SF authors with the purpose of being incredibly bad. It was then submitted to PublishAmerica in order to expose some of their unfortunate claims as a vanity press. This was a nice discussion. Teressa read a chapter by Jim Macdonald and then gave various accounts of her own experiences with slush piles. Slush piles are worse than you imagine them to be.
On Sunday was Common Misconceptions About Publishing – 11:30AM with Michael Merriam (M), John Scalzi, Patrick Nielsen Hayden and Teresa Nielsen Hayden. This tied somewhat into Teresa’s panel from the night before, but also covered such things as “it’s really a good idea to include your return address on a submission.”
Finally on Sunday at 2:30 was Works of John Scalzi with John Scalzi, Patrick Nielsen Hayden and Teresa Nielsen Hayden.
Here’s a picture of Scalzi’s first Coke Zero after Lent.
John talked some more about how it came to write “Old Man’s War”–military SF seemed popular. He also gave an amusing account of writing an emotional story and having the Schwan’s man interrupt.
In between the panels, there was various wandering about, swimming and the watching of interesting people. Minicon 46 — a good time.

April 22 2011

Minicon 46

I’ll be heading off to Minicon 46 later on today. I’ve gone to most of these since 1989–I think that this will be my 20th.
This year I’m trying something new–I’m going to be on a panel for the first time:

Malazan Book of the Fallen Recap – 2:30 PM Saturday – Veranda 2
The tenth and final volume of Steven Erikson’s epic, Dark Fantasy was just released on March 1, 2011. The Malazan books are almost thirty years in the making, and more than a decade after the publication of the first in the series. These books take place in a world originally created with Ian Cameron Esslemont as the surroundings for D&D and GURPS roleplaying campaigns. What are some thoughts on this final installment, and on the series as a whole? What about the Ian Cameron Esslemont’s Novels of the Malazan Empire?
Panelists: Beth Kinderman(M), Steven Halter, Greg Johnson

I proposed the panel as it seemed like a panel idea I would want to attend.
John Scalzi is the Author Guest of Honor. His books are good and his blog Whatever is interesting. It should be a good convention. I’ll be posting a write up on it when I return.

March 27 2011

More fun with Lovecraft

Really, how can you not have fun with H.P. and the crawling chaos. The Cthulita thread at Ian Tregillis blog has been a blast. Here’s another mashup with regards to the Moody Blues.

Nights in old Arkham, never dreaming alone,
Letters I’ve chiseled, deep in the stone.
Things on the doorstep, are not what they seem.
Witch cursed and haunted, the face in the dream.

Because I’ll find you, yes I’ll find you, oh how I’ll find you.

Gazing at altars, some now just sand,
Whispers at midnight, Azathoth is at hand.
Some try to tell me, thoughts that must bend,
Just what you want to be, you will be in the end.

And I’ll find you, yes I’ll find you,
Oh how I’ll find you, oh how I’ll find you.

Nights in old Arkham, never dreaming alone,
Letters I’ve chiseled, deep in the stone.
Things on the doorstep, are not what they seem.
Witch cursed and haunted, the face in the dream.

Because I’ll find you, yes I’ll find you,
Oh how I’ll find you, oh how I’ll find you,
Because I’ll find you, yes I’ll find you,
Oh how I’ll find you, oh how I’ll find you,

Breathe deep, the gathering doom
Watch stars fade, turning to gloom
Elderly hermits, by the blasted heath
Tell tales of what lies beneath.

Impassioned Shoggoths, merging as one
There in the darkness, never knowing the sun
The Deep Ones have sung
Where they were young.

Cold intellects, rule the night
The colours of darkness, stamp out our sight
Too frozen to feel,
Nyarlathotep decides, which is quite real

And which is a dream.

March 24 2011

Today’s bit of fun–Lovecraft mashup’s

Over on the inestimable Ian Tregillis’ blog today, he did a fun mashup between Nabokov and Lovecraft entitled Cthulita. This sparked a bit of fun in the posts. Here’s my entry. I kind of like it so I’m reposting it here (with my compliments to the Kinks):

I met it in a cave down in old Dunwhich
Where you drink absinthe
It tastes quite eldritch, E-L-D-R-I-T-C-H, eldritch

It walked up to me and it asked me to dance
I asked it its name and in a dark chthonic voice
It said Cthulhu,C-T-H-U-L-H-U, Cthulhu, C-C-Cthulhu

Well, I’m not the world’s most psychical guy
But when it squeezed me tight it nearly broke my mind
Oh my Cthulhu, C-C-Cthulhu

Well, I’m not squamous but I can’t understand
Why it walked like a cephalopod but talked like a man
Oh my Cthulhu, C-C-Cthulhu

Well, we drank absinthe and danced all night
Under flickering torchlight
It picked me up and sat me on its bothria
And said, “Dear boy, won’t you visit my plane?”

Well, I’m not the world’s most passionate guy
But when I looked in its eyes well I almost fell for my Cthulhu
C-C-Cthulhu, C-C-Cthulhu
Cthulhu, C-C-Cthulhu, C-C-Cthulhu

I pushed it away, I walked to the gate
I fell to the floor, I got down on my knees
Then I looked at it and it at me

That is not dead which can eternal lie
I always want it to be that way for my Cthulhu, C-C-Cthulhu

Gods will be boys and boys will be gods
And with strange aeons even death may die
Except for Cthulhu, C-C-Cthulhu

Well, I left home just an aeon before
And I’d never ever met an old one before
But Cthulhu rose and took me by the hand
And said, “Dear boy, I’m gonna make you mad”

Well, I’m not the world’s most ethnologic man
But I know what I am and I’m glad I’m a man
And so is Cthulhu, C-C-Cthulhu, C-C-Cthulhu
Cthulhu, C-C-Cthulhu, C-C-Cthulhu

Cthulhu, C-C-Cthulhu, C-C-Cthulhu
Cthulhu, C-C-Cthulhu, C-C-Cthulhu
Cthulhu, C-C-Cthulhu, C-C-Cthulhu

Cthulhu, C-C-Cthulhu, C-C-Cthulhu
Cthulhu, C-C-Cthulhu, C-C-Cthulhu
Cthulhu, C-C-Cthulhu, C-C-Cthulhu

March 22 2011

When in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout–or not so much

A very popular movie/TV trope that always makes me grit my teeth is that of mass panic in the public. You all know the setup: something has happened–a disaster, an alien landing, a virus… Eventually there is a scene where the government official/military person intones that they just can’t release information because there will be mass panic. People will rampage and quickly devolve into roving bands of vigilantes and cannibals.
There are certainly a number of examples of decently sized groups of people panicking. Often, these are in response to an immediate danger–like a fire in a building with too few exits. There are also lots of examples of wide spread disasters in which people don’t panic. In fact they do the opposite–they help people out, they work together. It turns out people are good at working together. It’s easy to think of positive examples: the Blitz in London, the San Francisco earthquake/fire, the recent earthquake in Japan, …. Now, try to think of an example of widespread mass panic–involving cities or entire regions. That’s not so easy. Maybe you’ll think of the War of the Worlds broadcast. Well, that is certainly often cited, but it turns out there wasn’t that much actual panic. I can’t really find any evidence that any such event has ever happened.
People will certainly move away from a source of immediate danger. But, once the immediate threat is done they don’t keep moving. There is an excellent essay on this very thing over on the Huffington Post.

March 16 2011

Rare Earths

The first interesting thing to note about Rare Earths is that they aren’t all that rare. Out of the 17 elements considered rare earths, only Promethium is really rare (it’s radioactive and has a half life of 17.7 years at the best). The reason they are termed rare is that for the most part they don’t occur in large concentrations. Mineral deposits with enough of a concentration to make extracting rare earths economically feasible are somewhat scarce.
Currently, rare earths are used in all sort of things. These include cell phones and catalytic converters.

The second interesting thing you will often see (often with hints of conspiracy) is that the Chinese control 97% of the worlds supply. Oh my Eleventy! 111! A more accurate statement is that China currently produces 97% of the worlds supply. There are a couple of reasons for this.
Until about 20 years ago demand for rare earth elements was much lower (and increasing at a lower rate) than it is today. So, someone sitting back 20 years ago might have forecast that demand (and thus) price for rare earths wasn’t going to change much in relative terms and so developing new mines wasn’t that much of an economic priority. In the US, the largest mine was the Mountain Pass rare earth mine
. Through a combination of mismanagement (lots of environmental leaks) and misjudging of prices, this mine went inactive between 1998 and 2002. Chinese production had increased at that point and demand hadn’t quite caught up. So, for a while people were mostly happy to let the Chinese mine and produce the rare earth elements in China with cheaper labor and shall we say less than strict environmental regulations.
Here’s a nice supply and demand chart:

Since about 2009, a couple of things have happened to change this whole picture. For various reasons, on September 1, 2009, China announced plans to reduce its export quota to 35,000 tons per year in 2010-2015. Looking at the chart, on the left, you can see that the demand outside of China is greater than 35,000 tons per year. What happens when demand is greater than supply? That’s right, the price pretty much has gone vertical.

Now, the nice thing about the price increasing from a supply point of view is that now there is incentive to either open new mines or reopen old ones. For example, the Mountain Pass mine that we mentioned earlier is expected to resume operation this year.

That all seems fine, supply and demand working as they should. So, is there a potential for running out of rare earths anytime in the near future? An excellent report from the USGS is available here that describes US and global known reserves of rare earth elements. The report concludes that global reserves are at about 99 million metric tons with the United States having 13 million metric tons of rare earth elements. From the above chart, current usage is about 250000 metric tons. This is steadily increasing, but reserves look like they should last for quite a while. This is especially true in that many of the uses of rare earths could be recyled.

February 9 2011

Peak Helium

Ian Tregillis has started an interesting set of posts (link) on the coming shortage of Helium. This is something I hadn’t really thought much about. There is a limited supply of Helium on Earth. The US used to have most of the helium supply (fortunate geology). Then, we decided to sell it off at below market rates. The cheaper price increased demand. People used helium more than was wise. … Cool stuff.
Ian has now finished part 3 of this post series. Really well done.