Pellucidar is Science Fiction.

There's a reason sci-fi and fantasy occupy adjacent aisles at the bookstore: they're very closely related! In both cases we're asked to adopt an unlikelyu or impossible premise. "Once upon a time, in a galaxy far far away," to mix the two quintessential opening gambits. The "science" in science fiction is really magic with an extra patina of believability.  Back when science WAS very nearly magic, when engineering exceeded the grasp of most of the population and more miracles were wrought every day, there was more science fiction.  We've a better grasp now, and miracles are a bit harder to imagine, and we have to allow a little more artistic license in judging whether the science in the fiction is hard enough.

What's the definition of the genre to be then?  My favorite is a typical one: you begin by saying "what if..." What if we had one crucial interesting keystone upon which to build our setting, a hollow earth, (we discover with a zeppelin or bone shaking tunneling machine), FTL spaceships (cause the pilots do drugs?), a world-spanning internet game world you could lose yourself in (don't we already?), or a submarine that could stay underwater indefinitely (thanks to a magic power source), or shrink to the size of a dot (thanks to a shrink ray, duh.)  I tried to squeeze several ideas into that sentence, mainly that the science has nothing do to with it: it's a quick handwaving to cover where the author needs to access a quick miracle, and you're supposed to look away and say, "ok" because it's science. So I'm introducing Pellucidar to the list today, under the protection of "science enabled this discovery"'s no different than Alien.

This thesis makes fantasy a little more hardcore than science fiction. Both reader and author of a book about talking rabbits, their civilization and pilgrim's progress are showing more guts than those who need a radioactive spider bite to unlimber the permissive half of their imagination.  A new reality, launched with a "what if?" That's as close as I can get to a truly necessary definition. You may legitimately add that science has to provide the what if, but my thesis is that that part is gratuitous, and accounts for why we see the presence of science in such varying degrees. It's really just imagination, sugar coated so that it goes down easier.
Genghis: Lords of the Bow (Conqueror, #2)Genghis: Lords of the Bow by Conn Iggulden
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Somehow not quite as good as the first in the series.  Here, Genghis invades China, eventually taking Beijing. There's a difficulty telling fact from fiction, certainly allowable, but I realize I wish there was more fact.  As an example of something that strained credulity, nobody hits an egg at 100 yards, or has a bow with 300yard range, do they?  Apparently, they did. Wow. Other mind boggling anecdotes probably were facts, too. As in Birth of an Empire, there's a little postscript distinguishing some areas of artistic license from actual history, but it was not thorough enough to satisfy.

Anyway, this book was fun fast and easy, and left me wondering what REALLY went down.

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Archery fail...

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That's what we called it in school, just that one word, "Macro."  It meant macro-economics and was famously difficult, especially so because economics would presumptively be "naturally" easier than engineering.

I don't think that any more!

Economics uses nonlinear devices (people) and has a seemingly unbounded system running just once through history, so like history or global weather, prognostications are based upon subscale models, and trying it again isn't possible: you only live through history once.

This allows people to make statements like "taxes kill jobs" and with some simple reasoning, you can see why. But the reasoning is OVER simplified and that's always dangerous to an analysis.  Let's have a quick review. Business compares ROI for a $ invested vs placed in the bank.  The bank's nominally surer, so the investment has to pay more.  If my calculation imagines 50% cost of manufacturing, 20% shipping, 10% warranty and 20% taxes, I probably won't build the factory just to break even.  With a 10% tax break it's looking pretty good though and in-between is, well, in-between.  It's easy to see that changes in the factors will influence the decision. The partial derivative of factories built / d(tax rate) is a clear trigger to investment and unarguable.

But the world's a big system, and these things feed into each other.  What if the decision IS literally marginal? Suppose 15% taxes and 5% long term savings yield. Then the investment's a wash, right?  Well remember, long term, the return on savings is created by those business investments.  Each time you decide not to build a factory, there ends up being more money in savings accounts looking for return, and thus lower rates of return and when the savings bond yields 4%, I'll pick the factory.  So there's a closed loop process, where one thing affects another, indirectly and maybe slowly, but unambiguously and powerfully, I say.  More proof? Chinese savings dollars continue to prop up t-bills.  That's money looking for an investment.

So that fact directly contradicts the premise that taxes kill jobs, though only over the long term. A better mantra would be "sudden tax give-aways will stimulate spikes in investment."  The whole short time horizon thing explains why it would be appealing to people, but maybe not good policy.  I think I've made an argument that over the long term, the first order effects of taxation are nil.  A second point comes from the consequences of the tax.

Taxes get spent. The government redistributes the money (I know that's a bad word, connoting robbery, but it's not fair to dodge it here.) in ways that get it into the system: people who need to buy groceries, teachers on the state payroll, and defense contractors who make bombers.  (That the bomber is a product that is itself a tax is a tertiary issue* My point here is that it's not just poor people who benefit from the flow of tax dollars, but also well heeled aerospace engineers.) So taxes create jobs. They may directly fund them (teachers) or create economic pull through spending  that creates jobs. This route is no more indirect than the analysis of taxes removing investment from the private sector.

I have peeled away one layer of the onion. Doubtless my "analysis" is sophomoric. it's frustrating though, that our mainline political discourse in the country never even gets this deep!   It's as though, discussing sailing, somebody says "well, you can't sail into the wind!" and wins the argument, because our patience doesn't allow for a discussion of tacking and how you can work to windward that way.  How can the system use the cogs of sound bites to make an engine that considers more complex thoughts, draws more intelligent conclusions? Returning to the first argument, remember that IT yields immediate observable results.    



So you can make beer, run a mile, throw a punch, fix a motorcycle. Whatever. Are you a real man? 


Real men make steel

Who's in?

Most successful man, ever.

Genghis: Birth of an Empire (Conqueror, #1)Genghis: Birth of an Empire by Conn Iggulden
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This morning, with spring coming on and a little warm egg yolk dripping onto crispy toast and a mug of hot coffee, I read about thin, determined boys shivering in Mongolia and refusing to die. I felt pretty spoiled, let me tell you. Iggulden's a good enough story teller to bring you into the scene, make you feel you could ride and shoot, be a Khan if the chance came. Vanity!  Yet exciting. My blood runs hot enough to be engaged.

I've read one of these before, so I expected it to go down easy like a light beer, perhaps unsophisticated, but refreshing and good for you.  That was about exactly right. Not a complicated book and more fiction than historical, but it's true enough!  There was just such a man, real, and he lived an exceptional life, and if it was not exactly as told, then near enough as makes no difference.  I enjoyed this a lot, admittedly more than I expected.

For a comparison, those who know Bernard Cornwell's series of infantryman Sharpe will not be disappointed: they're very similar authors.

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The cool airplane...

The cool part is that the central dorsal "rudder" provides Clb, the canard's carefully balanced vs cg and it sorta-kinda doesn't need the aft rudder.  

First day of school, 2006?

Kid pic from a couple years back.  Actually meant this to go to the family site: getting my tools figured out...

Chauvet Caves

Werner Herzog's at it again, making movies about someplace I want to visit.  I don't plan to see the movie; his last, nominally about Antarctica with beautiful photography to match, was really about the loons that inhabit McMurdo station. That was fun in its own way, and maybe that's a hint about this one too. Anyway, the but the trailer at least, is eerie and beautiful, and as you can see, it's worth googling up the paintings.

boneshaker review

Boneshaker (The Clockwork Century, #1)Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I read somewhere on here that "steampunk" epitomizes "genre" and I think that's cute. If so, this book may exemplify steampunk. Every paragraph clangs with heavy iron, slaps brown, oiled leather and cracked rubber, smells of coal dust and sulphur. I liked the description. By the way, I'm interested in the genre and was sensitive to how hard it must be to write "in character" like that: she does a good job. The cover too, does a good job of conveying the atmosphere.  Like Jay Lake's Mainspring, Gilliam's movie Brazil (especially), and somehow, the movie Inception, (note so self: why is that?) we're taken into a world where everything's 10x overbuilt, where things get fixed with wrench as big as your forearm.  The singular metaphor that defines this whole sort of thing is of course, "Locomotive," capitalized, because you should always capitalize that word.  It's big, magical, ineluctable, hot and smelling of heavy grease. It's impossible NOT to focus on the imagery, even now when writing a book review, eh?  But what about the book?

The book is faintly ridiculous, an adolescent cartoon. It'd make a great graphic novel except that it'll be hard to make the clothes sexy.  As a book, there are shortcomings, unless you're fifteen and believe a boy and a mother's love can take on the mob, a natural disaster and a ravening herd of zombies. This short paragraph is actually my main criticism. I am bothered almost to the point of insulte by that childish premise. Maybe it's from reading too many of my daughter's gushing teen fantasies, I don't know.

Now, back to the camp!

What's with the zombies exactly?  Thats sort of busts the genre bubble, though perhaps she works them in well enough; they do match the rest of the scenery in color, clanking and decrepitude I guess. Maybe it's just ME, because I never went for zombies in any setting. Let's face it, they're silly.

One more thing, the whole zeppelin thing is the posterchild for the need to set your reality distortion field to 11.  They're steam powered, knock over masonry buildings with a rending tear of iron and fly away from it? Those are some tough "physics" for engineers to deal with.  I've dealt with plenty of fantasy in my life, from warp drive to Will Smith's superhero "Hancock," (which was awesome) but I've never had quite the trouble suspending disbelief as I did during this book.

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Had a great time at track on Friday, followed by indian food and the Shining. The workout was a very hard 5x [4,(3),2,1 rest 5'] (on the 300s, you go easy) descending  through 1:40, 1:30, 1:25, 1:20, 1:15(!) -that's the 400 pace.  That last one was at 204 heartrate, though Bernardo said I must've counted wrong.  I was out of AIR. Devo breathes same as me going hard (on 3) but two in and one out. Duh!  I breathe in on 1 and 2 out, which is stupid since exhaling's easier.  This could help me I think. (pic's from last fall.)