Book Report: Supercomputer by Edward Packard (1984)

When I saw this Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book at the library for a quarter, I knew I had to have it. I mean, sure, it’s a children’s book, but what child in 2005 reads anymore, and how can they understand what it meant to the previous generation? I mean, I’ve got the equivalent of the title character in my closet because it’s no longer powerful enough to run the latest operating systems.

No, you damn kids, you’ve always had computers and game consoles. I remember reading this particular volume as a boy in the housing projects. We couldn’t afford an Atari, much less the Tandys displayed in the Sunday paper color inserts. Granted, I had no exposure to real computers or even Ataris at that point, but I read lots of books, and computers seemed cool.

So in that world without video games, we had Choose Your Own Adventures. You get a page or two introductory text and a question of what you would do next. Each question had two or more answers with pointers to other pages, and you would flip to the page of your chosen action and continue with another page or so of action before coming to another decision. CYOA were the FPS of the first Reagan Administration, werd. Each book had numerous paths and 20 or so different endings, some happy and some not, and sometimes the action was recursive, but each book allowed you to read it a couple of different ways and a couple of different times. By the time all was said and done, really you only had a short story sized text, but it was an interesting means of passing time. Choose Your Own Adventures were the most popular line, but other publishers picked up the concept.

This particular adventure begins when you win a computer-programming (note the quaint hyphen!) contest and receive a Genecomp A1 32 sixth generation computer, serial number 2183 and answering to the name Conrad. Conrad’s no ordinary computer; his artificial intelligence can make you millions of dollars, make you happy for a brief moment, or help you communicate with the Soviet premier or bottle-nosed dolphons.

Yeah, I bought it, and I read through it a couple of times for old time’s sake. Of course, we don’t name our computers anymore (HAL, Edgar, Conrad, you were doomed by the 1990s), but these books inspired my imagination. When I finally got access to an old Apple II through school, 20 input "What would you like to do now?" closely followed 10 print "Hello, world!" (DRL! Maybe that’s Commodore 64’s BASIC 2.0 and not AppleBasic).

So is it worth the quarter? I reckon if you’re an old school geek. You might be able to sucker a kid into reading it, but he or she will find this particular book in the series more dated than others.

Libertarian Foreign Policy Insight Debunked

Remember, El Guapo, how we spent a portion of my thirtieth birthday party lo, those many years ago, listening to official Libertarians explain why the Afghanistan invasion was really a ploy to make room for an oil pipeline from the Caspian Sea?

Well, son of a buck, the pipeline’s complete, but they must have had the wrong Trilateral Commission map, because they completely missed Afghanistan:

Beginning in Azerbaijan a mostly Muslim country and a U.S. ally in the war on terrorism with troops in Iraq the underground pipeline passes through Georgia and Turkey, ending at the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. It avoids going through Russia, Armenia, Iran, Iraq and Syria on its way to the Mediterranean.

(Link seen on Roger L. Simon. Well, not on him, but on his blog.)

Book Report: The Action Hero’s Handbook by David Borgenicht and Joe Borgenicht (2002)

I bought this book at A Clean, Well Lighted Place for Books for $4.98 because, let’s face it, I was binging. But I’m better now, and I’ve almost finished all the books I bought there on Saturday, so it all balances out sort of.

This book was written by one of the guys behind the Worst Case Scenario Handbook, which is apparently a whole brand now. Since Borgenicht wrote it with his brother and the book’s title lacks “Worst Case Scenario,” I assume he didn’t retain control of the brand he helped create. Still, the book follows along the same format. Situation, and how you should solve it. For example, you want to spy proof your room, interrogate a suspect, rescue someone who’s hanging off of a cliff, or climb down the face of Mount Rushmore. You see, unlike the disasters in the WCS books, these doomsdays are man-made, and you’re the only one who can save the world.

Amusing and perhaps slightly informative, but sometimes outlandish and fictionesque, particularly the Paranormal section (How to Predict the Future, How to Fend Off A Ghost, and so on). Still, it’s a good read when spaced out over the course of a couple of days, with a couple of lessons per sitting. Like information gleaned from the WCS books, I’m glad to know some of these things are possible (How to Escape a Sinking Cruise Ship) so I’ll be a little more confident if I encounter the situation; of course, by then, I will have forgotten the details and the book will be on the bookshelf instead of in my pocket, so ultimately it won’t be helpful. Just entertaining.


Store Wars.

I cannot tell by the site whether the organic enthusiasts have put this together earnestly, or if someone is making fun of the organic enthusiasts; all I know is that, with Obi-Wan Cannoli’s tutelage, the Farm will surely be with Cuke Skywalker.

Not Quite Eminent Domain

Story: Residents of trailer park are given a year to move out:

Rex Smith tore open the certified letter last weekend, read it then woke his sleeping wife, Angie.

The letter was an eviction notice ordering them and the other families in Collinsville’s Crescent Mobile Home Park to move within the year. The site would be swallowed up by a city-backed $78 million commercial development that includes a Wal-Mart Supercenter, a Home Depot and other stores.

Starting off with the anecdote to humanize the tragedy, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch makes this sound like another eminent domain struggle, but it’s not:

Collinsville Acquisitions recently bought the site, just off Illinois Route 157. All residents will be forced to move out by May 19 of next year. The city plans to provide up to $19 million of the project’s cost with money mainly generated from a tax-increment financing district. In a TIF district, property taxes are frozen, helping increase the land’s value and freeing up money that would otherwise be used to pay taxes.

Sounds like the owner of the mobile home park, who rented the pad to the mobile home owners, sold his property to the developers. Capitalism working, albeit marred by the whole TIF and government financing. Still, the story does not indicate it’s eminent domain, so I will save my sympathy for those driven off their land by the government, or for those trailer parks whose existence is suddenly made wrong by zoning changes or other chicanery.

On a side note, let’s examine the whole mobile home park thing. It’s the worst of all possible residence options. You own and have to maintain a domicile, but you still pay rent for location and are subject to eviction. Man, what a poor housing choice. I’ve lived in apartments, houses, and a mobile home, and I think mobile homes in rental parks surpasses even condos and co-ops because although you “own” a condo but still have to pay maintenance for common areas, the condo owner’s association cannot tell you to take your loft somewhere else.

CBS News: Only Slightly Inaccurate

CBS News, in its radio broadcasts and its Web site, mischaracterizes the nature of the Stem Cell bill just passed by the House of Representatives:

Ignoring President Bush’s veto threat, the House voted Tuesday to lift limits on embryonic stem cell research, a measure supporters said could accelerate cures for diseases but opponents viewed as akin to abortion.

Here’s the text:

`(a) In General- Notwithstanding any other provision of law (including any regulation or guidance), the Secretary shall conduct and support research that utilizes human embryonic stem cells in accordance with this section (regardless of the date on which the stem cells were derived from a human embryo).

`(b) Ethical Requirements- Human embryonic stem cells shall be eligible for use in any research conducted or supported by the Secretary if the cells meet each of the following:

    `(a) In General- Notwithstanding any other provision
    of law (including any regulation or guidance), the Secretary shall
    conduct and support research that utilizes human embryonic stem cells in accordance with this section (regardless of the date on which the stem cells were derived from a human embryo).

    `(b) Ethical Requirements- Human embryonic stem cells shall be eligible for use in any research conducted or supported by the Secretary if the cells meet each of the following:

    `(1) The stem cells were derived from human embryos that have been donated from in vitro
    fertilization clinics, were created for the purposes of fertility
    treatment, and were in excess of the clinical need of the individuals
    seeking such treatment.
    `(2) Prior to the consideration of embryo donation and
    through consultation with the individuals seeking fertility treatment,
    it was determined that the embryos would never be implanted in a woman
    and would otherwise be discarded.
    `(3) The individuals seeking fertility treatment
    donated the embryos with written informed consent and without receiving
    any financial or other inducements to make the donation.
    `(c) Guidelines- Not later than 60 days after the date of
    the enactment of this section, the Secretary, in consultation with the
    Director of NIH, shall issue final guidelines to carry out this section.

    `(d) Reporting Requirements- The Secretary shall annually
    prepare and submit to the appropriate committees of the Congress a
    report describing the activities carried out under this section during
    the preceding fiscal year, and including a description of whether and
    to what extent research under subsection (a) has been conducted in
    accordance with this section.’.

The limits are on government funding of stem cell research, not on stem cell research in and of itself by any party who wants to fund that research on its own–such as universities or pharma companies. However, those programs haven’t been eligible for federal government funding.

It’s unclear whether the media who report this are intentionally blurring this distinction to make the new bill into a fight for freedom against government oppression of scientific expression instead of what it is, a fight for freedom to spend government money. Perhaps the blurring is unintentional; some people in the media could very well believe there is/should be no action but government action.

Call me unconservative, but I’m not against this bill for the moral reason that groups of human cells are fully living humans who should have representation in the legislature. Instead, I oppose it for the moral reason that it’s the Federal government spending money on things the private sector should handle.

(Submitted to the Outside the Beltway Traffic Jam.)

UPDATE: Two other conservatives weigh in:

  • At INDC Journal, Bill thinks President Bush’s veto would put the United States behind other countries. Kind of like how Boeing is falling behind Airbus, if you ask me, but then again, perhaps he’s right. Are universities and private sector companies out of the habit of expending their own capital on Research and Development without the government teat at which to suckle?
  • At Just One Minute, the blogger/narrator agrees that the government should fund this research, but does recognize that the bill expands government programs, not curtails them.

A Love That Dared To Speak Its Name

Alien Loves Predator.

Okay, it sounds dirtier than it is. In this series of comix, Preston the predator and Abraham the alien share apartments in New York City, survive commuting on the subways, and try to score with chix… Well, Abraham tries, and time will tell if Pres actually does.

Should be Safe For Work (SFW); does not contain nude poseable action figures, but it does use some colorful metaphors which are presented as text within jpg images.

(Thanks to Rocket Jones for the pointer.)

Book Report: Star Trek 7 by James Blish (1972)

I read this book mostly during a bus ride through Sonoma. Its familiarity–I’d seen most of these stories as episodes–, its dearth of character development, and its short story format continue to make it easy to read this book in short bursts.

The stories include:

  • Who Mourns for Adonais?, the Apollo one.
  • The Changeling

    The story with Nomad, the little probe that could destroy–whose plot was recycled as Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

  • The Paradise Syndrome, where Kirk becomes a shaman named Kirok.
  • Metamorphosis, which introduces Zefrim Cochrane of Alpha Centauri, who becomes Zefrim Cochrane of Earth in Star Trek: First Contact.
  • The Deadly Years, where away team visitors get a radiation sickness that abnormally ages the away team, er, landing party. Sorry, I got confused, but this happened to Dr. Pulaski in Star Trek: The Next Generation, too.
  • Elaan of Troyius, where the attractive barbarian woman with chemically-attractive tears doesn’t want to marry the prince on another planet to stop the bloody wars between the two, so she cries all over Kirk.

You see, you old school geeks, you’re nodding along because you know which episodes I’m talking about–some of you even know the episode numbers, the air dates, and their star dates.

It’s interesting to note, as I often do, about how much younger the protagonists were in the 50s and 60s. Rarely did they breach the dreaded thirty barrier. Now, any protagonist under thirty means you’re reading one of those angst-ridden 20 something sleep-around literary novels. In the genres, the characters are typically older and wiser.

Book Report: Area of Suspicion by John D. MacDonald (1961/1988)

I bought this book along with the other MacDonald paperbacks that I have been reading lately at Downtown Books in Milwaukee for $1.95. Good stuff.

It’s another business world kind of book, like A Man of Affairs. Gevan Dean hasn’t been home in a number of years, not since he walked away from the family business and the family after his brother steals his fiancee. The Florida playboy comes back home after someone murders his brother, and he finds the family business in shambles. When the local attorney comes forward too quickly with a proxy statement so Gevan can sign over control of the company, Gevan becomes suspicious and uncovers corruption and espionage whose discovery led to his brother’s death–and might lead to Gevan’s.

This book mixes crime fiction and the business maneuvering more than A Man of Affairs. It was a pleasant read and quick, good for an airline trip to San Francisco. Also, since it’s a paperback, it fits easily into the backpack.

A note about the dual dates in the title: this edition of the text is a revision of the original, and the revised text is copyright 1961. The particular printing comes from 1988. I don’t know that you care, but I do like to include it anyway. Because I am a bibliophile.

Chapman on BRAC

Steve Chapman has perspective on base closings that elected officials lack:

It’s officially called the Department of Defense, but to many politicians, the label misstates its function. Judging from their reaction to proposed base closures, they’d like to rename it the Department of Jobs, Pork, Community Uplift and Incumbent Protection. That way, no one would get distracted by the petty business of protecting America.

Recently, the Pentagon released a list of proposed realignments in U.S. military facilities, from Maine to Hawaii. The plan calls for shutting 33 major installations and shrinking 29 others, which would streamline operations and save nearly $50 billion over the next 20 years.

But elected officials representing areas that would be adversely affected showed little interest in whether the changes would reduce costs, improve operations or cure cancer. They preferred to focus on the overriding issue: Their states or districts would lose federal jobs and dollars that they assumed to be a birthright.

Read the rest.

City Review: San Francisco

Gentle reader, you might have noticed that I did not post but once over the weekend. Well, you might have, my regular gentle reader; those of you who have stopped by based on a Google search for missouri lottery murder might not have noticed. However, my wife and I took a trip to San Francisco to celebrate our anniversary. I know, I know, good bloggers always warn you that when they’re going on a brief hiatus, but I do not, because I want my fellow St. Louis bloggers and blog readers to wonder if I am out of town or am just suffering from writer’s block and spending the day cleaning my guns and filing my rottweiler’s teeth to razor-sharp points.

Such as it is, I offer this humble review of the city of San Francisco.

San Francisco, dear friends, is a city at the northern tip of the southern penninsula in the pair of penninsulas that almost pinch the San Francisco Bay off from the Pacific Ocean. It’s a small, compact city, with about seven square miles of streets amongst which Karl Malden, Michael Douglas, and Richard Hatch earnestly ran, Bullitt sped, and Harry Calahan fired his guns. It’s got plenty of pop-culture familiarity, from the Rice-a-Roni street car to The Presidio. Coming to San Francisco, one would almost feel like one had been there before. Well, maybe not, but one knows what one will get. However, going to the city provides the fine grained detail you don’t get from The Maltese Falcon. Unfortunately, the movies and television shows airbrush a lot of graffiti and litter, prevalent even in the better blocks of San Francisco.

And let’s talk about the better blocks of San Francisco. It’s truly an urban environment, which means that the whole city has a lot of foot traffic and a lot of people moving around in it. It has the plethora of little shops at the ground floor level or parking beneath buildings with office space and residential space above. It completely mixes use throughout, and the difference between South Beach and North Beach and Nob Hill and SoMa was not as pronounced as you get in other cities, where the lush environs of Lindell Boulevard dim to the Central West End, which dims to Forest Park Southeast, which really dims to the southwestern corner of St. Louis City. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that the city’s elevated to a nice, middle class or better level like one would expect in the People’s Republic of California. Instead, all ground level windows and doors in all parts of the city have iron, albeit decorative wrought iron, bars over the windows and doors.

Still, my beautiful wife and I had a good time. We spent Thursday evening misinterpreting a tourist pamphlet map (and by we, I mean “I”) and walking due south from Nob Hill to find the Fisherman’s Wharf. Somewhere before the Mission District, we wisened up and turned left (easy to do in San Francisco) and found the San Francisco Bay in South Beach. We had fresh seafood in the first place we found. With a bit of luck and without the map (shredded and discarded as useless somewhere about Fifth and Folsom), we found our way back to our hotel.

We spent Friday on a tour of Sonoma wine country with a tour group and everything. Gentle reader, I shall never again sample chardonnay….well, unless I am really thirsty, or it’s all they have, or if I have a bottle of chardonnay. My beautiful wife and I had more wine than can taste good, but oddly enough, the wines from the fourth (or fifth?) winery we visited were so delectable that we ordered somewhere north of a million dollars’ worth (or perhaps somewhere south of….I didn’t have a good map yet). We’re expecting the tanker truck sometime this week. On Friday night, we took a cab to Pier 39 and had seafood because it is supposed to be fresher on the sea than on the plain. Brother, when fried enough, who can tell?

On Saturday, we hit the used bookstores (and A Clean Well Lighted Place for books), walking a number of miles from the Hilton to points on Van Ness, Post, and whatnot. Fortunately, we had a map this time, which eliminated some of the randomness from our wanderings. After noon, we took a streetcar (impression: it’s just mass transit, with kitsch overtones) to Fisherman’s Wharf, where we had more seafood. Afterwards, we walked along Beach Street, looking into the galleries to see the original art works which are still out of our price range, but close enough that we can dream. Heather wanted to visit the temple of the chocolatier, so we did. We then debated streetcar versus cab, and cab won when we saw lines of tourists waiting for the streetcar. Saturday evening brought a burger and a beer in the Hilton pub, and then we returned.

It was an interesting visit, definitely worth a quarter at a yard sale or the vast sums we spent. Besides, it was our anniversary. While some husbands dole out thousands of dollars of baubles to their wives for their anniversaries, I got on an airplane (which, in retrospect, is no where near as thrilling as a San Francisco cab, which also zooms, twists, and cheats death in three dimensions). Cumulatively, I got onto four airplanes. But I love you, honey, and the following latex tentacle wig thing is a joke. Really. Unless you want to.

Damn Bayonet Lugs

Photo and caption from Saturday, May 21, St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

A boy and his assault weapon
Click for full size

Note the boy has an assault rifle, an obvious assault weapon. Militants carry assault weapons. Law-abiding citizens wouldn’t carry assault weapons. The government should ban them.

I mean, damn, the kid’s got a wholly automatic rifle, and the Associated Press or the Post-Dispatch unknowingly or knowingly bestowed the term assault weapon on it. Nothing like calling slavery freedom and war peace to keep the discourse straight.

So do can the caption writer not differentiate, or does he/she merely want you to be unable to, gentle reader?

Sierra Club Promotes Higher Electricity Rates

Well, pardon me, but that is the subtext of this story:

An environmental group has filed a lawsuit to block construction of a coal-fired power plant in Southern Illinois, alleging that the project lacks a valid air permit.

In the lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Benton, the Sierra Club seeks a court order requiring Houston-based EnviroPower to obtain a new air permit and install modern pollution controls before starting construction.

Might as well make it the headline.

Here’s the Outrage

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has discovered, again, that fund raising companies that work with dubious collective organizations use the donations to pay for their expenses and pass the proceeds onto the organization for whom it’s collecting donor money. The story: Police charity renews lopsided deal with firm. The lead:

A foundation run by Missouri police chiefs has renewed its contract with a Texas-based fundraiser despite criticism that the fundraiser takes too big a share of charitable contributions earmarked for the foundation.

“It’s the best we can get. It’s the best anybody can get right now,” said Sheldon Lineback, executive director of the Missouri Police Chiefs Charitable Foundation. The foundation is based in Jefferson City but works with police departments throughout Missouri.

In an interview this year, Lineback said the foundation operated a Web-based police training program, conducted statewide training conferences and offered technical assistance to police departments. Lineback also said the foundation was a clearinghouse for homeland security equipment for police departments throughout the state.

Lineback said the contract extension with United Appeal Inc. was similar to the foundation’s past contracts with the telemarketing company. He said it called for the foundation to get about 20 percent of money raised for the charity by United Appeal while the company gets about 80 percent. Most of the money is raised by telephone solicitations.

Actually, 20% is pretty good; when I was working as a telemarketing fundraiser for the Missouri Deputy Sheriffs Association, its cut was 17%.

It sounds outrageous, but it’s really not. These fundraising companies are businesses, and they rely on the income from donations–pre-distribution–to pay all of their expenses, including rent, salaries, expensive autodial equipment, terminals for the employees, and so on. All business expenses must come from the money raised; these companies don’t have chickens in the back yard whose eggs they can sell to pay the bills.

So after all expenses are paid, the profit, if you will, goes directly to a charitable foundation of dubious merit. The Post Dispatch wouldn’t complain if a business that was doing something productive was churning all its profit into charity. Also, the Post-Dispatch favors a coerced setup wherein an entity takes money from all people, keeps a chunk of it, and then redistributes the remainder to dubious good causes–that’s government, and the Post-Dispatch wants more of it. But because this is a for-profit business, the Post-Dispatch is on its case.

No, let’s look where we should find the outrage:

Records filed with the Internal Revenue Service show that Lineback receives a salary of about $70,000 a year. Half of that comes from his work with the foundation and the other half from his work with a related group, the Missouri Police Chiefs Association.

Other members of the foundation’s board of directors include Bellefontaine Neighbors Police Chief Robert Pruett, O’Fallon Police Chief Steve Talbott, Eureka Police Chief Mike Wiegand, Cape Girardeau Police Chief Steven Strong and Columbia Police Chief Randy Boehm.

Despite the fact that the foundation’s board is made up of publicly paid officials, Lineback says the foundation meetings are not open to the public.

During the past three months, Lineback has said repeatedly that he is too busy to make public minutes of any board meetings, contracts between the foundation and United Appeal or other documents requested by the Post-Dispatch.

No, the fact that a number of law enforcement officials sit on the boards serves as the red herring. This charity is not unlike any other, paid officials or not. It doesn’t have any extra duty to dispense its records or minutes because it’s a cop charity.

However, note that it is a charity fighting transparency, and it’s a charity whose executive director makes his living by running a number of charities. So these charities take the 20% they get from telemarketing fundraisers, keep their share, and pass on the benefits to their members–not to all police, but only to members.

The telemarketing fundraiser is the tick on the leech as far as I’m concerned. I don’t support telemarketing fundraising efforts, and I don’t support charities that exist to perpetuate themselves and their fundraising efforts. But then again, I am a small-hearted, small-government kind of fellow who tries to maintain a consistency, no matter who might see that consistency and shout “Hobgoblin!” before running away.

(Added to Outside the Beltway’s Traffic Jam.)