Mentioned in the Science Fiction Encyclopedia!

I pick up a mention in the beta of the new on-line Science Fiction Encyclopedia, in the entry on Redstone Science Fiction:

“Like a Hawk in its Gyre” (February 2011 #9) by Philip Brewer delivers a soft but effective punch in portraying a future that’s not all it seems.

The story itself is available at Redstone: Like a Hawk in its Gyre.

An interesting variation on the patronage model

Ever since copying and storing bits became virtually free, there’s been a lot discussion about various ways “content creators” (writers, artists, musicians, etc.) might earn a living: per-copy sales, advertising, patronage, etc.

Felix Salmon’s recent piece on How the New Yorker monetizes old content is an interesting contribution to the discussion.

Apparently, the New Yorker is producing ebooks, drawing from their vast library of articles by great writers. The ebooks are paid for by a corporate sponsor, and then made available free to electronic subscribers and cheap to non-subscribers.

Now, on the one hand, having content paid for by selling advertising to sponsors is one of the standard models. But this is a little different. The things are cheap to produce (no printing costs) and cheap to market (free to subscribers, making them more willing to pay for their subscription). The New Yorker only needs to find one corporate sponsor—presumably a small task, compared to the regular job of their sales department.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see the model spread into speculative fiction. I can definitely see sf&f magazines finding sponsors willing to cover most of the cost of editing and the acquisition of reprint rights (all pretty cheap). Making the anthology ebooks free to the subscribers of their electronic editions would make the subscriptions more valuable, and making them available cheap for non-subscribers would be great advertising for both the magazine and the sponsor.

I’m always glad to see any new source of money for writers, and any new channel for getting old stories in front of new readers.

The Meadowbrook Jazz Walk

One of the unique events in Champaign-Urbana is the Jazz Walk. Bands (duos and small combos) are scattered across the sculpture garden at Meadowbrook Park, and you walk from one to the next. The result is a series of surprisingly intimate performances. You have each group almost to yourself, sharing one or two or three songs with a shifting mix of perhaps a dozen or so other pedestrians.

You can linger longer if you like, but the event only goes on for two hours, so if you spend too much time with one band it begins to eat into your time to spend with the others.

As a bonus, you get to enjoy the sculpture as well.

I liked all the music, even the groups that didn’t play exactly my sort of jazz had the sort of energy that makes a live performance worth attending.

It was a cool, cloudy evening, and was already getting a little dark for photography, but I thought my camera did pretty well—I got an adequate shot of each group, and a few pretty good ones.

Bluesnik performing at the 2011 Meadowbrook Jazz Walk
Bluesnik
Mark Smart and Mark Ginsberg performing at the 2011 Meadowbrook Jazz Walk
Mark Smart and Mark Ginsberg
Almost Anything performing at the 2011 Meadowbrook Jazz Walk
Almost Anything
The Jazz Cycle performing at the 2011 Meadowbrook Jazz Walk
The Jazz Cycle
Johnathan Beckett and Young Kim performing at the 2011 Meadowbrook Jazz Walk
Johnathan Beckett and Young Kim
New Orleans Jazz Machine performing at the 2011 Meadowbrook Jazz Walk
New Orleans Jazz Machine
Katy Flynn and Will Yanez performing at the 2011 Meadowbrook Jazz Walk
Katy Flynn and Will Yanez
Peter and the Wolves performing at the 2011 Meadowbrook Jazz Walk
Peter and the Wolves

2011 Harvest

Our 2011 harvest of peppers
Washing our pepper harvest

After Jackie broke her wrist, we quit going to the garden. She couldn’t do that sort of work at all, and I was so busy trying to do the bare minimum of my work plus the necessary fraction of the work she couldn’t do any more, anything extra had to be dropped. The garden was one thing we dropped.

Jackie’s nearly all better now. The splint has been off for several weeks. The hand therapist said she was doing well enough on her own and didn’t need formal physical therapy. (He gave her a bunch of exercises to do.) But we still didn’t go to the garden. It just seemed like it would be too depressing to see the remnants and imagine what our garden might have been.

And yet, we figured there’d probably be some stuff to harvest. We’d had a hot, dry summer, so we didn’t expect the tomatoes to have survived. And without us there to do the weeding, we figured the greens would have been overshadowed terribly by weeds. But the sage should have survived, and perhaps the peppers as well.

As it turns out, it wasn’t even quite that bad. Two of our cherry tomato plants did very well. And, as you see, the peppers produced in great profusion. We also got some sage, some swiss chard, and a some sunflowers.

Now I’m feeling a little silly that we didn’t get to the garden earlier. We’d certainly have gotten a lot more sunflowers—we could have had flowers steadily for all these weeks. We’d also have been able to eat the peppers steadily as they ripened, instead of getting a whole bunch at once that we’re going to have to preserve. But not very silly. We did about the best we could under the circumstances. To have gotten this much of a harvest despite doing no work since early July is kind of a bonus.

Investing for collapse

There’s a whole genre of collapse-oriented investment writing. I’m something of a connoisseur of the form. But one really needs to treat that sort of literature as pornography—interesting to read, if you’re into that sort of thing, but almost nothing in it is stuff you’d actually want to do.

There are two ways most collapse writers go wrong. One is to assume that keen insight into the nature of the problems we face will allow one to make a bunch of smart investment moves in advance—as if there were some advantage to being the richest guy standing in a post-apocalyptic world.

In his recent post Where Should I Put My Money Before Things Collapse? John Robb avoids that trap pretty well. He understands that the systemic nature of the problem makes attempts to align your investments with the underlying trends pointless:

Looking for a safe asset class today, is like a Soviet bureaucrat in 1989, sensing trouble ahead, looking for the directorate with the safest job.

The other is to assume that there will be a collapse event. Those writers seem to suggest that you can spend your time until collapse behaving much as you do now (with some occasional time off to stock your shelter and practice your marksmanship), and then spend the end times hiding out in your shelter. That’s wrong, because there’s no reason to assume that there will be a collapse event. It’s at least as likely that things’ll go on much as they have been, with occasional points where a bunch of people lose their jobs, yet another class of investments suddenly becomes worthless, and various things (such as food or fuel) spike up in price.

John Robb does pretty well avoiding that trap as well. He understands that the only sensible response is to find a lifestyle that works now, and that will continue to work as collapse proceeds.

Just as he indicates, the right responses to problems like peak oil, peak debt, climate change, environmental degradation, habitat loss, and so forth are going to be community-level responses. With that in mind, he’s putting his money into supporting efforts to create that community response and those communities.

Having said all that, four decades of reading collapse literature have convinced me that collapse happens slowly. Very slowly. Slowly enough that we’re going to need to go on investing in ordinary investments for quite some time to come.

It seems like it would make sense to want those investments to be informed by the societal problems that we face, but my experience has been that an understanding of the sources of impending collapse doesn’t lead to useful investment insights.

There are a lot of reasons. First, as I said, collapse happens slowly, meaning that shorter-term trends will end up dominating. Second, a lot of governmental power will be brought to bear in support of pre-collapse norms, meaning the sort of large profits that might be produced if your investments do align with the large trends are prone to being seized or taxed away. Third, the situation is intractably complex, meaning that even a clear understanding of several of the problems may yield predictions that end up being trumped by other problems—no one can say whether peak debt or peak oil will influence the course of the economy more strongly or more suddenly.

The upshot is that investing for collapse is as pointless as Robb points out; I merely disagree with his analogy. Rather than being like a Soviet bureaucrat in 1989, I figure it’s more like being CEO of a department store chain in 1969. There are still opportunities to get ahead following the old arrangements, but all the most powerful forces of society, human nature, and nature itself are arrayed against you. You’d be much better off charting an entirely new course—and Robb’s suggestions are good ones.

Dmitry Orlov and the iron triangle of House-Car-Job

I’ve already shared this on Google Reader (you can follow my shared items if you’re interested), but I wanted to blog it as well.

The always-interesting Dmitry Orlov is interviewed by Lindsay Curren in Transition Voice. As usual, Orlov is funny, but here he’s hitting on a lot of the same points that I like to hit on—that is, the points that I think are important—and is saying some really interesting stuff:

There’s this iron triangle of House-Car-Job, and the entire landscape is structured so you have to have all three or your life falls apart. People have to be creative in escaping from there.

He has a bit of advice (that I’m living right now): Retire immediately.

. . . make what ever adjustments are needed considering that you’re not going to have much of an income. Have a little bit of an income. But get rid of the mortgage, obviously. Get rid of the car.

He suggests that you shirk off for a couple of years and see where that takes you, then go back to work and earn enough to support the kind of lifestyle that you’ve already adjusted to.

A lot of people have, of necessity, already done this. But a lot have taken the opposite tack: they have abandoned any hope of every retiring. With their retirement savings destroyed and their kids unable to support themselves, they’re figuring that they’re going to have to keep working for years—maybe a decade or more—past what used to be retirement age. But that’s a crappy strategy. (For many reasons, but especially because it may well not be possible. There’s a good chance that your job will go away, even if it seems secure now. And there’s a good chance that your health won’t allow you to maintain your current pace, even if it’s holding up pretty well so far.) Orlov’s suggestion is a much better idea.

Check out the whole interview: No shirt, no shoes, no problem.

Dreams of decluttering

I sometimes have fantasies in which everything I own is lost or destroyed. I imagine the sparse, spare spaces that I’d create to live and work in. Even though it would be very bad to lose some of my things—family pictures, financial records,  art, mementos of youth and travel, books by family members (and a few with my own work)—it somehow seems liberating to imagine the workspace, sleeping space, living space that I’d create if I were starting from scratch.

For some reason, I never fantasize about the hard work of decluttering.

I’m thinking about doing it, though. We’d gotten eight bags of books set aside to take to the used bookstore just before Jackie broke her wrist. But that’s really just a small step. We’d need to take three times as many just to get all the books that aren’t on shelves.

Still, I think I’m ready to get rid of a whole bunch of stuff. The idea of a room without clutter is becoming more than just an abstract goal. It’s becoming something I yearn for.

Storytelling cycling class

Yesterday I heard something unique and fascinating: A group cycling class instructor fashioning a story around the cyclists’ workout.

The group cycling classes at the Fitness Center take place in a room that is reached by walking through the room with mats where I do my ab and back exercises and do my stretching. The arrangement is pretty unsatisfactory, because the cycling class’s music is not only far too loud, it’s also a poor match for my cool-down-and-stretch purposes. Still, it gave me the opportunity to hear this.

I only caught the end. Where I came in, the cyclists were carrying a backpack and were being pursued by someone faster but less nimble. They had to ride really hard for 20 seconds, then ease up and make a sharp turn just ahead of the pursuers, who blew on past and had to regroup. The cyclists got a short respite, then had to ride hard for another two minutes to reach the safe house.

I don’t know who the pursuers were—it sounded more like spies than like zombies (which would have been my choice, but then maybe the instructor had used zombies last week). And the cycling instructor sounded more like a coach than like a storyteller—a real writer could have included rather more telling detail and provided better characterization for the bad guys. But it was still cool.

I’ve seen a few attempts to turn exercise equipment into video games, and of course I build stories around my own workouts all the time. (I assume others who exercise do as well.) But this low-tech application of using old-fashioned storytelling to enhance a workout—using what was essentially a paid storyteller—was new to me.

If it catches on, maybe there’ll be some new job opportunities for writers, at least writers who are very fit.