Monday, February 18, 2008

The Bookshelf

Happy Washington's Birthday, everyone.

Every once in a while (OK, once before) I like to give mini-reviews of the books sitting beside my bed. This time it's all science fiction:

  • Radio Freefall, by Matthew Jarpe: A first novel. It's got sex (a bit). Drugs (a bit more). Rock and Roll (lots). It's also somewhat cyberpunky, since everyone and everything is connected to the web. And, finally, it pays tribute to Heinlein, what with a moon colony that's revolting.

    Despite all that, the novel most reminds me of George R. R. Martin's The Armageddon Rag, what with a mysterious old rocker called Aqualung raising and obscure band to world-wide fame, with potential world-wide catastrophe looming.

    As a first novel it's not bad, though it does require the Evil Villain to be Phenomenally Stupid at just the right moment. Worth looking at, and looking for the next Jarpe novel.

  • Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge. You think of Vinge as a hard SF writer, but he does often does something that resembles cyberpunk. This one takes place around 2030, and it's pretty much believable that we'll be as connected as he says here. It's also pretty much believable that the geezers at that time (meaning us) will be pretty much out of it. Great plotting. A little confusing at the end, and I never did figure out who Rabbit was. But worthy of the Hugo it won.

  • Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. Another first novel, and another Hugo winner. Set in the Napoleonic era, it's the story of the magician Mr. Norrell and his partner/apprentice/rival Jonathan Strange. It's definitely not cyberpunk. To me it reads like Vanity Fair, but it's probably technically Georgian, it's just that I'm lot more familiar with the Victorian era. The paperback copy is over 1,000 pages long, and I'm only half finished, but it's worth looking at.

  • Cyril Kornbluth is probably best known for the short story The Marching Morons and his collaborations with Frederik Pohl. His Share of Glory has all of the short fiction written solely by Kornbluth, either under his own name or a pseudonym.

    I want to like this book. I really do. But the stories are dated, sexist, racist (see The Education of Tigress McCardle, which manages to be both), and just not fun. It would have been nice to see if Kornbluth could have grown in the 1960s, as Asimov, Pohl, Anderson and Heinlein at least tried to do (though they started from a far higher level), or if his output would have just slowly wound down into total hackdom. Unfortunately he died young, so we'll never find out. Recommended only if you really like 40s and 50s SF, and then you'll want to take it in small doses.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Steppin' On Out

Last night we got to hear the Capitol Steps over at South River High School. If you have the least bit of interest in politics, half a sense of humor, and a bit of tolerance, you want to hear these guys. You can get a good sampling of their work from the year end reviews, which, though in Real Player format, can actually be downloaded and converted to your favorite format with ffmpeg.

In other political satirist news, Mark Russell is back at the Shoreham Hotel in DC. I never went there to see him on his first go-round there, which overlapped my time in the Washington area for about 15 years. Maybe this time I'll make it.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

From Our Credit-Where-Credit-Is-Due Department draws similar conclusions to yesterday's article. They've also earned a (coveted?) spot on the right-hand side.

P.S. Y'all who clicked in from an email notification: Please feel free to comment. I don't bite, usually.

Monday, February 04, 2008

13,417 Reasons to Actually Read What You Wrote

All over the web, and in my inbox, is a message which says that there were 13,417 military deaths in the Clinton administration, and “only” 9,016 deaths during the George W Bush administration. The email then goes on to claim that this is a media coverup of the greatest proportion. (I'm not going to repeat, or directly link to, the email here, look it up yourself and follow the comments, they are instructive.)

Helpfully, the unknown author then provides a link to the document providing the original data: (a PDF file)

Careful reading of which shows that the numbers said author used are wrong, and his/her conclusion bogus.

I could go on to say that this shows that some people see only what they want to see, and don't even bother to look at what is in front of their noses — but that would be wrong, and anyway I've already done it in email.

Instead I present a graph of a couple of columns from the above reference: the total number of deaths among active duty military from 1980 to 2006, and the total number of deaths due to hostile action. The military is about 50% smaller now than it was when Reagan was President, so we'll look at the rates. The numbers are normalized to 10,000 “FTE” military personnel, where the Full Time Equivalent includes Reserve and Guard troops on active duty. That is, “Total” is the number of deaths per 10,000 military in a given year, and “Hostile” is the number of deaths per 10,000 military due to hostile action.

Obviously, if you were in the military in the Clinton years you had a much better chance of surviving than during the rest of the survey.

The military is a dangerous profession. Let's not trivialize the danger by trying to make cheap political points with bad data.

And read the report before you comment.

Note: since the paper gives data by year, the graph above assumes that a President takes office on January 1, 1980 + 4*n (n = 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6), not January 20 of the same year. That's an unavoidable error at the level of this study, but I doubt it makes much difference in the final results. If you have the number of casualties those days, let me know and I'll redo the graph.