Thursday, October 22, 2009

Classic Scifi Authors

I'm trying to teach my coworkers at a used bookstore which scifi/fantasy (mostly scifi) books we need to accept for trade. Right now they're using the standard age/condition rules; no more than about ten years old, no spine breakage, no cover damage.  That results in missing a lot of old classics and passing on current fabulous books because of condition issues.

So!  Here is my tentative list, massively shortened to be relatively easy to remember for those who don't read scifi much.  Feel free to chime in if I'm missing anything major.  I tried to keep my personal bias to a minimum here... but who can really do that, with scifi?  I also tried to keep it at 5 per category, but obviously that didn't work out so well.

Old stuff:
anything published before 1930 that isn't falling apart
  • Robert E. Howard (Conan but also other stuff)
  • HP Lovecraft (may also go in Horror or Classics)
  • HG Wells (may also go in Classics)
  • Jules Vern (may also go in Classics)
  • Edgar Rice Burroughs (Esp. Tarzan, Barsoom/John Carter, but also other stuff)

"Golden Age": (1930s-1960)
most anything before 1960 if it's in pretty good shape
  • Robert Heinlein (lots of YAish books, Starship Troopers, Stranger in a Strange Land, etc.)
  • Isaac Asimov (lots of short stories like "I, Robot", the Foundation series - but only the ones that are by him, there are a lot of other authors that expanded his short stories into novels and mostly they're terrible)
  • Ray Bradbury (may also go in classics) (Dandelion Wine, Fahrenheit 451, etc.)
  • Phillip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?/aka Bladrunner, etc)
  • Frank Herbert (Dune series)

Modern: (newer than 1960)
use normal age/condition standards except for these authors

  • Ursula K. Leguin (The Left Hand of Darkness, etc)
  • Harlan Ellison (lots of short stories like "I have No Mouth and I Must Scream", etc.)
  • Andre Norton (Witchworld series, etc.)
  • Roger Zelazny  (Amber series, etc.)
  • Orson Scott Card (Ender series, Alvin Maker series, etc.)
  • Marion Zimmer Bradley (Darkover series)
  • William Gibson (Neuromancer, The Difference Engine, etc.)

Current hot authors:
take anything that doesn't actually have pages missing

  • Neil Gaiman (The Graveyard Book (YA), American Gods, Good Omens, etc.)
  • Cory Doctorow (Little Brother (YA), Makers, etc.)
  • Terry Pratchett (Discworld, obviously)
  • Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash, Anathem, etc.)

For more resources:'s bestsellers in the scifi/fantasy category
The Hugo Award nominee List
Nebula Awards nominee list and Suggested Reading list
The Nebula Grand Master list

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Maybe this is cheating?   I think I saw a Dresden Codak comic entitled "Dungeons and Discourse" a while back, but I just found their "Advanced Dungeons and Discourse".  And double-cheating, because I only found it hilarious due to knowing all the references.

Except!  I did not know what Laplace's demon was!  It is a theoretical intellect that can know everything about every piece of matter in the universe, and thus knows the future and the past by simple extrapolation from mechanical laws (Newton's laws originally, but it works with gravity and stuff too, so.)  Dresden Codak also has a comic specifically about Laplace's Demon but I didn't like it as much.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The American Health Care Debate

I have a serious brain-crush on Ira Glass of This American Life fame.  I was thrilled by the show they did last year about the causes and effects of the housing crisis that snowballed into the global financial crisis, The Giant Pool of Money (and an update a year later).

Today I came across their two-part series on the American health care - and health insurance - situation and how it got that way.  It's a complicated mess, in short, but not because anyone is clearly to blame.  It's mostly due to a series of historical accidents that, taken together, mean that no one sees the whole picture.  Including, apparently, President Obama, whose public speeches on the subject seem remarkably naive after listening to this two-hour presentation for laymen.

The patients want the best care possible, which to the average person means more care.  But more is not always better, and more procedures not only have health risks (like CAT scans that use a lot of radiation) but they raise everyone else's health care premiums because the cost gets spread around.

Doctors  like to think all they are worrying about is optimal patient care, but there are financial considerations, too.  There are a lot of doctors and a limited number of patients.  For doctors to rake in the money they expect, they have to do more procedures on their existing patients, or pull in new patients who may not need the care at all.  And, you know, they want to be helping people.  They want to be busy.

Insurance companies want to provide the cheapest care to the most people.  But they're not necessarily evil; they really do want people to get care, because it's cheaper in the long run to catch problems early.  But patients are totally divorced from the cost of things they want, especially medication.  They don't know the cost-benefit analysis, and neither do the doctors, because that's not their job.  To use a particularly apt metaphor for health insurance and why it's not a good plan;  imagine you had a grocery plan with your local supermarket.  Every time you go in, you pay your $20 copay and take whatever you need.  If everything is the same price, why get hot dogs when you could have steak?  Everyone takes what they like best with no regard for cost.  The premiums of everyone in the plan go up, and the prices in the supermarket go up because the customers with the plan don't care about the real cost, and soon people who aren't on the plan can't afford groceries.

Drug companies... well, I haven't heard a real humanizing story for their business model yet.  They make drugs and market them aggressively to doctors and patients both.  They constantly twist drugs very slightly to remove them from generic status and get a brand-name out there for six times the price.

I want to forward this to everyone I know.  I want to make my mom, a Registered Nurse, listen to it.  I want to make my friend who rants about how terrible Democrats are listen to it.  I want to make the President listen to it.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Osprey Publishing

I was just thinking I needed a book about sailing ships and another about really big metal ships - and check out Osprey Publishing, your source for military history. Not only do they have info about sailing ships around 1900, they have separate books about American and British ships.  They have exactly what I need, but I can't afford it right now.  Maybe I can work out a deal with the bookstore.

Edit: (10/19/09) Also!  I added a bunch of stuff to the entry on Qadosh because I came across a reference to the etymology of the English word "holy" in A Natural History of the Senses today.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Public Service Announcement: New woks are not user-ready

Turns out if you just put it out there on the stove, what you will get is a terrifying smell of metal burning and a blackened bottom.  Also, fear.

There are several ways to "cure" a new wok.  One step not mentioned on that page is that you also have to wash it really good first because many woks are coated with, I don't know, a plastic coating of some kind.  That may be the source of the terrifying burning smell.

I plan to use the Oven Seasoning Method from the above link, allegedly endorsed by an authoritative-sounding source, The Wok Shop in San Francisco.  If there is, indeed, such a place, I would imagine they would know, right?

First, wash the wok thoroughly and dry over heat. Next, coat the wok, inside only, with cooking oil. Bake in the oven at 450° for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, let cool, wash (scour) and dry over heat again. Repeat this process three or four times. Your wok should look bronze in color when seasoned this way. Note: If your wok has a wooden or plastic handle that cannot be removed, cover the handle with a damp dishcloth then cover the dishcloth with foil before baking. This will keep the wood or plastic from getting scorched or melting.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Crazy origami

I went through a brief origami phase in middle school, and I knew that some people do crazy complex origami.  But check this guy out: Robert J. Lang is a master  His profile for Reflections/Projections 2009 lists him as a "pioneer in computational origami."

Computational origami!  With engineering applications!  I guess I had heard that origami principles are used to ensure parachutes open quickly and safely.  And the Mythbusters used origami to make a lead balloon, which I have to admit was totally sweet.  That ComputerWorld article up there srom 2004 says that Robert Lang wants to use computational origami to understand protein folding, but I wonder why he thinks it will require more than a petaflop of data processing power?  That article is from 2004, so I wonder if he's had the chance to use a research supercomputer yet?

I had no idea there were origami controversies, competing schools, and assorted other politics. I suppose it makes sense, though- get any group of dedicated individuals together and they'll find something to fight about.  To be dedicated you have to get your emotions involved, and once emotions are involved, there are points of pride... and once you've got both emotions and pride on the line, vociferous disagreements will always arise.  Maybe this is overly cynical- overall the origami community seems pretty civilized.  We're unlikely to have riots or lynch mobs like you get with football.

Okay, seriously, check out this koi.  That is one uncut square, with all those scales!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ancient medicine and burn care

I'm doing a bunch of research about low-tech medical care for a "novel" I'm working on, because it annoys me when doctors in pre-industrial times are portrayed like medieval European barber/butchers, without sanitation or any real idea what they're doing.   The history of medical care is actually really interesting, because it's a story of increases in knowledge intermixed with periods of regression, and an obvious interaction between science, technology, and medicine.

Periodic bans on surgery and human dissection certainly haven't helped, and there has been a lot of trouble with blindly following experts who were wrong, from Hippocrates and Aristotle on down.  Maybe the most famous example, Galen came up with a lot of surgical techniques that really worked, but he also claimed that suppuration was an essential part of the healing process.

So what low-tech treatments really do work?  Meaning anything that doesn't require IVs, a chemistry lab, electricity, or powerful microscopes.  I'm specifically focusing on burns and chemical burns for plot purposes.

Most medical literature deals with low-tech treatments only in the contexts of first aid, before paramedics arrive, or disaster scenarios where there may not be enough medical personnel to provide adequate treatment.

(As a sidenote, I love the sort of passive-aggressive condescension in a lot of this medical literature:
"When a violent fire breaks out, there is an initial moment of psychological paralysis, generally followed by total incapacity for logical thought, and this leads to instinctive behavioural reactions whose one aim is to save oneself and all that is most dear, and reach safety. 6
This sequence of actions not infrequently serves only to worsen the extent of damage caused and to create an even more dramatic and tragic situation. In animals this may indeed be the only reaction possible, which is purely instinctive, but in man there is another option which at first sight may seem almost paradoxical: to keep calm and take rational decisions."

LOLOL  "The options are panic or keeping calm and making rational decisions", no shit you guys.  And this is from the 1990s!)

Anyway.  It seems likely that the most important low-tech first aid for first and second degree burns is cooling the burn with cool water.  The "ten-to-fifteen" rule states that you should cool the burn within 10-15 minutes by trickling cold water (10-15 Celsius) over the skin from 10-15cm for 10-15 minutes.  On the other hand, other sources say that soaking in water can be harmful, because it can cause hypothermia and hypoperfusion/ ischemia, especially in children.  Perhaps the important thing is to keep the rest of the patient dry, as the first one suggests.  I don't understand how flushing the burn with  cool water could possibly cause ischemia; Wikipedia says it takes "Localized extreme cold, such as by frostbite, ice, or improper Cold compression therapy".

Otherwise, it is important to monitor the lungs for extra damage and provide oxygen.  ( should find out if there are any simple ways to distill oxygen for use with damaged lungs.) You have to reduce direct contact between the burn and air, but usually not with tight bandages or fluffy cotton pads, because they can stick to the skin.  If the burn is large or severe, skin grafting may be necessary.

This is clearly a really complex subject.  I wish I had an actual book about it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

RCA, RFU, Stereo AV, S-Video, Component Video...

What the crap, you guys. So I have this big old TV, like 27" maybe, but all it has on the back is a coax port - or RF maybe? Whatever, the round one where it doesn't matter which way you put the cable on it. I also have a PS2, which is my DVD player.

About half my DVDs make a horrifying buzzing noise some or all of the time they are playing; most often when there are subtitles on the screen, but not only then. For example, it wouldn't let me watch Sense and Sensibility last night.

The guy at Radio Shack was super nice and very helpful, but they didn't have any of the bits I needed.  He suggested buying a new PS2 cable, and if that didn't help, to ground the cable by putting a wire from the connector into the tv to a ground in a wall socket or a cold water pipe.  As exciting as that sounds, I'm not an electrician.

So I went to Best Buy with the intention of purchasing cables such that the picture could go to the TV while the audio goes to my stereo, which has much better sound quality anyway. The advice I got was to get an RFU converter and a PS2 cable with Stero AV or S-Video connectors, then also a coax cable to go from the RFU converter to the TV and more red and white cables, whatever they're called, to go from the RFU converter to the stereo. All in all, a $65 investment at Best Buy.

My shitty old TV is not worth $60. I'm going to buy a $35 TV on craigslist that has component video ports and buy a new PS2 cable to match for $20. Then for $55 I have a better TV AND better sound.

But will it fix the buzzing? Now that is the real question.

And let me take this opportunity to extend a special "thank you" to this IGN article from 2000 about the different PS2 cable options.