Monday, July 27, 2015

The Water Knife

"The Water Knife" is the second adult novel by Paolo Bacigalupi. Paulo is one of the bards of the coming climate crisis.

This is an extremely violent book. I think it is intended to shock us into realizing how desperate the lives of refugees are. In this case the refugees are primarily Texans, trying to flee future drought into the southwest and California. Their desperation is probably not that different from African refugees who are trying to escape drought right now. I have to admit, Texans are acting like such jerks lately, say with their reaction to Operation Jade Helm for example, that I got a guilty pleasure from having the victims here be mostly Texans.

The novel's pacing is very tight and the cast of characters is relatively small. The plot is very nicely twisted, worthy of Film Noir. I would guess the movie rights to this are already sold, and it will make a great film. Too bad Danny Trejo is too old to play the title character.

There are some nice insights into the various cognitive impairments that are allowing us to ignore or deny the climate crisis.

“If I could put my finger on the moment we genuinely fucked ourselves, it was the moment we decided that data was something you could use words like believe or disbelieve around.”
Another major component of the story is the book "Cadillac Desert", by Marc Reisner. Published in 1993 and subtitled "The American West and Its Disappearing Water", it is apparently the roadmap for what is going to happen with water in the southwest, winding up in the dire straits in which "The Water Knife" is set.
“It’s wallpaper. Every water manager, every bureaucrat — even you got that damn book. All of you with your nice hard-copy first editions, all of you pretending you know shit.” He opened his eyes blearily. “Acting like you all saw this shit coming.”

He closed his eyes again and slumped back against the door. “That guy Reisner, now. That man saw things. He looked. All these people now, though? The ones who put that book up like a trophy? They’re the ones who stood by and let it all happen. They call him one of their prophets now. But they weren’t listening back then. Back then no one gave a shit about what that man said.”

I probably won't read "Cadillac Desert". I have seen projected drought reaching as far north as Kentucky by 2100. I will probably keep living in the Ohio Valley, 13 miles from the Kentucky River and 54 miles from the Ohio River, the greatest waterway between the Appalachians and the Mississippi. But meanwhile, good luck to people in the southwest in the coming decades.

William Gibson said "The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed." Unfortunately this is and will be very true for the climate crisis as well. The countries in the temperate zones who put most of the carbon in the air will be affected much less severely than countries in the tropics. We can only hope that Climate Justice will win the day.

Friday, July 17, 2015

How Does Walter Tunis Do It?

Walter Tunis is the Lexington Herald Leader's music critic. We moved to Lexington in 1981, and he had become their music critic just before that, so he has been the music critic for our entire Lexington history. I follow his blog, which normally means I read his pieces before they hit the paper.

He goes through I'm guessing 2x the new music that I do. So the question is, how does he do it? I listen to new music most afternoons, and it still doesn't seem like there's enough time for the music to sink in to where I can form an opinion on it. So how do he do it? I'm guessing he's 5-10 years younger than me, but, I really think it's that his brain is wired for it somehow.

OK, enough excuses, down to new music. A little sparse lately, but lots of good stuff in the spring. This goes back to March.

  • Bjork, "Vulnicura". Another fine effort from our greatest living modern composer. 4 stars.
  • Modest Mouse, "Strangers to Ourselves". This is more reminiscent of their earlier stuff, particularly "Good News For People Who Like Bad News". 3 stars.
  • The Lone Bellow, "Then Came The Morning". I believe a Krugman recommendation. From Brooklyn, 3 great singers. I was going to move it from Alternative Rock to Folk, but then thought, Country? Some songs have pedal steel, and then they came through Lexington as the opening act for some male country singer. But I left as Alternative Rock. Great vocalists, 4 stars.
  • Will Butler, "Policy". The non-frontman brother from Arcade Fire. I was pleasantly surprised by the variety and quality of the songs. 3 stars.
  • Van Morrison et al, "Duets: Re-Working The Catalogue". Van does the standard duets album, with a more varied group of artists than you would expect. He and Taj Mahal have fun with "Now Can A Poor Boy?" off of his latest album. I worked it up but I think it's too repetitive for the jam. "Some Peace of Mind" with Bobby Womack may be one of Bobby's last recordings. Also nice to hear Mavis Staples, George Benson, Joss Stone and Steve Winwood. Also fun was the nicely self-referential "Whatever Happened to P.J. Proby" with ... P.J. Proby. 3 stars, 4 stars for "How Can A Poor Boy?".
  • Sufjan Stevens, "Carrie & Lowell". An ode to his parents. He has become my exemplar of Emo. I love his high, reedy vocals. 4 stars. Here's the 1st track.

  • Derek & The Dominos, "Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs", 1970. Somebody told me I needed to get this. Some great material, 3 stars. Note, I have started creating smart playlists such as "Eric Clapton +", which has this, Cream, his solo work, etc. Fun to listen to sometimes.
  • Passion Pit, "Kindred". Not as good as their last, but I still really like this kind of peppy pop. 4 stars.
  • San Fermin, "Jackrabbit". Seems like less than a year since their 1st release. Still very different. Another Krugman pick. 4 stars.
  • My Morning Jacket, "The Waterfall". The pride of Louisville delivers some great tunes. A very consistent effort. 3 stars.
  • Mumford & Sons, "Wilder Mind". Very different than their prior (1st?) album. That was one of the epitomes of modern Power Folk, this has lost the folkiness and is just more poppy alternative rock. 3 stars.
  • Todd Rundgren, "Global". What a great album! I particularly liked "Blind", which calls out climate change denial.

    Also a nice feminist anthem "Earth Mother". I went on and posted, mansplaining be damned.

  • Rainy Milo, "This Thing of Ours". Thank you WRFL. I am such a sucker for Britpop like this - I love the cockney accent. 4 stars. I posted the title song twice already, might as well do it here too. I love the harmony on the chorus.

  • Eric Clapton / B.B. King, "Riding With The King", 2000. Bought this and the next just after B.B's death. This has some great tunes, 4 stars. I love this album cover too. It shows the proper respect.

  • B.B. King, "Live At The Regal", 1965. Someone, I think maybe Clapton, called this out as one of the finest collections of some of B.B.'s early stuff. I totally agree, I love the band, and the upbeat, syncopated arrangements. 4 stars.
  • Of Monsters And Men, "Beneath The Skin". Nice tunes, not as good as their last tho. 3 stars.
  • Florence + The Machine, "How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful". This apparently went to #1 with a bullet. There were some very interesting, very complex vocal arrangements. But, overall the tone of her singing is I think a little too uniformly strident for my ear at this point. 3 stars.
  • The Pimps of Joytime, "Jukestone Paradise". From my friend guitarist Dane Sadler from Richmond. He posted this tune:

    I was like, what is this, hiphop rockabilly? The band has bass/macbook, drums, guitar/vocals/macbook, and 2 female vocalists/percussionists a la Sheila E. As I listened to more of it, I got strong memes of Prince and Sly & The Family Stone. High praise indeed. From Brooklyn via New Orleans. 4 stars.
Ok, that's up to the middle of June. It's been a bit slower since then, phew!

Value and Capital

"Value and Capital", subtitled "An Inquiry Into Some Fundamental Principles of Economic Theory" was published in 1939 by J.R.Hicks. Hicks is credited as being the inventor of IS-LM. This was the first major economic work published after Keynes' "General Theory"

This was really a tough read - 3 months? And I got very little out of it - no mention of IS-LM. Rather it explores how to extend static models - taken at a given moment at time - to dynamic models, which include the time dimension, primarily in the form of agents' future expectations. This is used to build an Equilibrium Theory of the general economy.

We learn about resource classes, including money and securities, that are related in 1 of 2 ways: as being complementary, meaning that increased supply for 1 resource will drive increased demand for the other resource; or as being competitive or substitutes, where increased supply for 1 resource will drive decreased demand for the other resource.

On expectations, we learn that these can be elastic or inelastic. Elastic means that a price increase now implies price increases in the future; inelastic means that future prices don't depend on the current price change.

Similarly, the current supply of a commodity depends not so much upon what the current price is as upon what entrepreneurs have expected it to be in the past. It will be those past expectations, whether right or wrong, which mainly govern current output; the actual current price has a relatively small influence.
He notes that his models to not adequately take risk into account.
It is important to realize that the allowance for risk, the percentage by which the representative expected price falls short of or exceeds the most probable price, is not determined solely by the opinion of the planner about the degree of uncertainty. It is also influenced by his willingness to bear risks, by an element which in the last analysis depends upon his scale of preferences. An increased willingness to bear risks will therefore be represented in our analysis by a change in expected prices in favour of the planner.

Further (and this is the most serious weakness of our treatment), the willingness to bear any particular risk (to plan to buy or sell at any particular future date for which expected prices are uncertain, and to act on that plan) will be appreciably affected by the riskiness involved in the rest of the plan. I can do very little about this on present methods, though some consequences of the interrelations of risks will come to our notice now and then.

Money, money, money. Interesting how you can't seem to have an economic system without it.
Those kinds of securities which are money differ from those which are not money by the fact that they bear no interest; that is to say, their present value equals their face value, instead of falling below their face value, as is the case with bills. Looked at in this way, money appears simply as the most perfect type of security; other securities are less perfect, and command a lower price because of their imperfection. The rate of interest on these securities is a measure of their imperfection-of their imperfect 'moneyness'. The nature of money and the nature of interest are therefore very nearly the same problem.
This seems to ignore that securities can be offered, as they are now, at negative rates of return.

The definition of income:

Following out this idea, it would seem that we ought to define a man's income as the maximum value which he can consume during a week, and still expect to be as well off at the end of the week as he was at the beginning. Thus, when a person saves, he plans to be better off in the future; when he lives beyond his income, he plans to be worse off.

...

This leads us to the definition of Income NO.2. We now define income as the maximum amount the individual can spend this week, and still expect to be able to spend the same amount in each ensuing week. So long as the rate of interest is not expected to change, this definition comes to the same thing as the first; but when the rate of interest is expected to change, they cease to be identical.

Interest changes are more complicated than price changes.
The reason why the theory of interest-changes is so much more difficult than the theory of price-changes is this. When we are dealing with prices it is possible to proceed directly to the most interesting case-the case of a change in prices which is expected to be permanent. (We saw why this is: a permanent change in prices is equivalent to a proportional change in current prices and price-expectations, so that we become entitled to use the static convention of treating commodities due to be bought or sold at different dates as the same commodity.) When we are dealing with interest rates, however, we cannot employ the same convenient simplification.

...

Still, once the Austrian theory is put behind us, the only important thing which emerges is the general conclusion (which can be stated clearly enough for nearly all purposes without any of this rigmarole about average periods) that changes in the rate of interest affect the 'tilt' or crescendo of the production plan.

...

This would make the net income effect work in the same direction as the total substitution effect, and reinforce the conclusion that, for the market as a whole, a rise in the rate of interest will reduce current expenditure, a fall in the rate of interest increase it.

Hicks definitely sounds a clear warning about the dangers of a liquidity trap, referencing Keynes.
This is all very well; but when we turn to the converse case of a
fall in prices, a new difficulty presents itself. It is now necessary for the rate of interest to fall, in order for equilibrium to be restored. If the rate of interest was reasonably high to begin with, it seems possible that this reaction may take place without difficulty. But if the rate of interest is very low to begin with, it may be impossible for it to fall farther - since, as we have seen, securities are inferior substitutes for money, and can never command a higher price than money. In this case, the system does not merely suffer from imperfect stability; it is absolutely unstable. Adequate control over the supply of money can always prevent prices rising indefinitely, but it cannot necessarily prevent them from falling indefinitely. Trade slumps are more dangerous (not merely more unpleasant) than trade booms.

...

Taking all these things together, we may say that interest policy - which is monetary policy - gets very high marks as a means of checking booms, but very low marks as a means of checking slumps. It can set a point beyond which prices shall not rise; but it cannot ensure that they do rise to that point.

He also raised an issue that is still active in discussions today. In relating interest, inflation and employment, are changes dependent on the value of some quantity, or the rate of change in the value of that quantity?

Well so much for "Value and Capital". Next up, Marx, then a modern book on Behavioral Economics. But I have decided that I will start taking a vacation every summer from economic texts. So no economics until the Autumnal Equinox. I'm 2 months behind on the magazine stack, and have 20-something books to read in my iPad. Plus I have the latest Jared Diamond in hardback. Hopefully I can get caught up some by fall.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Nemesis Games

I finished reading "Nemesis Games", by James S.A. Corey. This is the the 5th installment of The Expanse series (soon to be a series on SyFy channel). The other installments I've blogged:
This installment brings us back to the solar system. Radical Outer Planet revolutionaries are determined not to let the Outer Planets become a footnote in history as mankind moves to the 1000s of planets to which the alien gate system has allowed access. So lots of politics and explosions, and several Motor Vehicle Chases (spaceship) - something you don't get everyday. We also have a character from the earlier books turn up, on what looks to be a recurring basis. I like how the authors do this.

The novel also has something in common with the previous novel I reviewed. It was kind of shocking to have that theme brought up in 2 successive reads.

This is as readable as the previous installments, a total page turner. Looks like the next installment will have to stick around the solar system to clean up the mess created in this one. And they still have the 1000s of worlds to explore. This series definitely is getting some legs on it.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Seveneves

"Seveneves" is the latest novel by Neal Stephenson (@nealstephenson). This one is pretty much straight hard science fiction, 880 pages - Neal don't do no short books.

Several reviewers have commented on the books beginning:

The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason.
I guess the first line of a novel cannot be a spoiler??? I will also posit that the title of a novel cannot be a spoiler either. Nor can something listed in the table of contents. The point is, I am going to go into a little more plot details than normal, maybe these dispensations hold, maybe not, so, just to be safe, SPOILER ALERT.

Next the Neal Degrasse Tyson figure quickly figures out, oops, fragments of the moon will, in around 2 years, bombard earth and destroy all life.

The 1st 1/4 of the book follows the race to expand the ISS (now attached to Near-Earth asteroid Amalthea - wait a minute, Amalthea is Jupiter's 3rd moon???) to be the hub of a swarm of small modular spacecraft being launched ASAP by everyone who has launch capabilities. The candidates for survival in orbit are being selected and trained on Earth from all countries. Then, slightly ahead of schedule, the Hard Rain falls and Earth is trashed.

This part of the book begs for comparison to the gold standard "end of the world" sci-fi novel, "The Forge of God", by Greg Bear, 1987. There, the cause of the end of the Earth is known: it is being reduced to slag to be harvested for raw materials by Von Neumann machines dispatched by malevolent / indifferent advanced alien civilization. In "Seveneves" there is no discussion of why the moon blew up, other than limited speculation about aliens doing it, or god. In "The Forge of God", a tiny fraction of humanity survives due to the intervention of benevolent advanced alien civilizations. In "Seveneves", we engineer our own survival, which is I guess more uplifting.

The 2nd 1/4 of the book follows the survivors in orbit, where politics and equipment failure eventually wipe out all but 8 females. 1 of them is past menopause, hence "Seven Eves". With advanced genetic engineering they are able to keep their gene pool viable, and reintroduce the Y chromosome. But they somehow get into a discussion of to what extent they should try to correct / enhance what they each see as the weaknesses / strengths of humanity. They decide that each of them gets to determine the traits for which their offspring will be optimized.

The 2nd 1/2 of the book takes place 5000 years later. I found the jump rather jarring, it took me a while to get locked back into the narrative. There are now 3 billion members of the 7 human "races" living in geosynchronous orbit around the Earth. Most of the plot of this part of the book deals with political and other conflict between the 4 good guy races (blue) and the 3 not-so-good guy races (red) as they finally start to repopulate the earth.

I found the whole 7 races thing slightly ... repugnant, I guess? Like the race of the Malala figure Eve, who decided to remove competitiveness from her descendants, who are now health, child, or personal service personnel. It reminded me of the scene in the Star Wars prequel where the clone master explains to Obi-Wan how the clones have been bred to be great warriors but to be submissive and follow orders. Instead of killing the guy and calling for more Jedi to figure out how to restore the poor clones to full humanity, Obi-wan says "I'll take a million!"

Maybe in the far future, like in "Dinosaurs" by Walter Jon Williams, 1987, it will make sense for the human race to splinter into more specialized forms. But for the near future, we still have so much of a problem with racism that for the 7 Eves to go out of their way to create a new source of racism seemed off to me. It was to me a somewhat shocking lack of faith in the human race (general purpose model), which was not responsible for the Earth's destruction, for the 7 Eves to decide, in a very ad hoc manner, that they should start a eugenics program.

The book is of course a great read, Stephenson is one of our best modern sci fi authors. Lots of neat tech in both parts of the book. But, a little bit of a "yuck" factor to me for the engineered races. And, overall, I did enjoy "The Forge of God" more - I have reread it and its sequel at least once.

Stephenson did his thing with the title. His last book, it took me a few months to notice that the title was "Reamde", not "Readme". This one at least it was only a few days before I noticed the title was "Seveneves", not "Seveneyes".

Now, back to "Value and Capital", by Hicks, 1939. It's got 5 parts, I'm reading a part, then something else. My Unread shelf in my Kobo eBook reader has 22 books now, mostly sci fi and fantasy. Is it time to give up on economics? Or maybe just Twitter.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Apex

Just finished "Apex", by Ramez Naam (@ramez). This is the 3rd book in the "Nexus" series, the 1st 2 books of which I blogged about here. It is a real page turner - I read the > 600 pages in a couple of days. It continues the story of the 2 new cybernetic singularity technologies of the 1st 2 novels: the nanotech-based wetware that lets you run apps, including a group mind app, and otherwise reprogram your brain; and the scientist uploaded into a quantum computer who becomes a (threatening) superintelligence.

The book has all the positive attributes of the 1st 2: breakneck pacing, tons of action and explosions, great computer geek authenticity, lots of memorable characters. The message of social justice, civil rights, and equality for all is even stronger, yay! I also liked how much of the story involved China and India - realistic for 25 years from now.

The conclusion of this installment of the series is such that I think that he is done with the series. It definitely is uplifting in its attitude, and I strongly recommend it. Interesting that in an appendix on the tech, he doubts that this tech will be available by 2040, which is when the novels are set. I think I concur.

1 odd thought I had reading this final novel: I kept wondering, why didn't he leave the uploaded intelligence out of this series, and put that in a separate series? The 2 memes are both very strong, I think there could have been plenty done with just the wetware meme, perhaps even a more thorough exploration of the meme, and, somehow, the uploaded intelligence meme muddied the waters? Ha ha, I'll have to ask him to refactor it into 2 series! I bet with modern tech it wouldn't take that long.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Rockstar

So 2 weeks ago, I played 4 times in 5 days:
  • Sunday at the blues jam at Shamrock's.
  • Monday at the blues jam at Patchen Pub.
  • Tuesday as part of the house band at the Funkabilly Groove Jam at Champion's Bar & Grill at Galaxy Bowling Center in Richmond. Lindsay Olive and I filled in for Dane Sadler who was on vacation. Got to take my rig out - Lindsay insisted on my taking the Super Reverb since the Funkabilly bass player has a 1200W head and 8x 10" speakers. Got to wear my "getting paid" hat, and of course, a cool t-shirt.
  • Thursday at the new blues jam at Austin City Saloon. Man, great acoustics, house PA with mixing board at the back, nice large stage with a drum throne.
Since then, it looks like Monday nite is done, and Tuesday nite has changed to Thursday in a new venue. So down to 2 jams, Sunday and Thursday. Much more reasonable.

Several recent discussions re putting a band together, but nobody seems to follow through on action items. I may quit jamming for a while. I seem to be trying to take things over, I believe a sign that I think I could do a better job of running things. But when I did run that jam at Henry Clay's Public House 2 summers ago, I had the same small turnouts that other jams see sometimes. So there is no support for the theory that I could do a better job.

I think that I've gotten to be a great jammer. Playing lead, rhythm or bass guitar; singing lead, harmony, or backup; and leading the band. I've done 80 songs at jams, probably still good for most of those lyrics. Plus, I know hundreds of other songs. It was funny in Richmond, they'd get women wanting to play songs no one knew, it was "Chris, you know this song?", and I think all but once the answer was yes. "Fever", "Jolene", "Runaway". That's what comes of being old ...

So I may quit jamming for a while and work on my solo act. I am now ready equipment-wise. I bought a mic, mic stand, conductors music stand. The mic sounds OK from the voice channel of the Fender Accoustasonic amp I bought. I also got a Digitech Vocalist, which will sing 2 or 3 part harmony with you. Your guitar runs through it so that it can detect the chord playing and know how to harmonize. It also has a built-in tuner and reverb and chorus that I like better than the chorus in the amp. So I took my looper out of the pedal box and have as my solo rig just the looper and Vocalist, running into the accoustasonic. The Vocalist is not like other pedals. You have to rehearse with it and figure out how to get it to sing the harmony you want. It also has autotune - get behind me satan!

Meanwhile, my main pedal box is completely out of control. I added a little utility pedal I got from Lindsay - I like its rotary setting. I also got an ElectroHarmonix C9 organ emulation pedal. Pretty odd stuff. That makes 10 pedals in my box. I had to get a 2nd OneSpot 9V power provider - they can only handle around 7 pedals.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Letter to the Editor

Today you published 4 letters reacting to a letter which compared climate change denialism to slavery. I share the 4 writers frustration. We should all agree to not compare anything to slavery, Hitler, or Nazis - it never furthers a discussion.

Beyond that, tho, there is nothing to agree with in these letters. "There really is a legitimate debate about whether and to what degree mankind is responsible". In the scientific community, this statement is completely false. 97% of climate scientists and 99% of all scientists agree that the evidence for human-caused global warming is overwhelming.

Another letter: "climate is always changing" - yes, but over time periods of 10,000 to 100s of millions of years. We can clearly see the effects of fossil fuel burning over just the last 200 years. The fact that there are longer-term influences on climate don't mean we can just ignore this data.

Perhaps the most incredible statement was that of the writer who didn't care if New York was underwater in 5 years. "Let those future residents deal with it". I think a lot of those future residents are current residents now. They are trying to "deal with it", and would like our help. But, Lexington is indeed 900 feet above sea level, so why should we care?

The fossil fuel industry spends $700 million/year spreading disinformation about the climate crisis. Head-in-the-sand attitudes like those from these 4 letters show that they are getting their money's worth.