By: Bogon , 11:59 PM GMT on July 08, 2012

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This weekend I'm paying my monthly visit to Mom. There are advantages and disadvantages. Among the advantages is that it's cooler in the mountains. As I pen these words, it's 100 degrees back home in Burlington. It's only 93 here. ':o/ Friday I stopped for lunch in Banner Elk, NC, which is at an altitude approaching 4000 feet. It was quite pleasant there.

The principal disadvantage is that I'm here by myself. Wife had planned to accompany me on this trip, but she begged off at the last minute. Mom turned 95 years old last month. She's a fine old lady, but she's not exactly scintillating company these days. Besides, there's the whole generational thing. As time passes the relative difference in our ages decreases, but there's still a gap. Having Wife by my side always makes the occasion more fun.

This time, instead of one big unified blog entry, I present two short items back to back. Hopefully at least one of them will strike your fancy.

Le Tour

Several years ago one of my wife's friends, who is an avid cyclist, talked us into watching the Tour de France. We're still watching. This weekend I have been sharing the view with Mom.

Mom and I talked about bicycle racing as we watched. She remembered that Lance Armstrong, seven time winner of the tour, is under investigation for using proscribed substances. I hate to see that. Mom said she didn’t like cheaters, and I had to agree. But I like Lance (his public persona anyway -- don't know him personally). Alberto Contador is a past Tour winner currently serving out the last weeks of his sentence (banned from racing until August) for a similar infraction. Floyd Landis, who won the Tour only to have the victory revoked for failing a drug test, has apparently retired.

My feelings on this subject are altogether mixed. I don’t like cheaters, but I also don’t particularly like rules, especially when they seem arbitrary or capricious. Most of all, I don’t like not being able to tell who won the race. This witch hunt, which surfaces every year during the Tour de France, threatens to ruin my appreciation of the event.

Individual athletes have great incentive to try whatever gimmick might enhance their chances. They must dwell in a climate wherein temptation and bad advice are commonplace. It occurs to me that there are other ways to cheat, such as arranging for a competitor to crash or to have an equipment malfunction. One can sow seeds of discord among the members of an opposing team. Surely all such methods have been tried, and just as surely not all such misconduct has been brought to light. Not every possible infraction has a board of overseers to threaten individual bikers with disqualification. As far as I know, only one kind results in retroactive penalties after the race has been run. Why is this particular form of cheating singled out? By now it’s abundantly clear that the threat of exposure and disqualification does not suffice to deter athletes from trying whatever the ‘doctor’ recommends.

Far from reassuring me that the sport is being cleaned up, this annual round of finger pointing makes me think that bike racing must be a dirty, tainted business. I am afraid to pick someone (or even a team) to root for, for fear that my favorite will be snatched away. I still watch the Tour, but I enjoy it more as a travelogue than as a sporting event.

It might be different if I had some way of knowing what is actually going on. Unfortunately I have no way to independently verify the accusations, blood test results etc. All I know is what I hear in the news. Just as athletes have an incentive to try steroids or blood doping, it seems to me that people also have clear incentive to impugn reputations, fake tests or bribe officials. If every aspect of the sport suffered such intensive scrutiny, the racers would likely be out of business.


The cover of this week's Economist reminds me that the folks at CERN recently made an announcement. They think they may have found the Higgs boson. Whenever you get done jumping for joy, I'll resume my narrative.

Those of you who follow this blog assiduously (I'm optimistically assuming that there may be such people.) will recall that I have ranted about the Higgs boson before. I called it a fudge factor.

It's much more than that, really. The stakes are pretty high, potentially Promethean. A generation from now the things that currently occupy our minds — the shaky economy, the presidential race, the latest iGizmo from Apple etc. — will be fading memories. But if the physicists at CERN are correct about their discovery, that will be a big deal. That will fundamentally alter our understanding of the nature of reality. In a generation or two there might even be world-shaking applications of that knowledge. Consider that within a few decades of the publication of Einstein's theory of general relativity the atomic bomb changed geopolitics irrevocably.

Whether or not the new particle turns out to be the long-sought Higgs boson, it should be interesting. The Standard Model of particle physics is incomplete. There is some key insight about the universe that we still don't grasp. Hopefully the Large Hadron Collider can provide the experimental evidence physicists need to move beyond the Standard Model.

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69. Bogon
6:21 AM GMT on August 03, 2012
The ring of fire keeps backing away to the south and west. The 'monsoon' is raining on Kansas now, and the storms wrap down through Arkansas into Mississippi. The center of the heat lingers over Oklahoma.

North Carolina is out of the loop. For the last several days impulses drifting southeast out of the Midwest have arrived out of phase. They pass through at night when there is no incentive for convection. It's starting to get dry again.
Member Since: June 26, 2008 Posts: 85 Comments: 4394
68. Bogon
9:21 PM GMT on August 02, 2012
We have a cookie cutter forecast to start the month of August. We're looking at a series of near-identical days with daily temperature variation between 70° and 90° and a 20% chance of evening thunderstorms.

That's actually an improvement. Last month daily highs were running in the upper nineties to over a hundred. High temperatures near ninety are seasonal. It's still too hot for comfort, but it's in the tolerable range.

Doc Masters says some place in Oklahoma went over 120° today. That's insane. That's like Death Valley. Sure don't want to see any of that stuff in my neighborhood.
Member Since: June 26, 2008 Posts: 85 Comments: 4394
67. Proserpina
10:37 AM GMT on August 01, 2012
Member Since: May 6, 2008 Posts: 187 Comments: 19162
66. Bogon
3:05 PM GMT on July 31, 2012
Member Since: June 26, 2008 Posts: 85 Comments: 4394
65. Bogon
2:55 PM GMT on July 31, 2012
Member Since: June 26, 2008 Posts: 85 Comments: 4394
64. Bogon
2:22 PM GMT on July 31, 2012
Last night I woke up on the couch to the strains of our national anthem. An American swimmer had won a gold medal. It was a rerun. I floundered around, disturbing the cat camped on my stomach, squinting through bleary eyes until I found the television remote, whereupon I hit the kill switch.

Reviewing that scene in my mind, I think I may have a conditioned reflex associated with that song. Not to stand up and put my hand on my heart, but to wake up and turn off the teevee. When I was much younger, broadcast stations used to play the anthem just before they signed off the air. They figured nobody would be watching through the wee hours of the morning, so they might as well save the hundreds of thousands of watts of electric power required to operate the transmitter. People at home snoozing on the couch learned to get up and turn off the set when the national anthem played. If the music didn't wake them up, a rude blast of white noise upped the ante.

Nowadays big cities run 24/7, so there is always someone ogling the tube. For several years I worked various evening and night shifts myself. I would go grocery shopping at three in the morning, then try to find something to watch on television at four or five AM. Something besides cartoons or the rural farm report. Something besides infomercials.

Fortunately these days we have lots of cable channels. If you search long enough, you can usually find, you know, an old Jimmy Stewart western somewhere. Destry rides yet again.

Kids these days have probably never seen a station sign off the air. A cable channel doesn't need a million watts to upload a signal to a satellite or land line. The economics are different.

It has been a long time since I've seen a station sign off myself. I kind of miss it. Typically the station "proudly displayed" the National Association of Broadcasters Seal of Good Practice, while an announcer solemnly intoned that the station voluntarily complied with the code, which required the station to operate in the public interest. You could learn about the station's ownership, location and technical capability. Then came the anthem along with a sequence of inspirational and patriotic images. Sometimes, instead of switching off the transmitter, the station cut to a test pattern. If the anthem didn't get you off the couch, that piercing one kilohertz audio test tone surely would.

Looks like Alabama's turn for rain this morning. The ring of fire has come to Montgomery.

A tropical wave is raining on Hispañola. Meteorological handicappers are betting that the wave behind that one may become our next hurricane.
Member Since: June 26, 2008 Posts: 85 Comments: 4394
63. Bogon
11:21 AM GMT on July 29, 2012
Hi, BC. Watched some Olympics last night with book in hand. Wife was changing the channels.

Looks like I'm going to need to requisition another relatively cool and dry interval soon. The grass is growing fast. We got more rain last evening.

There are good things about that. I don't have to water. There's also an esthetic angle. Convection makes for very interesting skies in the evening. There are halls and spires and crenelations of clouds, interpenetrating layers of clouds, clouds that catch the sun and splay it across the firmament, white, blue and gray. As the sun sinks the colors shift and multiply.

Free thrills!
Member Since: June 26, 2008 Posts: 85 Comments: 4394
62. BriarCraft
8:03 PM GMT on July 28, 2012
I came up with the perfect (for me, at least) solution for the opening ceremonies. Two cats and me in the recliner, a good book to read, occasionally look at the TV screen and watch for a few minutes if something interesting is going on. Worked for me. I might watch more of the Olympics that way.

Glad you got to do your mowing in relative comfort the other day.
Member Since: June 21, 2004 Posts: 94 Comments: 4696
61. Bogon
1:23 PM GMT on July 28, 2012
...And They're Off!

Last night Wife sat through about six hours of opening ceremonies for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. I was going to watch it. I had the best of intentions, but I lacked the stamina. I quickly grew bored listening to a portentous mellotron while watching an endless series of shots of athletes doing flips in the pike position. The pageantry, the fireworks, the hoopla... I missed all that. Yawn.

This morning when I turned on the teevee there was bike racing. There is still bike racing. Flipping through the several channels NBC has fielded for this event, I found soccer (called 'football' in Britain), basketball, swimming, fencing, tennis and some other sports that I don't know the names of.

Wife said she saw a couple of countries she didn't know the names of either. That's the great thing about the Olympics: there are many ways to approach it. You can root for some particular nation. You can follow the fortunes of individual athletes. (There was an American playing for the Russian women's basketball team.) Or you can try to follow the progress of a single sport across all those channels. You'll be obliged to pick and choose somehow, though, because there's WAY too much going on to take it all in. There's just not enough bandwidth in the human sensorium.
Member Since: June 26, 2008 Posts: 85 Comments: 4394
60. Bogon
10:34 AM GMT on July 26, 2012
Ylee, rain really makes the grass shoot up this time of year. Makes it more invasive, too. It tries to creep in where I don't want grass to grow.

The grassy part of the lawn works better when it's dry, but then I must water the trees, shrubs, flowers etc. I guess it's a tossup.

Right now the major problem is the heat. I don't want to spend any more time out there than necessary. Working in the yard — mowing, watering, weeding or whatever — is a lot nicer when it's cool.
Member Since: June 26, 2008 Posts: 85 Comments: 4394
59. Ylee
3:05 AM GMT on July 26, 2012
You were lucky today, to be sure! Normally, I am half-finished mowing, when a sudden popup storm comes, leaving a half-mowed yard soaked and delaying mowing for a day or two. This means I have to mow the whole thing over again, as the grass I had originally mown will be noticably taller than the grass I mowed after the storm.
Member Since: February 3, 2011 Posts: 113 Comments: 19479
58. Bogon
3:41 PM GMT on July 25, 2012
Yesterday at this time I was thinking that the time had come to mow the lawn. I was waiting for dew on the grass to dry.

Aye, there's the rub. Daily temperature fluctuations favor mowing early in the morning, when it's cool. Alas, early in the morning the grass is wet. Wet grass is hard to mow. It clogs the mower and leaves clumps in the yard that you have to rake.

It's (somewhat) cooler at the end of the day, but that's when the thunderstorms come. If I wait too long, I run the risk that the yard will get even wetter, the chore will have to be put off another day, the grass will grow even longer, and the task will become that much harder.

Thus I found myself marking time, dreading the necessity of pushing the mower in the heat of the afternoon. In the back of my mind a voice was lecturing, "Summer heat kills more people than freezing in the winter!" Fortunately that voice was effectively drowned out by the tunes playing on YouTube.

Around 2:00 o'clock, as I was polishing off my petit dejeuner, I figured that the time had come. I steeled myself for the arduous chore which lay ahead. Then, "Hark! What was that sound?" The sky had gone cloudy, and thunder was rumbling. "I'm screwed. The storms have come early!"

Breathing a sigh (I was screwed, but I was also off the hook.), I started another YouTube video, an excellent recording of Ten Years After in concert. It was the latter day Ten Years After, minus Alvin Lee, but not too shabby. Probably more like Twenty or Thirty years after. Maybe Forty — I'm not sure when the video was made.

At length I emerged from my funk. It was time to feed the cats, roll the garbage can back inside (It was garbage day.) and fetch the mail. The last two items required a trip out to the street. Imagine my consternation. It was dry. Not only that, it was cool. There was a breeze. It turned out that the thunder was from a gust front. It was the outflow boundary from a derecho that knocked down trees up in Wisconsin or someplace. There was no rain. I was able to mow the lawn in (for July) amazing comfort.

Who knew?
Member Since: June 26, 2008 Posts: 85 Comments: 4394
57. Bogon
1:16 AM GMT on July 24, 2012
Thanks for thinking of me, BriarCraft. I don't feel that I can afford to be too picky about the reason.

Speaking as someone who has considerable experience imbibing from a glass, I can say that a partially filled glass is relatively slosh-proof. So, if you're hanging with a rowdy crowd, figure out how much you want to drink and get a glass twice that size. :o)

Somehow I missed Burroughs. I was a big Tarzan movie fan when I was a kid. And I remember fondly a series of prints by Frank Frazetta, which my favorite pizza place in Austin, Texas, chose to adorn its walls. Most of the pictures were of Conan the Barbarian, but here and there John Carter or Dejah Thoris appeared instead.
Member Since: June 26, 2008 Posts: 85 Comments: 4394
56. BriarCraft
9:23 PM GMT on July 23, 2012
Yesterday, my DH went to Portland for a serious strategy board game fix. While there, surrounded by nerds of all ages, he spotted a T-shirt with a graphic of a half-filled glass

and the caption:
An optimist sees a glass half full.
A pessimist sees a glass half empty.
An engineer sees a glass twice as big as it needs to be.

My first thought, "That's a good one; gotta remember it." My second thought was "Who on WU would appreciate it?" Guess who I thought of?


Science fiction authors: IMO, HG Wells and Jules Verne were the first true science fiction authors (as opposed to fantasy, which is where I would place Grimm's fairy tales and Alice in Wonderland). Edgar Rice Burroughs, best known for Tarzan, also wrote a Martian series that was somewhere between true science fiction and fantasy. Wells and Burroughs were my introduction to SF. Heinlein and Brin remain by favorites. I don't think anyone mentioned Jack C. Haldeman II, who hasn't written a lot of novels, but has done quite a few short stories.
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55. Bogon
7:00 PM GMT on July 23, 2012
As the afternoon warms up convection has begun to fire west and north of here. It's moving this way. Looks like we may have fair chances for rain later.

With rain and warm weather the grass in my lawn is going crazy. The ground is rather soggy for mowing. I'm hoping it will dry sometime soon. In the meantime I may take my weedeater in hand and go forth to wreak whackage around the edges.

WU's 12Z model runs agree that a cyclonic impulse moving east along the Canadian border will depress the mid-continent ridge later this week. The "ring of fire" storms will push south into areas that haven't seen rain in a long time.

It's too soon to tell whether this signals a pattern change. The ridge returns after the passage of the low. The model runs end at that point.

As I mentioned earlier, it has been a while since the summer solstice. The sun will be tracking southward. Something has got to give, weather-wise, sooner or later.
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54. Bogon
12:52 AM GMT on July 23, 2012
Hi, sp. Thanks for bringing so much food for thought to this potluck dinner.

I wish I had thought of Bradbury. I have a copy of Martian Chronicles on the shelf. I didn't list Douglas Adams, either. I suppose I think of him more as a humorist than as a sci-fi guy.

It's hard to think of Asimov as a writer who might be taught in high school. I surely read some of his stories in high school, but it was voluntary. ;o) I might choose one of his other works, such as I, Robot over Foundation. Shucks, I don't know; I've never tried teaching school, and it's been a long time since I read either book.

Thanks for mentioning Kim Stanley Robinson. Those colorful Mars books are amazing in their scope and vision.

My preference for Niven may be age-related in the sense I was discussing with ycd. When I was young his writing suited me perfectly. His later work... not so much. I don't know if that's his fault or mine. I still get a kick out of Man-Kzin Wars, which is an ongoing collection of novelettes and short stories edited by Niven and set in his Known Universe.

You mention fantasy. I must admit I'm reading more fantasy lately. I suppose Tolkien gets a lot of the credit for that. I read Alice in Wonderland and Wizard of Oz as a child, and those made a big impression. I've mentioned Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series in this blog before. I've started a trilogy by Patrick Rothfuss, the first volume of which is called The Name of the Wind. I'm still waiting on (what is supposed to be) the last volume, so I can't make a final appraisal, other than to say that the first two books are very well written.

Talk about cyborg athletes reminds me of the turbine car that showed up at Indianapolis one year. Here's a brief retrospective.

The car was superior technology, but it was beaten by bad luck and rules changes. The same sorts of barriers and frustrations await the first artificially amplified athletes. We pay lots of lip service to innovation, "building a better mousetrap" etc. Actually it depends a lot on who is doing the innovation, and in what field of human endeavor.
Member Since: June 26, 2008 Posts: 85 Comments: 4394
53. sp34n119w
10:58 PM GMT on July 22, 2012
You came up with a great many great authors in comment #42 (oh, but missed that excellent opportunity to include Douglas Adams at that number ;) ) and I appreciate it. And then went on to add several more, along with ycd, including a few I haven't heard of (hurray!). Some of those wrote short stories almost exclusively so I haven't read them much. I did recently pick up a Ray Bradbury collection for a specific story and will probably read them all.
Foundation is still on bookstore shelves – it's a classic and is sometimes used in High School Lit classes, much like 1984 (which I missed reading in HS and still haven't gotten to).
Agree with you about Dune and feel sorry for sf fans who think they'd not like it because they only saw the movie(s). It is an excellent read, though the series falters quickly. Kim Stanley Robinson's “Mars” series also used ecology as a main science theme.
Heinlein was my gateway drug to sf, thanks to my dad.
Have a recent Niven collaboration on my tbr shelf but hesitant to read it, fearing it will be as poor as the last one I read. Might be better to re-read Ringworld, or something.

I wonder if you've read Stephen Baxter, a mathematician and engineer who is a decent novelist, too. His “Manifold” trilogy (not really a series in the usual sense) is very science-y. Or, Charles Sheffield, a mathematician and physicist whose writing is a bit dry for folks who don't enjoy technical exposition but, naturally, I like him.
Cory Doctorow writes about stuff that's right up your alley, though I've read little of it (Little Brother is Young Adult but a good read and cautionary tale).
Biology seems to be the popular science in sf these days. Julie E. Czerneda has a series, “Species Imperative”, that I liked, though it sometimes reads like a romance novel and I've not picked up anything else by her. Alistair Reynolds has got plenty of tech mixed with bio-tech in the books I've read by him and I would highly recommend him to a hard sf reader.
There is even a series of sf/f built on weather phenomena. I hesitate to mention it (have never named it on wu, I think) because it really does read like a romance novel and I pushed through it for the genies and hurricanes, LOL The weather science is pretty good and she writes it well.

I'm going on a bit (though no one asked my opinion - what else is new? LOL) but you mentioned fairy tales as sf (well, fantasy, anyway, and that works for me) and that seems fair. Tolkien used his knowledge of northern European folks tales and myths as the basis for his own mythology. I read a bunch of Arthurian legend because that seemed similar to me, too. Hard to beat Beowulf for olde sf, though :) Seamus Heaney's translation, with the Old English side-by-side, was a bestseller and it is very fun to read.

I'm going to stop typing about books now.

I recently saw something about a legless competitor who has been allowed into this coming Olympics. He has two prosthetic legs and runs like nobody's business. A few years back I read a debate about whether folks with prosthetics should be allowed to compete with the “able-bodied” since it might give an unfair advantage. I mean, if you allow those bouncy titanium legs on a track, what's to say an athlete can't roll a wheelchair? What about an arm that uses servos in the javelin throw? It could get very uneven, and would vary depending on the individuals' ability to pay for the very best machines. Where to draw the line on enhancements will continue to be an issue, I'm sure.
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52. Bogon
6:54 PM GMT on July 22, 2012
Well, that's it. The 2012 Tour de France is history. Bradley Wiggins won. The UK and team Sky shared the two top spots on the podium.

Peter Sagan won the green sprinter's jersey. Thomas Voeckler won king of the mountain polkadots. American Teejay Van Garderen won the white jersey, which is for best young rider, and finished fifth overall. Radioshack-Nissan won the team competition.

The weather station at the local airport recorded another ⅔ inch of rain last night. Here at the house we had hard rain and plenty of fireworks as a series of storms passed during the night. Spooky Margaret the cat was hiding under the bed. Tybo stuck close to me on the couch. I would have guessed more rain than that. Wife and I could hear it drumming on the roof.

Clouds blocked the sun again this morning, but the forecast gives only 20% chance for more rain today. The overcast is holding temperatures in the seventies through 2:00 PM. That's twenty degrees below our recent highs.

SBKaren, I remain convinced that drugs are not the main story in the world of bike racing. The epic tale of this year's Tour stands on its own merits. A lot of those riders will be moving on to the Olympics now.

I wonder whether some of the furor over drug use originates in the French psyche. The French people seem more conservative than I am about a number of things. They have instituted an Academy to preserve the purity of the French language. The rules of the Tour limit what riders can do with their bodies and with their equipment. Only male riders can compete, and they must compete as equals in a single class.

Purity and simplicity are laudable goals. And who am I to tell the French people how to organize the most famous race in cycling? Still I have to wonder. There is much to be gained by loosening up a little. Many kinds of racing events allow competition in multiple classes. You could have, for example, a prize for best female rider; for best unlimited rider, which would allow open drug use, cyborg attachments or whatever; or for unlimited bicycle design.

We don't see a lot of cyborg sports -- yet, but I think that answers your question about what happens when our natural bodies top out. We already see progress in artificial limbs and sensory organs for people who suffer crippling injuries. I've seen frequent ads for Paralympics airing alongside announcements for the summer Olympics. How long will it be until some of this technology becomes irresistable to healthy athletes?

And the rather staid upright bicycles used in the Tour de France are defined and limited by the rules of the race. If you want to design a human-powered two-wheeled machine to go fast, you don't build it like that. You want a very light weight low slung vehicle with a fairing to cheat the wind. Such a design would not only be faster, it could be made safer as well. The rider would not have as far to fall to the ground, and the vehicle could offer more protection in a crash. On a recumbent bike the rider sits between the wheels with his strongest, best protected limbs forward.

You're right about schools. The emphasis in testing and grading is on academic performance. Is that the best way to run a school? Wouldn't our society be a better place to live if schools were about assessing individual talents and finding a niche for each student within which he could live well and be happy? Might schools not do better to encourage cooperation rather than competition? The common mantra for sports might work as well for education: it's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.
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51. SBKaren
1:27 AM GMT on July 22, 2012
I've read Lance Armstrong's book It's Not About the Bike, and I also would be very disappointed to find out if anyone took drugs to help them win a race. It does seem as though they bring it up every year.

I often wonder, especially with the Olympics right around the corner, just when humans will top out. When will someone have run the fastest race? When will someone swim just as fast as they can go? Won't we have a topping out???? And when we do, what will we do then?

It's sort of like testing at schools. I'm a teacher and I HATE that so much is put on testing. We have a school in our district (elementary) that tests really high. But, once they've reached the highest, it seems the only thing to do is go down. How disappointing will that be? How high do we have to be to be considered good? How will you feel when you go down? (I keep thinking, if 100% is the top, and you get 95%, how can that be bad? That's still good, but it would be a drop and people will look at that badly). Crazy world we live in!

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50. Bogon
3:53 PM GMT on July 21, 2012
Persistent Pattern

If you look at a fairly long animation such as this one at Intellicast, you can see a high pressure cell centered on (roughly) Kansas with a clockwise rotation. The shorter animation at Wunderground's own radar and satellite maps will show you the same thing.

On the west side of this gyre moisture-laden air from Mexico rides northward over the Rockies all the way to Montana. This 'monsoon' circulation will bring welcome rain and, hopefully, not too much lightning to a region that has been at high risk of forest fires.

On the east side, where I am, the return flow is driving cold fronts from Canada into the mid-Atlantic and southeast. The current episode brought us a couple of inches of very welcome rain yesterday. Today the sky remains mostly cloudy. The local forecast predicts more rain.

Meanwhile, under the dome of high pressure, high temperatures and drought persist. This morning I ran the weather models to see what they could tell us about the next week or so, and the verdict is: more of the same.

I looked at GFS, NAM and ECMWF. All three showed a ridge over the plains states which lasted throughout the model runs. GFS was a bit more beneficent than ECMWF for my area. It wrapped the 5700 thickness line a bit further south along the Atlantic coast down to Chesapeake Bay, while ECMWF held it up in the vicinity of New York or New Jersey.

In ten days it will be Lammas, one of the cross quarter days that I like to track. Lammas marks the start of autumn. There probably won't be any immediate change in our weather, but the period of daylight will begin to shrink. A break in the heat, while not exactly likely, becomes possible. In some years August opens with a delicious momentary chill, a little reminder that in this part of the world ninety degree days do not last forever.
Member Since: June 26, 2008 Posts: 85 Comments: 4394
49. Bogon
11:32 AM GMT on July 20, 2012
Hey, ycd! A stillsuit would come in handy when I mow the lawn. I could water the lawn by recycling perspiration!

We have a 60% chance of rain today, which, you have to admit, is above average. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Nice soft rain is better for the yard than the City of Burlington's chloramine-treated water.

Thanks for chipping in some science fiction. I have read most of those. I don't recall Engine Summer. I'll see if the library has that one.

One outstanding author's name I left off my list is John Brunner.
Also add Greg Bear.
Piers Anthony.
Andre Norton.
Roger Zelazny. I love Zelazny's Lord of Light.

Another novel I like a lot is Contact by Carl Sagan. I mention that book, in particular, because Sagan is not known primarily for his sci-fi.
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48. ycd0108
5:05 AM GMT on July 20, 2012

"Engine Summer" John Crowley
"Childhood's End" A.C. Clark
"The Word for World is Forest" Ursula K Le Guin
"Cat's Cradle" Kurt Vonnegut
"Slan" A.E Van Vogt
"I. Robot" Issac Asimov
'Course there's Herbert out there in the "Stillsuit"
which could come in handy.
Member Since: January 1, 2008 Posts: 201 Comments: 5196
47. ycd0108
4:25 AM GMT on July 20, 2012
Gotta dump this here now and go back to later comments:
Member Since: January 1, 2008 Posts: 201 Comments: 5196
46. Bogon
4:02 AM GMT on July 20, 2012
Two waves of rain so far tonight, and they both missed the Dry Slot. We really need rain. I hope there are some more waves on the way.

So where did it rain? Over the airport. Wife's plane sat on the taxiway at Dulles (according to her story) for two and a half hours on account of "bad weather". I had to drive in rain on one of the busiest, nastiest stretches of road in the state, the part through Research Triangle Park by RDU. Wife's plane was an hour and a half late on a forty minute flight. Yee-hah!

They won't let you park at Raleigh-Durham airport. If you're there to pick someone up, you just have to drive around and around until your party comes out the door at baggage claim. Yee-hah again.

I hate RDU airport. I would much rather drive to and/or fly from Greensboro. Trouble is, you can't go anywhere directly from Greensboro. You have to fly somewhere like Atlanta and connect to your destination from there. Ah, the wonders of aviation.
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45. Bogon
4:17 PM GMT on July 19, 2012
Well, the Tour de France is winding down now. There is one more road stage, a time trial, and then it will be time for champagne on the Champs Élysées. Bradley Wiggins and his teammate Chris Froome have the lead.

The blob of moisture once associated with hurricane Daniel has been swept up in a northerly flow which will recycle it into the westerlies. Looks like Daniel will come back to America.

There is still a chance for Emilia. She sits about where Daniel was when I started tracking him. The odds are long. Not many storms have made it all the way across the Pacific. One example is hurricane John, which became a typhoon for a little while in 1994.

Weather remains hot here in the Dry Slot. Another cool front is creeping closer. The local forecast promises lower temperatures and rain for the weekend.

That should make Wife happy. A jet is supposed to bring her back to Raleigh this evening.
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44. Bogon
9:44 AM GMT on July 18, 2012
Time changes a lot of things, Ylee. Asimov's Foundation appears on io9's list of unread sci-fi novels. They say that chaos theory invalidates Hari Selden's psychohistory. Even if that's true, it doesn't make the book a bad read. The books are mostly not about psychohistory. That's just the background pretext, the macguffin.

I mentioned H. G. Wells and Jules Verne. We still read these despite subsequent scientific and technological advances. Around the World in Eighty Days is fun even though we know astronauts routinely make the trip in ninety minutes. Michael Palin hosted a decent BBC television series while trying to duplicate Phileas Fogg's journey using modern surface transportation. It wasn't easy.

The syllabus for shoreacre's class starts even earlier with Grimm's fairy tales. The course is half over before you get as far as H. G. Wells. I'm not sure I would call some of those stories sci-fi (Alice in Wonderland?), but the professor certainly makes the point that sci-fi need not be new to be good.

It's more likely that your own interests and tastes have changed over time. When I was younger I read a lot of sci-fi short stories that relied on some facile gimmick or plot twist. Nowadays I have a greater appreciation of what might drive a struggling young writer to invent such a story. He's under time pressure. He has a family to support. Nevertheless I have less patience with such stories today. Life's too short. I have no time at all for Dhalgren and its pretentions to literary splendor. If you have Dhalgren and a dollar, you might be able to buy a cup of coffee.

Add: Experience extends understanding. We learn more about life, the universe and everything. Thus it's likely that I would be less entertained by a rollicking space opera these days than when I was an adolescent. Conversely I might be more partial to a complex and nuanced story that would have bored me then. I would like to think so, anyhow. :o)
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43. Ylee
6:24 AM GMT on July 18, 2012
A whole lot of names and titles that brings back memories, most of them good! Dune and the Foundation trilogy are two on the list that I read, although it's been over 20 years since I've read either of them. I wonder if time would change my perspective of these books if I reread them? I'm not sure.
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42. Bogon
11:44 PM GMT on July 17, 2012
That's a good question, sp. I enjoyed science fiction from the moment I discovered the genre. I'm sure I read a lot of stuff when I was young that I wouldn't necessarily choose now. That is what one does until one's tastes have formed: you sample everything. That's true of fiction, clothes, beer or whatever.

I started with what I found on the shelf circa 1960. At that time H. G. Wells and Jules Verne were classic. You might include Arthur Conan Doyle in that group. I've always enjoyed Sherlock Holmes stories. Some of those have a hint of sci-fi edginess.

It wasn't long until writers like Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov caught my attention. Also I became aware that regular collections of short stories were being published. Those gave me an introduction to a lot of writers in a short time: (in no particular order) Poul Anderson, Fritz Leiber, Robert Silverberg, Frederik Pohl, Brian Aldiss, Damon Knight, Fred Saberhagen, Theodore Sturgeon, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

One name that served me well over the years is Larry Niven. I bought a lot of paperbacks with his name on the back. Then there's the dean, Robert A. Heinlein. Oh, heck, there are too many to name individually. I can't think of them all. Even my neighbor Orson Scott Card over in Greensboro can spin a decent yarn.

It's fun to read some of the older stuff, like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The modern reality of nuclear submarines eclipses anything Captain Nemo might have dreamed on his best day. To view this story as sci-fi you have to imagine what the future would have looked like in the late 19th century. It's a strange inversion of the usual forward looking sci-fi point of view. Nowadays there's a subgenre, Steampunk, which seeks to replicate that alternate history feeling after the fact.

Let's take a look at that io9 list again. I'm only familiar with about half the names on the list, but the first couple surprise me. I really like Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon. I've read it cover to cover at least twice. Furthermore, based on that experience, I was game to tackle the three volume Baroque Cycle, which fills in centuries of historical background and culminates in Cryptonomicon.

And how could you not like Frank Herbert's Dune? It's a classic. It's better than any of the movies. We're all used to science fiction stories in which the speculative technology is faster-than-light space travel. Sometimes it's extrasensory perception, genetics or robotics. Dune has all that, but the key tech is ecology. That's rare in sci-fi, which makes this book special.

I devoured Asimov's Foundation trilogy back when it was new. The case for reading it now might be less compelling. It might be harder to find. Still, these books are neither hard nor long. If you're interested in sci-fi and you're collecting notches on your belt, you might as well carve a notch for this one.

Lately I've been trying to fill in some blanks with William Gibson and Neil Gaiman. David Brin is a good read. I'm looking forward to Existence.
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41. sp34n119w
8:30 PM GMT on July 17, 2012
I'll take your and Ellison's and Dick's word for it and save my reading time for someone other than Delany. Unless I run out of things to read, haha.
There was a thing going on in early 70's - lots of psychology-based sf that just doesn't hold up today - and I wonder if that's when Dhalgren was published and if that's part of what's "wrong" with it.

So, who do you read for hard sf, if I may ask?
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40. Bogon
6:11 PM GMT on July 17, 2012
This morning I discovered that Wikipedia has a fairly comprehensive writeup of the book Dahlgren. There's enough in there to remind me of much that I had forgotten about the experience of reading Delany's, uh, novel.

Therefore let me post an erratum re my comment 35 to sp: though I may have made at least two attempts to read this book, I never succeeded. It's not worth the effort. The book deserves it's place on the list at io9.

Opinions about the book differ wildly, however, and I'm not sure why. The wiki lists some of them. There's one taken from the back cover, a review from the Raleigh News and Observer, which I'm happy to quote here because of it's geographic proximity and its laudable brevity:

"a brilliant tour de force"

That's fair. It is a tour de force. It's an outstanding example of something that I do not want to read.

Here's another quote from Harlan Ellison.

"I must be honest. I gave up after 361 pages. I could not permit myself to be gulled or bored any further."

Sounds honest to me. I'm not a diehard fan of everything Mr. Ellison penned, but I will stand by that statement. That is my experience in a nutshell.

Philip K. Dick said,

"I just started reading it and said this is the worst trash I've ever read. And I threw it away."

I haven't thrown my copy away, perhaps because of all the unaccountably favorable reviews. Perhaps there's something in there I'm missing. Perhaps, if I live another century or two, I'll eventually find it.

I doubt it. Your mileage, dear reader, may vary.
Member Since: June 26, 2008 Posts: 85 Comments: 4394
39. Bogon
5:21 PM GMT on July 17, 2012
Cole? The notes I remember were from Cliff. :o)

I'm sure both those fellows are still doing boffo business. Just now I found this site on the internet, and google tells me it has competition. Think I'll start out by running the study list from shoreacre's class through the site's search engine.

Referring back to comment 28, the area of blobulation formerly associated with hurricane Daniel is now moving onto the right edge of the blue NOAA map of the western Pacific. There's nothing much going on with it any more, but it's still there, and I'm still watching.
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38. ycd0108
2:30 PM GMT on July 17, 2012
Morning Bogon:
I don't think I ever completed Dhalgren but the written dialect reminds me of the modern "Texting" abbreviations like LOL, eh.
Speaking of George Orwell: his "Homage to Catalonia"
impressed me.
Most of my book reports were based on "Cole's Notes".
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37. Bogon
7:44 AM GMT on July 17, 2012
I don't know, ycd. It always seemed to me that having to study a book in order to write a report kind of ruined it for me.

Then on the other hand, there are some good books that I read for school that I might never have read otherwise. Take Orwell's 1984 for instance. That's on sp's list of "Books You've Never Read". I read it -- once -- for high school English class. It was so disturbing that I've never wanted to read it again. For the same reason it was also memorable.

I can't say that about Dhalgren. All I remember about that story is that there was a guy with one boot and one bare foot. I can't recall any reason to care about that guy or the world he inhabited. Maybe if I had written a report...
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36. ycd0108
4:08 AM GMT on July 17, 2012
We should both sign up for the SciFi course Shore mentions. Not this summer for me though. There is enough Fantasy already planned c.
I think I agree with your summation of the genre but there have been some surprises along the way: When I re read Ursula K. Le Guin's "The Word for World is Forest" I was shocked at my memories of the first reading. I had first read it as an adventure set in the future and since I might have been logging forests at the time there is a good chance I sympathized with the loggers. Watched "Avatar" on a tiny screen without any sound on a plane to Turkey or Brasil or who knows?
Same story.
Sort of
Member Since: January 1, 2008 Posts: 201 Comments: 5196
35. Bogon
10:36 PM GMT on July 16, 2012
sp, Dahlgren was good enough -- or maybe just peculiar enough -- that I read it twice. Most of it, anyway. The two occasions were years apart, so that I had plenty of time to forget the details in between. Triton had its moments, too, but it's certainly not a favorite of mine.

My problem with all these books was that they are soft sci-fi. They are more literary than scientific. They are all about the characters. Their claim to being sci-fi rests on the futuristic setting, which is never really explained. There are only bizarre people doing weird things that, given the setting, seem more or less believable.

I like hard sci-fi, where speculative technology is one of the players, and where the author goes to some trouble to explain how everything works. The futuristic setting has a history, which, in most cases, could result from our present. It's okay to talk about the effects of technology on culture, and it's fine to run the characters through a wringer as a result. It is not enough simply to be bizarre. I want some (metaphorical) rockets and laser beams in there. If somebody overamps the pizazzatron, I expect to see a fuse blow.

Take Star Trek for example. When the transporter gets cranky, they give Spock some dialog about "cross-circuiting to B". It's all mumbo-jumbo, but it shows they're trying to make it real.

Thanks for your concern about my health. I still have lingering cough and phlegm, but the fever and runny nose have come and gone. I actually feel pretty chipper this evening. Need to go rustle up some chow!
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34. sp34n119w
9:09 PM GMT on July 16, 2012
One of the Delany novels you mention is on io9's list of "10 Science Fiction Novels You Pretend to Have Read ..." and I have not read it. I think I read one or two short stories by Delany and was not hooked but shorts is not my favorite format, anyway.
But, I don't know Jack ;)

Sorry you're still feeling the effects of your cough. Haven't you any bored teenagers in your neighborhood to do the lawn?
Our humidity is at 60% and that is too high for me ... if the temperature was much more than the current 72 degrees I'd be miserable.
Member Since: January 27, 2007 Posts: 82 Comments: 4364
33. Bogon
5:41 PM GMT on July 16, 2012
Woof, taking a break from mowing the lawn. It really needs it. Normally I would have done it sooner. This is the first day since I caught the PCC that mowing felt feasible in terms of my own physical capability.

Aside from my own state of convalescence, it's freakin' hot outside. Not like an oven -- it's a Turkish bath. The metaphor is perfect except for marble floors and fat guys wearing white towels. Thanks goodness for that last part!

The dissolute blob formerly known as Daniel is nearing the 180° line. The blob has lost its swirl, which means that now it's just another parcel of moist tropical air, much like the one above my lawn. Looks like it's a goner, but I'll continue to watch as long as I can identify the spot.

Sister Emilia continues to follow in Daniel's tracks. She remains east of Hawaii, though, still a long way from regenerating into a typhoon.
Member Since: June 26, 2008 Posts: 85 Comments: 4394
32. Bogon
4:18 PM GMT on July 15, 2012
Thanks for that report, UK. I haven't had a chance to watch the daily Tour coverage yet. Had to take Wife to the airport this morning just as the show was cranking up. Her job is taking her back to (Southern, this time) California. She is not thrilled to be leaving home again so soon.

NBC will rebroadcast the stage this afternoon, and I plan to Be There this time. Gotta go!
Member Since: June 26, 2008 Posts: 85 Comments: 4394
31. insideuk
3:37 PM GMT on July 15, 2012
Some idiot threw handfulls of tacks out on the road as the Tour climbed the last mountain today Mr B! Result was dozens of punctures among the pelotons leading riders, the Sky team neutralised the race to allow everyone to come to the finish line together so nobody could benefit.

I hope they find the culprit and puncture him up good...
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30. Bogon
7:30 PM GMT on July 14, 2012
Hey, Ylee. I'm leery of using sharp pointy objects to exert a lot of force. What if you slip? That plastic is slick as well as tough.

My weapon of choice for these packages is scissors, but it can be hard to find a pair strong enough to handle the job and big enough to fit my hand. I wonder how tin snips would do?

On television I've seen people use a convex semicircular knife for jobs like skinning an animal. That might work, but I don't know where to find one. I'm not equipped to make my own.

I've also seen pictures of hooked knives with a concave cutting surface. A google search turns up "gutting knives" (ech!), linoleum knives (more like it) and a generic "hook cutter" billed as "the ultimate knife for opening packages and cartons". Maybe that's what I need.
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29. Ylee
6:32 PM GMT on July 14, 2012
Hi, Bogon, hope you're on the mend! The handiest thing I've found to getting into difficult packaging is a sharp utility knife, unless I'm too impatient to go dig for it, then I use a chef's knife! :)
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28. Bogon
5:31 PM GMT on July 14, 2012
It's Bastille Day at the Tour de France. Today's stage was won by a German, though, which is unlikely to improve the spirits of patriotic French fans.

Sadly I don't have breaking news on the Higgs boson. The next major development in that story could take decades. Insight doesn't punch a timeclock. Thanks to Google I can offer a glimpse into the lighter side of a heavy subject. For those who are still not satisfied, here is a bottom-up explanation of what all the hoopla is about.

Next month, assuming we all survive to rendezvous again, will begin my fourth year as a blogger here at Weather Wunder World. Traditional Dry Slot fare for August is the Atlantic hurricane season. The tropics jumped off to a quick start this year, including a couple of early swirlies near the Carolinas. Since then... nothing. There's nothing doing now and nothing in the pipeline.

Meanwhile the east Pacific has been pumping out tropical systems like a prize hen laying eggs. The first storm in the current series just passed Hawaii. It is showing its age. No longer listed as a named entity on the Wunderground Severe Tropical Weather page, it is still identifiable as a residual blob on MIMIC.

At the moment it's under stress from cool water below and sinking air above. I'm rooting for it to make it just a bit farther west, where it will find more hospitable conditions. Lots of warm water and rising air await, if only it can hang together for a few more degrees of longitude. Things should begin to loosen up somewhere around the International Dateline. Perhaps we'll witness a resurrection.

People in the Philippines, Japan and elsewhere in the west Pacific probably have little sympathy for this point of view. Their tropical season has been active enough already without importing extra aggravation from Central America.
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27. Bogon
3:57 PM GMT on July 12, 2012
Possibly the worst offender in terms of packaging is a tough, transparent molded plastic used, for example, to wrap newfangled high-efficiency light bulbs. Those things are absolutely impenetrable. There is serious risk of breaking the contents during the process of trying to get the doggone package open. I wish I had a plasma torch, or maybe one of these.

ycd - You showed up unannounced while I was responding to UK and shoreacres. I suppose I ought to give Delany another chance when I'm feeling better.

I am not on Facebook. I have no plans to get on Facebook.

Recently I responded to an invitation from someone I knew in high school to join something called LinkedIn. It was a bad idea. Now I get a lot of annoying e-mail from LinkedIn, and I still don't know what the site is supposed to do for me. One of these days, when I have lots of time of my hands, I think I shall pursue my options for getting LinkedOut.
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26. Bogon
3:07 PM GMT on July 12, 2012
I can't believe nobody asked who Jack is.

FYI, Jack is the guy I yell at in traffic. It's a name I use when I don't care what a person's real name is. It's a generic form of address for purposes of accusation, derogation, condescension, excoriation etc.

UK - Thanks. I'm feeling low this morning, but I'm optimistic that the disease is progressing through it's various stages, and that soon I'll emerge on the other side.

shore - When I was single I had pretty good health for the same sorts of reasons you mention. Now I have a help mate, who wants to smooch her germs on me. I have a hard time saying no.

Vise grips! I love vise grips. They're great for holding the bottom part of the container while you apply Channellocks to the top.

I've noticed those locking tabs on my mouthwash. I always whack 'em with a big set of diagonal pliers. Then the cap works Real Good as in days of yore, before lawyers started designing consumer products.
Member Since: June 26, 2008 Posts: 85 Comments: 4394
25. ycd0108
2:52 PM GMT on July 12, 2012
Mornin' Grumpy:
I had a bit of a tussle with a bucket of screws yesterday. Eventually got the tines of the hammer inside and ripped the top off.
Another paradox I see (or don't see in this case) is that as I age and use more meds and supplements the printing on the pill boxes gets smaller and smaller.
I can not find any Delany books around here just now but I did enjoy them.
Seems to me he predicted the modern world where everyone is connected with the capability of broadcasting to the world and anyone might get 15 seconds of world wide fame. Also the Human/machine interface described in "Nova" seems to have come to pass.
Sorta like Facebook. Though I am just making that up because I try to avoid "Friending".
Sorry about that bug you are shaking off - I still smoke tobacco so the cough is a constant companion.
Be better soon, eh.
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24. shoreacres
12:25 PM GMT on July 12, 2012
Good morning, Bogon, and condolences on that California cough. I've escaped any such so far this year, but I have the great advantage of a work place populated mostly by mallards and pelicans, who don't cough or sneeze much.

Oh, those containers. It's not just pills any more. My dishwasher detergent, and so on and so forth, present the same sort of challenge. Some I deal with by getting out The Razorblade and slicing off the plastic tabs that "catch" the lid if it goes all the way back on. A few will give way to vise grips, although there's no guarantee the lid will emerge intact. Phooey.

Hope your day goes well and improvement comes quickly.
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23. insideuk
10:10 AM GMT on July 12, 2012
Lay down your saw Mr B.

Get Well Soon x
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22. Bogon
8:26 AM GMT on July 12, 2012
While we're on the subject of patent medicines, here's a rant: child-proof containers.

First of all, I don't have kids. I need a container that can be opened by a sixty year old man. At the risk of belaboring the obvious, perhaps I should point out that I only have recourse to these pill boxes when I'm sick. Under those circumstances I'm apt to be weak, clumsy and impatient. Don't hassle me when I'm sick, Jack.

Secondly, I have a deep and abiding conviction that, if I pay for something, it is mine. I expect, nay, demand to have access to my drugs.

Thus I will make one, maybe two, attempts to open my pills using tried and true methods. If those fail, the situation escalates rapidly. Where are my Channellocks? You can't imagine how little interest I have in the instructions written on the lid.

Press here and here while at the same time twisting and pulling.

Belay that. There's no future in it. If the Channellocks don't work, maybe the limb lopper will. I mean, I'm not above running the whole container through a band saw lengthwise. One way or another I will get in.

Because not only will I get access to my pills on this single occasion, but the problem will be solved once and for all. That sucker will be open, Jack. Believe it.
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21. Bogon
8:12 AM GMT on July 12, 2012
I picked up Nova, because it was the thinnest volume. On the back cover was an extremely hyperbolic blurb,

As of this book Samuel R. Delany is the best science fiction writer in the world!

Wrong. Obviously this guy's tastes are so different from mine that his review is useless to me.

Inside the front cover is a short description of what the book is about. A motley crew of bizarre characters embark on a fool's errand.

Sorry, I'm not going there. There is a fundamental disconnect. I can't identify with either the characters or the situation. Forget it. Guess my tastes haven't changed that much after all. If anything, I've become less patient with nonsense now.

Surely part of the problem is that I'm not feeling well. When she was in California Wife caught an ailment. It manifests as a hacking cough, sometimes accompanied by fever. She's getting better now, but in the interim she has passed the Pernicious California Cough to me.

That's why I'm awake at three in the morning. I'm waiting for the Nyquil to kick in.
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20. ycd0108
5:46 AM GMT on July 12, 2012
None of those ring true. Might have been "Babel 17"
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19. Bogon
4:19 AM GMT on July 12, 2012
I read some Samuel R. Delany a long time ago, ycd. It was so long ago that I don't remember whether it had LUMPs in it or not. I believe there are two or three paperbacks sitting on the shelf. I see Nova, Dhalgren and Triton.

To be honest, I didn't like those much the first time around. One's tastes change over time, though. Maybe it's time to whip 'em out and have another go.
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