September 2011

Neal Stephenson was at Politics and Prose Bookstore in Washington DC on Saturday night. He gave a reading from his new book, Reamde. Fun reading, and very interesting Q&A session afterwards. He then gladly signed books…

Jaguar - from adobe mural at Huaca Partida, Nepeña Valley, Peru.
Last Saturday I attended a very interesting all-day seminar in Washington, DC. The Pre-Columbian Society of Washington DC has an annual symposium at the U.S. Navy Memorial’s Naval Heritage Center. At right is the design on the symposium T-shirt. It is a feline character (I’m going to assume a jaguar) from an adobe mural at Huaca Partida, Nepeña Valley, Peru (something like > 1500 years ago). Neat.

This location is very convenient; right at the Archives Metro stop on the Green line. This year’s topic was “The Dawn of the Andean Civilization. The link above goes to the symposium website; here is a synopsis:

Chavín de Huántar, the massive ceremonial center constructed more than 3,000 years ago high in the Peruvian Andes, attests to the great antiquity of Andean civilization, but the roots of this florescence occurred at least two and possibly three millennia earlier. During this one-day symposium some of the world’s most renowned Andean scholars will present new research that challenges current notions about the genesis of Andean society. Did a singular, linear progression emanating from one early center lead to the magnificence of Chavín de Huántar and, later, the splendor of the Moche kings and the majesty of Tiwanaku? Or did the many pinnacles of achievement that make up the rich tapestry of ancient Andean culture emanate from multiple centers? Did different traditions emerge along the coast and in the highlands? In the north and in the south? Did these developments occur everywhere at the same time? This symposium will examine these and other questions, revealing a dynamic period that witnessed the first large-scale monumental architecture, large permanent settlements, intensive food production, social stratification, and widespread distribution of shared art forms and religious practices. So please join us for a day of new insights into the dawn of Andean civilization.

I really enjoyed the seminar; I have visited Peru (on my honeymoon) but that was basically to see Machu Picchu (Incan, ca. 1500 AD). This seminar focused on the northern coast of Peru (north of Machu Picchu), from about 1200 BC to 600 AD – much earlier. Prior to this series of talks, I had almost no knowledge of the Pre- Moche civilizations of the Andes so this was a very enlightening day.

Plenty of breaks, and for lunch I visited Teaism (right across the street) for a delicious “chicken curry” dish and an IPA. Then back for more talks. I’ll post a synopsis of the talks from my notes at a later time…

8:15 a.m. — REGISTRATION, Morning Refreshments
9:15 a.m. — Playing in the Dark: Archaeological Analysis and Evidence at the Dawn of Andean Civilization *Tom Dillehay
10:15 a.m. — BREAK
10:45 a.m. — Household Archaeology and the Emergence of Social Complexity at Peru’s North Central Coast: New Perspectives from the Late Preceramic Site of Bandurria, Huacho Alejandro Chu
11:35 a.m. — The Role of the Casma Valley in the Development of Early Andean Civilization Tom and Shelia Pozorski
12:25 p.m. — LUNCH
1:45 p.m. — The Settling of the Landscape: What This Meant to Formative People in the Titicaca Basin, Bolivia Christine Hastorf
2:35 p.m. — Changing Views on the Andean Formative Period: The Perspective from Chavín de Huántar John Rick
3:25 p.m. — BREAK
3:50 p.m. — The Dawn of Andean Civilization as Viewed from the Shores of Peru’s Central Coast Richard Burger and Lucy Salazar
4:50 p.m. — Panel Discussion All Speakers (Moderated by Dr. Dillehay)

When She Woke

Amazon's KindleUpdate 10/18/2011: Finally, a publisher (other than Baen) that is bundling a free ebook version with the hardcover! See When She Woke (Includes Free eBook) by Hillary Jordan at Powell’s Books in Portland. I’m not interested in this particular book myself (mainly due to the pro- “choice” bias towards abortion), but I find the bundling of an ebook copy a wonderful practice! I just wish it were a better poster child. But, it’s a start.

I’ve thought for years now that it would be a great business practice to give a customer a free electronic version of any book they purchase in physical form (say, hardcover). The logistics of getting the ebook into the hands of the customer would have to be worked out, but it’s not a technical problem. I guess most publishers think (erroneously) that doing this would result in more piracy, or more accurately, in lower revenues. I hope the publishing industry as a whole figures out that this is a fallacy and they implement the practice of bundling ebooks.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
Seriously: you buy a hardcover, and you get a code to download the ebook version. Do they really think this would add to book piracy? It is trivially easy to remove the DRM (Digital Rights Management, i.e., copy protection) from a purchased ebook. Once DRM is removed, an unscrupulous person could then put the book up on “sharing” (pirating) sites and make it available to anyone with an internet connection. I’d venture a guess that most (popular) books can be found on such sites.

If this were a real problem for the industry, would we have seen:

In the first five months of this year sales of consumer e-books in America overtook those from adult hardback books. Just a year earlier hardbacks had been worth more than three times as much as e-books, according to the Association of American Publishers. Amazon now sells more copies of e-books than paper books.

-“Great Digital Expectations” in The Economist, Sept 2011

This is no more a (real) problem than music-sharing (again, pirating) sites: Apple’s iTunes music store is hugely popular, and millions of people *buy* music there. Pirated music is a very small subset, and I’m not convinced that music piracy has lowered revenues to any significant extent. I’d have to say that ebook piracy would be an even smaller subset of the Book industry.

Honor Harrington series by David Weber

Baen Books (a great Science Fiction publisher) already does this. For example, many of the recent books in the Honor Harrington series by David Weber include a CDROM in the hardcover. The CD has ebook versions of the current book as well as all the other books in the series and related books by other authors. AND none of the content is copy-protected. Obviously, if piracy were an issue they would have stopped this practice. As a matter of fact, they encourage you to share the content! They figure it will ultimately lead to more readers actually buying Baen books. I know I do! They also have a “Free Library” where you can download free books. If only the rest of the industry would embrace such practices!

There’s an interesting article in The Economist on the transformation of the publishing industry, “Disappearing Ink“. Seems the Movie industry was also worried about piracy (hah!), so they have started including versions of movies, etc. that you can download (for your iDevice or computer) when you purchase a DVD (see my emphasis):

They are doing some things right. Having watched the record companies’ impotence after Apple wrested control of music-pricing from them, the publishers have managed to retain their ability to set prices. But they are missing some tricks. The music and film industries have started to bundle electronic with physical versions of their products—by, for instance, providing those who buy a DVD of a movie with a code to download it from the internet. Publishers, similarly, should bundle e-books with paper books.

-“Disappearing Ink” in The Economist, Sept. 2011

I’m a lover (and collector) of physical books; no iDevice will ever provide the same tactile experience as curling up in a comfy chair with a real, nicely produced Book. The Kindle does the best job of mimicking paper, and is the best eReader in that respect, but it still doesn’t “feel” like a book. That being said, I am also an avid *reader*, and no physical book is going to be as ever-present with me as my iDevice or Kindle. It is just so convenient to have a whole library with you wherever you go – and to have all your reading notes, bookmarks, etc. follow you in the cloud.

I love eBooks too. Don’t make me choose!

Last week I read an interesting article in my company’s newsletter about a coworker who recently got back into model rocketry. He’s into the very large rockets (the ones that go like 50,000 feet up, and require coordination with air traffic, etc.). Anyway that renewed my own long-dormant (like 30 years) interest in model rockets, so this past weekend Preston, Dylan and I went out and launched (a smallish) one! This particular one is a simple, pre-built model. That way I could at least try it out with the boys to see if they liked it, but not have to spend a whole day building one. :) Anyway, yes, they loved it!

See below this text for a Photo gallery of the event…

This model has a payload section, but Preston had second thoughts at the last minute about sending “Sherman” up (his earwig he found earlier in the day, and was to be the test pilot). So we sent up a dandelion he found on the field where we launched the rocket (behind Dylan’s school).

Yep, had all the excitement I remembered – but none of the frustration. Seems the new igniters (vs. 30 years ago) are much more reliable, and they also come with plastic plugs that you use to ensure good contact with the engine. Result: a successful engine start each time!

Dylan was the “retriever”; he actually ran after the rockets without coercion, and convinced Preston to let him “press the button” at least once. Thus, I *know* he enjoyed himself. No mystery regarding Preston: when asked last night whether he wanted me to go to the store to get more engines to fire up more rockets, he said “Yes! Get a hundred so we can do it a hundred more times!” :):)

I had a picture of Preston standing next to the rocket as well, but unfortunately it was out of focus, so just imagine a little dude next to the rocket…

I already have another rocket (some assembly required ), so this might become a more regular outing. I’ll have Preston help with the assembly. We’ll see how she flies! :)

A few months ago I started attending a weekly “Board Game Night” with a bunch of guys who like good beer, good company and playing board games. I’ve been trying for years to get the family to play board games (Monopoly and Risk don’t count). So when Kirsten introduced me to one of her co-workers who was into board games: geek nirvana! We always have a great time!