Tag Archives: news

Four Months In

It’s been four months. 

On one of the teams I work for in my day job, we’ve been talking about the decrease we’ve been seeing in ebook readership growth. Overall, ebook consumption is still growing, but the rate has slowed. Corporate-type people will be the first to tell you that slowing growth isn’t per se an issue that sets off alarms; it’s more like the prickly feeling you get when you perceive that something might be wrong on the horizon. We don’t have data yet on why this trend is happening, but it’s a sign we can’t get comfortable. We need to prepare for the possibility that ebooks might go into decline and plan accordingly.

Anecdotally, the team lead raised one point; the slowdown coincides with the election of the current president. It’s possible that ebook consumption is down because time that used to be spent with ebooks is now being funneled into obsessively checking the news feeds for the latest drip of drama and turmoil.

While I’ve never been one to shy away from the headlines, I know that my digital news consumption has skyrocketed in the past months as I search for the slightest hint of reprieve, the first glimpse of relief that we’re on course to put the current nightmare behind us and get back to something resembling normalcy.

I’ve had to force myself to put down my tablet and refocus on reading print books just to break the cycle. And even then, my phone is out between chapters, just to see what I missed. This is what bothers me most about the current political environment, on a personal level. I can feel my thoughts changing, my attention span warping, even as I try to resist it. We are in the Age of Spectacle and Spectacle demands our most precious commodity: our attention.

It reminds me of alcohol, which is to say that it’s a poison, but it’s a very tasty sort of poison that one grows addicted to the more one is exposed to it. Like alcohol, I’m experimenting with stopping or limiting my consumption as much as possible.

So far, I’ve been succeeding at cutting back on the alcohol. Not so much on obsessively cycling through Allsides.com for new headlines or the various blogs I frequent or Twitter or Reddit.

It’s been hard to know what to say about everything. This is a frustrating state of being for a person who typically says too much on too many subjects, the unfortunate side effect of reading too many books and have too much access to the internet. I don’t envy people that have to do this professionally; it must be agonizing to have to choose between taking your time and getting it right, but risk getting left behind, or rushing out the door before the next cycle begins and risk getting it wrong. It’s safer to be an amateur, in this case. I’m happy where I am.

I have predictions about the future, although I’ve been so spectacularly wrong thus far I no longer trust whether I’m capable of perceiving the world as it is or if I perceive it as the way I hope it might be. I don’t think Trump will finish out his term; if he does, it’s only because investigations are slow, laborious affairs. Investigators like to be thorough, which is good, but I worry about the damage that can be done while they go about their business. I think there’s a pretty good chance of the House flipping in 2018; it’s what I’m hoping for, at any rate, as I keep an eye on the president’s popularity numbers.

Most of all, I hope that everyone eventually realizes that this level of turmoil and division cannot continue. I hope that collectively, we get so sick of the way things have been going that the pendulum swings back the other way and the next round of potential leaders are chosen because they’re stable, experienced, and/or reasonable. At the very least, that they’re capable of listening.

But hey, I’ve been wrong before.

In the meantime, I’m going to try to read more books.

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I Spend A Lot Of Time Thinking About Water

There’s an interesting piece about water rights in the March 2016 issue of The Atlantic that’s worth your time, especially if you live in the Southwest, which I did and the majority of my tiny readership (most likely) still does. Short version: it might be time to adopt a free market approach to how water rights are managed in the American Southwest. The whole thing is worth a read, but here are a few highlights that I found particularly compelling:

America consumes more water per capita than just about any other country—more than three times as much as China, and 12 times as much as Denmark. People in the driest states use the most: Residents of Arizona each use 147 gallons a day (not counting agricultural water or water used to generate power), compared with just 51 gallons in Wisconsin, largely by filling swimming pools and watering lawns year-round in the desert. This extravagant use continues despite scarcity because water is kept artificially cheap. The water bills that Americans pay cover a mere sliver of the cost of the infrastructure that delivers water to them. Some city users pay $1 for 1,000 gallons. On farms, water is even cheaper. One thousand gallons of agricultural water in western states can cost as little as a few pennies.

Have you read Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water by Marc Reisner? It’s a good read, although you’ll learn more about dams than you ever thought you could possibly wish, but what’s most striking about it is how prescient Reisner was; he wrote about this in 1986, when climate change was still “the greenhouse effect” and acid rain was a really, really big deal. And here we are in 2016 and it’s all going pretty much the way he predicted, which isn’t good.

Back to the article; can the power of the free market fix the water rights problem in the Southwest? Well, I’m not one to argue for “the power of the free market” to fix all of society’s ills, but honestly, I also can’t see how a free market solution could be any worse than what we’re doing now. Give it a shot, I’d say. Let’s see what happens. The environmentalist finds common cause with the libertarian on this issue.

One more excerpt from The Atlantic piece, because I’m a vegetarian and this is my blog and I can tout stuff like this if I wish:

And, of course, growing more food requires more water. In theory, Americans could simply eat less meat: A vast majority of the West’s water is used to produce feed for cattle, and data from Water Footprint Network, a Dutch NGO, show that if Americans gave up meat one day a week, they would save an amount of water equivalent to the entire flow of the Colorado River each year. But that cultural shift might prove even more difficult than reallocating water rights.

The entire flow of the Colorado River each year. Just something to think about.

We’re Going To Mars!

I actually can’t believe this story is from four days ago and I haven’t heard anyone talking about it yet: NASA recently unveiled its timeline for the (actual) human exploration of Mars. A permenant human presence on the Red Planet! How is that not awesome?

Here’s the basic timeline: It begins with phasing out the Earth Reliant aspect of space travel, which is where we are now. The International Space Station mission will be winding down in the next few years, which is somewhat sad, but the installation is certainly getting old (it was originally launched in 1998!) and ending the ISS mission will free up NASA’s resources to focus on Mars.

After the Earth Reliant phase ends, NASA will transition to the Deep Space, and, quote, “NASA will send a robotic mission to capture and redirect an asteroid to orbit the moon. Astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft will explore the asteroid in the 2020s, returning to Earth with samples.” Redirecting an asteroid is perhaps the most metal thing I’ve read all month.

And finally, in the 2030s, NASA should be ready to send humans to Mars. We’re really going. The Orion program will take us back to the stars. (Well, figuratively speaking; the actual stars are still a long ways away).

I’m excited. This news is exciting to me and not just because, holy shit, The Martian will only be science-fiction for a few more decades (and then it will just be regular fiction). I’m excited that I’ll (hopefully) be around to see the next great achievements in human exploration. I’m excited because this feels like a real investment in spreading human life beyond our planet, a mission which will hopefully provide us with the means to spread to the rest of our solar system. In short, it’s the future that science fiction has been tantalizing us with. We’re finally going there.

A lot could happen, of course. A complete conservative takeover of the government could see NASA’s budget gutted, which would scrub the mission. But my hope is that the desire to explore the stars transcends ideological barriers. Space exploration has produced some of the country’s greatest heroes. What conservative doesn’t respect the sheer bad-ass-itude of the astronauts of the Apollo program? What progressive doesn’t savor the idea of pushing our scientific understanding to a new limit? There’s so much for us to learn out there!

I hope people start talking about this more. I hope folks get excited. Because the technology is within our reach and will only get closer, so long as we maintain the desire and the collective willpower. In 1969, we went to the moon. Let’s do something cool like that again, and let’s do it together.

Personal aside: I am 100% certain that it’s not an accident this announcement was timed to come after the success of The Martian and the announcement of water being discovered on Mars. Space is cool again!

Odds And Ends

If you could see the state of the room wherein I am composing this post, you would understand my absence from these parts over the past week or two. Sufficient to say that, yes, I have indeed moved. But that seems to imply that moving is the only step to the process.

It turns out moving is just the first step. Unpacking is the second and, in my case, far lengthier step.

I’m not sure whether it was foresight or foolishness that kept me from documenting the process. A week and a half ago, there was no visible floorspace in this room. The living room was “box canyon,” which is the result when a packrat dragon is forced to move his accumulated hoard into a smaller space. I had a lot of stuff that I’ve collected over the years and I had both a full-sized walk-in closet and an outdoor storage shed to house all that stuff.

While cleaning out the stuff, I found $50 dollars in unused gift cards. I found a $25 check that was, sadly, expired. I cashed in my coin bucket for $80 and that’s just the shit I had rolled; the quarters still need to be accounted for.

I’ve pared down the stuff over the past few weeks. I’ve scythed through it. I’ve cut close to the bone. Everything that’s left is either of tremendous sentimental value, such as my very first manuscript or my favorite childhood teddy bear, or is actively valuable and useful, like my camping gear.

At this point, you can see the majority of the floor in my new space. I’ve taken to calling it my study, because I’ve always wanted a study and it sounds much more dignified than my lair or my man-cave.

There’s still a particularly unsightly shelf that will be hauled out once everything has been organized, but the space is usable. My Xbox is hooked up and I spent much of my leisure time playing Borderlands 2 which I was able to purchase with one of my found giftcards. It was ten years old for a company that went out of business, but the company that bought it evidently transferred all the accounts because the card was still redeemable!

The fact that it’s almost November and thus nearly NaNoWriMo 2014 is a thought that fills me with terror and dread. What will I write about this year?

Dusting The Blog Off

Where the hell have you been? It’s only been . . . almost a month since I last wrote anything here. I’m sure that’s not dust. Since this is a digital space, any dust you might be perceiving either exists purely in your mind or your electronic device of choice is really, really dusty. You should probably clean that up.

I’m doing fine, thanks for asking. What have I been up to? Oh, lots! Let’s run through the list:

  • Searching for a new house
  • Giving up on searching for a new house
  • Playing Skyrim again (my lizard man is level 84!)
  • Avoiding writing, blogging, or doing anything creative of any kind

That really sounds like a lot when you write it all out, doesn’t it?

The house search ended up being a bust. There’s nothing in my price range that’s available right now. It got to the point where we were looking at a 900 square foot house (same as what we have currently) with two bedrooms (again, same as our current option), a tinier kitchen, and a $300 increase over our current rent.

I think that was the point when we determined that it really didn’t make sense to move into a new place. So, technically I’m still moving; I’m just moving into the dwelling of my significant other. It’s a really nice place. It’s just not what I’d call a new place, since I’ve been spending a majority of my time there already.

My thinking is that available rentals pop up in six month increments. There seemed to be a surplus of places back in early August but now things are sparse. I’m curious to see how it will go come December, not that we’ll be looking to move at that point.

It might sound insane that people would move out in December, but keep in mind that this is Arizona we’re talking about. For us, the winter months are actually the best time to doing your moving.

House Hunting

I think I’m close. I’ve got a house in my sights. All I need to do . . . is pull the trigger.

BLAM. And then the lease agreement will be signed, and it will all be over . . . except for the moving.

It really is quite remarkable how you can make anything sound ominous with the right metaphorical language. I should work for the news media!

Seriously, though, I’ve ridden by so many houses over the past few days. I wonder how many people have looked our their window only to be startled by a helmet-clad man in a black and green jacket, peering into the window of a neighboring house.

Fortunately, no one has asked about me yet. I might end up living in one of these places and one really wants to put the best foot forward when meeting new neighbors.

Let Me See If I’ve Got This Right

Republicans are suing the President. This has never happened in the history of the union! What new realm of litigation are we about to unwittingly enter? Can the President now sue the Congress for not doing its job? Can we sue Congress for not doing their jobs?

More importantly, I cannot believe the brazeness of this legal action. It’s practically a cereal. Brazen bran. (Available now at your local Trader Joe’s.)

The House approved the resolution in a near party-line vote, 225 to 201. It authorizes House Speaker John A. Boehner to file suit in federal court on behalf of the full body “to seek appropriate relief” for Obama’s failure to enforce a provision of the Affordable Care Act that would penalize businesses that do not offer basic health insurance to their employees.

That provision’s effective date has been delayed by the administration twice and now won’t fully take effect until 2016. The GOP-led House has voted to repeal the law, even as it seeks to sue Obama for failing to enforce it.

Let me see if I follow the logic here.

Republicans: We hate Obamacare! We are not going to rest until it is a smoldering ruin! It’s bad for businesses and it’s bad for Americans!

Obama: I’m going to hold off on some of the penalties to give some businesses time to adjust.

Republicans: You’re not upholding the law! You don’t have the authority to dictate the law that you wrote! NOW WE SHALL SUE YOU. Also, we’re going to repeal the law that you failed to uphold, because that law sucks. BUT YOU SHOULD STILL BE PUNISHED FOR FAILING TO UPHOLD IT.

I know that’s not the real reason, of course. Republicans just hate Obama and they’ll take whatever they can get as justification to go after him. It’s just . . . this particular tract is so silly.

Sure, call it “abuse of executive power” all day long but on paper, as in, on the paper that you’re submitting to the courts, you are suing Obama for not supporting Obamacare even as you work to repeal Obamacare.

There’s a word for this sort of thing. That word is kafkaesque.

Well, whatever. They can waste time on something this silly. It’s not like we have any sort of national crises going on with the VA or with refugee children flooding the border or anything serious like that that might require the attention of our legislative branch.

I Knew This Would Happen

Just a quick update tonight before we head off to the movies to seek the new Star Trek. In fact, that’s part of the reason for my update: it turns out that the Harkins Theater in Marana, which has long been my favorite movie theater in Tucson, has closed down. This is sad news for me, although I did read that it looks like a Phoenix-based Harkins will buy the location and reopen. I certainly hope that’s the case.

The reason why I liked the Harkins in Marana is probably the reason why it’s closed: nobody went there. I’m sort of an introvert, as you may have noticed, and I really don’t like big crowds of people. I wouldn’t call it a phobia, exactly; I reserve my phobias for tight spaces and spiders, but I will go out of my way to avoid large crowds of people whenever possible.

I loved going to the Marana Harkins because whether you were there on a weekend opening or a Monday night, it seemed like there were always great seats. Twice, we went and had the entire theater to ourselves (the movies were the sixth Harry Potter and the 2009 Star Trek, interestingly). I knew it’s never a good sign to see an empty theater on what should be a busy night, but damn if that didn’t make me love them that much more. In fact, I go out of my way for that feature, since there are a few other theaters that are much closer to my apartment. I guess having a customer base purely of misanthropes like myself isn’t a sustainable business model, though.

Ah well. The Harkins is dead.  I’m very sad; I saw most of my movies over the past five years there. Alas.

Now we go from the sad to the hilarious. The zombie that is Amy’s Baking Company continues to stumble and lurch across the public opinion arena and shows neither signs of life nor intelligence. It’s still funny, although now it’s in more of a melancholy sort of way. I wonder how long it will last.