It Really Says Something About North Korea…

From the New York Times

“If we are so poor,” she continued, “it must be because of Kim Jong Il’s mistakes,” she said referring to North Korea’s leader. The woman said her daughter had decided to stay in China, but that she would soon return home, after illegally earning money doing piecework for a factory here.

What’s really priceless though is a quote from the first page where a nurse says the following on being in China:

“But I have no ID card, no residence permit. I am in a free country, but I am not free.”

I’m trying really hard to process the mind-boggling worldview and background required, not so much to consider China a free country, but have it be (relatively) true.

Go read the article.

“Ethics Officers”

Scientologists have “ethics” officers.

I won’t go into anything else pro or con – I personally tried to read Dianetics and after several chapters of semantically empty gibberish, I quit.

All I need to know is they have “Ethics Officers”.

That sounds a lot like “Political Officer”, eh? Weren’t they all nice, wonderful people?

Now, isn’t that enough to give you nightmares?

Blogging From Where?? (or, Why I Love WiFi)

Ann Althouse, aghast, blogs that she’s blogging from a faculty meeting.

I’ll admit, there’s somthing incredibly fun about discovering that, rather than simply taking notes on your laptop, you suddenly have online access somewhere, and you can actually do something interesting while waiting for some boring blowhard to finally be done.

It also makes the time go by so much quicker while you’re waiting for, say, your tires to get patched.

What I don’t get is why some of these people don’t seem to have any idea what they have on their hands. In the case of the tire place, there was no doubt that the wireless access point was in their building, but they hadn’t done anything with it. It still had the network name it came with out of the box. Since I am a computer guy by trade, I try to let people know they have an open network on their hands when I discover one that looks like it was accidentally left wide open, but when I asked the employees if they intended to open up their workplace network for general wireless access, they gave me a blank look.

In that part of town, there are more than enough people with laptops, that saying “Hey, we can get you internet access while you wait to get your car serviced,” would be a big plus in convenience and service compared to the other service shops in the area, though it would be hard to make their reputation even better than it already is.

If they don’t intend to open up their wireless network but are instead using it for their business network, they need to lock it down, or hide it.

In the meantime, I check up on the news every time I’m there.

What I Did on my Christmas Vacation

So this last Christmas of 2004, I packed up the girls and spousal unit, and went (not too far) south to Florida on a pilgrimage to the land of Mouse, Disney World.

Several things of note. For anyone lucky enough to be living or just passing through the DeLand area Northeast of Orlando, tucked into the corner of I-4 and I-95, there is a truly wonderful barbecue joint called Brians. ‘Nuff said.

What really inspired this little write-up though are two thoughts I had while doing the touristy things available. On the second day there, rather than go back to Disney for two days in a row, we relaxed a bit and went to look at the manatees at Blue Springs. In colder weather (which it was unseasonably cold that day, for Florida), the manatees tend to cluster around the springs because the water is still relatively warm, having come out of a deep, approximately ninety foot wide crack in the ground. Since they hang out there so often, it’s a state park, complete with board walkways, rangers, a designated swimming area, information plaques, and playground.

If you’ve ever had someone tell you that manatees look like swimming potatoes, they do. They also have a rather cute quality without being as offensive as, say, a hello-kitty character. I’d post photos but they wouldn’t do the beasties justice. I know I’d seen photos but you get a whole new appreciation when you see them move, in person.

You also know you’re a hard-core SF geek when you look at the scenery around you and think, “Hey, it’s just like that story.” The park had a walkway along the river, elevated above the ground and winding between the palms, with plaques, rails, and dire warnings to stay on the path so as not to damage plant life. I looked up this wooden path, shoving past tropical trees, seemingly hovering above the ground at times near and far, and I couldn’t help but think of Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder.”

The other really geeky moment I had was my first exposure to a Segway in the Epcot parking lot on my third day there. Sure it has two wheels, but upon seeing one and the way it moved, and more to the point, didn’t when unoccupied, I suddenly felt a need to reread the Heinlein classic “The Roads Must Roll.” For those who don’t remember, the repair crews for the ‘roads’ get around on little gyroscopically stabilized unicycles.

Epcot was fun (I highly recommend the Mission Mars ride…), and so was the Magic Kingdom. All in all it was grand fun.

As an update, my wife and I got a huge chuckle out of the setup for the Mission Mars ride. Each crewmember is assigned certain duties, and my wife ended up in the engineer’s seat. We soon discover that her duties consisted of putting us all to bed via “hypersleep”…

And here I thought we went to Disney to get away from real life….

Update – I’m not going to edit and erase what was said, but guys, be very, VERY careful in how to you refer to your wife, even when you’re joking.

Baen Free Library

I couldn’t wait to get started on my website, so this is getting posted a bit prematurely, but I had a few things that I absolutely had to put up and explain.

If you hadn’t gathered already, I’m a huge fan of Sci-Fi. One place I regularly get my fix is from Baen books.

Why?

Well, I like their stuff. My reading covers a broad range and their stuff often satisfies my cravings for adventure, military action, pulp, etc. when I’m not looking for something more overtly ‘thoughtful’ like Neal Stephenson’s (Snow Crash, Quicksilver, Cryptonomicon) or Dan Simmons (Hyperion).

My favorites? Overall, John Ringo, whom I’ve met, and even provided an illustration in one of his books (Hells Faire). Also included are John Dalmas, Dave Weber (known for the “Honor Harrington” books), David Drake (Hammers Slammers), and others. Though heavily ‘conservative’ and libertarian, it’s not exclusive and there is an interesting mix of political viewpoints in the mix along with a vast backcatalog that has accumulated over the years.

So why do I know so much of their stuff is stuff I like, and if I’ll likely enjoy the book or not before plunking down cold hard cash?

Simple.

The publisher has a dirty little secret.

Wait for it…

They give books away.

That’s right.

Go online here and you will see their “Free Library,” with many many books from their authors available for free download, to put on your Palm-pilot, your computer, a CD-ROM, print out, whatever.

Interestingly, not only do they not make it difficult to make backup copies for yourself, or for your friends, they encourage you to do so. Check out the notes on the back of There Will Be Dragons or several other recent Baen hardcover releases which include a CD full of free, unprotected material that they beg you to hand off to your friends.

Their “webscription” e-books are also similarly unprotected, and almost any title has a significant chunk of the book online even if it isn’t in the free library in its entirety.

They do this, interestingly enough, because it makes them money.

I enjoy it because it gives me the chance to check out new authors and freely carry along electronic copies of books I’ve already bought from the convenience of my laptop, my palm pilot, or anywhere I can get on the internet. They treat me like an honest, valuable customer who will pay them a reasonable cost when I can, are willing to cultivate my business when I can’t, no strings attached, and open my eyes to new things at their expense.

And that is why I spend my cash on them, and how they make money.

Check it out at http://www.baen.com.

UPDATE: Due to their deal to get books published via Kindle, most of the library has been taken down, and is slowly being rebuilt out of new editions specifically for the library, so as to not conflict with Amazon pricing requirements.

It is still a great resource, and you can find a lot of the older free library stuff as well as images of the CD’s included for free distribution in many of the Baen hardcovers at the Fifth Imperium.