Books, for example; I have a copy of almost every old book that I loved as a young boy. I've managed to get copies of some of those old TV shows and specials, too (although I still haven't managed to get Hodge Podge Lodge, unfortunately).
Records were a bigger problem. My turntable died not too many years after I bought my first CD player - which was one of the first CD players on the market - and I hadn't picked up a new one. Many of my particular favorites were never reissued on CD, and some couldn't be obtained even in LP form. They seemed to be completely forgotten.
Most of those favorite old records had been lost over the years, but my parents still had a few of them. There were three that I remembered particularly fondly: dramatizations of the lives of Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach. All that was left was the Mozart LP, and that was almost certainly in terrible condition. Sebastian is still young enough to enjoy those records, but time was running out...and I've never seen them on eBay or anywhere else.
Fast-forward to last month. Teri bought me a USB turntable for my birthday. I ordered a record-cleaner, which arrived on Friday; I tried to use it to clean The Story of Mozart. The record had been stored directly in the jacket for thirty years, and was very, very dusty. When I finished, the record looked clean. But as it played, large balls of dust were plowed up out of the grooves. The recording sounded terrible, with lots of loud hissing, strange distortions, and loud clicks from scratches. I worked the results over with the Audacity software that had come with the turntable, and was impressed at how much the results were improved. But they were still pretty poor.
Nonetheless I made a CD for Sebastian. I also decided to make the mp3 available online, because as far as I knew I was the only person who remembered that series and I thought it deserved to reach a new generation. I started to annotate the mp3 before posting it. But neither the jacket nor the label on the LP included the year that it was recorded! So I Googled "Tale-Spinners for Children", and found...a site that has mp3s of all 49 records in the series, plus dozens of recordings from similar series! The site's copy of The Story of Mozart sounds MUCH better than mine.
I suppose if you're old and cynical, you may not be able to enjoy these recordings. I'm sorry, if that's the case. But if you know any young children, you'd be doing them a favor to let them listen to some of these.
Tale-Spinners for Children
It's a copy of Alfred Bester's 5,271,009, which happens to be my favorite story of his. What makes it interesting (or intereeesting, as my fingers originally told me) is that 1) it includes a few preliminary paragraphs apparently by Bester himself about how he happened to write the story, and 2) it's a dead link - the only way to reach it is to view Google's HTML version of what was originally a PDF document. The cache is a little screwed up, however, if you want to read the last page, you have to do a print preview or print it.
The missing tagline is, as I recall, "There was a blinding flash, and Jeffrey Halyson was ready for his 2,635,505th decision."
This morning there was a story in the New York Times; the Explorers (who are part of the BSA) have been training thousands of children aged 13 & 1/2 and up as paramilitary death squads!
Technically they're to be border patrol or "law enforcement" teams, but they train with guns and...well, take a look at the article. The photo is a bunch of kids dressed as a goddamned death squad!
Scouts Train to Fight Terrorists, and More (link fixed)
Anyway, enemies (planes? missiles? I don't remember, it was long ago) would shoot towards your tank from the night sky, and you'd launch your missile and try to shoot them down. The neatest thing was that you could steer the missile after you launched it. Once it blew up the target, a new missile would appear on your launcher.
I never saw that game again, and I don't remember the name of it. I don't even remember the name of the hotel. But the memory of that game has stuck in my mind for thirty years now.
And now thanks to Google I not only have been able to find the name of the game (S.A.M.I., or "Surface-to-Air Missile Interceptor") and a cheesy old ad for it with a girl in a silver lamé jumpsuit, but I've found video of it in action as well!
Except. Although it worked on my old computer running Windows XP, it won't run on my new computer running XP. The old one was the "Home" edition, and the new one is the "Professional" edition (both of them 32-bit), but I don't see how that could be the problem; I've run the program successfully on other computers with the Professional edition.
The problem was a dll file. I tried copying it and installing it to my new system, but nothing worked. Given that the software was from 1996, it really seemed that I should look for a modern freeware replacement.
The problem was that so many modern graphics programs are so complicated! I don't want to have to spend a lot of time learning a new program, and about all sorts of advanced techniques that I don't need right now. I want a program that will do pretty much what the old program did, without a steep learning curve. I mean, I'm very good at learning new software, but my free time is limited!
So first I tried GIMP. It's open-source, freeware, and came highly recommended. But it turned out to be way more program than I needed. It's more like PhotoShop than my old painting program, and was so complicated that I found myself pretty much stymied when I tried to use it.
Later, I lucked upon Paint.net. It's just what I was looking for! A free, modern, and relatively easy-to-use graphics program that I could work with straight out of the box. It has advanced features, but they're not in my face - I can learn about them later, and in the meantime I can edit my images. And Sebastian can draw pictures. In fact, he drew his first picture with it a few days ago; a picture of Godzilla and Hedorah. I'll see if I can get his permission to post it here tonight.
I almost forgot: I don't know if anyone is tracking it, but I've annotated and posted a shitload of zines on my RQ site lately. Twenty-three of them since late June. Just in case you're desperate for something to read. I haven't given up on the sheetless roleplaying article, but it's basically gone into slow-motion for a while. I'll definitely finish it within a month or so, though.
I've been manually backing up my LJ. Did all of 2003 (it was only half a year anyway), and am up to October 2004. It's a bit tedious, particularly since none of those old posts are tagged at all. I've been adding tags to them before backing them up, which definitely slows the process down. On the other hand, this means that there are a lot more posts that have been tagged; politics and Sebastian in particular have expanded a lot.
I don't know if anyone here is a fan of Shogun (the novel by James Clavell), but if you are, or if you're interested in Japanese history, you might find this interesting: Learning from Shogun - Japanese History and Western Fantasy. It's a PDF with a number of academic essays about the novel and how it relates to the actual Japanese culture of the time. It's a bit disillusioning, in places, but that's inevitable. There's also an essay by one asshole of a professor who made up a clever little bit of wordplay to insult fans of the novel and ignorant Japanophile Westerners in general; he's so pleased with himself over his little coinage that he uses it about five hundred times in his essay, filling me with a powerful urge to kick him in the balls, hard. Still, the rest of the essays are pretty interesting.
Anyway, I was reading my comments and ran across several references to a story by George Phillies that I'd liked very much: "Who Slays Satan". On an impulse I Googled, and sure enough, it's available as a free sample for his online book!
George is (or was) running to be the Libertarian candidate for President this year, incidentally.
The automobile has been an essential part of the American national character for more than seventy years. It's arguably the definitive American characteristic, far more pervasive than pale pretenders such as baseball and apple pie. An America without cars is virtually unimaginable. But now that it has become painfully clear that we are witnessing the beginning of the end of petroleum as the dominant form of energy, can the American automotive dream survive?
Perhaps not. If the transition to new forms and sources of energy is handled poorly (or not at all), then the issue may not matter; people will be too busy scrabbling for food and the essentials to worry about personal transportation. Alternatively, a better-managed process might end up concentrating on mass transportation systems, most likely some form of light rail.
Local transportation would be by foot, by horse, or perhaps by bicycle. The author Fredric Brown painted a rather Utopian vision of such an American future in his classic short story "The Waveries". But such a peaceful evolution towards an idealized sort of 1890s level of technology is difficult to envision, at best. The United States government has not been noted for that degree of long-term planning and social engineering.
It is also possible that such a level of technology might not be sufficient to support current world-wide population levels; violence on an unprecedented scale would be the likely result. Whether or not the human species would survive is open to question.
But if one or more alternative sources of energy are developed and implemented throughout the US, the car is still in trouble. Developments in electric car technology do offer some hope; by decoupling the car from petroleum. Any energy source which can produce electricity on a large scale would be sufficient to charge an electric car.*
But driving habits would have to change, requiring a considerable change in attitude and behavior on the part of Americans. Long-range driving would be impractical or impossible. Cars would need to be charged overnight, every night before use.
The crux of the problem is this: gasoline, in addition to its relatively low cost and convenience to transport, is also an extremely dense form of energy. To refill the average gas tank takes a few minutes at most, and that full tank yields hundreds of miles of driving.
Even if battery technology improves to the extent that a fully-charged battery allows the same driving range, batteries simply cannot be recharged as quickly as a gas tank can be filled. Barring startling developments in battery technology, electric cars will require an hour or more to recharge. If you thought gas station lines were bad in the 1970s, imagine what they'd be like if it took an hour (or several hours) to refill at the pump!
The recharge speed limit also limits the long-distance range of electric cars. As such, it implies a fundamental rethinking of the American automotive experience (which might not be a bad thing, of course). But there is a way around it. While batteries cannot be recharged as quickly as a tank can be filled, the batteries themselves can be made quickly and easily replaceable.
The "gas station" of the electric-car future would maintain a stock of fully-charged batteries. These would have to be standardized on a national basis, although it is unlikely that only one type would be offered; larger batteries would probably be needed for trucks and heavier vehicles. On the other hand, it would be neither practical nor desirable for each manufacturer to use a proprietary battery - it simply wouldn't be possible for most stations to maintain a sufficient stock of each brand of battery to handle most eventualities.
The batteries would be designed to be removed and replaced quickly and easily, probably by machine. Security would be necessary, of course. Just as more cars are likely to have locks for their gas caps in the waning days of petroleum, batteries would be secured by lock and key.
Is such a future possible? It's fully possible using already-existing technology; it requires no technological breakthroughs. Is the US government and the American automotive industry capable of achieving it? That seems far less likely.
But would Americans adjust to it? Faced with Hobson's choice, of course they would - if the alternative is giving up on America's long love affair with the automobile.
* - There is also, of course, the matter of developing a non-petroleum-based industrial base capable of manufacturing such a car at a cost affordable to most Americans. But that's beyond the scope of this article. It is interesting to contemplate a future in which only the rich can afford automobiles, while the masses are forced to depend on less-advanced or convenient forms of transport. I rather suspect this would engender class warfare on an unprecedented scale.
Here's an epigram I just derived from an answer I wrote over an Askville about the "risk of faith" in being an atheist:
"We are feeling beings that think, not thinking beings that feel."
I don't trust Obama. I think he's too willing to tell people whatever they want to hear. His campaign has done some sleazy things that I don't like. And I fear that if he were to get the Presidency, there's a good chance that he'd be another Jimmy Carter - as in President Carter, the hapless and ineffectual victim, not former President Carter, the near-saint.
But I have no doubt that Hillary Clinton would be our George W. Bush. I think that she will maintain Bush's secrecy, violations of civil liberties, and grotesquely swollen executive power.
I've said it before: I'll vote for Obama if he gets the nomination, but I won't vote for Hillary if she does. I won't be a party to the suicide of the Democratic Party and American democracy. I'll write in a protest vote instead.
I'd like to have more confidence in Obama. And that's why I was interested to see this quote from Bill Richardson:
"I had just been asked a question -- I don't remember which one -- and Obama was sitting right next to me. Then the moderator went across the room, I think to Chris Dodd, so I thought I was home free for a while. I wasn't going to listen to the next question. I was about to say something to Obama when the moderator turned to me and said, 'So, Gov. Richardson, what do you think of that?' But I wasn't paying any attention! I was about to say, 'Could you repeat the question? I wasn't listening.' But I wasn't about to say I wasn't listening. I looked at Obama. I was just horrified. And Obama whispered, 'Katrina. Katrina.' The question was on Katrina! So I said, 'On Katrina, my policy . . .' Obama could have just thrown me under the bus. So I said, 'Obama, that was good of you to do that.'"
Perhaps that was just a matter of calculation on Obama's part. But that seems like a stretch. It seems more likely that he simply had a decent impulse to help someone out. It's sad to say, but the thought that a candidate for the Presidency might have a decent impulse and follow through on it actually surprises me - and gives me a little hope.
And with that, I'm off to bed.