All posts by Martin

Bob Shaw collection

Juist in time (well, maybe) for Worldcon, and after having talked about it for literally decades*, I am finally starting to put together a catalogue of my Bob Shaw collection. I’m at the point where, apart from translated editions, there are only minimal gaps in my collection of his novels. It would be annoying to find myself face-to-face with a shelf of books in the dealers’ room at Worldcon and not know which ones I should be targeting**.

“For the truly compulsive hobbyist, there comes a time when a collection gathers weight — metaphysical, existential weight. It becomes as much a source of anxiety as of joy.”

The Brazilian Bus Magnate Who’s Buying Up All the World’s Vinyl Records

Also, sensible advice from Jen, “If you don’t do anything with it, it’s just hoarding.”

* two
** Again


Alex doesn’t approve of selfies, but I caught him in one anyway. This is the three of us after an hour of trampolining at Bounz. Alex hurt his ankle part-way through. Fiona and I just exhausted ourselves for the whole hour.

Selfie at Bounz

My back is going to regret this in the morning.

Last weekend’s activities

Last Saturday morning Abi and I got up early and took a 14km walk northeastish: into Zaandam, up through Koog, following the curve of the Zaan round through Wormerveer, and finally to Krommenie. We found some faces in the path on the the stretch between Wormerveer and Krommenie.

street face

street face

We took the train back to Zaandam and did some shopping. We got some kibbeling at the market for lunch, remembering that we’d got kibbeling for lunch after the Dam-tot-Dam wandeltocht last year.

It was only about 13:00 when we got back home. The PC components I had ordered arrived just half an hour later, and I spent much of the rest of the afternoon assembling the new machine, which I’ve named Groot:

  • Cooler Master Elite 130 mini-ITX case (small enough to sit on my desk, big enough to take a full-size graphics card)
  • AsRock H81M-ITX motherboard
  • Intel i5-4460 CPU with stock cooler
  • Sapphire Dual-X R9 270X graphics card
  • Power supply, hard disk, memory, Windows 8

The only component mismatch is that the motherboard does not have a header for connecting the two USB3 ports on the front of the case. It has a header for the USB2 port on the front, but any USB3 devices will have to connect at the rear of the case. Not a problem. Apart from that, it seems pretty solid.

Groot’s main workload will be leisure activities, such as Wildstar now, and Elite: Dangerous very soon. Wildstar just needs a better graphics card than I have in my laptop. Even dropping all the graphics options down to zero and playing on its own screen rather than on an external monitor, my high-end MacBook Pro can only squeeze about 20-25FPS out of the game in quiet scenes. (That’s running Windows natively in a Boot Camp partition – not in a VM.) I might have taken a cheaper i3 processor instead of the i5, but I hear that Elite will actually use the i5′s four cores instead of letting them idle.

I have to say that playing Wildstar is a completely different game when you can play it at a good framerate, on a big screen, with all the graphics options on. It’s a game with a hard learning curve. Blurry graphics on a cramped screen didn’t feel like enough of a reward to make up for the difficulty. But on the new machine it’s smooth and fun. I haven’t played Elite yet, but…soon. There’s a high probability it will take over my life for a while, and I have a couple of side projects I’d like to finish off before that happens.

On Sunday the kids and I went to the cinema to see How to Train your Dragon 2, and I taught them how to pick pin-and-tumbler locks.

The radical implications of “no”

It’s only two months until Scotland’s referendum. It’s an emotionally charged issue, and I know that some of my friends plan to vote differently than I would like them to. I still want to be friends afterwards, so most of the time I like to consider the matter calmly, almost as if it were just another everyday policy detail. But sometimes a piece of fiery, passionate rhetoric comes along that it just too powerful to ignore.

This article by Peter Arnott in Bella Caledonia is such a piece. Arnott points out that voting “no” in September has implications that are just as radical as voting “yes”:

Every vile piece of Westminster legislation that has attacked the poor and dismantled the Welfare State, every policy that has ensured that it is only the poor who have paid the price of the recession caused by the greed of the rich, every act of economic and social vandalism – it has been the comfortable posture of the well meaning voters of Scotland that none of these things have been your fault. That you didn’t vote for them.

Well, you won’t be able to say that any more.

Up until September the 18th, we have all been able to hide behind all that being someone else’s fault. Either way the vote goes, Yes or No, that comfortable position has already been shattered. Either we vote to take responsibility for our own economics , our own wealth distribution, our own decisions to make war or peace…or we are voting to mandate away control over all of these matters to Westminster forever.

Either way, we will be responsible.

If a Yes voter has to take on board the moral hazard of whatever happens for good or ill in an independent Scotland, a No voter must equally accept moral responsibility for having given Westminster permanent permission to do whatever it likes forever. No questions asked.

Moral Hazard works both ways.

Whatever austerity measures are coming down the line, all those policies that weren’t your fault before September 18th? After September the 18th, they will be your fault. No. Sorry. Every single one of them. Will be your fault. This is the trap that history has set you. And I understand your discomfort. I understand your wanting to wish all this away. But you can’t. You’re stuck along with the rest of us.

(Emphasis mine.)

This is more than just a policy detail; it’s a generational decision. If you can vote in the referendum, this may be the most important vote you will cast in your lifetime. I still want to be friends afterwards, but if you’re planning to vote “no”, please at least read the article.

(Additional commentary on the article over at Wings Over Scotland.)

Arguments for growth

The Social-Democratic arguments for Scottish independence are plentiful and good. I haven’t spent much time looking at other reasons in favour, though, which is why I found the article “I’ve Decided To Vote Yes” by Ewan Morrison so interesting. He notes that Scotland has low levels of investment risk and venture capital, and suggeste that a “Yes” vote could be a path to a Scotland more welcoming of innovation. (Having visited Codebase the other week, knowing a bunch of people working in startups there, and seeing how quickly it is expanding, makes me think that the potential is both present and eager to grow.)

Where is Scotland’s wealth, and why do adventurous and innovative businesses not benefit from the risk taking of venture capital? The answer is another example of how the clichés about the Scottish mindset are true. Scotland does have wealth but the wealthy in this country secret their wealth away in very conservative forms of investment – pension funds, mortgage funds. These are not really risk-taking forms of investment at all and are cowardly and stingy, offering only a few percentage points more return than the interest rates of any actual bank. The rich in Scotland are mean and they keep their money secret and to themselves, they don’t take risks with it, they are not enterprising with it, and the last thing they spend it on, at the moment, is reinvesting in Scottish business start-ups and innovative ideas.

This is a mindset problem that a new Scotland is going to have to address. I say Scotland and not ‘The New Scottish Government’ because we are already far too dependent on government, far too statist. The new Scotland should be a powerhouse of invention and venture, and should have to be reigned in by Government, not the way we tend to see it at the moment, as utterly dependent upon government and government hand-outs, that are only there to replace the lack of financial trust we have in our own people.

Relevant to this is “The Pitchforks Are Coming…For Us Plutocrats” by Nick Hanauer. (Via Abi on Making Light) Here is a dyed-in-the-wool capitalist making a clear argument for the necessity of increasing minimum wages:

The model for us rich guys here should be Henry Ford, who realized that all his autoworkers in Michigan weren’t only cheap labor to be exploited; they were consumers, too. Ford figured that if he raised their wages, to a then-exorbitant $5 a day, they’d be able to afford his Model Ts.

What a great idea. My suggestion to you is: Let’s do it all over again. We’ve got to try something. These idiotic trickle-down policies are destroying my customer base. And yours too.

It’s when I realized this that I decided I had to leave my insulated world of the super-rich and get involved in politics. Not directly, by running for office or becoming one of the big-money billionaires who back candidates in an election. Instead, I wanted to try to change the conversation with ideas—by advancing what my co-author, Eric Liu, and I call “middle-out” economics. It’s the long-overdue rebuttal to the trickle-down economics worldview that has become economic orthodoxy across party lines—and has so screwed the American middle class and our economy generally. Middle-out economics rejects the old misconception that an economy is a perfectly efficient, mechanistic system and embraces the much more accurate idea of an economy as a complex ecosystem made up of real people who are dependent on one another.

Which is why the fundamental law of capitalism must be: If workers have more money, businesses have more customers. Which makes middle-class consumers, not rich businesspeople like us, the true job creators. Which means a thriving middle class is the source of American prosperity, not a consequence of it. The middle class creates us rich people, not the other way around.

If you can’t afford to pay a living wage, you can’t afford to do business.