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Observations (and occasional brash opining) on science, computers, books, music and other shiny things that catch my mind's eye. There's a home page with ostensibly more permanent stuff. This is intended to be more functional than decorative. I neither intend nor want to surf on the bleeding edge, keep it real, redefine journalism or attract nyphomaniacal groupies (well, maybe a wee bit of the latter). The occasional cheap laugh, raised eyebrow or provocation of interest are all I'll plead guilty to in the matter of intent. Bene qui latuit bene vixit.

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Monday, March 26, 2001

FANTASY SANS TRILOGY
A couple of recent finds recommended for fans of fantastic fiction who might be tired of endlessly rehashed Tolkien rewrites in three (and usually many more) volumes. Jonathan Cott edits Beyond the Looking Glass (Overlook Press, 1985), a collection of ten Victorian fantasy tales and poems. It also contains lengthy essays by the editor and Leslie Fiedler and 200 black and white period illustrations. The contents are:
  • "The King of the Golden River, or The Black Brothers" - John Ruskin (1841)
  • "Petsetilla's Posy" - Tom Hood (1870)
  • "Wooden Tony: An Anyhow Story" - Mrs. Clifford (1892)
  • "Through the Fire" - Mary de Morgan (1877)
  • "The Wanderings of Arasmon" - Mary de Morgan (1880)
  • "Wanted - A King" - Maggie Browne (1890)
  • "Tinykin's Transformations" - Mark Lemon (1869)
  • "The Golden Key" - George MacDonald (1867)
  • "The Day Boy and the Night Girl" - George MacDonald (1879)
  • "Goblin Market" - Christina Rossetti (1862)
Extra jimmies for whoever can identify the mathematicians related to two of these authors. One's easy, the other just slightly more difficult. Just what is it about mathematics and fairy tales?

The second book is Yenne Velt: The Great Works of Jewish Fantasy and Occult edited by Joachim Neugroschel. It contains 31 short stories and novelettes of yenne velt - the other world. They are arranged in a seven-day cycle and are:

  • The First Day
    • "The Tower of Rome" - Ansky
    • "The Wandering of a Soul" - Mendele Moykher-Sforim
    • "The Rabbi Who Was Turned Into a Werewolf" - from "The Mayse-Book"
    • "At the Border" - Der Nister
    • "The Three Wedding Canopies" - Y. L. Peretz
  • The Second Day
    • "The Penitent" - Ansky
    • "Three Gifts" - Y. L. Peretz
    • "The Fool and the Forest Demon" - Der Nister
    • "The Jewish Pope - A Historical Tale" - I. J. Trunk
    • "The Wind Who Lost His Temper" - Moyshe Kulbak
    • "The Golem" - Yudl Rosenberg
  • The Third Day
    • "The Conversation of Two Ghosts" - from "The Mayse-Book"
    • "A Good Laugh" - Ansky
    • "The Possession" - from "The Mayse-Book"
    • "At Night" - David Bergelson
    • "In the Wine Cellar" - Der Nister
    • "A Tale of a King and a Wise Man" - Rabbi Nakhman of Bratslev
    • "The Messiah of the House of Ephraim" - Moyshe Kulbak
  • The Fourth Day
    • "A Tale of a Prince" - Rabbi Nakhman of Bratslev
    • "The Dybbuk" - Ber Horovitz
    • "A Passion for Clothes" - Y. L. Peretz
    • "King Solomon and Ashmedai" - from "The Mayse-Book"
    • "A Tale of a Rabbi and His Only Son" - Rabbi Nakhman of Bratslev
    • "The Conjurer" - Y. L. Peretz
    • "The Gilgul or The Transmigration" - A. B. Gotlober
  • The Fifth Day
    • "Haninah and the Frog" - from "The Mayse-Book"
    • "A Tale of a Menorah" - Rabbi Nakhman of Bratslev
    • "The Legend of the Madonna" - Ber Horovitz
    • "A Tale of Kings" - Der Nister
  • The Sixth Day
    • "The Mare" - Mendele Moykher-Sforim
  • The Seventh Day
    • "The Tale of the Seven Beggars" - Rabbi Nakhman of Bratslev
The brief dippings I've taken into each thus far have been most pleasurable. If you're looking for an alternative to the ghettos full of dwarves, trolls, elves, etc. being churned out by the giga-piers, then hunt one or both of these up on
ABEbooks.
posted by Steven Baum 3/26/2001 09:26:50 PM | link

ALASDAIR GRAY
Paul Haacke
reviews Alasdair Gray's The Book of Prefaces in In These Times. I was first introduced to the remarkable Mr. Gray - like so many other relatively obscure yet talented writers - via a lucky encounter with Anthony Burgess's 99 Novels in the mid-1980s. That led me to search out and read Lanark , Gray's most famous book and one that's prompted many to call him "the Scottish Joyce," as simultaneously laudatory and condemnatory as that phrase may be. I've snagged each of Gray's succeeding efforts as well.

Haacke writes of a recent Scottish literary renaissance and Gray's place therein:

But the writer who in many ways prefigured this literary renaissance in the '70s and '80s--Alasdair Gray--is woefully under-recognized here in the States and only somewhat more so in England. This is a shame, not only because his imagination has been one of the driving forces behind the growth of Scottish literature, but because he is one of the more innovative and entertaining writers living anywhere today.
After establishing this context we get on with the review of Prefaces, which is ...
... literally an anthology of prefaces, introductions, prologues and forwards to famous works of "literate thought" in the English language, beginning in the seventh century and ending, due to copyright costs, at the beginning of the 20th.

Colorful in style, with witty asides and broad critiques, the book is also colorful in production: While the prefaces themselves are printed in black in the middle of each page, they are accompanied by commentary, illustrations and titles in bright red along the margins--a visual effect that only further highlights the strange fact everything in the book is both introduction and body. "This book is NOT a monster created by a literary Baron Frankenstein," Gray explains on the inside of his characteristically witty and artful dust jacket, "but a unique history of how literature spread and developed through three British nations and most North American states."

The best parts of the book, as a dedicated Gray follower might expect, are his incisive and acerbic commentary and his designing and illustration of the volume. On the former Haacke offers:
The commentary that runs in red throughout the book keeps all of this firmly in place, mostly by explicating unjust social contexts, cutting the grandiose down to size and giving the under-appreciated their rightful due (exemplified by the opening line of the first essay "On What Led to English Literature": "Babies embarrass masterful men who find it queer that once they too could only wail, suck and excrete"). Gray's wonderfully sharp tongue, made even more cutting by the relative lack of space in the margins, renders even the simplest critical points uproarious. For instance: "Defoe: London Bachelor's son ... prints Robinson Crusoe as a true tale warning all youths in the middle station of lifeā to do as dad orders & never go to sea; quietly lets that moral disappear: Crusoe ends ruling a busy island of faithful blacks."

Or, on Gerard Manley Hopkins' religiosity: "Certainly those of us who think that Christ and the Church are very little of absolutely everything are often left asking: What use to us is a fettered propagandist of spectacular literary skill? However, at the very least, possibly nowhere outside of Dante has an insistent and often aggressive credalism been so voluptuously well expressed."

As you might have guessed by this point, Gray is not lacking in opinions. He's also more of an acquired taste than most. Try one of his shorter productions, and if you like it then obtain others. This one sure looks like a keeper to me.
posted by Steven Baum 3/26/2001 08:48:14 PM | link

PURGE NOTES
The purge of the intellectuals is well under way. The American politburo has decided that long-time D.C. correspondent Trude Feldman is a security risk. The elderly and diminutive correspondent - who's covered every president since JFK - has been
banned from the White House pressroom because of a "security matter." One wonders what she could have possibly done other than sneak up behind Dick Cheney and yell "BOO!"
posted by Steven Baum 3/26/2001 06:52:43 PM | link

I SING THE PROFITS ELECTRIC
In the March 25
NYTimes Paul Krugman contributed an editorial entitled "The price of power" concerning the "electricity crisis" in California. He refers to a recent report from the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) that ...
... made it more or less official: the electricity crisis in the Golden State is partly the result of market manipulation by power generators. The report alleges that generators overcharged the state's utilities, which distribute power to consumers, by more than $6 billion over a 10-month period.
How did they do it? Simple. They took plants off-line during the peak summer season of electricity use, and as the supply shrunk and demand increased, the price soared. And how could they do this? According to Debunking the Ten Myths of Utility Deregulation by Wenonah Hauter and Tyson Slocum, because they can legally hide why they're taking the plants off-line:
Details about why these plants are off-line is confidential, the public is literally left in the dark. According to CAISO, many suppliers are not even complying with the requirement to turn in an annual plan for when they will have plants off-line for maintenance, and there are no penalties for this lack of cooperation. Regardless of whether one suspects that power producers are intentionally taking capacity off-line to hike prices, these statistics illustrate that under deregulation, the public has little control over pricing and reliability.
The statistics to which they allude include:
  • summer demand in California peaked at 45,600 megawatts on July 12;
  • California currently has 55,500 megawatts of power generating capacity plus 4,500 megawatts more on contract;
  • in four out of the final six months of 2000, peak electricity demand in California was actually less than it had been in 1999;
  • blackouts have occurred during periods when demand was less than 30,000 megawatts; and
  • during August 2000, 461% more capacity was off-line than had been a year earlier.
Krugman also mentions a paper ( A quantitative analysis of pricing behavior in California's wholesale electricity market during summer 2000) by the economists Paul Joskow and Edward Kahn. Here's an excerpt where they say everything but "they're guilty as hell of tampering with the market!":
After taking all of these factors into account - higher gas prices, higher loads in California, reduced imports, and higher NOx RTC prices -- our analysis leads us to conclude that truly competitive prices in the California electricity market would have been substantially lower than those observed this past summer. This "price gap" provides a rough measure of the effects of market power and related market imperfections eflected in wholesale market prices in California during the June through September 2000 period. We note that this gap between competitive benchmark prices and actual market prices emerged during a period when price caps were in place. It is likely that prices would have been even higher in the absence of these price caps. We find no evidence that the price caps actually led to higher prices. Indeed, the gap between competitive benchmark prices and actual prices is significantly higher in June when the cap was $750/MWh than it is in July and August when the caps were reduced first to $500/MWh and then to $250/MWh.
Ah, but what good are such stupid facts when it's obvious to even the dimmest dittohead, e.g. Tom Delay, that it's really the fault of that many-tentacled beast called collectivism, this time in the guise of "extremist environmental regulations" and "incomplete price deregulation."
posted by Steven Baum 3/26/2001 06:35:31 PM | link

YOU WERE WARNED
Shiva's second published digital pic

posted by Steven Baum 3/26/2001 05:44:28 PM |
link

OSCAR
The Open Source Cluster Application Resources package is - in addition to being an almost clever topical reference - a ...
... snapshot of the best known methods for building, programming and using clusters. It consists of a fully integrated and easy to install software bundle designed for high performance cluster computing. Everything needed to install, build, maintain, and use a modest sized Linux cluster is included in the suite, making it unnecessary to download or even install any individual software packages on your cluster.
The components of OSCAR are mostly familiar to those who've dabbled in such things:
  • LUI (Linux Utility for cluster Installation), a utility for installing Linux workstations remotely over an Ethernet network;
  • OpenPBS, a flexible batch queueing and workload management system;
  • MPICH, a portable implementation of the Message Passing Interface, a standard for message-passing libraries;
  • PVM (Parallel Virtual Machine), a set of tools and libraries for emulating a general-purpose, flexible, heterogeneous concurrent computing network on interconnected computers of varied architecture;
  • C3, a cluster management package that allows the cluster to be viewed and manipulated as a single computer;
  • OpenSSH, the free version of the SSH network security protocol suite; and
  • OpenSSL, a toolkit implementing the SSL and TLS protocols along with a general purpose cryptograhy library.
The current developer's release isn't for the uninitiated, although you can get a better sense of what's involved in installing and using it via the overview and installation documents.
posted by Steven Baum 3/26/2001 03:26:38 PM | link


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