August 12th, 2008

We spent the weekend looking at homes for rent. We are being tossed out, you see, of the house we are currently renting, so as of September we need somewhere else to be.

This is through no fault of our own. No, really. Close family friends of our landlords decided to stop paying the $300,000 mortgage on their home in Pittsburg which they cannot now sell for $200,000. The home was duly foreclosed on. Now, to their dismay, they find out that their credit rating has a meaning, and no one will rent to them. So they have turned to our landlords, whose daughter they are the godparents of, and said "you have a second house, and we need you to rent it to us."

So we're out on our ear. Oh, we could fight it, but then we would simply be renting from people who are angry with us and that's no way to live.

Note that these are the landlords who asked us please to switch houses with them so that they could fix up the house we were originally renting while holding onto our rental income. Which we did, only last March.

Note also that we were hoping to buy a home this fall, now that prices are shrinking. We have cash saved up and set aside. But after three interviews my wife's most recent job prospect fell through, so we're still not ready to buy. And now we're going to be in a year lease, rather than month-to-month, which ties our hands a lot more substantially.

So we spent the weekend rental house hunting. There was one place with a huge yard, walking distance to BART, but the home was a real beater and had a shower I could not turn around in. There was another place, brand new and nice but out in the wilds of Concord nowhere near BART nor the places we have grown familiar with. And there were other places: in Lafayette, where they are very expensive, or houses that were for one reason or another inferior.

It really takes it out of you, looking for a place to live when you actually need one.

Anyhow, finally on Sunday we visited a place that had that ineffable "I'd like to live here" vibe, rather than the "I could live here" we'd had all weekend. Sure, it had a wall A/C, an electric stove, and other issues, but... but it had something nice to it, too. So we put the application in Monday and we'll hear back shortly.

Then we just have to haul over all our crap.

Random Daily Post

August 8th, 2008

Well, it looks like the SovietsRussians have invaded Georgia, or the Georgians have invaded Georgia, or something. Let's hear it for big countries invading smaller countries. My Ukranian coworker says it's to stop Georgia from getting mixed up with NATO, which is believable.

In other news, Police mistakenly raided the home of the mayor of Berwyn Heights, Maryland, kicked down his door, and shot his two dogs to death. Berwyn Heights is a nice little town directly adjacent to College Park, where we recently lived. The war on drugs, like any other "war on" something other than a nation-state, is stupid, acidic to our liberties, and should be ended immediately.

In other thoughts: do elevator close buttons actually do anything? I mean, really? I strongly suspect the technicians never even attach the wires to them...

Links not to Visit

August 7th, 2008

There are many things that please me by their mere existance.

By way of example, CERN's Large Hadron Collider just announced that they're firing things up and plan to circulate a beam for the first time on September 10th. All well and good, I like science and particularly big science.

But in the course of investigating the Large Hadron Collider I discovered that someone has registered the domain name Hee. That's going to have me chuckling all day.

No, I don't know what's there. I'm at work. Follow the link at your own peril.

But the fact that there *is* something there makes the whole world a little bit brighter.

Reviews: Dead Until Dark, Old Man's War

August 5th, 2008

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris - 5.5/10
I was all set to like this book. At Comic-Con I attended the True Blood panel, about the forthcoming HBO series based on Charlaine Harris' series of vampire mystery novels. It seemed good, being directed by the fellow who directed Six Feet Under, and I like vampires. I'm rather a vampire fan, actually, having a large collection of rare vampire films on VHS tape. Charlaine Harris, who attended the panel, seemed authentic and nice. My wife (who was not at the Con) had already read the series and seemed to enjoy them. And to top it all off, they gave us the first book free (along with a bag and a t-shirt) for attending the panel.
It just wasn't very good. The characters were okay, the setting was vaguely interesting, but the plot was a straight-line no-thinking affair and it all seemed rather pointless. I certainly don't intend to read another. A shame, really, but there it is. I'll watch an episode of the teevee series, but the books - forget about 'em.

Old Man's War by John Scalzi - 8/10
This, on the other hand, was very good. An interesting turn in space-war opera; Scalzi posits a universe overfull of aggressive races, all competing strenuously for resources. In other words, full-time, constant war, humans versus a plethora of aliens. It makes for an interesting setting and a somewhat different one from the classic sci-fi that has gone before.
Well-written, with strong touches of humor, and gripping - it certainly kept me up past my bedtime at least once. I do have one complaint, and it's a fairly major one: characters are constantly being killed. To the point of self-parody, actually; if a character gets introduced and the protagonist likes them in any way, they're gonna die horribly within the next fifty pages.
Dead Until Dark has the same problem. A high body count - to no real point. In fact, no one even seems to care about it very strongly; there's no investigation aside from a desultory police effort that the book does not follow, and the killer is only stopped when they attempt to kill the protagonist.
Death in literature should have meaning. Even if that meaning is only, in fact, to make the observation that death in reality has no meaning, literary death needs to have a point. If it doesn't the characters are immensely devalued, as the reader sees no point in empathizing with them. Scalzi's books (I am currently reading the second) suffer from this; I keep myself at emotional arm's length because I know ahead of time that Scalzi's just introducing people to kill them off. And the book is weaker for it.
That said, Old Man's War is exciting and interesting and a fun read. I recommend the first one, and am avidly chewing through the second.

Fight the Burn

August 4th, 2008

As a Californian, I'm always interested in wildfires. The LA Times has recently been running a good series on the hazard, and of particular interest was their profile of Australian wildfire policy, dubbed "stay or go". Here's the key finding:

Residents who can't or won't battle an advancing fire are advised to get out early. Those who stay are expected to defend their homes.
What's more, researchers here have found that people and houses are more likely to survive a bushfire if they stay together. The reason: Wind-borne embers and the spot fires they cause pose the greatest threat to homes. Residents properly trained and equipped can easily extinguish these small fires.

Fleeing at the last minute is much more dangerous than hunkering down and fighting. Roads are often choked with smoke or blocked by downed trees and utility poles. Late, panicky evacuations account for most wildfire deaths, Australian authorities have found.

The "stay or go" policy, adopted state by state beginning in the mid-1990s, has sharply reduced losses of life and property in wildfires, statistics show. In 1983, a year of widespread conflagrations, 60 Australians lost their lives in bushfires, not including firefighters, researcher Katharine Haynes reported. In the equally severe fire season of 2003, bushfires caused just six deaths.

I'd always felt that, were my home threatened by wildfire (and given the ranch in the backwoods of Santa Cruz, it's not an idle speculation) I'd want to stay and fight, with hose, axe and shovel. Apparently doing so is often a good idea.