Some Economics Inspired Thoughts

A few weeks ago I signed up for an on-line college course in Macroeconomics. I am not taking the course for credit, but rather my own enlightenment. Economics is one of those fields of study where I do not have the sort of grounding I would like have, and as an SF author it has also bedeviled me in world-building.

The course has been very interesting and I do not doubt that some of my ignorance is being shaved away. As I have been going over the material I had an idea occur to me. Now I am sure brighter minds than I have already plowed this ground, but it is virgin territory to me and it is certainly something that has captured my attention.

First a re-cap on the Tragedy of the Commons.

Imagine you have a common – a pasture of grass that is owned by no particular individual. A group of people graze their sheep on the common, 2 sheep per person and every sells the wool from their sheep. As long as the number of sheep is not so high as to overgraze the common and kill the crass everything is fine. The trouble comes from the individual’s incentive. Each person can make more money for themselves by grazing more sheep, it cost that person nothing and gains them more wool to sell. If all the people do this, the common is destroyed and all are destitute. The idea of the Tragedy of the Commons is that individual incentives can work against both the common and individual good.

Now out modern economy is driven by a supply of goods and services which are purchased by consumers. The consumption by regular individuals is the largest factor in the equation. As people have greater incomes and more wealth they consumer more, causing greater production and the economy expands. It works best when all person have the greatest possible income that does not endanger production. All is well and good, until we consider the incentives of the individual producers; those who employ and distribute income.

Their twin motivations are to sell their goods and services for the highest possible price and to make the greatest possible profit from their production. In addition to seeking greater efficiencies, and lower cost materials, the producers have an incentive to lower the wage as far down as they can and keep the difference as increased profit. The Tragedy of the Commons rears its head in that if all or even most producers do this, then income falls, consumption falls, and in the end their sales and profit falls. Like the overgrazed common, it becomes a disaster for all.

This brings me to the concept and setting of a minimum wage. Like restriction on how many sheep can be grazed, a minimum wage, as I see it, could be used to stave off a contracting spiral in an unregulated economy. The best argument for a minimum isn’t justice, or fairness, or what kind of apartment can people earning it afford, it is what is the effect on aggregate consumption? When does having it too low become a drag by strangling consumption and when does having it too high choke production? Those, in my mind, are the truly critical questions.

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The Two Most Influential Science-Fiction Films of the 1950’s

Ah, we have emerged from the SF desert of the 40’s into the rich garden of the 1950’s. For many people this is when SF movies really started. It is certainly when they came into their own as a genre.

My last post I suffered from few films to select from, and this post has quite the opposite trouble. The 1950’s were such a golden age of SF movie that entire books have been devoted to the movies and their history. (I would heartily recommend Bill Warren’s Keep Watching the Skies! as an invaluable resource.)

It was during the 60’s that we got Creature from the Black Lagoon, the first full body suit monster movie. We are also got Them! which spawned countless giant insect movies. The Day the Earth Stood Still is a prime example of SF film addressing the concerns of the day while Invasion of The Body Snatchers terrifically captured tis terrors. Of there are so many to chose from, but of course I have already made my picks. One I expect bears no surprise, but my first pick is rather unknown to most people today.

Destination Moon – 1950.

Destination MoonThose who know me might suspect I selected this film because of the close association with one of my favorite SF authors, Robert A. Heinlien, but they would be wrong. This film, as a movie, is in my opinion flawed, but I am not selecting for best SF movies in each decade but most influential and on that count there can be no arguing with Destination Moon. This film, released in 1950, was a box office hit, both domestically and over-seas. It launched George Pal into his love affair with SF film, and for that alone it is an important film but it also launched the SF film crazed of the 1950’s. Without this film we do not have the rich fertile treasury of SF films from this decade and without those movies we do not have modern SF cinema. Destination Moon, while dry and flawed, is one of the most important SF films of any decade.

Forbidden Planet – 1956.

Forbidden Planet (1956)This selection should be less surprising. It is a well know movie, beloved and rescreened often. I had the good fortune to catch it in a theater and the special effect and images still hold up quite nicely. The characters are quite a bit dated, very much the writing is a product of the repressed 50’s, with the Production Code still in full effect, but this is still a movie well worth watching. It is influential because until Forbidden Planet science-fiction films were not literature. Most SF films were heavily plot based, being either adventure stories, such as Destination Moon’s exploration of the adventure inherent in a trip to the moon, allegorical story, or arguments for a particular worldview, such as The Day the Earth Stood Still. Forbidden Planet, an SF adaptation of The Tempest took the SF movie, with credible science, beyond the solar system and into the soul of humanity. It asked, with typical MGM glitz, deep questions about revenge and power and to price might they extract. In addition to opening up SF film to deeply internal stories, though they might be about aliens and robots on the surface, Forbidden Planet also inspired Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek. The production design of the movie strongly influenced the look of the television series, and the very concept of a paramilitary exploration of new worlds and new life-forms start here. There is no doubt that you can draw a line from Forbidden Planet, through Star Trek, to many shows and films today.

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Movie Review: Edge of Tomorrow

A little later than I would have liked, my sweetie-wife and I went out this morning caught a matinée showing of the SF film, Edge of Tomorrow. The premise, if you haven’t seen any of the trailers, is rather ‘alien invasion meets Groundhog Day’. Tom Cruise plays Major Cage, edge-of-tomorrow-movie-traileran American military PR Officer who has never seen a day of combat, now suddenly thrust into the largest invasion in human history. Untested, untrained, and unworthy this is not the sort of assignment Cage wants to participate in.

The invasion is against an alien infestation that has taken Europe. One of the smart elements in this film is that the alien’s are not presented so much as invaders but more like a parasitic infection on the planet’s eco-system. This intelligently avoids one of the major pit-falls in attempting an alien invasion plot, mainly that any race with starships and easy access to orbit, wins again an opponent who does not posses those qualities. Another element I need to praise is the screenwriters avoiding any specificity in why this has happened. They didn’t come here for our women, our gold, or our water, (elements all used in rather dumb fashion in other alien invasion movies.) and the motivations of the aliens are left, unknown.

Cage’s acquires a talent, which causes him to ‘reset’ time whenever he is killed, causing the character to be the only person with memory of the day’s events that for him are past and for all other the future. Given Cages limitations and faults personality-wise, he is unable to convince others of his intelligence save for the mythically heroic Sgt Rita Vrataski a woman credited with hundred of alien kills. Together they must find a way to use Cage’s talent to turn the war before humanity loses it all.

The film is rather well put together and I would say 95% of the time plays by its rule-set, it does however abandon the rules of its setting for a cheap joke and to deliver a final ending that for me is somewhat unsatisfying. It was not so much as to cause me to regret seeing the film in the theater, and it’s light-years ahead od ‘Sphere’s’ terrible ending, but it was in the final moments, a cheat. How much this bothers you will be a purely idiosyncratic effect. Certainly for the genre of SF films focused on alien invasion this one works far better than most and is worth at least one viewing.

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My CPAP wisdom

It was a little over four years ago that I received by diagnosis of severe sleep apnea. It came as a surprise; though I snored and had issues with being tired I had not expected that this would happen. I started CPAP therapy and this gave me my life back. So now that it has been four years I thought I would put together a small post sharing what I learned about making this therapy work effectively. Before we continue, these are simply my personal experiences. I am not a medical professional and you should always consult with a medical professional about any therapy you are engaged in.

1)   The Right Mask

First and foremost in getting the most of your CPAP therapy is finding the right mask for you face and your sleeping habits. Personally I started nasal pillows, which isn’t even really a mask. This was a device that affixed right under my nose and plugged directly into the nostrils. I thought it might work best because of the small profile, however I tend to open my mouth during my slumber, and this dropped my pressure below therapeutic levels. Even with a chinstrap I couldn’t keep my mouth closed. (A symptom I am sure many would say it equally true when I am awake.) This also ruled out the nose only masks. I tried several nose & Mouth masks before I found one with a gel form that sealed nicely against my skin without requiring too much pressure.

So if you first few masks don’t work for you, keep looking. There are all sorts of masks with all sorts of materials. Keep at it until you find the right one.

2)   A Clean Mask

Most instructions that come with the masks advise cleaning on a weekly basis, but this may be too infrequent. Each night you use the mask oils from your skin become affixed in a thin layer on the contact surfaces, degrading the seal. I have found that by purchasing CPAP mask wipes, I can clean the contact surfaces each night and improve the seal. This reduces how tight the mask needs to be when worn, and improves the general effectiveness of the therapy.

3)   A Shorn Face

If you’re male, and particularly if you are hirsute and given to ‘five o’clock’ shadow, it would be prudent to shave before bed. Just like gas masks, sleep apnea therapy masks do not function well with beards and unshorn skin.   You see a common theme appearing in my advise, getting a good seal. The point of the therapy is raising the pressure in you airways so that you have unobstructed breathing and you can keep properly oxygenated. A good seal is critical to obtaining that needed pressure.

4)   The Right Accessories

The mask and your skin are the most critical elements in securing good therapy, but making your sleep comfortable can sometimes be a matter of the correct ancillary devices. I myself tumbled and turn in my sleep, when I first started my CPAP therapy I often woke myself either tanged in the hose or by the roar of air escaping the machine after I had pulled the tubing free of the connectors.

I found a hose stand on Amazon that works well for me. The base slips between the mattresses and it hold the hose overhead, much like an IV stand does in a hospital, allowing me to toss and turn with little restriction.

I hope that this sharing experience helps someone out. If you think you may have sleep apnea I cannot stress enough the need to be tested. I didn’t think this applied to me, but during testing they discovered my blood oxygen levels were dropping in the high 80’s, and as I understand it, anything under 95% is considered dangerous. If people tell you that you snore and stop breathing, get thee to a doctor. If you wake up constantly through the night, get thee to a doctor. If when you stop moving you find yourself falling asleep, get thee to a doctor.

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The First Beta Read Results

Saturday afternoon I held the beta-reader lunch for my latest novel. I had a pretty good turn out and there was a lively and illuminating discussion.

These sessions are not for me, the author, to defend or explain my choices, prose, or assumptions, but to hear from readers, some who have come totally cold to the piece, what they took away from my work. It can be very difficult not to fall into an explanatory spiral. After all things that seemed so clear to me that I feared I was hitting my poor future readers with clue-by-fours can turn out to the be vague and vaporous hints to my actual readers.

I shan’t go into the details of our discussions. It would be terribly dull for anyone not familiar with the work and for those distance beta readers still working on the project I’d hate to contaminate the process.

I can say that at this moment I have a ten bullet point revision document generated. Some of the changes are rather major – at least one massive plot hole was exposed in the discussion – and several are minor, and some come down to find and replace to make character names more distinct from each other.

Hopefully my distance readers will get me their final feedbacks in the next couple of weeks and I can drop myself fully into revision mode.

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The Two Most Influential Science-Fiction Films of the 1940s

So here’s the next and in many ways the toughest essay in this darned series. Why is this one so bloody tough? Because there really are no notable SF films, from around the freaking world, that was produced during the 1940s.

For most of these essays my task has been to chose, from a number of influential SF movies, just two and name these as the most influential of their decade. Certainly the next decade up, the 1950s, will prove a challenge. What a treasure of rich, interesting, and diverse films to selection from, but the 1940s? There isn’t anything here, sister.

I am not going to leave this entry empty handed. I am going to find at least one genre movie that had a lasting impact on films far beyond the scope of the picture or its box-office.

mighty_joe_young-6My selection is 1949’s Might Joe Young. It has been called, and rightly so in my opinion, a King Kong knock-off. It is the story of a young woman and her pet 12 foot tall gorilla. They are brought out of the wilds of Africa to the wilds of Hollywood as entertainment for a nightclub. The ape goes mad, there is destruction and terror in the streets of Los Angeles. All in all not a terribly original story line, it features one of the stars of the original King Kong, a truly influential film, and the special effects were headed up by Willis O’Brien, the technical wizard who did the effects for Kong.

None of this makes this film particularly important or memorable, the O’Brien supervised the effects work, which were primarily performed by Ray Harryhousen .

Harryhousen’s influence on special effects and film reverberates to this day. In the Final Episode of season 4 for Game of Thrones, when the skeletal wraiths attack from the ice, that scene is pure Harryhousen. Brendan Fraiser fighting the mummies in 1999’s The Mummy is a direct homage to Harryhousen work in the Sinbad movies. Clash of the Titans, 2010, is a remake of Harryhousen’s Clash of the Titans 1981. It is nearly impossible to over state the impact on film and special-effect that this one man had, and his first big break was on this fairly forgettable film, Mighty Joe Young.

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busy work

This saturday is the lunch/discussion that will be the live feedback for the beta read of my novel. To keep myself occupied and not thinking about it, I have started work on two projects.

One is a film noir SF novel. One part Maltese Falcon, one part Double Indemnity, one part Dark City, and the rest all me. It’s quite dark, and quite cynical.

The other project is a push-your-luck dice game base on the public domain movie: The Night of the Living Dead.

Can the players survive the zombies and each other to escape the farmhouse?

I’m pretty happy with the core mechanics but of course we won;t really know until it’s played,

 

 

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Sunday Night Movie: Logan’s Run

So last night I settled in for something a little meaty and without a lot of the fast paced editing, pointless explosions, and gratuitous action that so plagues genres films today, Logan’s Run.

logans_runLogan’s Run is a 1976 Science-Fiction film made before that great behemoth Star Wars derailed Science-Fiction films for a generation. The film, based on a novel of the same name written by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson, is set in a utopian 23rd century. Crime, disease, hunger, war, and pollution, are all problems of a literally forgotten past. The story is set in an unnamed city, protected from the war-torn hell that scars the Earth by massive domes, where the citizens lead lives dedicated to frivolity and hedonistic pleasures. Families no longer exist, and people are raised in crèches without ever knowing their parents. All their needs are met, the city is government by a benevolent computer system called the Network, and it all works seamlessly.

Of course if it all worked seamlessly there would be no conflict, no plot, and no story. Logan 6, the main character, is a Sandman. He is a Blade Runner long before that term ever came into existence, except he doesn’t hunt down wayward androids with dreams of electric sheep, he hunts down people who refuse to willing die on their ‘last day.’ You see this perfectly machined society works in total balance because everyone dies at thirty. The crystal in your hand flashes and it’s time for you to ride the carousel, where in theory you have a chance or resetting your clock, but in reality it’s where you die. If you don’t ride the Carousel you run, and then the Sandmen chase you down and kill you.

The system isn’t as perfect as everyone accepts and Logan is soon charged with finding the hiding place of over a thousand runners who have successfully evaded the Sandmen and vanished from the Network’s omniscient eye. To do this He’ll have to play the part of a runner, that most dangerous of assignments for any cop, undercover with the enemy.

The movie stars Michael York as Logan 6, Jenny Agutter as Jessica 5 a woman who knows something of the hidden runner (and I saw her in a feature film just this year, can you name it?), and Richard Jordan as Francis 7, Logan’s best friend and fellow Sandman. While many of the effect are truly dated, this is a film that has something interesting to say. It is a film made during that time when SF was growing up in Hollywood and many of the plots stopped being for children or teenagers and turned to truly adult themes. Sadly that period ended under the crushing weight of Star Wars’ box office take.

 

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