Monday, June 30, 2008

More GW

Yeah, I know, I know, the glassbottom boat thing...yeah. But still.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Neighborhood Picnic

A group of our neighbors got together last night and had a picnic. The Webbers were our hosts. This is a quick pan around the group. Kids and dogs, great food, a storyteller (not me), and good friends and a bonfire too. That's Evelyn giving editorial directions, which as usual consists of saying, "Jim, stop!"

Friday, June 27, 2008

Just In Time for the Fourth

Charcoal Vs. Gas Grill: Which Is Better For The Environment?
With summer now in full swing, many of us are heading outside to do a little cooking by fire. Barbeque season has arrived, and with it, the decision about how to do it in the greenest way possible. Step 1: choosing the greenest fuel.

It's pretty much a two-(hot) dog race when it comes to grilling hardware: gas vs. charcoal. There are a few electrical grills on the market, but they're harder to come by, and, as we'll see below, aren't nearly as efficient as their other competitors. But that doesn't make the decision crystal clear.

The basic issue is this: charcoal is dirtier, but can come from renewable resources; gas has a smaller carbon footprint, but is derived from non-renewable fossil fuels. Most charcoal is a funky amalgamation of things like sawdust, corn starch and lighter fluid; when it's burned, it can result in 105 times more carbon monoxide than burning propane and lots of harmful volatile organic compounds. But, "real" charcoal, also commonly known as "chunk charcoal," doesn't have the nasty additives, and burning it is carbon neutral. So let's look a little more closely at the numbers.

When it comes to carbon emissions, gas-powered grills win in a landslide. Tristam West, a researcher with the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, compared the carbon output of gas, charcoal and electric powered grills when producing 35,000 Btu's per hour, a typical industry baseline. West's calculations showed that gas produced 5.6 pounds of carbon dioxide each hour, compared to 11 pounds for charcoal. As mentioned above, electrical grills produce a whopping 15 pounds of carbon dioxide for every hour at 35,000 Btu's, so aren't the best choice from the carbon perspective.

After all this, here's the bottom line: go for gas. Lump charcoal is becoming increasingly available, but often comes from thousands of miles (or even multiple continents) away, which negates some of its carbon benefits; until it's readily available from local sources, the efficiency of gas wins out. Stay tuned for more tips on green grilling, and happy barbequing!

Difficulty level: Easy

Thursday, June 26, 2008


No problem here, boss.

It's all just an Al Gore-generated myth.

And there are those who aren't concerned. For them, the beat goes on:

The hoax exposed:

Ah, politics. Our government is certainly looking out for us.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Another of the Truly Great Bookstores Passes On

Monday, June 23, 2008
(06-22) 17:13 PDT Berkeley -- Cody's Books, the legendary Berkeley bookstore that catered to literati nationwide for more than half a century and was firebombed in the 1980s because of its support of the First Amendment, has closed its doors, the victim of lagging sales.

The bookstore, which in recent years had closed its flagship store on Telegraph Avenue and its branches in San Francisco and on Berkeley's Fourth Street, finally settling in early April in one store on Shattuck Avenue, shuttered that store Friday.

Calling it "a heartbreaking moment," Cody's owner, Hiroshi Kagawa of the Japanese firm IBC Publishing, said in a statement, "unfortunately, my current business is not strong enough or rich enough to support Cody's."

"Cody's is my treasure and more than that, Cody's is a real friend of (the) Berkeley community and will be missed," Kagawa said.

Pat Cody, one of the store's co-founders, said the closing "makes me very sad. We worked so hard and we put so much into it, and it meant a lot to the community. It's a big loss."

The death knell was sounded a few months ago, when the rent on Cody's store on Fourth Street was nearly tripled, according to general manager Mindy Galoob, "so we moved really fast over to Shattuck. We were hopeful it would work out. We had downsized our staff and had a smaller inventory." But sales "were not anywhere near what was needed."

Andy Ross, who owned the store from 1977 until mid-2006, when he sold it to Kagawa, said Sunday about the closing, "It's no mystery - what's happened to Cody's is what has happened to independent stores for many years. People are going somewhere else (for books). A lot of people like the allure of the Internet or chain stores. And a lot of people don't read."

Ross said that "when Cody's was doing quite well, independent stores had 40 to 50 percent of the market. Now they're down to about 3 percent of the market. In the late 1980s and into 1990, on a good Saturday Cody's on Telegraph Avenue would do $30,000 in business. More recently, a typical Saturday would bring $10,000 worth. The business declined by two-thirds. Costs were up, and sales were down."

More than just dollars and cents, however, Cody's was something of a symbol in Berkeley, a witness to and supporter of the Free Speech Movement of the 1960s, a well-stocked cornerstone of literacy for the thousands of students and faculty patrons from nearby UC Berkeley and a practitioner, in its own right, of free-speech principles.

In February 1989, Cody's was firebombed, and an unexploded pipe bomb was later found inside the store. This all happened shortly after the store had prominently displayed Salman Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses" at a time when many in the Muslim world were outraged by Rushdie's novel, and the author had to go into hiding because of threats on his life.

It was never conclusively proven that Cody's was bombed specifically because of its display of Rushdie's book, but Ross said Sunday that threats to Rushdie and to bookstores that stocked it were taken so seriously that he had to call a meeting of his staff to discuss whether to display the book.

"The whole staff voted unanimously to sell the book," Ross said. "The workers were not getting rich off this store, but were willing to risk their lives for an idea. It was the moment I was most proud of."

It was also a store that brought authors from around the world, including Nobel laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners, to read their works to audiences who gathered at the Telegraph Avenue store.

One local Pulitzer Prize winner, Berkeley author Michael Chabon, said of Cody's closing, "I think it's a terrible shame. It was a wonderful bookstore. It's painful, sort of like watching someone suffering from a chronic illness painfully and slowly die. (Cody's was) part of the fabric of Berkeley, the social fabric and commercial fabric."

Asked if Cody's might some day reopen, in the same manner as Kepler's, the Menlo Park bookstore that abruptly closed in August 2005, and then was resurrected two months later with help from the local community, Galoob said, "We're open to miracles happening, but I don't think there are plans to find a buyer. Of course, if somebody has an extra million, please send it along. I'll be sure to take them to lunch."

She paused for a moment, then said, "it's pretty much done."

Milestones in the life of Cody's Books
July 9, 1956: The store is founded by Fred and Pat Cody in a small shop on Euclid Avenue, near the UC Berkeley campus.

November 1960: Cody's moves to larger quarters on the 2400 block of Telegraph Avenue.

December 1965: Cody's moves to the big store farther up the block to the store that became its most famous locale.

July 9, 1977: Andy Ross buys Cody's.

July 9, 1983: Fred Cody dies.

February 1989: the store is firebombed during the controversy over Salman Rushdie's book "The Satanic Verses."

November 1997: A branch of Cody's is opened on Fourth Street in Berkeley.

September 2005: Another Cody's branch opens on Stockton Street in San Francisco.

July 10, 2006: The flagship store on Telegraph Avenue closes.

September 2006: Andy Ross sells Cody's to a Japanese firm.

April 2007: The San Francisco branch closes.

March 2008: Berkeley's Fourth Street branch closes.

April 1, 2008: Cody's opens its only remaining store, on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley.

June 20, 2008: Cody's Books closes.

E-mail Michael Taylor at

This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Seven Words--R-Rated

The wonderful world of words. Watch a master at play.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Local Food

Since I'm reporting on the food we're growing this summer, here's a short clip of the berry bushes. We also have some secret picking spots up in the hills nearby where we get a couple of gallons of blackberries every year. Evelyn turns them into wonderful preserves.

These berries from our yard are usually used for breakfast cereal or other right-off-the-bush eating.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Evelyn's Garden

Evelyn's vegetable garden this year is progressing nicely. No hail storms yet have come to shred it. Though there have been some pretty fierce storms, including hail higher up in the mountains, we've had a good growing season so far.

Here's the garden again just lately, a month after the first clip. Ah, solar power.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Friday the 13th

I'm not all that superstitious, but some people, well, they're really into this stuff:

But just in case, here's my advice. Stay away from fruit today.

The Writers at Work

Sometimes I feel like I'm in the second row, third from the left.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Future

Some provocative stuff here. I'm interested in your take. The future of books...

All Things Digital
The Way We Read's Jeffrey Bezos on why books are like horses
June 9, 2008; Page R3
Jeffrey P. Bezos, as chairman, president and chief executive of Inc., made e-commerce mainstream when Amazon started selling books over the Internet in 1994.

Since then, he has turned the site into a virtual shopping mall, where the company and thousands of independent merchants sell just about anything from abacuses to zithers.


• See the complete Technology report.He spoke with The Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg about cloud computing, streaming movies and why books are like horses. Here are edited excerpts of that conversation.

Why the Kindle?

MR. MOSSBERG: You're doing digital downloads, and hardware with the Kindle [Amazon's e-book reader]. Why not just stay in your powerful niche of being the go-to place that most people think of as where I buy stuff online?

MR. BEZOS: Most of the extensions we've done to our business over time, we've questioned ourselves. People thought music and DVDs made sense. But we started selling electronics and toys and apparel and shoes. I'm amazed how many shoes we sell today. It's so many that we've started a focused Web site to just do that.

People understand those product extensions at this point. But [with] new hardware, people look and they say, "What are these guys thinking?" We get there by basing our strategy first and foremost on customer needs instead of what our skills are. It's important to take an inventory of your skills and try to do things that match up with your skills. But if you only do that, then eventually you will be outmoded because your customers will eventually need things that you don't have skills for. So you need to renew yourself by developing new skills.

We had been selling electronic books for a long time, and you needed a microscope to find the sales. What customers need is a device that made it very, very frictionless to buy and read electronic books. We wanted to build a seamless, vertically integrated experience, and that required us to develop this whole new skill set.

MR. MOSSBERG: How many have you sold?

MR. BEZOS: We're not disclosing that. I can give you a new stat that we've not shared before. We have 125,000 book titles available for Kindle. When you look at Amazon's physical book sales of those same titles, the Kindle sales are now more than 6% of those total sales.

MR. MOSSBERG: What about the whole idea of people reading on a screen? Just as other kinds of media, like newspapers, see a line of growth for digital and decline for physical, is that going to happen in books?

Jeffrey Bezos
MR. BEZOS: Over some time horizon, books will be read on electronic devices. Physical books won't completely go away, just as horses haven't completely gone away. But there is no sinecure for any technology. If you think about books, it's astonishing. It's very hard to find a technology that has remained in mostly the same form for 500 years. And anything that has stubbornly resisted improvement for 500 years is going to be hard to improve.

That is what we're trying to do with Kindle. We see this as an effort to improve upon the book, even though it's resisted change for 500 years.

To do that, you have to capture the essential element of a book, which is that it disappears when you get into the flow of the story. None of us when we're reading a book think about the ink and the glue and the stitching. All that fades away, and you get into the author's universe.

Sometimes big, heavy hardcover books do break you out of the flow because you get hand fatigue. Or turning pages can be loud if you have a spouse sleeping next to you. There are things about physical books that we're accustomed to but that actually aren't very good.

But you also can't ever out-book the book. You need to look for a series of things that you can do with an electronic device like Kindle that you could never do with a physical book.

Some of them can be pretty simple, like dictionary lookup. I find I don't know what lots of words mean, and I used to guess because -- am I really going to get up off of the sofa and go find a dictionary?

Changing the font size, a very simple thing that's much appreciated.

And then some whoppers. The big whopper is wireless delivery of books in less than 60 seconds. You don't have the cognitive overhead of thinking about your monthly wireless bill. You don't have to know who the wireless carrier is. We're hiding all of that complexity.

MR. MOSSBERG: When I did my Kindle column, I got quite a lot of email from people who were talking about the tactile feel of the book -- the hard-to-describe intangibles around reading a paper book that you lose on an electronic device.

MR. BEZOS: I'm sure people love their horses, too. But you're not going to keep riding your horse to work just because you love your horse. It's our job to build something that is better than a physical book. The reason we love physical books is because we have had so many great experiences with that object in our hands that we have nice associations with it.

We're not trying to displace people's love of that physical object that is the book. It's a hallowed invention. The thing to keep in mind is what's really important is not the container, it's the narrative. Long-form reading is important for our society.

Over the last 20 years, most of the tools that we humans have invented have made it easier for us to be information snackers. If one of the outcomes of Kindle and other devices like it [is] making long-form reading more frictionless so that you end up doing more of it, I think that's a good thing.

Streaming Music and Video

MR. MOSSBERG: You're also moving heavily into selling downloads of music and video onto computers and onto TiVos even. How serious are you about that business?

MR. BEZOS: Very serious. It's a much more difficult business in some ways because there are so many market participants. Video and music have that glamour element, which is always unfortunate, because it attracts people.

What we're working on is a new version of video on demand at Amazon, which is going to be a for-pay streaming service, which we'll release in the next several weeks.

MR. MOSSBERG: And why do you think that that is the right way to go, or the better way?

MR. BEZOS: I don't know if it's the right way to go. Usually, in these markets, it's not winner-take-all. Usually there are a bunch of different customers out there that have different needs. If the market sizes are big enough, a few different models can be supported. And I think the video market's like that.

Is there going to be an ad-supported video? Yes. Is there a commercial-free environment for people who want to pay a little bit of money to not have to watch any commercials? I think so. I think there is a subset of people out there that value their time very highly and don't want to be interrupted. If they want to, they could skip having a latte that day and watch a show commercial-free.

MR. MOSSBERG: ITunes has a very high share of music and also a decent share of video. Do you see that as a temporary thing?

MR. BEZOS: It's very hard to know the answer to that question. They have executed so well and created such a good experience. That's the key issue for people who would compete against them. What we're doing is very different.

We don't have a hardware device. We have DRM-free MP3s, 5.2 million tracks now. It integrates with iTunes, so you can download the songs. You can play them on your iPod.

MR. MOSSBERG: Are you benefiting from the fact that the content companies, at least some of them, are not always very happy with Steve Jobs?

MR. BEZOS: I would frame it slightly differently. I would say that it is clearly in their enlightened self-interest to have a vibrant multitude of companies distributing their music. The music [intellectual property] owners are watching our growth rates very carefully. And I think they're very happy.

Future in the Clouds

MR. MOSSBERG: The other really interesting thing to me that you're doing -- and a lot of people don't quite get it because it's not very consumery -- is this S3 [Simple Storage Service] thing [a pay-for-use data warehouse]. Can you talk about that?

MR. BEZOS: The Web services you're talking about are what we call our infrastructure Web services. They allow you to build applications in the cloud without owning any hardware of your own. Just by writing software, you have a data center.

We live in a weird multidecade era right now where people build their own data centers. I was recently in Luxembourg, and I went on a tour of a brewery. It's a 300-year-old brewery. They showed me their museum. In the museum, they have a 100-year-old electric power generator. And 100 years ago, they had to generate their own electric power, but that didn't make their beer taste any better. They got rid of the electric power generator as soon as they could hook up to the grid.

The computer grid, utility computing -- people use different names for this right now -- is a good idea. And it is going to happen.

MR. MOSSBERG: Are you seeing the effect of this economic slowdown? Or do you worry about it?

MR. BEZOS: As you can see from the last-quarter results that we just put out, we haven't seen that. You can never know for sure because I don't know what our growth rates would've been in a stronger economy. There are some things working to our advantage in this kind of economy.

Gasoline is expensive. Driving to the store is expensive. You take a 2,000-pound car to pick up five pounds of stuff. It's the least efficient transportation network in the world. So, there are some positive factors in our business in that regard.

MR. MOSSBERG: But if I buy a five-pound thing from you, some guy in a 4,000-pound truck is going to deliver it to my house.

MR. BEZOS: But he goes on a route, and that route is very efficient. Half of our deliveries are done by the U.S. Postal Service. They're driving around anyway. And they stop at almost every house. It's super-efficient relative to driving yourself.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Publishers Uneasy

I like mine, and it is a less expensive and more eco friendly way to read. But not everyone is happy about The Kindle.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Far Out

Purely in the interests of giving weirdness a fair shake, sailing in from the Far Right of Literary Criticism, there's this about Hell's Bay.