I'm cheap. I like to save money. I like to get bargains.

I also like books. So does Hilde, but usually totally different books and writers than the ones I like. Which means we tend to buy lots of books. Lots and lots of books.

I've been a member of two book clubs for years: Science Fiction Book Club and Quality Paperback Book Club. I keep a wish list on each website, and try and wait for a special offer (like free shipping) before making an order.

The SFBC just offered such a special deal, buy 2 books and get a 3rd book free, said deal available for a limited time. Okay, I think, time to go through the wishlist and make an order.

But I decide to take a quick look at QPB's website first, and I realize something that should have been obvious a long time ago.

QPB has a standing deal, where you order your most expensive book at the full club price, and subsequent books cost 50% of the club price. (There's a limit -- ten books -- you can order at a time under this deal.) Buy one at full price, and up to nine books more at half price.

As it happens, both QPB and SFBC are the handsome children of the same parent (Doubleday), along with a few other book clubs. What this means is that most of the books for both clubs come out of the same warehouses.

And what that means is that if I order SFBC's offerings through the QPB website, I receive the same 50% discount as if they were part of QPB's regular selections. (The SFBC books don't earn the "bonus points" that you can accumulate on QPB offerings and occasionally trade in for free books, but that's not that big a deal.)

A substantially better deal than the "buy 2, get 1 free" offer. Which means that in a week or two, I'll be getting a big box of hardcovers and trade pbs at essentially paperback prices.

(Although... I must admit... I sort of feel like I just mugged Ellen Asher and swiped the SFBC payroll.)


This Explains A Lot. No, Really.

From The Guardian, an article on "Sick Worker Syndrome":

RSI may cause sick worker syndrome

Alok Jha, science correspondent
Wednesday October 26, 2005
The Guardian

...scientists say the nerve damage caused by repetitive motion could be a cause of "sick worker" syndrome and such symptoms as poor performance, fatigue and depression.

Ann Barr and Mary Barbe of the College of Health Professions at Temple University in Philadelphia studied the early changes in nerves caused by repetitive activities. They found the injuries are caused by the action of proteins called cytokines, which help start the inflammation. The proteins appeared in rat models of RSI within three weeks.

As the injury progressed, more cytokines were produced at the inflammation site. The researchers found unexpected links between the production of cytokines and the rats' psychosocial responses. "At three weeks, even before the rats experienced pain from their wrist injuries, we watched them self-regulate their work behaviour," Dr Barr said. "With inflammatory proteins in the bloodstream, they began to slack off." After five to eight weeks, many of the rats curled up and slept between tasks.

The researchers said people who took days off work owing to undefined symptoms or slowed down their work rate may be suffering from the effects of the raised cytokine levels. A low-grade depression may also set in. As the proteins appear soon after nerve damage first happens, when actual pain is rare, many people might not make the connection between the "off" feeling and possible RSI. It could take months before the nerve damage is bad enough to be noticed.

Dr Barbe said: "Cytokines are self-protective. This undefined feeling of malaise may be telling the body to take some time off to heal, before things get worse."

As I've mentioned before, my job with the Postal Service has in recent months entailed a lot of overtime work. A lot. One of the reasons for this is that the current bosses in charge seem to be of the school of management that it's cheaper to work current employees longer hours at overtime rates than it is to hire new employees and pay them regular rates plus benefits. (Yes, working for USPS still has benefits like retirement and health isurance, much as the idea makes upper management gnash their teeth and rend their sackcloth.)

The overtime has been across the board, affecting almost all employees. (There are some who are on restricted hours/duties because of previous injuries or health problems.)

What has also happened across the board has been an increase in the number of sick calls, of people begging off work. Before all the overtime started, out of a workforce of approximately a hundred carriers at the station, there'd usually be three, four, maybe five people calling in sick. Since the overtime has grown by leaps and bounds in recent months, the sick calls have grown apace; it's not unusual anymore to have eight or nine people (once, thirteen) call in sick.

With more sick calls, the overtime problem grows even worse. With that many more delivery routes not manned, the people who have shown up for work have to work even longer hours. Management doesn't like paying time-and-a-half for overtime, even if they think it's cheaper in the long run than hiring more employees. They like it even less when employees work past ten hours in a day; after that point, employees start earning double-pay. And a lot of carriers have been working past the ten-hour mark.

And delivering the mail entails a lot of repetitive work: Sorting mail in the mornings, and delivering it the rest of the day.

The cytokine findings in the study noted above certainly seem to explain a lot of the increase in sick calls. Long hours, much of it in repetitive tasks, for days on end, and surprise, a lot of the workers feel like crap. And some of them finally call in sick, because they feel just plain friggin' worn out. (While a lot of others -- like, say, me -- will continue to report to work, and drag themselves through each day, even when they feel like crap too.)

The obvious solution would seem, duh, to hire more employees to try to eliminate/minimize overtime and the excessive sick calls that seem to result. But, as noted, this is a solution upper management doesn't seem willing to entertain at this time.

(And a lot of employees appreciate the overtime money. As I noted in an earlier post, my overtime money is largely going for debt reduction purposes, and should leave me debt-and-mortgage-free and able to retire in about four years. Without the overtime, I'd probably have to continue working several additional years before I could retire. But those extra hours spent working are hours that can't be spent with your home, your family, your life. And that gets to be a major, major drag sometimes.)


Recent Reading: Playboy 50 Years The Cartoons

Playboy 50 Years The Cartoons, intro by Hugh Hefner, Chronicle Books, 2004

I just read it for the captions, honest.

Like science fiction, the Golden Age of PLAYBOY is, I think, thirteen. That was about the age at which I started sneaking looks at the issues in the house.

(Now where did those issues come from? Did my Dad have a subscription? I suppose he must have, but I don't remember him ever looking at them. Perhaps the Naked Women Fairy snuck into the house at night and left copies in the bathroom. The Naked Women Fairy must have been kept very busy, because back them it seemed like everyone's bathroom had an issue or several of PLAYBOY. So busy, in fact, that it was years, dammit, before he got around to leaving an actual naked woman in my bed.)

Of course I looked at the centerfolds and other photos. (And yeah, I actually read some of the articles and fiction they printed too. Ian Fleming, Jean Shepherd, Damon Knight; they published some damn good writers.) And I looked at the cartoons.

Some of the cartoons in this collection are ones I remember seeing back in the 60's. The collection reprints a selection from the 50's to the 00's.

From the perspective of forty years later, I'm struck by the similarity in reaction to the cartoons between my thirteen year-old self and my current self. And that reaction is...

...that the cartoons are curiously sexless.

When I was thirteen, with the first stirrings of sexual curiousity, it was largely a matter of not having a context to judge or react to the cartoons. I was so ignorant about sex, women, men & women, social interactions, and the whole game of people that many of the situations depicted in the cartons might as well have been in heiroglyphics. I had a curiousity, and a certainty that there was something being referred to, but it was something that, at that age, I didn't understand.

(It's difficult to communicate, today, in an age where so much information is so available at such an earlier age about sex and sexuality, just how deprived the information-environment about sex was back in the 1960's for young people. Trying to figure out what sex is about, and how it's done, from centerfolds and cartoons -- trust me on this -- is not a great learning method. One usually didn't start to get a handle on the subject until you were old enough to start actually dating and funbling around in the back seats of cars.)

("Well, that explains a lot, Bruce.") (Yes, it does.)

Forty-plus years later, with a bit of experience and some understanding of how the game of people works, I look at the cartoons and find them... innocent. Particularly from the earlier years, they're sorta... goofy, with odd underlying assumptions that it's difficult to fully accept anymore. (The sight of a naked breast will throw men into a state of fascinated paralysis, all social situations have seduction as their end goal, etc.)

I find myself amused by a number of them. Some because they're still funny, others because they've become old-fashioned and quaint. Others leave me without reaction. A few... surprisingly few... strike me as puerile and annoying.

I don't think I can recommend this purely as a cartoon collection. But as a historical document, flashes into the evolution of an important magazine and the changes in social mores and attitudes, it's pretty interesting.

(I've been referring here to the sexually-themed cartoons in the collection. There are a number of non-sexual cartoons as well, by Gahan Wilson and others, which overall stand up much better to age.) (Except for the politcal cartoons, which haven't aged all that well, I thought.)


End The Slump? End The Shame!

The US Army has announced some plans to try and increase recruitment. This comes about because of a continued failure to meet recruiting goals.

Methods include: Increase enlistment bonuses. Increase the number of recruiters. Target people who've already begun college, but might "want a break" from schooling. Target high-school age kids who are being home-schooled.

This sounds to me like deep denial. It sounds to me like the military still doesn't want to admit (or isn't being allowed to admit) the root causes for the slump in recruitment.

Some people join the military becauses of bonuses, training and such, yeh. But a lot of -- I think most -- recruits join the military because they really do want to contribute to their country, they really do want to be one of the "Good Guys" helping defend their own country and going after Bad Guys in other countries.

When I joined the Army in 1972, some of my reasons were personal. (Yeh, I really did want a break from college, because I wasn't sure what I wanted to do there anymore; and I wanted to get out on my own, away from my parents, as well; it was also the tail-end of the American involvement in Vietnam, and while I never sought out duty there, my enlisting was also partially a test of my own courage, and whether I was man enough to endure danger [as it turned out, I spent my entire enlistment Stateside, probably a good thing; in retrospect, I would probably have sucked in a combat role])

But I also joined because I wanted to be a good citizen, because I thought the USA was a great nation, because I wanted to contribute to continuing that greatness. And serving in the military was a traditional and honorable way to serve.

That honor isn't there anymore.

People can still argue that invading Iraq was worthwhile. They can still argue that progress of some kind is being made there. I think they're wrong, but the argument can be conducted, even if not concluded.

But the torture... the torture is indefensible.

And the military has acquiesced to the Bush administration's approval of, endorsement of, encouragement of, torture. They enable it, they commit it, they fail to object to it.

The American military has lost its honor. The American military has shamed itself.

As long as the United States government acts like a rogue state, holding prisoners without charges or trial, and committing torture on those prisoners, with the military's acquiescence and assistance, serving in the military cannot be a source of pride, but only a source of shame.

I think it's as simple as this: Stop the torture, stop the slump.


Bardic Funeral

Hilde and I went to Barry Bard's funeral this morning.

Barry'd been a friend of ours, and of hundreds of other people, for thirty years. He was one of the most well-known, and well-liked, people in local Phoenix' sf and SCA fandoms. He was also well known and appreciated at other Southwestern conventions, particularly Comic-Con, where he was given the Inkblot Award earlier this year.

He could be a grump and a kvetch, but he could also be charming and generous. He was a raconteur who knew everyone, and had stories about most of them.

He was the source for providing most of the posters, cards and buttons on the freebie tables at local conventions. He presented the popular "Barry Bard's Movie Previews" at many conventions, screening trailers and promos for forthcoming films, with commentary that was sometimes as, umm, respectful as the films deserved.

And he was a bookseller. At conventions and SCA events, he'd unload a grey station wagon filled floor to ceiling and side to side with boxes of books, and set up his bookselling tables. And what books! "Eclectic" barely touches the variety of volumes he could display in a limited space. Fiction and non-fiction, books on history, art, crafts of all types, cooking, fashions and costumes, literature, the list went on and on. I probably shopped at Barry's tables close to a hundred times through the years, and I could count the number of times I went away empty-handed on the fingers of one hand. (And usually because of being flat dead broke at those particular times.) And sometimes he'd show up at a party or other social function and say, "Hey, I've got a book here I thought you'd be interested in," and he was usually right.

Barry never had children. (He was married once, but it broke up after a few years.) But I figure that over the years, he probably sold at least a couple of hundred thousand books to people, even though he never had a full-time bookstore or website. To have spread that much knowledge and enjoyment, to so many people, is still a pretty damn good legacy.


A Videogame Question

This is a question that came to mind earlier today:

In the notoriously violent and amoral Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, is it possible for a player to get a job, save money, go to a used car lot, and BUY a car?


Spammers. Why Des It Have To Be Spammers?

*sigh* It looks like the comment spammers have found UNDULANT FEVER. In the last few days, I've had about a half dozen comment spams posted here. (Mostly linking back to weight loss sites, but one referring back to swimming pool chemicals. WTF?)

I've turned on the "word verification" setting to try and keep out the automated spams. This means anyone making a real comment will have to go thru an extra step. Sorry.


Well, it made ME Laugh!

Regular readers of UF may have noticed that from time to time I display a weakness, a slight weakness, for low-brow toilet humor. Sometimes literally.

So: Urinals of Middle-Earth.

You were warned.