Monday, November 26, 2007

Heinlein in PolyDimension

Continuing the Blogging experience, so far successfully using the Lynx text mode browser and using some guidance from a book checked out from the Los Angeles Public Library, "Publishing a Blog with Blogger" by Elizabeth Castro, Peachpit Press.

I usually try to make the monthly meeting in West Los Angeles of the Karl Hess Club (KHC), named in honor of the political philosopher and welder. The Nov 2007 meeting was on "Rand and Heinlein: Beyond This Horizon", conducted by McCall Jones III.

At the meeting some attendees expressed, what I take to be, an impression of Robert A. Heinlein (RAH) as a militarist writer who never deals with ambiguity, uncertainty or doubt and is therefore of no concern. Some spoke of "Starship Troopers" (ST) as if it was the most representative statement of Heinlein's personal beliefs. I tried reading ST and gave up, while in high school or maybe earlier. All the talk in it seemed endless, and not what I wanted at the time. I've read several of his other novels, far from all of them, but my main impression of RAH is from having read all of the available short stories and novellas and a big chunk of his essays. Before commenting on my three favorite Heinlein stories, I want to suggest (tongue-in-cheek) that the central story, key to understanding RAH is not "Lost Legacy" as asserted by KHC speaker/RAH scholar Bill Patterson, but "--And He Built a Crooked House--", with it's multi-dimensional habitat a metaphor for RAH himself.

"Life-Line", RAH's first published story, is a stirring tragedy dealing with the political theory of special interest groups colliding with the economic theory of risk. We see similar social stuggles in the world today, such as Californias current economic civil war (So. CA/"Hollywood"/Traditional media vrs. No. CA/Digital Technology/Open Source). Right now I'm partway through watching the movie "Giant" - cattle/farming/old wealth vrs. oil/technology/new wealth in Texas. Many people have commented on their opinion that the basic idea behind "Life-Line", a machine that charts human life is bogus. I disagree - as time passes, Heinlein's idea only seems more plausible - the machine in the story merely charts out what we now know as a Feynman Diagram. FDs were used by it's namesake Richard Feynman to revolutionize back-of-the-envelope calculations on the frontiers of physics, but with RAH they are not for elementary subatomic particles, but for an entire human body. The book "A World Without Time: The Forgotten Legacy of Godel And Einstein" also seems pertinent. Could anyone of kicked off a writing career with a stronger story?

"No Bands Playing, No Flags Flying" was rejected for publication by John W. Campbell because it was non-fiction. In my mind it is linked Jorge Luis Borges story "The Challenge" - superficially both are brief, just a few pages, both deal with the subject of courage. Borges story rang so true he was bombarded with letters perporting to tell the real story of the protagonists crippling showdown with an anonymous thug from the other side of town. It rings true because it stands in for Borges own showdown with the anonymous, unseen forces that blinded him, and not so anonymous, all too often seen political forces that would hound him. Similarly, Heinlein cuts past hundreds of dreary pages about life in a tuberculosis sanatarium and deals directly with a crucial confrontation equal to Borges in significance.

"Water Is For Washing" is an extrapolation on Heinlein's essay on patriotism. The central character overcomes several irrational fears, literal phobias in some cases, prejudices in others, to act on Heinlein's definition of patriotism as given in his essay, surviving a geological catastrophe in the process.

An Alternate History Scenario.

I have to wonder how different peoples perception of RAH would be if "Stranger In a Strange Land" had been filmed first instead of "Starship Troopers". As his wikipedia entry hints, would these same people be dismissing him as a countercultural, New Age flake instead of a fascist militarist? It had been pointed out at previous KHC meetings even in ST, most of the people doing public service in the scenario's society are *not* in the military. RAH sold a lengthy 'action adventure war' story. It was Monty Python that finally filmed "A Day In the Life of a Chartered Accountant".

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Popping GMail in the IMAP era

I've finally decided to start blogging after discussions with friends, and a sudden on rush of possible subjects. I decided to go with whatever Google provided based on generally good experinces with Gmail. After plowing into it I found out that their service, Blogger/Blogspot, (and not Gblogger or Googlelog as I might of expected) was both recommended by a friend and used by the L.A. Freenet to keep an 'out of band' status channel for it's users.

As part of a push to start using more 'Web 2.0' services, I recently decided to redirect one of my email forwarding addresses through GMail to take advantage of what seemed to be superior spam filtering. All seemed well till I noticed expected mail through the redirected address seemed to dry up. A little investigation showed that to my embarassment, GMail was already forwarding to the redirected address, had been for some time, and their mail servers had correctly noted that forwarding mail back to the address it was coming from was setting up a mail loop and simply let it set in the inbox rather than start looping the mail back and forth out of control. Of course I corrected things to not send gmail to the first redirected forwarding account.

Friends may already be aware that I normally ultimately download and sort out my email from my Los Angeles Freenet account using a Perl script I wrote using the Net::POP3 library, and actually read it with vi where I can generate summaries of mailing lists with various scripts I've written to speed things up. The perl script allows leaving the messages in the mailbox or removing them with download, getting a summary of message number and sizes, grabbing just the headers, deleting a range of messages, etc. I've told a few people, with tongue in cheek, that IMAP is simply a copout to avoid giving people shell accounts to manage their mail accounts. All this usually follows a preliminary scan and maybe some urgent responses with LAFNs web / email interface. This Perl script already had provision for popping my gmail account and it seemed a simple matter of scooping up the messages over the range of time the loop had existed. I've had the Gmail account for several years and never clear anything out of it. Logging in to the account currently shows about 3,000 messages. I was shocked when running my Perl script to only see 516 on check of mailbox size. Using a switch to download the headers and a few lines of the message body, I found these messages to be from the beginning of the account. I downloaded and ran another perl script from the Debian repositories, POP3browser, that produced the same results. This was not just me.

Digging around in the GMail help, I found that you needed to preface your user account with 'recent:' when loggin in to get the last 30 days of email. As an example, I have to log in to the POP server as '' to access the most recent mail. If you are detected to be using a Blackberry to access the account by POP, supposedly the last 30 days will be accessed automaticly. This leaves the messages after the first 516 messages and before the last 30 days in a state of limbo. I looked briefly over the POP RFC for POP Version 3 and didn't notice anything about 'recent:', 516, etc., so this is undoubtedly something brought on by necessity when never deleting messages for several years.

Whether it has anything to do with Google recently adding IMAP access to GMail accounts I don't know. Anyone having more information on this, feel free to contact me about it.