Monday, February 06, 2017

4 Channels + 1 + 2

Still escaping.

Been playing with some great musicians lately and having a lot of fun. I bought a new mid-sized amp: a 50 watt solid state Marshall MG50CFX. It has 4 channels: clean, crunch, overdrive 1 & 2. All the settings on each channel are soft so when I change something and like the outcome I hit the Save button, which saves it to that channel.

I got scientific and used the decibel meter app on my on phone to set up the channel volumes. With the master volume - the only "hard" knob on the amp - set to 5, for playing rhythm, the clean and crunch channels with the guitar volume on 8 are at 97 decibels. With the guitar volume on 10, they are 100 db. With the guitar volume on 8, the 2 overdrive channels are at 100 db. So I play rhythm on the clean or crunch channel with the guitar volume on 8. To take a lead, I can turn the guitar volume up to 10, or leave the volume alone and use 1 of the overdrive channels. Overdrive 2 is more fuzzy and trebly than overdrive 1.

The amp has a reverb knob, of which I have a little on the crunch channel. It has 2 effects knobs: 1 has chorus, phaser, flanger, vibe and octaves, the other 4 types of delay. The chorus is very nice, and I have it set on the clean channel. The delay I don't anticipate using much, if at all. There is also a damping button which "switches the power amp damping between classic amp feeling and modern response". It is off for Overdrive 1 and on for Overdrive 2.

I have had it out 2x, including a 3 hour gig yesterday. It has a 2 button foot switch. The left button switches between the clean and crunch channels, the right button switches between overdrive channels. I am still messing up and hitting the right button to kick on overdrive, then hitting it again to turn off overdrive, which instead selects the other overdrive. You have to hit the left button to get out of overdrive. I suspect I'll get used to it. Just have to remember the buttons select channels, unlike effects pedals which are on off.

I read Charlie Stross's latest, "Empire Games", 332 pages. This is "The Merchant Princes, the Next Generation". It's set 17 years after the end of the 6 Merchant Princes books. I liked those books - worldwalkers reminiscent of Zelazny's Amber books, but more science fiction than fantasy. The worldline closest to us has a scary, post-nuclear-attack US that is a complete surveillance society. The other main worldline explores what the US might be like if the American Revolution had happened well after the Industrial Revolution.

The 1st half of the book is mostly setup. The main character is likeable enough. It was a quick read, and I am glad Stross has returned to this series.

Stross has also lately in his blog making some pretty scary conjectures on the outcome of the rise of neo-fascism, as shown in Brexit, the Trump/Breitbart ascension, and other far right politicians gaining ground in Europe. See for instance his latest post.

I really liked the story by Karl Schroeder in the Heiroglyph collection, which I blogged about here. His focus seems to be on the future of governance and economics in our environment of ever-increasing information. I also have liked some of his blog posts and other writing. I thought he had written on addressing the "fake news" problem by using blockchain technology to automatically establish provenance on every item on the internet - hmmm, I can't find it, maybe he just tweeted a link to an article similar to this one.

Anyway, I decided to backfill myself on some of his earlier novels. 1st up was his 1st novel "Ventus", 2001, 485 pages. This reminded me of the movie "Avatar" in that it is about a post-singularity world, as I was convinced that the Avatar world of Pandora was. Note, tho, the novel predates "Avatar" by 8 years.

Ventus is a designed world with nanotechnology infusing everything, creating what should be an intelligent world where most wishes can be easily granted by the environment - but which refuses to cooperate and follow commands.

Schroeder creates the concept thalience - of intelligent matter maybe striving for consciousness, but on its own terms, rather than on human ones. Some interesting ideas there. I was reminded of a recent article claiming that the Google translation software may have essentially invented its own language. This is yet another of the many, many areas where we find that our anthropocentric and parochial attitudes are dead wrong. Real AI, once it starts to grow, will definitely go its own way. I just hope they love us. Or that we are, as Shroeder puts it, "regarded ... as a treasured companion".

The story also reminded me of the Iain M. Banks Culture novels. The backdrop is The Archipelago, a galactic civilization of 10s or 100s of 1000s of habitats, and a solar system with a population of 70 trillion, and godlike AIs and uploaded humans in the mix. Nice! An enjoyable read with interesting concepts.

At some point, I would like to go back and reread the Culture novels in order - all 9 of them. Well, I got that going for me. I still am bummed by Banks' early death at age 59 in 2013.

Then I read Schroeder's most recent novel, "Lockstep", 2014, 352 pages. I figured out early on that this was a YA novel. The protagonist is 17 and part of the plot is his trying to get a girlfriend.

This book reminded me of the movie "Jupiter Ascending", which came out 1 year after this book. In both, the young protagonist finds out suddenly that they are heir to a vast fortune including 10s of 1000s of worlds, and that their relatives are not happy about sharing.

There are some interesting concepts in the book. "Lockstep" is the system whereby worlds hibernate for 30 years in between 1 month periods of wakefulness. It was originally developed to allow life on resource-poor, dark worlds - more resources can be aggregated by non-sleeping automation during the hibernation periods. It enables, realistically, the creation of an interstellar civilization that does not have FTL (faster than light) travel - interesting.

The starting point of the book includes an earth where the trillionaires just want more, more, more, and could care less about everyone else. Sound familiar? Schroeder also explores some ideas on new forms of governance.

I found the emotional responses of some of the characters at the end of the book to be somewhat unrealistic. I don't think Schroeder has fully realized his character development writing skills yet - or maybe he's just dumbing it down a little for the YA audience - but his books sure have great concepts. This was another enjoyable read.

Between books, I have been skimming a book my wife got me for xmas: "The Ants", by Bert Holldobler & E.O. Wilson, 1990, 732 pages. She found me a used copy of this epic hardcopy tome - it weighs 7.2#. Many fun facts about the family Formicidae, and lots of nice pictures.

Next up, I am going to attempt to transition back to some more serious economics reading by a collection of short stories about climate change, and a collection about surveillance and transparency.

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