Thursday, January 18, 2018

To Be Continued ...

I had finished 3 science fiction novels, time to blog them, but then the latest Charlie Stross novel came in, so I went on and read that too. All 4 novels are part of ongoing series.

1st up, the 7th Expanse Novel, "Persepolis Rising", by James. S. A. Corey, 2017, 560 pages. The SyFy channel has done a great job adapting these novels to TV. The authors seem to having fun mining various genres of space opera. It started as Earth vs Mars vs the Asteroid Belt political intrigue and skirmishing being interrupted by a extrasolar bioweapon. Then it transitioned to a story of an ancient network of gates to 100s of habitable worlds, so lots of opportunities there, with 100s of worlds to work with. The latest installment is about a Great Man with a vision to create a galactic empire. It's well done, and this story line will take another novel or 2 to play out. What genre will they go onto next? But, they jumped 20 years into the future for this one, so our main characters are noticeably getting old, such that maybe they aren't going to continue it that much longer.

2nd, the 3rd novel of the Confluence series, "The Druid Gene", by Jennifer Foehner Wells, 2016, 435 pages. These are only available on Kindle. She has retitled the book to "Inheritance" to be more consistent with the others in the series. Oh, Ms. Foehner says on her website: "It needed to join the series so that people would read them in order." This story is set in the same universe as the others, and references the event stream of the other stories briefly toward the end. I had been thinking, I hadn't read any sci-fi lately with lots of weird aliens - yey, weird aliens! The story moves along well, Ms. Wells' writing continues to improve. The 4th novel in this series "Valence" is out now, I have purchased it, I will probably wait a while to check it out.

3rd, the 3rd novel of the Terra Ignota series, "The Will to Battle", by Ada Palmer, 2017, 348 pages. Dr. Palmer continues to blow one's mind. A character who is The God of another universe visiting our God, and events that are totally best described as supernatural miracles, as the future near-utopia continues to unravel. Our totally untrustworthy narrator of the 1st 2 books is joined by The Reader and Thomas Hobbes of "Leviathan" fame to provide additional narrative. Dr. Palmer shows that she has no respect for any convention whatsoever when these narrators start talking to the characters in the story??? She has already broken the 4th wall, which wall is that? One of the most creative (and informational) writers of recent years.

I downloaded "Leviathan" from Apple for free, but I don't think I'll read it, I think I will read the Wikipedia article instead. I also purchased from Apple The Collected Works of Voltaire. I think I will give "Candide" a try, and maybe skim his Philosophical Dictionary.

4th and last, "Dark State", by Charles Stross, 2017, 341 pages, the 2nd novel of the Empire Games series, which is the 2nd series in the Merchant Princes universe. Wow, a 2nd-order series! Plenty of precedent - hah, the 1 that immediately springs to mind are the 2 Amber series that Roger Zelazny did - which these Stross stories reminded me of when I 1st started the series. Hmmm, Charlie moved forward 20 years for this 2nd series, as did The Expanse authors. I wonder why 20 years? Just coincidence, or close to the 22 year (tarot) cycles of life?

So we have a lot of intrigue amongst the parallel earths, but overall the plot doesn't seem to advance that much. Stross obliquely shares his alarm at the panopticon we seem to be moving towards here in the real world. I always enjoy Charlie's writing. We again encounter the ghost of Hobbes, and get a Kafka reference - and a plug for Universal Basic Income.

Another morsel of human food, gulped into the belly of a Hobbesian beast.

...

like the shed carapace of a cyborg Gregor Samsa.

Hmmm, I use Amazon for page counts of the books - Kobo doesn't always show the page count. So the last 2 both under 350 pages long? Meanwhile, the Wells story was 435 pages? I would have guessed under 300. And the new Expanse was 560? Sure didn't seem that long. Let's check the Kindle file sizes; 1st, 2855 KB; 2nd, 4702 KB; 3rd, 4269 KB; 4th, File Size: 4480 KB. That makes no sense either. How to get an accurate page count?

Not sure what to read next. I'll clear the magazine stack and then decide. After some initial technical difficulties, the iPad apps for Sky & Telescope, Scientific American, and Wired seem to work pretty well now (no jinx!). Still having to read Technology Review online.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Jigsaw Puzzles

We have a family tradition of doing jigsaw puzzles over the winter holidays, going back at least a decade. My 3 daughters are always involved, my wife usually, my son sometimes, me not so much.

Last year I screwed up - I bought 3 2000 piece puzzles. 2000 pieces is too many - very little progress was made.

So this year, I bought a 1000 piece puzzle that my wife and I had seen at the Portland (OR) Fine Arts Museum when we were visiting our daughter in Oregon in August. I didn't want to fly the puzzle home, so I took a picture of it, found it on Amazon, and had it shipped to FL.

There was also a suggestion to get a 500 piece puzzle, so I got one of those from Amazon as well. And finally, my son and his wife gifted another 1000 piecer.

The 500 piece puzzle was titled "Barcelona". My 3 daughters made short work of it, finishing it in an afternoon.

Next up was the 1000 piecer from our son, "Wanderer's Cove". It was interesting in that it was based on a night scene. My wife and I did it in around 4 days.

I figured I'd go on and do the other 1000 piecer. (Yes, I am definitely retired). It took me 11 days. Its title is "Geometric Herb Garden".

Doing it on my own, I payed attention to the solution algorithm:
  1. Sort the interior pieces by color and pattern while sorting out the edges and corners. Both 1000 piece puzzles I missed 3-5 edges during this sort.
  2. Put the edges and corners together.
  3. Add interior pieces based on the most distinct patterns and colors. The garden puzzle has ~42 different patterns/regions. Because the puzzle has perspective, the top (further away) sections were less distinct and harder to match.
  4. Finish it off - when you have mostly only a few colors left - by sorting the remaining pieces into the 6 shapes of interior piece and matching based on shape.
The picture below shows the 6 shapes of interior pieces and the 4 shapes of edge pieces. The number at the start of each row is the number of "outies" on the piece, the number over each piece is the number of unique rotations of that piece. There are 16 total interior piece rotations (2^4) and 8 total edge piece rotations (2^3). Corners can have 3 shapes: 0, 1 (2 rotations), and 2 outies - 4 rotations total, 2^2; the garden puzzle had all 4 corners as 1 outie pieces.

So in step 4, a completely enclosed missing piece can be matched by only 1 shape. A missing piece enclosed by 3 pieces can be matched by only 2 shapes; bordered by 2 pieces, 3 shapes; bordered by 1 piece, 5 shapes.

Ha ha, yes, I am definitely retired. Plenty of time to fiddle with numbers. I'm sure there is much can be learned about jigsaw puzzles - say from this very informational Wikipedia article - around since 1760, who knew? - but it is nice to not have to be serious about everything.

Oh, I almost forgot. I took a picture of the garden puzzle every day and then used Gimp to create an animated gif. I didn't do a very good job, but here it is nonetheless.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

THERE IS ENOUGH TO GO AROUND!!!

I started a post on these topics, but then, accessing my exocortex (== reading old blog posts), I felt like I had said it all in earlier posts - no point in duplicating.

But, I think this a concise statement of my current thinking on economics. A comment on this FB post.

Yes. We moved from Capitalism 1.0 to Capitalism 2.0, from an economy of scarcity to 1 of abundance, in the 1950's. That was when advertising shifted into hyperdrive to convince people to buy things they didn't need. For f#ck's sake, go into any Bed, Bath, & Beyond, Costco, Lowe's, Kroger - and realize that these stores are replicated 1 to several times in every major US (world?) city - and tell me that there is NOT enough to go around.

Keynes predicted that around 2030, capitalism would have done its job - produced enough capital that the human race can meet the needs of all its members - such that it (capitalism) could be retired.

I believe we are there. THERE IS ENOUGH TO GO AROUND. We just need to retire capitalism and come up with a more effective accounting system whose purpose is to optimize the outcome of EVERY human being, of EVERY human child - not just the 0.001% and their offspring.

Monday, January 08, 2018

My "Representatives"

Sigh. Writing this post to be able to link to a PDF of an email from my senior "representative" Mitch McConnell.

I am so discouraged when I get emails telling me to "contact your representatives" on issues, I mostly don't bother.

Here are my representatives:

  • Senior Senator and Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, aka McTurtle. He was so proud of being the master of Senate strategy. Now that he has shown all the hidden aces, burned it all down, and basically converted the Senate, from being the Higher Chamber, into yet another completely partisan echo chamber, is he still proud? I sure hope not, I hope he burns in (secular) hell.

    Also, I will not dignify the many rumors from the late 70's, when I lived in Louisville, that he was a pederast.

  • Junior Senator Random Paul. The Senate's token libertarian. "They call him Random Paul because you never know what he's going to say next." Very occasionally, based on the fine Libertarian principles he absorbed sitting on his racist pappy's knee, he will randomly come down on the right side of an issue. Yay?

  • Andy Barr. Teabagger par excellence. The 1st time he ran in 2010 they interviewed him, "what are you reading". His answer: "Atlas Shrugged". Of course.

    On the Finance Committee, so as a matter of SOP collects annually ~<=$1M from Wall Street. Has great newsletters, kisses many babies, and is totally competent at parroting each day's Faux "News" talking points.

    He lost the 1st time he ran against Blue Dog Dem Andy Chandler in 2010. Surprising, as 2010 was the 1st Teabagger (racist cracker) backlash wave against BHO. But then he won in 2012. Beat a female educator in 2014, and a female minister in 2016, to both of whom I donated $$$. [Note, I have donated $$$ to ~10 political candidates over the last 10 years, and the ONLY ONE who won was BHO. So, tempted to discontinue donations (unless for BHO).]

    I'd already donated to the retired female marine fighter pilot, Amy McGrath, who generated a bunch of buzz with her 1st campaign ads.

    Also running, State Rep Reggie Thomas, very upbeat, very transparent (very nice newsletter), kisses babies.

    Then, Jim Gray, extremely competent, very popular 2 term mayor of Lexington, 2nd largest US city with an openly gay mayor, announces for the seat.

    The night before he got elected mayor, Monday night, my wife and I were waiting for the best live music in Lexington to start at Tee Dee's Progressive Club.

    So, 9ish, Tee Dee is chatting with us at our table, when he looks up and says, "Uh oh, politician." Jim Gray and 2-3 of his staffers had just come in the door. Tee Dee left us to settle them out, but Jim Gray definitely got my vote on Tuesday.

    Gray is self financing, so I will give him no $$$. But, Ms. McGrath is supposed to call me back for more $$$, I will give it to her if she will assure me that she will run a clean race, the main objective of which is to defeat that asshole Barr, regardless of who is the candidate.

    Also, Barr has beaten 2 female candidates in a row. scary to run a 3rd against him, fighter pilot or not. But does a gay man or a black man have a better chance to beat Barr? That is all I care about, to get rid of the Teabagger asshole. Well, after the Dem primary, I guess I won't have to worry about that.

So here's the letter I got back from Mitch re requesting he support net neutrality. Current FCC chair did such a great thing getting rid of those pesky Net Neutrality regulations. Back to rapacious capitalism in 10th gear! As Jebus intended it!

Friday, January 05, 2018

Going Barefoot

Pro:
  • Climbing trees
  • Experiencing more of life (young person)
  • Walking on the beach
  • Picking up things with one's toes (particularly bt the big & 1st toes)
  • Appreciating one's southern heritage
  • Being from Kentucky
  • Remember/resonate with being a hippie
Con:
  • Avoiding foot injury (old person)
  • Working guitar pedals and pedal boxes
Note, being an old person, I try to avoid completely going barefoot outside. :-(

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

A Disappointing Future

"Autonomous" is the 1st novel of well-known geek (technology) writer Annalee Newitz, 2017, 304 pages. I think I have read some of her geek pieces and liked them. This definitely felt like a 1st novel. I will recommend it, but, I was very disappointed by the ... yucky - and not-very futuristic - future it represented. YAD - Yet Another Dystopia - sigh. The book just seemed off.
****************** SPOILER ALERT ******************
The plot is basically IP pirates versus the dastardly International Property Coalition (IPC) and Big Pharma in 2144, 127 years in the future. The IPC violently enforces patents and copyrights - which is pretty hard in a world with 3d printers, molecular fabbers, etc. I found it hard to believe that such a stupid system would still exist that far in the future.

2 of the main narrative threads follow a team of 2 IPC agents, 1 a robot, who are displayed in a disturbingly sympathetic light, given the fact that they kidnap, torture, and murder in the name of the IPC. But, they're in love, so it's OK?!?!?

Meanwhile, the main pirate Jack, who I guess is the good guy, is not much better. She murders an intruder just a few pages into the book and doesn't seem to think anything of it - no discernible remorse, no PTSD. The human march to less violence and more civility documented by Steven Pinker seems to have somehow been totally reversed. The comic book abruptness and lack of emotional depth around this murder was when I totally concluded "1st novel".

The society they live in is also pretty abhorrent. Robots gained sentience maybe 40 years before. But they are forced into indentured servitude until they pay for the cost of their manufacture - plus they get "company stored" such that their servitude stretches out indefinitely. And, if robots are sentient like humans and they can be enslaved, it only makes sense to enslave humans as well! Ugh!

And as a follow up, if you cannot pay for a "franchise" in the place you are born, then you must of course sell yourself for the right to live. So the default birth state of, what, the bottom 80% of humans and all robots, is slavery. Ugh and double ugh!

1 of the semi-likable characters - who is brutally tortured and murdered as seems to be the most common form of interaction in the book - identifies the source of their dystopia:

But now we know there has been no one great disaster — only the slow-motion disaster of capitalism converting every living thing and idea into property.
With the stuff I have read about Postcapitalism and Capitalism 3.0, this bleak future where apparently all human rights have been sacrificed to capitalism is disappointing and discouraging.

Also disappointing was the IPC assassin, who upon feeling attraction to his robot partner whom he initially identifies as male, asserts that he is not a "faggot". Seriously, the breakneck progress being made on gender and personhood issues in the last 5-10 years, and 127 years in the future, this is an attitude???

Another thing that rang false to me was the standard robot-to-robot handshake sequence, which we get multiple times:

Hello. Let’s establish a secure session using the AF protocol.

Paladin replied that he could use the latest AF protocol, version 7.7.

Let’s do it. I’m Blazer. Here are my identification credentials. Here comes my data. Please leave your vehicle here. You may continue inside. That is the end of my data.

Maybe this is just a very verbose English translation of Robotese, but it wasn't presented as such. It seems pretty damn inefficient for 200 years of software advancement.

The descriptions of the robots' mental processes seemed to be way too anthropomorphic to me. I far preferred the "foreign and ineffable" AIs of "Void Star", Zachary Mason's 1st novel, which I blogged about last time - or even those of "Neuromancer" 33 years ago.

I did find this little bit interesting, about how the robot feels after getting its autonomy key installed:

It gave her a peculiar kind of double consciousness, even in real time: She felt things, and knew simultaneously that those feelings had been installed, just like the drivers for her new arm.
Overall, the pacing of the book was not bad, and the conclusion relatively satisfying. But, I really feel like Ms. Newitz can do better. And, please, not so depressing next time - try a bright, shiny future instead!

p.s. I hate writing negative reviews :-( And given that Stephenson and Gibson both gave this book a glowing review, maybe my disappointment is just a sign that I am getting old. Oh well, it beats the alternative.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Good Stuff

All sci-fi, all the time.

1st up, "Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi", 2016, 104 pages. 18 very short stories, mostly funny, given that you are not offended by alien poo-poo jokes. A very quick and relaxing read.

2nd up, "The Dispatcher", by John Scalzi, 2017, 128 pages (a novella). An interesting concept - anyone murdered 99.9% of the time comes back to life naked in their bed in their state of 2 hours prior - is explored and turned into a cheap detective story. Accept the premise, and it is another quick and enjoyable read.

3rd up, "Tool of War", by Paolo Bacigalupi, 2017, 385 pages. 3rd in the series that went from "Shipbreaker" (blogged here) to "The Drowned Cities" (blogged here). Tool, an "augment" - humans genetically engineered with various predator DNA to make them unstoppable, yet obedient, warriors - who breaks his obedience conditioning, is back. It's a fast moving, action-packed story, featuring the characters of the other 2 novels. Another very good read.

4th up, "Void Star", by Zachary Mason, 2017, 401 pages. I greatly enjoyed Mason's 1st book "The Lost Books of the Oddessey" (blogged here) - I still don't get how it is referred to as a novel, it sure seemed like 44 short stories to me.

"Void Star" is a straight-up sci-fi novel which strongly reminded me of "Neuromancer", but more like Neuromancer v4.0. Set 20-50 years in the future, the main protagonist is an AI-whisperer. As one would expect, AIs are completely foreign & ineffable and interact with the human world in many odd ways. So we have 4 protagonists, 3 with memory-recording implants, a 150 YO gazillionaire with immortality in his sights, and lots of action leading to an exciting conclusion. The last several (of 77) chapters have various of the characters getting their consciousness rebooted and repeating events and words eerily.

This is the best thing I've read in several months, I strongly recommend it. Here's some random excerpts with language that I liked.

She often saw people getting dressed, men bucking in the confined space to get their legs into pants, women putting on makeup or stockings, anonymity substituting for privacy. [People getting dressed in self-driving cars.]

...

in the technical world’s uppermost reaches, autistic symptoms have a certain cachet, ambitious young men affecting the inability to look one in the eye and a total innocence of the world

...

Her hand finds a stone on the asphalt, grips it—she grinds her fingers into its surface, savoring its texture, reminding herself that she is here, in this morning, in the world, not lost in the pages of some vast and secret book.

...

"Proust’s madeleines have got nothing on me. It’s madeleines all the way down."

...

The barista is friendly but his hair is sculpted into planes and spines that suggest nothing so much as a lionfish, and she feels old because instead of implying some extraordinarily specific cultural fealty his hair just reads as an elaborate waste of time.

...

A detached, musical female voice recites an endless list of airport codes, gate numbers, times, but it’s strange, because she knows all the codes, these are codes for airports that don’t exist.