Monday, December 20, 2004

Not Much Ado about Not Much

Haven't read much decent recently. Read the 4th nanotech book by Cathleen Goonan "Light Music". Fuzzy physics, pretty weak. I read another of the James Lee Burke Dave Robicheaux cajun detective novels "Burning Angel". They're OK, not great.

I read a collection of three novels by S.M. Stirling, "The Domination". Ugh, nasty, one of those memes you wish you hadn't put in your head. My friend David recommended Stirling, probably based on recommendations of his brother the militarist. Basically, the losers of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars take over South Africa and found Draka, then take over all of Africa, Asia, Europe, the world by 1990. They're ultra-Nazis, enslave the conquered races, breed superhumans. The protagronists are mostly Draka, and you can't help but identify with protagonists to some extent. Nasty, ugh.

I have seen some good movies. "Sideways" was existential and funny. "Spiderman II" I would have to say is the best comic superhero movie yet. It made me recognize what the essence of the superhero meme is. (BTW, I have been infected with this meme since I was around 7 years old -- I organized a bunch of my fellow 2nd-graders into The Blackhawks (DC comic) at that time. I was, of course, Blackhawk, the leader.) The essence is, that the superhero is hidden -- his worth is not recognized -- and the unveiling of the superhero is one of the few things that creates a strong emotional reaction in me. Obviously, I'm waiting for my turn. Deep down, I always wanted to be a superhero, or at least the protagonist in a decent SF novel. Finally reaching the age where I realize in my gut that it ain't happenin.

Anyway, in "Spiderman II", Spidey is unveiled not once or twice, but 3 times. The 1st and 3rd times, the 1st with it's Jebus overtones, were particularly touching.

Some other great "the secret superhero is unveiled" scenes:

  • The ending of the 50's "Ulysses" with Kirk Douglas. Ulysses has entered his house in disguise; strings the bow that none of his wife's suitors can string; shoots an arrow through the n axe handles; then throws off his disguise and commences to slaughter the suitors to cries of "It's Ulysses!".
  • The ending of David Lynch's "Dune". Alia: "Not until you tell them who I really am." Reverend Mother: "Alia, ... Sister of Paul Muadib". Emperor: "Paul is Muadib?!?!?"
I guess I don't feel so bad about my juvenile fantasies. The meme is a very strong one. It's a variation on the messianic meme. I remember a few years ago, my oldest sister and her family were staying us around xmas. Her husband hadn't seen a number of movies we had enjoyed recently, so we watched:
  • The Matrix -- "He is the one,"
  • Blade -- "You are the one."
  • Dark City -- "You are the one."
Kind of whacks you upside the head. Probably pretty much a male meme, you don't hear to much about female messiahs (or is it messiem? :->)

I completed ripping my CDs, except for 5-10 my kids have absconded with. Wound up with 3284 tracks, mostly rated. Shuffle play on 3-star and up is very nice -- plus excellent "name that tune" practice.

Not too much new music lately. Only thing I've gotten lately is "Summer in Abaddon", by Pinback, not as good as their previous "Blue Screen Life".

All my kids will be home for xmas, east and west coast both. It will be nice to see them, cook a big bird. Then going to North Carolina to visit with my baby sister and some of my other sibs families.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

No Turkey Day

My wife the hospital pharamacist told me yesterday am that she was not working 1st shift (7a-5p) on Thanksgiving, she was working 2nd shift (11a-9p). So, my Thanksgiving dinner options were 10a or 10p -- neither acceptable. So, turkey will be Friday at 2p. 1st time in my 53 years I have not pigged out on turkey and dressing on the last Thursday in November. It's just Not Right ...

Finished the 3rd novel of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle, "The System of the World". Very nice read, all threads tied up or snipped nicely. Doubtful that I will ever reread this basically 3000 page novel again. So nice to see the value of thought and the Enlightment represented in such a positive light.

Thinking the other day about religion. Will it always be around, but maybe engineered into more meaningful forms -- ones that keep up with current knowledge instead of relying on old, old books? Read an article in the paper on a new Islamic terrorist group that trains in the desert with only 6th century technology, so they can really get that Mohammedan world-view -- how stupid is that? It boggles the mind, stop time, stop progress, everyone will be oh so much more comfortable? satisfied? what? who knows?

This made me think of the Cellar Christians (Cellar because organized religion has been outlawed) in what I believe to be the greatest science fiction novel ever written: "The Stars My Destination", by Alfred Bester. Funny, I just went to Barnes & Noble to pull the link, and all the reviews there also say "the greatest SF novel ever written" -- so I guess I am not alone in my opinion. It was originally published in 1956. I 1st read it in my early teens in an Anthony Boucher collection "A Treasure of Great Science Fiction", Vol 2. (This was published in 1958. It also had "Brain Wave" by Poul Anderson, a great story, in it. I actually picked up this and Vol 1 as well in hardback in a used bookstore 10 or so years ago.)

Anyway, I have reread "The Stars My Destination" at least 20 times since then. It is only about 160 pages. Every time I reread it, I marvel at how it has still maintained the edge it has. It would make a great movie (if Hollywood weren't obsessed with Philip K. Dick) -- great anti-hero protagonist, tons of action. I could never figure out who would play Gully Foyle tho, but the actor is now available. Russell Crowe would be perfect for the part. So, need to get that going ...

RIPing of CDs procedes apace. My wife is convinced I'm obsessed. Currently at 2400 tracks, 7 days, 13GB. I now have 3 objects of techno-lust (I'm so excited: I'm alive! I'm a consumer! I'm a real American! I have a reason to live, new things to buy!):

  1. A 40GB iPod for backup;
  2. A WiFi unit to talk to my wireless router to let me access my PC from the main stereo;
  3. A analog to digital input device, so I can rip my vinyl and tapes.
Life is good ...

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

A Black Day

My tag line today was: "Four more years of the evil empire -- I heard they start construction on the Death Star at the first of the year".

My response to my older, Mainer, Bush-backing brother. He really didn't rub it in much at all, I just needed to rant.

>>> Talked to 2 different independents today, one in 20's, one in 40's, both of whom indicated they would vote for Saddam for president before they voted for Hilary.

I'm starting to think we should push the constitutional amendment to let Ahnold become president. I like the CA republican mix: fiscal responsibility (pre-bush republican), but socially fwd (pro-choice, stem cell research, gay rights).

I don't think Kerry vs W make a difference in Iraq. It is a BFM (Big Fucking Mess), and will be for years to come. The Daily Show (my only source of broadcast news -- altho I did also watch NBC and CNN last night) of course read the excepts from daddy-Bush's memoirs on why he didn't go on to Baghdad: no exit strategy, no way it could be anything but a BFM.

The only upside of the BFM is that I was definitely getting the impression after they rolled through Iraq (after rolling through Afghanistan) that Syria and Iran were next -- same type of badmouthing Iraq got pre-invasion was starting up. Hopefully we don't have to worry about that for a while.

I have heard from 2 places that we are constructing 14 long-term bases in Iraq, but have not read it anywhere. Have your heard/seen this? I agree with you, it's about the oil. Oilman president => war in Middle East.

I believe that, after rolling through Afghanistan, we still had tremendous support for War on Terrorism, and could have done some serious good. Then, the hard-on for Iraq ("he tried to kill my daddy", who the fuck knows the real reason). Now, 10s or 100s of 1000s of new Islamic martyr recruits. Real reason: Wolfowitz doctrine? US as hyperpower can do whatever the fuck we want, so let's conquer some oil-rich countries?

I have felt since day 1 of Iraq, Osama was laughing gleefully when we invaded. Iraq, despite Saddam being your typical bloody-minded dictator (like some of the ones we {used to?} prop up in South America), was actually a fairly moderate Arab state: Women could go to school, learn to read, hold jobs, lots of other horrible westernized stuff. Osama wants the return of the Shariat, the return of the Caliphate, the good old days of serious Islam from the 13th century. (The Christians at least don't want to go back to the past -- they just wish the rapture would hurry up and get here -- hard to decide who are the greater dumbasses.)

We are the hyperpower now, and, before Iraq, were in a great position to really do some good. When you are the biggest, toughest hombre, you are still a fool to behave like the neighborhood bully. The dweebs will gang up on you no matter how big you are. Prior to Bush, for maybe 10 years the US would usually try to do right, and carry out morally defensible actions: Somalia, Yugoslavia. Now, it's, we do whatever we feel like, because we can.

Blagh. I really do feel like we are now being governed by evil men. They are zealots who convinced themselves that everyone wants to be just like us (and fuck, they didn't need the military, another 10 years of Brittany Spears would have done the job), and, with typical Christian side deals with Jebus, I am sure have already received absolution for lining their pockets via Haliburton and the rest. Their power base has been built by playing to the worst parts of human nature: fear; look out for #1 above all else; and mindless conservatism. They show a totally shameless cynicism, knowing that if you tell a lie often enough, x percent of people will start believing it, and feeling that because they are working for "the greater good" of realpolicik and corporate domination, every dirty trick and smear tactic are justified. The Daily Show had some great clips of Cheney biting some reporter's head off "I categorically never said that", followed by 2 clips of Cheney saying exactly the thing he was denying having said. They are fucking liars.

I find conservatism to be an offensively stupid worldview. At some level, it always involves the belief that some fucking non-existent "golden age" in the past was better than now. So, when exactly was that? I have always loved how the Christian broadcasting channels fill dead time with Westerns. Ah, the old west, when the good guys wore white, the bad guys black, none of this Miranda stuff, just shoot the guys in black. And, women had three professions open to them: wife, schoolteacher, or prostitute. The good old days! The 50's? I still remember the nuclear attack drills in grade school. The ... whenevers? Let's face it, right now is the best time ever to have lived. My only regret is I wasn't born 50 years later than I was.

And, you pegged it on the Bible-thumping stuff. Exit polls, bush's strongest area of support, moral values, 85-15 bush. Fucking dumbass christians. So, you can be a brain-addled, former alchoholic and cokehead, run the Jebus program because you don't have enough of your own personality to do anything else -- praise Jeebus! It seriously concerns me that we have a gene pool heavily selected for the religous fanaticism gene. They are what carried the election, every "public christian" on my street had a Bush sign in their front yard. Well, maybe they'll have gene therapy for it soon.

Of course, when you're are born with a silver spoon in your mouth and get to be president by inheritance, you tend to want to keep the nice, conservative, feudal values going.

So, brother, I know you're buying all this. If you like, I can maybe hook you up with a discount ACLU membership.

Well, I think I'm done -- you shouldn't have told me I was being a "better sport". That is pretty much the essence of my barroom political rants of the last five years -- and I haven't even had a drink this evening, that's probably my problem. Hope you enjoyed!


Sunday, October 31, 2004

And Time Goes By ...

... so slowly. Re last post, did read "Beyond Infinity", by Gregory Benford. Didn't really do much for me. 3rd thing I have read lately with humans surviving 1 billion years -- clearly a little too long to extrapolate for me. If we can make 1 million years as a species (the hope), I think that would be crazy enough.

Overall, I can't think of Benford I really like, except for "Great Sky River" and its 1st sequel, "Tides of Light". Good man/machine and machine/man merger thoughts.

Just finished "Freedom Evolves", by Daniel C. Dennett. His "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" is I think one of the best books written on evolution (cranes vs. skyhooks); his "Consciousness Explained" is a nice finger in the eye of those still wanting to believe in a soul or suchlike. I have read 3 or 4 other of his books. This latest one is a look at free will (vs. determinism, what an unworthy stalking horse) from an evolutionary viewpoint. All his writing displays his annoying insistence on explaining why he is right and everyone else is wrong. At the start of this one, he accuses Pinker of "mysterianism" -- has he no allies? In the last chapter, he actually apologizes for not doing more of this -- a philosopher's sacred duty, in his opinion. Blagh.

Anyway, overall not a bad read. Interesting stuff about how the various parts of the mind have trouble synching up, leading to weird experimental results where we do things before we decide to do them. Very valid, the conscious mind is always trying to take credit for stuff it doesn't do (most mentation). Often it just kind of gets notified as an afterthought. Good commonsense arguments for the natural development of morality and ethics in our social species.

Much new music lately. 1st off, the best guitarist in the world lives right here in Lexington! I saw Ben Lacy at Natasha's a couple of weeks ago when my oldest daughter was in town for a wedding. I've seen him twice since then, at High on Rose, Fridays 6:30 - 9:00. Plays bass, rhythm, lead at the same time, or a rhythm machine if he so chooses, incredibly fast and clean. I have yet to see him miss a note.

Of new CDs, "Good News for People Who Love Bad News", by Modest Mouse, has really made an impression on me. I played it in my car for 2 weeks to burn it in. Great songs, quirky lyrics.

Also liked Elvis Costello's latest, "The Delivery Man". Elvis continues to turn out nice, tight, nasty rock & roll.

This kind of reminds me of "11 Tracks of Whack", by Walter Becker. I was a big Steely Dan fan, had all their stuff on vinyl (haven't yet got the CD versions). When they split up, Donald Fagen did 2 solo CDs, Becker did just this one, in 1994. It was like when Lennon & McCartney split, McCartney too sweet, Lennon too sour, with Fagen too sweet and Becker much more sour. "11 Tracks of Whack" is nice, tight, tasty songs, not a vaguely weak one til track 8 or so. BTW, I have the 2 Steely Dan CDs they have put out since getting back together a couple of years ago, they're OK.

Other new CDs:

  • "Antics", by Interpol. Pretty much like their last one, 3 stars.
  • "The Libertines", eponymous. Pretty much like their last one, 3 stars. I have trouble telling these 2 apart, one has a lead singer who kind of reminds me of Jim Morrison.
  • "Electric Version", by The New Pornographers. Some of the songs are OK, but the peppy (preppy?) knob is up a little high, like "That Thing You Do" or the Friends theme song.
  • "Medulla", by Bjork. I am of course a great fan of Ms. Guttmunsdottir. This is a very ambitious concept album. It took me 3 or 4 listens to get past the vocal textures and listen to the songs. Kind of like the 1st time I heard symphonic music (the Boston Symphony, on a $1.50 student ticket in 1969) -- I was so blown away by the texture of the sound (who knew all those fiddles together sounded so amazing?), that I don't think I heard the music at all. Still, "Medulla" does have good tunes, and the vocal textures are amazing.
  • "Smile", by Brian Wilson. Brian Wilson was one of the greatest composers of rock & roll, a true genius. So, I saw this, the long-awaited cult album and had to get it. Then, kind of disappointing, I had already heard most of these on various other Beach Boy albums.
One final piece of media. My wife and I occasionally would talk about how much we liked the Philip Marlowe's done by HBO in the mid-80's, with Powers Boothe as Marlowe. So, go to Amazon, there they are, boxed set of 11 episodes, $54. So, we got them, fun to see again, of course not as good as we remembered. As a reviewer on Amazon put it, Powers Boothe is perfect as Marlowe, but most of the supporting characters are pretty weak.

Oh, I have overcome my natural Luddism and started ripping my CDs to MP3s. Got a 160GB Maxtor USB external drive for $160 (crazy) and even a subwoofer. Currently at: 660 songs, 1.8 days, 3.6 GB.

This posting composed while giving out candy to trick-or-treaters. Ahh, Halloween, always my favorite as a kid, the one pagan holiday.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Now Returning to the Blog in Progress

Apparently I have been in somewhat of a state of mental torpitude. What's new? Not a hell of a lot. Two family items:
  1. My youngest daughter sent me 4 songs she wrote and performed last spring. I was shocked by the quality of the songs -- definitely commercial value. And, for being a crappy guitar player, some of the guitar parts were very tasty. So, I have been after her to come up with a CD full of material, and she has: 11 full-length tracks, plus a short intro and extro. So, I've been burning copies like crazy, sending to everyone we know vaguely connected with music. Need to find a producer, decide whether to go at it as a solo chick singer/songwriter, or to get a band behind her. Meanwhile, her guitar playing continues to improve, she's singing at open mics, and cranking out 1-2 new songs a month.
  2. My son was married on 9/13/4, my wife and my and my in-laws anniversary, in Niagara Falls. They were just going to do it by themselves, they were prevailed upon to allow us to attend, so my wife, 3 daughters and I drove in. They were married in the Minolta Tower with Horseshoe Falls in the background, nice minister from Ghana with a great voice who didn't mention a diety once, but instead talked about lots of nice humanistic values that would help build a successful marriage. Very nice.
Reading-wise, read the 2nd book by Richard K. Morgan, "Broken Angels". If his 1st book was "Chinatown", this one was "Aliens". The marines go in. I liked the cheap detective better, but this still a good read.

Also read Kim Stanley Robinson's newest, "Forty Signs of Rain". A good read, at least 2 sequels coming. I like that one of the main characters is a sociobiologist, who's always thinking how our savannah-raised primate minds just aren't equipped for modern life.

I got that one from my friend David, whom we visited Labor Day weekend. David is tres conservative politically, describing the book as something to make tree-hugging, global-warming believing types happy. The book raises the point, which I totally agree with, that the pseudo-science of conservatives/republicans is basically total crap. It is the main thing that pisses me off with the christians, that they won't leave science alone.

  • BTW, I ordered a Toyota Prius. Due in 5/1/5?!?!?
We also had a discussion on Iraq. His read: no WMD, but Saddam was a bad guy and realpolitik dictated that we needed many bases in the mideast, preferably in an oil-rich country, to keep the oil flowing. So, I guess this means that Americans are willing to trade their children's lives for their right to drive SUVs. Sigh. Conservative politics is depressing.

Also read, mostly on the drive to Niagara Falls, "Red Thunder" by John Varley, one of SFs great authors, particularly 25 years ago with "The Ophiuchi Hotline" and his short story collections (I didn't like the Titan/Wizard/Demon trilogy nearly as much as some of my friends did.) A fun read, 4 teenagers hookup with a defrocked astronaut and his idiot savant Einstein cousin, build their own spaceship, and beat the Chinese to Mars.

Also read the 2nd book of Walter Jon Williams space opera "The Sundering: Dread Empires Fall". This makes 3 mediocre space opera series I am reading: this; Kevin J. Anderson's "Saga of the Seven Suns" series (2 down); and the Dune Butlerian Jihad series (2 down). Plus the George R. R. Martin "Song of Fire and Ice" fantasies. The last is actually pretty good, the others make me wonder ...

My kids loved "The Neverending Story" movie. We bought the book, a cool hardcover that had the stuff in the real world printed in red and the stuff in Fantasia in green (or visa versa). The 2nd half of the book (after the movie), dealt with how Bastian's using his self/fantasies to power Fantasia gradually lead to him being "used up" (turned into a sand statue, I believe). Kind of makes me wonder, have I done the same thing with my life, with all the time spent in the world of books instead of reality. Well, definitely too late to do much about it now.

Also read a short book by Neal Stephenson, "In the Begining Was the Command Line". A cute history of computing since the onset of the PC. He also mentions our savannah-raised brains' difficulty in coping with the modern world, with GUIs (graphical user interfaces) as a technique of helping us deal with the complications of modern systems -- at the trade off of relinquishing the power of the command line. A cute read, not sure if you have to be a computer geek or not to appreciate it.

Have some new CDs, need to listen more before I comment. Best movie I have seen lately was "Kill Bill, Vol II". Quelle art film! That thing is so over the top, you can't help but belly-laugh. "Hellboy" was disappointing. Kind of like "Ghostbusters" but not very funny.

Enough for now -- I've got a Gregory Benford from the library to read, better get to it. Or, maybe I'll try to google some record producers for Christie instead.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004


Cyberpunk lives! Read "Altered Carbon", by Richard K. Morgan. Reminiscent of Neuromancer, but more Raymond Chandler or "Chinatown", plus with ultra-violence ala Tarentino. I got it and its sequel on an impulse buy off of an Amazon recommendation. Still have the sequel going for me.

Reading sci-fi is always the search for the edge. A.E. Van Vogt, Null-A, in the 50's had some edge, as did Asimov's Foundation. Herbert had edge. Philip K. Dick was over the edge. Zelazny wasn't too edgy, but I always enjoyed it, like Simak.

The Ace special editions that came out in 83-85 really pushed the edge. 1st novels by Gibson("Neuromancer"), Lucius Shepard, Kim Stanley Robinson, Michael Swanwick, and Bruce Sterling("Schismatrix"). Greg Bear was good during that time. Then, a breather until Neal Stephenson and "Snow Crash". Dan Simmons started up around then, and Vernor Vinge has written good stuff, but overall, somewhat of a lull lately -- except for Greg Egan. Others who looked promising (Tony Daniels, Robert Reed), have had disappointing 1st novels. We'll give Charles Stross another chance.

The best place to watch the sci-fi edge from is in Gardner Dozois' annual "Year's Best". Just noticed this year's out, woo-ha, I can pick up a copy for vacation next week.

Picked up 3 cds lately:

  1. "Give Up", by The Postal Service. A recommendation by the canny Amazon data miner -- the same singer/songwriter as Death Cab For Cutie, but with techno drum machine background instead of a guitar band. I like the techno backgrounds, but I think the songs are little weaker.
  2. "Franz Ferdinand", eponymous. My youngest and I saw the video to "Take Me Out" and decided to check it out. Catchy tunes, 80s punk sound.
  3. "Dear Catastophe Waitress", by Belle and Sebastian. Sounds pretty much like the other two of theirs I have. Kind of like Thai spring rolls, can't decide if I really like them or not.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

One plus Two

Read a sci-fi recommended by my friend David: "Evolution", by Stephen Baxter. Interesting read, mostly disjointed chapters following various primates from 65 million years ago (the dinosaur-killing comet) to the end of life on earth one-half billion years from now. Interesting points/theories:
  1. Prior to the speciation of Homo Sapiens, all the primate main "characters" were the one ancestor of us all. I guess that's true, before we were a species, there was one earlier primate ancestor that we all wound up descended from.
  2. The mental tool/agent that was the seed of self-awareness was a module that modeled the behavior (mind) of others -- needed to survive in complicated primate dominance heirarchies.
  3. The origin of religion: when the 1st slightly mutant and psychotic Homo Sapiens broke out of having a compartmentalized mind and started putting 1 and 2 together (and forming sentences) around 60,000 years ago (not a bad number), the 1st thing she did was set herself up as a shaman. She used her new-found mental abilities to confound and dominate others -- shades of the power of lying in TOOCITBOTBM (blogged earlier).

Got two new cd's recently:

  1. "The Love Below/Speakerboxx" by Outkast, for my birthday.  The non-rap cd has good tunes, some unbelievably banal vulgarity, and the oh-so-catchy dance tune "Hey-ya".  My wife and I were driving back from Cornell after dropping our middle daughter off and heard it on the radio 3 times in the 11 hour drive.  When I got home my oldest daughter had sent me the link to "Hey-ya Charlie Brown".  I tried to fwd it to someone the next day, it was gone from the .edu server where I got it -- probably swamped by a storm of downloads.   No link, I'm sure you can find it.
  2. "Get Away from Me", by Nellie McKay, from my youngest daughter for Father's Day. She liked Nellie the best of the acts she saw at Bonaroo. 2 cds, kind of all over the place, very creative. Not sure what kind of staying power the tunes have tho.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Do You Believe in Luck?

Just finished the 2nd book of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Trilogy, "The Confusion". Fully as good a read as the 1st. I would presume that much of the historical content was researched and mostly true. One thought I had from this, re The Right to Keep and Bear Arms in the Bill of Rights: in the time of this book, roughly 80 years before the Declaration of Independence, carrying weapons was still only allowed to nobles. Commoners weren't allowed weapons. A standard feudal feature, like samurai Japan. So, the 2nd amendment says that it wants a militia, but I wonder if it also wasn't a repudiation of the feudal separation of nobles vs commoners. Everybody gets guns!

Thinking about Pinker's nature vs nurture arguments in "The Blank Slate" (last blog), he quotes 50% genetic, 50% peer group, but really seems to want to ascribe the 50% peer group to 50% fate or luck instead. This reminded me of three things:

  1. The movie "Grand Canyon". I liked the movie, about various people who get "messages from god" and how they react to them. (I queried my team of developers at the time as to what the secular version of "message from god" would be. The best we came up with was "anomalous meaning spike".) At various times more than one of the characters say "I believe in luck". So, the question is, do you believe in luck, and also, what is luck?
  2. The book "The Celestine Prophecy" (no link (shudder)). I read his about 10 years ago to see if new-agers had any interesting new religious concepts. I kind of liked the 1st of its 10 principles, which was that all of our lives are shaped by random happenings and events, sometimes strongly. So, we should be on the lookout for such life-shaping random events, and when we perceive one, try to get behind it and go for it.
    From there, tho, it's straight downhill, with the 10th principle being that you can vibrate yourself into a higher plane of existence such that you kind of disappear from this one. Damn, somehow I have managed to miss all the well-documented cases of that happening. Oh well ...
  3. Tim Power's novel "Last Call". I like Power's stuff, magical realism, with historical figures mixing up with various para-supernatural stuff. This one is probably my favorite of his. It's a fisher king story, with the main character a professional poker player. In it, if there are anomalous "luck waves" around, the liquid in a glass will tilt at an angle and smoke will spiral over the table. This is part of what has ruined me on gambling -- when I am (infrequently) around gambling, I find myself trying to check out "luck waves".
So, what is luck? The fact that sometimes shit happens, and you hope it's not to you, and sometimes good things happen, and you hope that it is to you.

I tell a story: around 10 years ago, on a Friday evening, I was supposed to pick up my middle daughter and her friend, then in middle school, at a movieplex on the east side of Lexington. I get there, no daughter. After 20 minutes or so, I find out they hooked up with some boys they knew and the boys' mom gave them a ride home. My office was on that side of town, and I decided to drop by for some reason, which I would normally never do in the evening, particularly Friday. So, I take Man-o-War to I-75 north for one exit to Winchester Rd. Halfway there, I slow down and stop on the Interstate. An elderly woman, drunk and on medication, was driving on the wrong side of the interstate and had a head-on with the car two ahead of me, also driven by a woman. Both women died. They had the medical helicopter on the interstate, they finally let us off the exit I had got on about 90 minutes later. The point is, I had no business being there and then and, if I had been running 30 seconds ahead in this improbable sequence, I could have been the one in the head-on. I take this as evidence that, when your number's up, your number's up.

So, I guess I kind of believe in fate -- but I think that's just that circumstances beyond our control, but of a non-mysterious nature, can affect us in ways we can't predict. But I think I really don't believe in luck. Damn, tho, I hate to write that. I'd better knock on some wood to ward off the jinx.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Two Good Books

Last weekend I read Bruce Sterling's latest, "The Zenith Angle". Very fun read, only 300 pages, academic computer geek becomes black ops cyber-warrior. A good vacation book. Sterling recently gave a keynote at some technical conference where he was saying that the Internet has become the domain of large criminal activities, and we need the Internet cops to get it under control. The main character in "The Zenith Angle" voices the same concerns. I guess he's right. The spam levels are definitely getting annoying, and I'm still waiting for my $1,000,000 to come back from Nigeria for the $10,000 I sent them ;-> Seems like things are moving in that direction, jail time recently for spammers and worm writers.

The other book I just finished last night: "The Blank Slate" by Stephen Pinker. What a fun read! I described it to a couple of people as "a feel-good book for people who don't believe in anything". It begins with a history of The Enlightenment, and then takes aim at three prevalent ideas that modern science has basically shot full of holes, but that continue to hang on, particularly in academia:

  1. The Blank Slate -- the notion that we are born with minds that are blank slates, on which anything can be written.
  2. The Noble Savage -- the notion that anything natural is good, and that, as such, primitive peoples have lived peaceful, pastoral lives in harmony with nature.
  3. The Ghost in the Machine -- the notion of the human soul, but also the notion that all living things have a vital essence.
So, after pointing out all the holes in these, he then talks about the four fears that cause people to want to believe in these things even if they are shown to be false: fear if inequality, imperfectibility, determinism, and nihilism. He shows why an understanding of the genetic and physical nature of human nature can allay these fears.

The 4th section discusses what human nature is. One interesting point here was that as we have optical and cognitive illusions, there are also moral illusions, where the inherited hardwiring in our brains causes us to react with sanctimony, moral condemnation and the taboo reaction in ways that aren't appropriate.

The 5th section then picks out five current hot buttons and analyzes them in terms of the prior sections. These are politics, violence, gender, children and the arts. He has great fun poking his finger in the eyes of sacred cows, and I laughed out loud several times in these. The chapter on children went into more detail on the basis of our personalities I had seen I think in "Genome": 50% heredity, 50% peer groups, 0% parents. He seems to want to replace the 50% peer groups with "fate" -- the random things that happen to all of us to shape our lives.

Anyway, a great read. I had read Pinker's "How the Mind Works" a few years ago and enjoyed it as well. Surprising I had no FFTKAT on it. Like this one, it is more a synthetic review than something with radical new ideas or totally little known facts.

It is untrue that I "don't believe in anything". I believe in 3 things, my postulates, as detailed in the 1st Dumb Ass blog. The nice thing about all of science, including this book, is that you don't have to believe any of it. You evaluate the data, assign a goodness measure to the theory, and move on. 5, 10, 20 years from now large parts of this book could be well-known bullshit and it wouldn't bother me, and I would think the author, in the slightest. Ah, the joys of scientific thinking!

In an online shopping note, I am still linking books and CDs to Barnes and Noble because I like their nice ISBN-based URLs. I ordered some stuff from them late last year and had nasty delivery delays, so I am back to ordering from Amazon. I have started routinely checking on buying books used from them. I had two of my daughters and one of my coworkers wanting to read "The Blank Slate" from my enthusiam about it, I ordered two used hardcopies of it for $5.00 ea plus $3.00 shipping ea. Sure beats the cover price of $27.95.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Creaping Dualism

Thinking about earlier posts on AI vs AE in the light of the mind as a ecosystem, I think I was engaged in some creaping dualism: intelligence vs emotion. They may be well be in different parts of the hardware, with the emotions more in the central, older parts and intelligence in the outer, newer parts of the brain, but, I think it would be a mistake to treat them as different. They both live in the ecosystem of the mind. Just as there are old organisms in modern ecosystems (sharks, turtles), emotions may be evolutionarily older, but they are no less players for that.

Got some new cds:

  • "The Girl in the Other Room", by Diana Krall. I have one other of hers I don't like that much. It would be great sitting in a jazz bar and listening to it, but w/o the atmosphere, it's kind of dull. I was interested in this new one, since she cowrote a number of the songs with her (new) husband, Elvis Costello -- but, still, kind of dull. There's a cover of a Joni Mitchell song, "Black Crow", that really made me want to her the original.
  • "The Evening of My Best Day", by Ricki Lee Jones. I have most of her cds, this one starts out strong, but then seems to peter out. Needs a few more listens.
  • "Grows Backward" by David Byrne. Great tunes, suitably quirky, hardly a weak track.
  • "Musicology" by Prince. Prince was, of course, the great musical genius of the 80's. Unbelievable the number of hit songs he cranked out, and an unbelievable musician. My kids used to always get me Prince cds/tapes for gifts, hadn't had any for a while. This latest is great, the funk groove is still there. I'm jealous, my baby sister is going to see him.
Have lots of good stuff to read, the new Stephenson, the new Sterling. Have to drain the magazine stack 1st, I'm into June now.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Phenotropic Computing

I've been thinking about this -- approximate "surface-based" interfaces. Intuitively, it seems like you would want it to work like molecular receptors, 3-d lock and key fashion. That seems hard to model in any current computer methodologies.

In terms of what's out there now, it seems like two software agents trying to communicate would 1st have to negotiate ontologies -- i.e., do we both speak the same language or know about the same things such that we have a topic of communication. W3C has published their ontology language for the semantic web: OWL, the Web Ontology Language, presumably everybody would speak that. Clearly easiest would be exact ontology match. If not, maybe a subset ontology matcher?

Speaking of agents, haven't seen much press on intelligent agents lately ...

So, what would these agents be, a new flavor of Web Service? If so, then we probably need PWSDL -- Phenotropic Web Service Description Language. Seems like it would not look like WSDL, with its "send me this, I will give you this". Rather, it seems like it would be more of a language syntax type thing. Simplest sentence: verb noun, both pulled from the ontology, such as "Create Object" or "Fetch Object". Rather than an input argument list like WSDL, you would instead populate the verb and noun with appropriate properties, has-a instances, etc.

Presumably your organic behavior would come from the subset ontology matcher, and you would also want synonym matching on the syntax elements, and defaults on everything. I wonder if this winds up being stuff you can do with XPATH or XQUERY. I'm not up on either of these, nor on XSLT -- the ugliest programming language since RPG. I guess tho, that the XML-based stuff is ugly because it is very LCD. Kind of like LISP as Lots of Stupid Insipid Parenthesis, maybe XML as eXtremely Many Left-angle-brackets.

I also wonder if, analagous to the cell incorporating mitochondria and spirochetes, you could have services that grew by ingesting unknown ontologies. Sounds like it'd be lots of fun to code.

Had an interesting night Friday. We have a QA person who is in his mid-50's and Japanese. He came to the US 10 years ago to study vibrophone under Gary Burton at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. He and his wife bought a house and had an open house. I took my guitar to play. The other musician there was a French-Canadian support person who played keyboards -- but all show tunes, 50's standards, etc. A couple of times the Japanese gentlemen and I were getting a jam going on a tasty riff, then from the piano would some "Volare". A little frustrating.

The best part was some world class cognitive dissonance. There was a QA person there, Chinese from Beijing in her mid-30s, in the US 10 years. She had a beautiful, clear soprano -- and beautifully sang 19th century and earlier American standards -- "Red River Valley", "Beautiful Dreamer", "Yankee Doodle Dandy" -- in Chinese ?!?!? She said they were popular in China when she was growing up ?!?!?

Then, my 21 year old baby daughter was having a party that we were invited to go to. So we took the Chinese woman and her husband and 6 year old son and another friend with us. "Invasion of the Parents". It was kind of fun.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Ecosystems Redux

Thinking about the glial cells "tending" the neurons, you wonder how this came about. The glial cells are reacting to the excitation of the neurons. Is it "interesting" to them in some sense? It seems like a strategy of cooperation as opposed to competition would have evolutionary advantages. Is this all based on the stuff they are finding with bacterial communication (see for example this wired article -- seems like there was a more complete writeup in Scientific American, where they thought they had found the chemical that all cells would use to communicate). Yet another thing that we may have scientific understanding of soon.

Saturday, May 08, 2004


They're everywhere, they're everywhere!

In her senior year of high school, my oldest daughter did a research project involving factors affecting mylenization of neurons. The myelin sheath around neurons makes them transmit impulses faster; lack of it is I think mostly what Multiple Schlerosis is. The myelin sheath is composed of Schwann cells that wrap themselves around the neurons. I remember thinking and mentioning to her at the time that this seems like a relationship that may have started out parasitic and evolved to be symbiotic.

Last month's Scientific American had an article on glial cells, of which Schwann cells are a type. Glial cells make up the majority of the brain and were thought to mostly provide nutrition to the neurons. Now they have found out that they react to synapse firing and in fact moderate it. As such, they may have a role in moderating neuron activity and development, i.e., memory and learning. Really cool pictures of glial calls with tendrils wrapped around synapses, clearly they are involved in the synapses' operation. Kind of like neuron shepherds. You wonder how this relationship evolved -- this little ecosystem in our brains.

I read a few years ago "Slanted Truths", by Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan. One of the points of this book is that one of the techniques by which life evolves is by things merging, rather than strictly by mutation. Basic cell structure is a case in point. Mitochondria were a bacteria or something that got eaten by early cells at some point and that then got incorporated rather than digested -- they have their own DNA. Also mentioned, if I remember right, were the spindles used in mitosis, which are basically spirochetes, just as sperm tails are. So, an ecosystem in every cell.

This was also one of the coolest things of the many cool things in "Genome", already blogged -- that the genome itself is an ecosystem, with little snippets of replicating genetic code trying to make more copies of themselves, snake other sequences, and otherwise engage in Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest strategies.

So, is it surprising at all that our minds are an ecosystem? No, not at all, what else would they be? Good books on this: "Society of the Mind", by Marvin Minsky, the father of AI at MIT; and also "The Meme Machine", by Susan Blackmore, already blogged.

Read a post by Jaron Lanier at The Edge, kind of talking about how the early pioneers of computer science (Von Neumann, Wiener, Shannon) were too hung up on serial architectures and ignored surface-based (not parallel) computing. He got totally blasted on it. Still I agree with his idea, blogged previously, that current software interfaces are too brittle. It is too hard to get things to talk together, any software developer can tell you that. Re the above thoughts, it makes it too hard for software ecosystems to self-organize and evolve. If we can come up with the more approximate, organic interfaces that Lanier proposes, then our silicon children can maybe begin to evolve into something interesting. Kind of funny, Lanier is saying the Cybernetic Singularity is a pipe dream, but his idea might be a key one to make it happen.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

MayDay + 1

Well, I was going to blog yesterday with the snappy title "MayDay, MayDay, Derby Day, Derby Day" -- but, I correctly decided I should cut the grass, which left me not a lot of time for the traditional Kentucky Derby bourbon consumption -- so, no blog yesterday.

My son sent me a link to a good nebula award nominated sci fi short story by Cory Doctorow. Definitely reads as written by and for computer geeks. Good premise, computer interface to let you control your autonomic systems. Kind of like an early version of the glanding capabilities of future humans in Ian Banks Culture novels, where you can produce hundreds of designer drugs in your head by thinking about it. Still, this got me thinking. If we had such capabilities, it is hard to see how we wouldn't just bump our dopamine levels up to the max and bliss out. Kind of like the rats with the levers to give them cocaine -- they keep hitting the levers until they starve to death.

I was talking to my wife about a female friend of hers who had had a supernatural experience -- a visitation by a spirit. The read a book that told her to put a cross on the wall and tell the spirit to go away, so she did it and, shazam, it worked! No more spirit!

My wife also told me a story she had shared before, about how at age 5 she had three times in a row known what number would come up in the the church carnival chuck-a-luck wheel. I of course counter-argued, that I had things happen in my life that I thought might have been out of the ordinary, but when analyzed, could (of course) be accounted for with a scientifically sound explanation. My whole life, I have watched carefully for any "break" in reality and, damn, I just haven't seen any. But, like in the Piattelli-Palmarini book on cognitive illusions I've already blogged, the human mind is great at ignoring large number of negative results when given very small numbers of positive results (the principal by which psychics make money).

The two things together got me thinking tho. There is probably some evolutionary value in believing in miracles, luck, and all the rest and ignoring bad results. In times of crisis or quick-thinking, having to rationally justify all actions could have been a bad thing. Being able to get a group moving together quickly and cohesively would definitely be a good thing. And rallying behind a magical idea, leader, whatever, at times might have been just the ticket.

Plus, total rationality is clearly the wrong way to go in courtship and breeding. With 50% of marriages ending in divorce, a rational person might decide to steer clear of the whole thing. Falling in love enough to try marriage requires a "leap of faith" that is probably totally irrational, but is hopefully worth it in the long run. I tell this to some the rational young males I know, they don't seem to be buying it.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

A Little Night Music

Oy ve, I keep thinking I'm not going to do this anymore, but I started The Great Refactoring of '04 on March 12 -- basically converting 1 million lines of code from a 2-tier to a 3-tier architecture. So, proceeded to work, with the exception of a Saturday afternoon when I went back to the old family homestead to divvy up stuff before the house was sold, 24 12-hour days. The code totally took over my mind. I think I was left with about 10% of my brain to run my personality, so I dare say I was even more charming than usual. I was working til 7:30, coming home, having 3-4 beers or glasses of wine to shut myself down enough to sleep, going to sleep at 10 thinking about the code, waking up at 4-6 am thinking about the code. The record was when I got into the office at 5:15am one morning and worked til 7 in the evening. One other developer who's worked with me at two other companies was there 3 straight weekends as well. The last weekend, we drafted 3 other developers and slogged away, without a source libriarian (barbarism!). Anyway, mostly done, all but one program linking, painful but it had to be done. Glad I was there to do it, I do believe I am one of the world's great software rewrite men.

So, I've been attempting to regain my humanity for the last two weeks. Of course, the best way to start is with some good SF. I reread for the 1st time "Distraction" by Bruce Sterling. This is a great book. The ending, where the female protagonist who now has a bicameral mind teaches herself to focus on a different thing with each eye, and her bicameral boyfriend says, "That is so cool -- do it again." -- I don't know, a great moment modern science fiction.

My son and his girlfriend were down from Indianapolis and spend Thursday and Friday night here. Friday night we went out to Tomo's with my youngest daughter and her boyfriend and did some serious damage to mass quantities of sushi. Ran into some old soccer friends there, their youngest's 18th birthday -- unbelievable. My son and his girlfriend hadn't seen "Kill Bill, Vol I", so we borrowed a copy from the boyfriend's roommate and watched it. What an art film! I am not that big a Tarentino fan (he wants to be Elmore Leonard so badly), but this movie definitely has its momemts.

My youngest daughter had initiated a memetic first strike on me earlier in the day when she called me and started whistling "Twisted Nerve" from the movie. Interesting google info, written in 1968 by Bernard Herrmann (1901-1975), known for doing the scores to Hitchcock movies, including Psycho. Damn, what a catchy tune, you can't get it out of your head. My son and I were taking turns inflicting it on each other at 20 minute intervals the next morning. I actually achieved a moment of lucidity Saturday morning and hung out with my son and his charming girlfriend that morning instead of going to work -- and got a free lunch at Gumbo Ya-Ya too! (Cheap, good, fast-food Cajun is back in Lexington!).

In talking to my son's girlfriend, I revisited an old theme: how can music have the impact on our brains it does? It surely doesn't seem evolutionary. I have read a couple of books on it: "Music and the Mind", by Anthony Storr, and "Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy", by Robert Jourdain, and neither of them had anything compelling to say. My current vague working idea is that, we are primarily visual creatures. Vision accounts for 10 of the 11 megabits/second that we take in. Hearing is the only other sense that has any bandwith to speak of (1 megabit/second), and is somewhat orthogonal to vision. Taste, smell and touch are all too analog and too specific (exact receptors for 50,000? different smells) to encode anything. So, that leaves hearing/music as the available channel for information that isn't totally "us" like vision is.

Finally, to music. I have picked up 6 cds lately, all very listenable:

  • Norah Jones, "feels like home" -- very easy to listen to, pretty much like her 1st.
  • Dido, "life for rent" -- a good bit duller than her 1st, not horrible tho.
  • Death Cab for Cutie, "Transatlanticism" -- very nice emo tunes, kind of an Eliot Smith sound.
  • John Mayer, "Heavier Things" -- the 1st of his I have tried, very nice.
  • Stereolab, "Margerine Eclipse" -- some of their stuff is so upbeat and peppy, it has a kind of infectious happiness about it. Another very good cd, their prior "Sounddust" was also very good.
  • Air, "Talkie Walkie" -- their prior cd "10000 hz legend" was bad -- lots of talking in French??? -- I gave it to my oldest daughter to try. This one is much more listenable, more like "Moon Safari".
BTW, I can be reached here.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Insert Snappy Title Here

Had a very nice vacation 2/16-2/23. We were in St. Martin, French West Indies, at the Grand Case Beach Club. Mid 80's, light rain twice for 10 minutes, color and life, surf crashing 15 feet from the door of our room. It was a 10 minute walk to Boulevard de Grand Case, "the Gourmet Capital of the Caribean". Restaurant after restaurant, mostly French, some Italian, Indian, Creole -- no Chinese or Sushi. Every meal we had was excellent, but, man, after the 3rd rich French meal, I had to give it a rest. The Lolo was also fantastic -- sidewalk cafes, half oil drums charcoal grilling ribs, chicken, fish, shrimp, lobster -- sides of red beans and rice, curry rice, cole slaw, potato salad, corn-on-the-cob, johnny cake, fantastic conch chowder -- and $10 for a slab of ribs, 1/4 chicken, and 3 sides, and Carib beer for $1.50. The money was weird, they would take dollars straight up for euros. I couldn't figure out that model.

My wife got to water-ski twice (no-hands, rope between the legs and everything, cheers from the watching boats) so she was happy. We also took a speed boat to the reef north of Anguilla and snorkeled. My 1st time, it was OK but I swallowed about a pint too much seawater, and looking at the pretty fishies got kind of dull after a while. I got to speak some French, I love the way it tickles my brain to get that 2nd language thread running. Had a fun evening our last night there. Had a very nice dinner at Il Neptune (Italian). They had a guy playing guitar and singing. I sang harmony to "Happy Birthday" at the next table (family tradition), so he came over after and I sang harmony with him on "Ai, Yi Yi Yi (I am the frito bandito)" and "Santa Lucia". At the end of both, he held a note a long time and bent it down to the step below. I had a good column of air going so I stayed right with him -- boo-ya! Then we found another place with a singer and we finally got to do some dancing.

So, on the trip I read:

  • "Dune: Butlerian Jihad" -- guilty as charged. I read the other three Dune followups, they are competently done. But, I realized that they are lacking the thing I really liked about a lot of Herbert, which was stories that really are about evolution. The followups seem mostly concerned with checking off "that was in Dune, now we've done the secret origin".
  • "The Other Wind" and "The Telling" by Ursula K. LeGuin. She still writes very well, simple tales with a lot of heart. But, no surprises, kind of dull.
  • "Black Cherry Blues" by James Lee Burke. A David Robichaux Cajun detective novel. I saw a new one of his books and decided I'd try him -- this was the oldest David Robichaux book I could find. I was reading the jacket material and was afraid I'd already read these. But, starting it, I realized that this was the character from the movie "Heaven's Prisoners", with Alec Baldwin and the Teri Hatcher fully-nekkid scene. It was OK, I may try some others.
  • "Picoverse", by Robert A. Metzger. Nothing new, creating pocket universes with particle accelerators. like the one by Steven Gould and lots of others.
  • "Vectors" by Michael Kube-McDowell. Ugh. I thought I had liked some of his stuff in the past, this was really crap. Scientist takes pictures of brainwaves, unique as fingertips, discovers identical ones from an old man and a kid born after the old man's death. His Wiccan, video game genius new girlfriend is killed by gang-bangers after he has scoffed at her suggestion that this is proof of reincarnation, so he goes on a mission to prove her theory. After a bunch of plot, he kills himself so he can be reincarnated soon after she is, so he can hook up with her again -- good plan.
The "mind is magic" crowd just won't go away. They just don't get it. I go see my dad who now has basically no short-term memory, and it is recognizably my dad, but at about a 60% level. On the snorkeling trip, there was another couple with us. The guy was a 6th grade teacher and I had thought it was odd that he would search for words or form odd malapropisms. Then both he and his wife told us how he had had 5 brain surgeries and gamma-ray treatment for brain tumors, the largest of which was cue ball size. Ahh, now it makes sense. One of the contentions of Descartes, the pappy of Dualism, was that the mind/spirit was indivisible. But, it just ain't. You can lose one or more of thousands of pieces, or just degrade horizontally, vertically, diagonally, or however. But, are you still yourself? What self? There is no self.

Before the trip, I read "The Crystal City", by Orson Scott Card, the 6th Alvin Maker book. Card writes well, but he lost all edge years ago. Still, I empathize with the guy, he has 5 kids to try to feed and raise. His stories are always strong because they are about the moral decisions the characters must make. In this one tho, they build "The Crystal City", actually "The Crystal Building", where you can go and get weird visions and reflect on them -- and the women decide they should call it "the Tabernacle" rather than "the Observatory". Card seems to be downward spiraling into his Mormon roots -- ugh. Well, at least we probably don't have to worry about him getting DOM (Dirty Old Man) syndrome in his declining years.

No links to any of the above books. Not enough edge to really recommend any of them.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Belated or Belittled Insight

I did get some insight from "You Just Don't ..." in the last blog that I didn't mention.

1st, on the contention that men verbally spar to establish a dominance heirarchy, protect their feeling of independence, and thumb their noses at authority, I agree. I have always been a smartass, and it has definitely been about saying "I'm smarter than you, I don't care if you are the boss or whatever". Serious nose-thumbing.

2nd, on the contention that men mostly exchange information in conversation. I have (sadly) always only pursued friendships where I feel that I learn from the other person. My friend David, for example, always has something new on business, technology, wine or food.

This is one reason that I really hope that I can stay close to my children throughout our lives. I have learned great things from all of them.

I remember, about 8 years ago, my oldest daughter had gone to the grocery and had not accomplished the mission exactly as I wanted, so I was giving her shit about it. My son then totally busted my chops for it. He was totally right, I was being my dad, who never missed an opportunity to criticize meaningless "failures". I sure wouldn't have thought I was running my dad's software, but I was, and my son pointedly pointed it out to me. Children that help you grow, how bizarre yet great.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

The Book I Read for my Wife

Today I finished reading You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation", by Deborah Tannen, Ph.D. Basic premise, women want love and intimacy, men want respect and authority. Women have "rapport" talk, men have "report" talk. I pretty much agree, I guess. She doesn't go much into any of the evolutionary reasons for this. I think men are always verbally sparring and establishing dominance heirarchies because at heart they are still the race's warriors, and as such are always trying to have a military structure ready to go, just in case. Men are taught to repress emotions because they are seen as luxuries that may get in the way of survival. Particularly as young men develop testosterone-fueled tempers, they must learn to supress and control them. So, you wind up with an overall structure of supressed emotions. And, guess what? You don't care that your emotions are suppressed, because you have been taught that they are not important to survival, and, in general, you don't care about trivialities. So, maybe the follow-up book can be "I Do Understand, but I Really Just Don't Care".

The book also did a lot of quoting from novels, movies, and plays. This somewhat put me off. I find most modern literature unreadable and totally irrelevant -- it's not somewhere I would go to look for insight.

As Hilary Clinton said, "It takes a village to raise a child" -- probably true, but it only takes one man to impregnate all the women of the village. That is why men are the natural warriors, genetically we are expendable. The growth and survival of a population is determined solely by the number of fertile females. I think this is discussed in "The Lucifer Principle", by Howard Bloom.

I had forgotten, I e-mailed Howard Bloom in November of 2002 after reading that book. It's a good read, a lot of good stuff on the instinctive nature of human behavior, particularly pecking order. Here's what I sent:

Having had 4 children go through high school, I didn't need much convincing as to the instinctive nature of much of human behavior, particularly in matters of breeding. If you want to observe heirarchies of pecking order, any high school is the perfect place to start.

Some other thoughts:

  1. Columbine as "revenge of the betas". I think that video games, where betas get to be the heroes (alphas) and kill the bad guys, undermine the normal pecking order, which is strongly reinforced by physical interaction. The betas play video games long enough and say "to hell with a bunch of alphas, I'm not taking it anymore".
  2. Someone recently told me that they thought that there was a continuum between alphas and betas. Probably somewhat true, but I would bet that there is a statistical survey that could draw a pretty clear line to distinguish alphas: "Have you deflowered more than n virgins?", where n = 0 or 1. "Droit de signeur" was the institutionalized version of this.
  3. Another difference: when women say "no" to betas, they mean "no". When women say no to alphas, they mean "yes" and the alphas know it.

I, of course, am a beta all the way. But, geeks rule!

This also reminds me of a zen lesson I gave my middle daughter when she was in high school. She was upset because one of the magnet program girls was dissing Revelers (sorority-girls-in-training high school club that mostly just throws parties). I told her that this was an incredibly boring topic. She was incensed and wanted to why I thought it was boring. I told her, her high school (2000 kids) was too big for pecking order to be established between all the individuals. So, cliques were needed to establish a pecking order heirarchy. The various cliques can have their place in the heirarchy, and then the individuals can establish pecking order within their clique. Everything with a backbone establishes pecking order (per The Lucifer Principle), backbones are 250 million years old. So, if 250 million year old software is not boring, I don't know what is. I don't remember if she bought it or not.

I guess this is something else that didn't ring true to me with "You Just Don't Understand". The claim seems to be that women are less heirarchical than men, that they stress equality rather than superiority. I don't know, the female cliques at Dunbar seemed to be stronger than the male ones. Does the fact that they are about who is liked vs who is respected really make a difference?

Before "You Just ...", I read "Chindi" by Jack McDevitt. He writes great space operas, with lots of astro-archeology. Seems very plausible, particularly if advanced civilizations do have short, 10,000 year life spans, that you're going to find a lot more dead alien civilizations than live ones. A good read, but I think he is getting in a bit of a rut.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

Blog jam?

From 5 weeks to 9 weeks -- must have seriously run out of things to say. I guess the common perception of me as an inexhaustible source of bullshit is slightly inaccurate. Anyway ...

Did read Charles Stross's debut hardback novel "Singularity Sky". Somewhat disappointing. The basic plot, of a feudal interplanetary culture meeting a posthuman one, seemed a little bogus. Feudal interplanetary culture??? Whatever.

Had an amazing vacation to Manzanillo Mexico. On the west coast, due west of Mexico City. Two adjoining bays, the southern the largest commercial seaport on Mexico's west coast, the northern, the Bay of Santiago, the tourist one. We were in an open-air, hillside villa on the point (La Punta) between the bays, looking out on Santiago Bay. The place, Casa Suenos was fantastic. Staff of 4, 2 live-in, cooking great fresh food -- Mexican for lunch, fresh caught seafood or other stuff for supper. My friend David of the 4,000 bottle wine collection brought 2 cases. With the magic refridgerator (unending supply of Corona) and Carlos making margueritas, etc, two swimming pools, it was very mellow.

Read most of Neal Stephenson's "Quicksilver" there. 1670 to 1730, the founding of the royal society, Newton, Leibnitz, Hooke, Boyle. Drags occasionally (900+ pages), but when Half-Cocked Jack rescues a harem girl from the Turk attack on Vienna, his smart-ass repartee is as good as ever.

Covering some similar themes (early scientists) but in a world where 90% of Europe died in the 14th century plagues, is Kim Stanley Robinson's "Years of Rice and Salt". An OK read, not fantastic.

Just finished Feb Scientific American. Four cosmology articles. Dark energy is just too weird. Had one thought, re the big bang was decelerating until 5 billion years ago, but is now accelerating. Maybe the expansion has a 1st harmonic vibration, the expansion alternating between accelerating and decelerating. Basically, the echo of the inflationary period. Articles also had a new term, inflatons: the field that caused inflation. Wonder when they're going to directly detect some of those (sarcasm). Interesting concept, tho, that big bang is accelerating because gravity is leaking away to other dimensions or branes. Seems like that would violate conservation of something tho. Also, talking about virtual gravitons -- that seems odd. The metric is space itself, gravitons are ripples in the metric carrying gravity and information, what do you need virtual gravitons for?

Working like a crazy man again -- 137 hrs Jan 2-15. One day off. But, having fun. Had trouble getting to sleep night before last, came up with designs for three new add-on products. Software, the infinitely expandable medium. You gotta love it!