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Spherical Time
Haiku2 for sphericaltime
belong to wishing
me a happy birthday to
me it's that time
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Created by Grahame

Viaakirlu.  I think hers is better, but I like mine too.
As much as I hate to admit it, I do sort of like the free time that my job allowed me. The hours and hours of time sitting next to the phone waiting for it to ring so that I could answer it, make a reservation and then slip back into farking afterward. Or writing blogs. Or arguing online. Whatever.

I got to work on Thursday morning to open the office. I printed out the first two reports and started to go to work. On the first phone call I'm trying to make a reservation, but it's incredibly slow.

And then it goes down completely.

Oh well. No big deal. Sometimes the network goes down with power failures. It happens. I figure that the system will reset itself and then I'll be able to go back to work.

Nope.

Nine hours later I go home, and the system still isn't back up. Nine hours is a long time, and so we're starting to get worried.

The next day we learn that the entire triple redundant database system is shot. Everything that we've done since January 7th is gone, backward and forward. Uh . . . that's not good, but there's a backup, right?

Apparently, they go to pull the backup off the external drive and find that the backup has been running perfectly. Every night it's been backing up everything that they told it to backup. Too bad they forgot to tell it to backup the database. It's been backing up the system logs every night religiously, which doesn't help us one bit.

So they're sending the server drives to California, where they're hoping that we can recover the database (for around $25k, incidentally). However, this is the fourth day since the system failed. Everyone that works in my department has been pulling massive amounts of overtime trying to manually rebuild the system from our hard copy backups as best we can, but it isn't going well.

It turns out that our paper backups aren't nearly as complete as we would have liked to believe.

We really don't know who's coming in every night, and some of the people that we think are coming in aren't. It turns out that we don't store data on who cancels at all, except in the computer.

After two 16 hour days by nearly the whole department, we managed to reconstruct the month of May. Only the month of May, with five people working solid trying to type fractional data into the computer.

We're still about 9 thousand entries behind, including reservations as far out as January.

So, I've been missing my free time at work. I don't have time to check my email, or look at fark or listen to music, or anything. I go in, grab a pile of physical records, and start typing.

It's mind numbing, and if you're missing me online recently, that's why.

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Finally.

I've used up the backlog of posts sitting around in Blogger.

Thus, content will now be posted as it is created. That annoying splash post that I've been using to link to those backdated posts is now gone. The few posts that I haven't finished with in the system will get bumped into the future, just like normal. On this most auspicious of occasions, I have some thoughts on completely unrelated topics:

The reason that I think that this is the Golden Age of science fiction and fantasy is contained in this video containing a talk by Clay Shirky. That cognitive surplus is one of the things that is allowing people to write and publish and distribute thousands good works in much higher volume than I think was possible in the mid 20th century.

I suspect, and let's see if history bears me out on this, that more good fiction with riveting plots, interesting characters, and splendid settings will be produced in the next ten years than was produced in the years between 1949 and 1989.

True, I doubt that we're going to see as many huge massive, world shattering hits like The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter, but I think we're also going to see lots of minor hits. Those minor hits will be books that are life changing for some people, and they'll be getting better, faster, and more reliable access to them.

Also: the computers here at work are down. Completely maldo. Every system necessary to the function of a hotel is either completely down or so slow that it might as well be completely down.

Except for the internet of course.

Uhg.
Little Brother comes out today!

Order it. It is awesomeness.

The free, HTML, downloadable, Creative Commons version of Little Brother by Cory Doctorow can be obtained here.

And you can always check out the MySpace page or Facebook page for it.

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Via Pharyngula and Stranger Fruit, Drug Monkey has a list of Pretentious Books that I should read. I'm not very good at normal fiction, but I might as well put it up as well as it fits in well with the list theme of late.

Although, I must admit, my list only has 105 entries for some reason.

As usual, bold indicates the ones that I've read, italics the ones that I started and never finished, an asterisk indicates any books that I might have liked. Bracketed numbers indicate the ones that I haven't heard of.

  1. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

  2. Anna Karenina

  3. Crime and Punishment

  4. Catch-22

  5. One Hundred Years of Solitude

  6. Wuthering Heights

  7. The Silmarillion

  8. Life of Pi : a novel

  9. The Name of the Rose

  10. Don Quixote

  11. Moby Dick

  12. Ulysses

  13. Madame Bovary

  14. The Odyssey

  15. Pride and Prejudice

  16. Jane Eyre

  17. The Tale of Two Cities

  18. The Brothers Karamazov

  19. Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies [1]

  20. War and Peace

  21. Vanity Fair

  22. The Time Traveler’s Wife

  23. The Iliad

  24. Emma [2]

  25. The Blind Assassin [3]

  26. The Kite Runner

  27. Mrs. Dalloway

  28. Great Expectations

  29. American Gods

  30. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius*

  31. Atlas Shrugged

  32. Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books [4]

  33. Memoirs of a Geisha

  34. Middlesex

  35. Quicksilver [On my to-read list]

  36. Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West

  37. The Canterbury tales

  38. The Historian : a novel [5]

  39. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

  40. Love in the Time of Cholera

  41. Brave New World

  42. The Fountainhead

  43. Foucault’s Pendulum

  44. Middlemarch

  45. Frankenstein

  46. The Count of Monte Cristo

  47. Dracula

  48. A Clockwork Orange

  49. The Once and Future King

  50. The Grapes of Wrath

  51. The Poisonwood Bible : a novel [6]

  52. 1984

  53. Angels & Demons

  54. The Inferno

  55. The Satanic Verses

  56. Sense and Sensibility

  57. The Picture of Dorian Gray

  58. Mansfield Park

  59. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

  60. To the Lighthouse [7]

  61. Tess of the D’Urbervilles

  62. Oliver Twist

  63. Gulliver’s Travels

  64. Les Misérables

  65. The Corrections [8]

  66. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

  67. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time [9]

  68. Dune

  69. The Prince

  70. The Sound and the Fury

  71. Angela’s Ashes : a memoir

  72. The God of Small Things [10]

  73. A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present

  74. Cryptonomicon [Also on my to-read list]

  75. Neverwhere [Also on my to-read list]

  76. A Confederacy of Dunces [11]

  77. A Short History of Nearly Everything

  78. Dubliners [12]

  79. The Unbearable Lightness of Being

  80. Beloved [13]

  81. Slaughterhouse-five [Also on my to-read list]

  82. The Scarlet Letter

  83. Eats, Shoots & Leaves [14]

  84. The Mists of Avalon

  85. Oryx and Crake : a novel [15]

  86. Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed [16]

  87. Cloud Atlas [17]

  88. The Confusion [18]

  89. Lolita

  90. Persuasion [19]

  91. Northanger Abbey [20]

  92. The Catcher in the Rye

  93. On the Road

  94. The Hunchback of Notre Dame

  95. Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything*

  96. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values

  97. The Aeneid

  98. Watership Down

  99. Gravity’s Rainbow

  100. The Hobbit

  101. In Cold Blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences

  102. White Teeth [21]

  103. Treasure Island

  104. David Copperfield

  105. The Three Musketeers
Okay, first of all, that required absolutely to much time. I had to go through and reformat the html throughout the entire list because it was completely farking itself.

Second, now I have a new list of books . . . If I ever manage to make it through the 99 books already on my shelves.

Third, I'm hovering around 1/5: 22 books read so far.

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I think that Stross managed to talk me out of believing in the technological singularity at the same time he finally convinced me that he's a brilliant writer.

Singularity Sky didn't make that much of an impression on me, except for the fact that I could finally say that I'd read a Stross book and I still wasn't sure that I understood what all of the fuss was about. The Atrocity Archives made a much bigger impression, but the writing was a bit more "first bookish," which is especially odd considering that it was his third or fourth novel, according to Wikipedia.

Every once and a while I read a book that shows me the future of humanity and Acellerando was one of those novels. Holding this book in one hand and The Foundation Trilogy in the other (I've got an omnibus), I can say that the future will probably not contain a twelve thousand year long human empire that remains at a generally static technological level within the realm of our understanding. The future of the human race is much more likely to look like what Stross postulates than what Asimov does.

Technology, especially computers, will continue to advance, and this was the first book that I've seen that illustrates the future of computer technology in a way that I think shows glimpses of what the future will be like.

(Some small spoilers follow from this point).

Granted, there are a few things that left me shaking my head. For example, when Manifred loses his glasses and can't remember his own name, I felt jolted by disbelief. He must have something running on his wetware, especially in the unintegrated state at which he existed at the time.

My mind absolutely refused to believe that he could even have a conscious internal monologue without having something to reference himself with. That's basic operational information, and it should have been drilled into him before he began to go fully wired. Does he keep his glasses on during sex, and if not, how does he remember what he's supposed to do? Was there ever a period where as a child he had to exist without his technical assistance?

Of course, in the same situation, the glasses go on and try to complete his business without him, something that I also felt was unbelievable. Why should he computer equipment be able to make response decisions without him before the advent of Turing compliant AIs?

Next, when switching between the real world and the virtual mind spaces, the mind spaces are amazingly benign. The programming environments are insanely complex, but the people running as software in them seem to treat them as just as permanent as the real world. I think it would have been interesting to see a fatal exception occur at some point. Perhaps in the government of the Ring Imperium. If there ever was a government that couldn't stop for a reboot, it would have been that one.

His current book is Halting State though. Maybe he goes into those issues more deeply in that novel.

Also, as far as I can tell, at some point the majority of everything is running on RAM, and it doesn't seem like people are saving nearly often enough.

In the midst of these massively complicated virtual environments, there were so few invisible software dangers. Once someone's completely a virtualization, couldn't they be infected in the same way as a computer program today? There is a mention of religion as an infectious meme, but after the uploaded age spam and spyware seems to stop. I think that our experience with the computers that we use today has shown us that there's nothing resembling a perfect computer security system.

Think about how a self aware spam might act. For a completely virtual person, an infection might make you actually desire to buy the product at an emotional or root user level, or hand over all of your account details and then authenticate the transaction. Or you could kill one of the unique ghosts with a well placed exploit.

It would have been interesting to me if more virtual snooping had happened through scanning the virutalized minds of the characters. Aineko shouldn't have had to have modeled people to understand them: it should have been able to evaluate their mental state from reviewing the back end of the system. It should have been able to read minds.

Furthermore, people seem to just accept that the people around them are who they say they are. Amber is always Amber, Mannie is always Mannie, and Sirhan is always Sirhan. When one of the characters talks to another one of the characters, especially in the simulated environments, they don't seem to really worry that the people that they're talking to are really the people that they want to be talking to. Identity is taken at face value, even for the new manifestations of the dead.

This seems oddly trusting, considering that just about anyone can build a body from scratch to look like just about anyone they want. They can't possibly have unique DNA encoded identifiers at that point, because that's just copyable and transferable information.

Why should Amber have to worry about the debts of the Ring Imperium? The only person that held the keys to that entity was dead. Hell, even today we can claim that charges on a credit card were falsely made. I can't even imagine the problem with identity authorization in a completely virtualized society where multiple copies or mimicked copies can exist.

Heck, existing as a virtual simulation seems to to just invite self revisionism. Is it still my charge if the part of me that ordered it no longer exists? I might not even remember it if I've purged my memory along with the money spending bits.

True, the characters in the book are the super-ultra-conservatives in regard to self revisionism (and I can't say that I wouldn't be one of them, either) but it still seems odd that the can't hack their own genome and personality by little Manni Jr.'s time. Especially as they go through so many bodies.

One last thing about the virtual spaces: Why force everyone to use the same context? With that much processing power sure they could all exist comfortably in whatever environments that make them comfortable and still communicate or interact. Why wear chaffing pants? Why not make the context user specific? While Amber wears the pointless and constrictive royal garb, why can't I see things as my own little private garden of paradise where I can wear robes of silk or nothing at all at my own choosing?

Finally, there is the concept of the Matroishka Brain. I don't like the Matroishka Brain. It seems stupid to reject the physical reality, although I understand the drive of the non-human intelligences to expand the computational power until it utilizes every molecule in a solar system. The ultimate housing development, as it were.

I think that I'm caught up in the conservative notion that planets should last forever. I like the cool concept of the empty space and the gigantic livable spheres floating around.

So, while I understand the Maroishka Brain concept, I don't want to see my solar system destroyed. There's all that other matter over there in Alpha Proxima. I think they should go eat that first.

Of course, in my universe, the manipulation of large quantities of matter over long distances isn't nearly as much of a problem as it is in Stross' universe. After all, the addition of multiple kinds of FTL solves so many complicated problems in terms of resource allocation. It isn't worth breaking down the planet Mercury for matter when you can simply import more than you need in a more usable form, whatever that form is.

I mentioned up at the top of this post that Stross convinced me that the singularity isn't going to happen, and I should explain that comment.

I don't think that there is an exponential rate of technological progress. It's such a hard thing to judge, and I do think that we're on a consistently upward trend, but I see no evidence that it's better than linear, especially with our now firm grasp of scientific principles, except as determined by population size.

I also don't think that we're coming up with that many revolutionary concepts. Instead, the vast majority of technological innovation seems to be stemming from our basic research into the world around us as determined by the forces that we already understand. I do suspect that there are entire levels of understanding that we'll eventually advance to the will allow us to do things that right now we can only dream about.

To me, that's the actual potential for singularity: a change in the rate of paradigm revisionism in regard to how we view the universe.

Otherwise, I think that humanity will remain basically the same with increasingly complicated technology surrounding them.

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Another installment of Lex & Lia is in:

Raven Dreams

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Last time, I spoke a little about innovative game play and a bit on interactive computer sprites or avatars with egos controlled through StoryTron. This time I'm inspired by the Guitar Hero/Rock Band games.

The game play of Guitar Hero is simple. A falling set of instructions crosses the screen. As they get to the bottom, you "play" what is illustrated by pressing the correspondingly colored buttons. The more buttons you press at the correct time the better that you play and the higher that your score is.

The controllers are vaguely guitar shaped molded plastic, with the five colored keys in a line at the end. Geeks, the furiously creative people that they are, then began modifying real guitars into Guitar Hero guitars. Then came devices that would interface a guitar with a computer or video game system. All the while, non-video game people complained that others should be learning how to play real guitars rather than spending their time learning how to play a game.

Well, check that second link again. With technology like that we may someday be able to learn to play real guitars through interaction with a video game system.

In fact, I would say that the real world applications of video games to teach are staggering, and not in the simplistic Math Blaster or Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing way. Because, let's face it, I've played both of those, and they don't put enough thought into them to make them very interesting. Yeah, you might get progressively harder math problems, but you don't feel very rewarded by them. There's no complex story or end video. The graphics and the engine are static and cartoony.

Imagine though, a game with the graphical sophistication of Call of Duty that requires the knowledge of real world communications equipment to do well in. Perhaps a sci-fi spy game that teaches you to manipulate a unix or linux environment to change the parameters of a real world system.

You could even play in teams where each person has their own specialty and abilities based on their ability to negotiate complex systems.

With the SoundTech Ediface from above, you could even have a game along the theme of guitar hero that teaches you how to play a real guitar. Someday we might have a drum set that teaches you drums. And perhaps even something that teaches you Jazz Flute.

This isn't even as new as I imply. Flight Simulators have been around for years and today they're so good at simulating conditions and terrain that people actually use them to train on routes that they haven't previously flown.

I think one of the biggest problems to this is that people have long associated educational games with the poor production values and infantile subject matter that the elementary school games I cited above have.

Look at the amount of effort and time that people put into mastering games like World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy or Eve Online. I've personally spent hundreds of hours on games like that, and just imagine if there were good games that proffered real world knowledge in complex and engaging simulations.

I think that we're soon going to be reaching a point technologically where it won't make any sense not to make games somewhat more realistic and complicated in order to drive innovative game play. If a computer can speak Arabic, why not program a game that requires a player to learn the basics of Arabic (or Spanish, or German) to bypass some of the challenges?

At that point, the people above will no longer be able to complain about how gamers should learn to play real guitars instead of playing video games. They'll be doing both at the same time.

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Hahaha.  It's Over.

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I was just thinking about the fanboy effect. It happens to everyone, but I was just thinking about how different a Star Wars or Stark Trek fan is from George Lucas and Gene Roddenberry.

Really, there's a clearly delineated pattern as someone seems to pass through fandom and into the wider world of science fiction where the writers are considered people instead of gods and where they are *gasp* approachable.

Of course there are exceptions. You didn't think that I'd stereotype all these people without pointing that out, right?

Trekkies/Jedi: The outer level of fandom is the hardcore Star Trek and Star Wars fans, as I've already mentioned. They speak Klingon or have a full suit of Storm Trooper armor. They consume anything there is to consume from those lines and are what make Star Wars action figures so collectible.

The thing is, there is so much involved in these worlds and there are so many other people involved in them that they're isolated from the rest of Science Fiction a bit. Sometimes it seems like they can read twenty novels per year, but without touching on anything that doesn't happen in the Star Trek or Star Wars universe. They can talk and argue almost exclusively with other fans that share their passions, or they'll get bored.

The General Population are guys that like what they like. They won't show up in storm trooper armor, they don't regularly buy more than a few novels a year, and they don't seek out their favorite writers because they don't care enough. What they've read is usually what's on the display in the front of the Borders or Barnes & Noble. They usually don't have much of an idea of what's new and what isn't, and they're probably not too interested in the science fiction classics.

Novel Readers come next. By novel readers I mean the people that read novels that haven't been made into television shows or movies. These people sometimes keep abreast of the most current novels, but also read a lot of older works because they don't have to wait between book publications to continue the series that they started.

Since the universes in these novels usually aren't as expansive as the big universes they might have a favorite author or two, but they'll also read slightly wider. They'll usually have a better idea of the differences between hard science fiction and space opera or medieval fantasy and urban fantasy.

Years ago, this meant not knowing much about the writers themselves, or at least it did to me. I was more interested in the worlds that they created than knowing anything about their backgrounds. Usually have some idea of what is new and upcoming in the field of novels though, but won't have more than a tenuous connection to the current world of science fiction.

Short Story Readers are next. They are the ones on the bleeding cutting edge. They're on the lookout for the next big ideas (and sometimes the next big writers) and they don't have enough time for a novel to be published. They're the ones that subscribe to the 'zines and can claim that they've read something other than the Hugo and Nebula Novel nominees in categories other than "Best novel."

Aspiring Writers are those losing their fannish aspects. They will read anything because they want to learn, but they're the people that will travel to cons because they have friends attending and probably have already met one of their favorite authors already. They concentrate as much on their own work as other people's work. They'll keep a blog or a livejournal, work a day job, and dream of the day when they hit Orson Scott Card status.

Writers concentrate on their own work above all else. They read only a few selected favorite authors and authors they might blurb for because otherwise their time is spent avoiding the process of writing or, in Mercedes Lackey's case, doing apparently nothing else. They've overcome most of their fannish tendencies because they've been invited to the cons, they've been the Guest of Honor, and they've been recognized and had fans stop breathing.

They've gotten carpal tunnel from all the books they've been required to sign. They may be past the need for a day job, but still dream of hitting it George R. R. Martin or Tolkien big.

Publishers are a little different. Everyone they know is a writer or wants to be a writer. They haven't met someone that isn't in one of those groups in two years outside of bumping carts together in a supermarket. Their fannish tendencies have died witheringly under the mountains of the slush piles long ago. They are the unseen leaders, the powers that be, that are the arbiters of taste and great publication. They see all and know all about the publishing world.

Thus, they see nothing but people. No great writer or bad writer, not George Lucas himself, is going to leave them stuttering. They have complete immunity to science fiction writer fannish behavior, and can carry on an uninterrupted conversation with someone introduced as Joanne Murray. No living person has yet reported what dreams science fiction publishers may have about the future.

This is sort of related, but without the secret "publisher" level. Via Jeff.

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