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The Madness of Crowds September 18, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Brain, Brilliant words.
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A thoughtful dissection of crowd psychology is currently running in one of my feeds (ribbonfarm.com), which answers my questions about how persecuted folk end up in cultish groups.  It’s another long-form essay (and uh, book report : ) ), so only go there when you have time.

The Fifth Season, by N. K. Jemisin September 4, 2016

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The Fifth Season, by N. K. Jemisin is another beautiful exploration of the enslavement of talented beings at the hands of merciless monsters, the (frightened) merely human.  The talented beings are oregens, who have the instinctive ability to use the energy of the earth in many often destructive ways. Usually they are killed like witches, but an empire made them slaves instead, to quell earthquakes and volcanoes. Usually successful, oregens nevertheless sometimes failed to keep Father Earth from causing volcanic winters, or Seasons.  This book is about one of them, and how it came about as a direct result of slavery.

It’s a damned good read (or listen, in the case of the link above), filled with pathos and sympathy for the abused and the foolish, and understanding of the wronged. It is thematically nuanced enough that you forget you are reading a polemic against slavery. In this sense it is very similar to N. K. Jemisin’s first book The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (lovingly reviewed by me earlier), which also got a boatload of award nominations (Hugo, Nebula, Tiptree and Sense of Gender). Given her astounding writing it is hardly surprising that The Fifth Season was nominated for Nebula and won the Hugo last year.

This is a trilogy, and you will buy into the main character so thoroughly you will pay for the next two books, so the commitment-phobic among you should probably stay away.

They Are Here Somewhere August 28, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Brilliant words, Geek Stuff.
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Untitled 

From reddit.com.

Why Your Life is Not a Journey August 25, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Brain, Brilliant words, Uncategorizable, Video.
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Snippets from the film “Tree of Life”.  .

Fluke, by Christopher Moore August 1, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Books, Brilliant words, Mutants, Science.
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Fluke, by Christpher Moore, is another hilarious tale of a, well, tail, specifically the fluke of a humpback with the words “Bite me” on its fluke. The first person to witness this unusual coloration is Nathan Quinn, a whale biologist with a great fascination with whale song.  He and his terminally cute but too young-for-him research pixie Amy Earhart photograph the whale in the course of research… and the frame of film containing it goes missing.  And his sound recordings.  And his boat. And, finally, him.  He is pursued by his colleague and photographer Clay, Clay’s mean sex-fiend schoolteacher girlfriend Claire, a surfer-Rastafarian hybrid named Kona1 (nee Brad Thompson or something not very Jamaican, Hawaiian or surfish, but more New Jerseyish) and The Old Broad who funds them and who insisted that the whale called her to tell him to bring him a pastrami sandwich.

Much funnier when he tells it, of course; Moore’s signature humor is gentle and mocking  and wry and just silly sometimes. Basically, I would die to be a tenth as funny at any time.  Fluke had me laughing in crowded doctor’s waiting rooms.

Available on Amazon, naturally, but I got mine at sfpl.org.

WARNING: contains some actual science.  Does not detract from the story in the slightest.

1Kona refers to the research pixie as “the snowy biscuit”, for her fair complexion and, well, biscuitness

A Policy Initiative July 24, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Brilliant words, Uncategorizable.
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Stuffilike.net has always been devoted to stuff I actually like, from Hello Kitty sex toys and other strange ironies to octopodes and  current technologies I first saw in the original Star Trek show which are now, if not commonplace, at least no longer utterly fictional (still no flying cars, though).

One of the consequences of this relentlessly cheerful editorial policy is the self-limiting nature of the work. Some days I don’t like things very much, and must fight the urge to say so loudly and clearly through the megaphone of the web. For instance, I take no joy in remarking upon electoral politics as the choices available fill me with ennui for more money machine politics at best (Hillary) and World War Three Holocaust at worst (The Donald). And what erudition is to be had there, anyway?  People who think and people who won’t instinctively recognize each other and can’t communicate across the gulf of sentience between them.

I hate shouting across the Grand Canyon–just makes me hoarse.

All this explains (perhaps) why there is little output here.  That and the black depression from the loss of my father, my wife’s father, my job, acquiring pneumonia, acquiring sciatica and a motorcycle racer’s recent suicidal crash into the back of my van have made me less cheerful and unlikely to take delight and inspiration from the beauty in the world around me.

OK, that’s a little bleak.  Here’s a cat picture.

IMG_20160718_212650

That’s better.  Not sure she is filed correctly, though.

Look, wonderful things have been happening in our world.  Research in mixed graphene substrates have opened up some exciting avenues for development of smaller, faster, more powerful (and less power-consuming) electronics.  Computer controls are cheaper and more sophisticated than ever, and people are starting to do the theoretical heavy lifting about communications security to make the world’s devices more flexible in response, data more analyzable and who knows what kind of benefits neural network analysis thereof will derive? Augmented reality is in a nascent phase, the infrastructure of AR-ware barely beginning to coalesce from a dark void of ignorance to saleable products, when Real Money will push research to actual utility. Powered exoskeletons are already entering clinical trials for muscle-wasting conditions, and soon will be available for grandmothers, too.  The James Webb telescope will soon make Hubble look like a spyglass. And right here in front of me is a box that lets me communicate with anyone in the world, if I’m smart enough to get them to answer. Even if they don’t, so much of the world’s information is now available to me through this box I may not need their answer…if I’m smart enough to get one myself.  And my magic box is smaller than this:

spock

Well, that seems better.  What? Our time is up?

Thank you, doctor.  See you next week, then?

The Water Knife, by Paolo Bacigalupi July 17, 2016

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The Water Knife, by Paolo Bacigalupi, is one scary piece of fiction featuring all the violence, desperation and hopelessness that any person should ever be exposed to in fiction.  This tale of the possible future (not actually science fiction, I hasten to point out, just speculating on what happens with the logical extension of our attitude towards water, land, money and each other) where the Colorado continues to dry up and states fight for water rights—to the point of excluding US citizens from moving from one state to another (using guns.  Did I mention the guns?) is pure Bacigalupi in its stark descriptions of privation, threats, torture and murder for profit on a large scale.  Very much not safe for children, as there are gruesome depictions of torture, murder and fairly explicit depictions of sex…and foul language.

That said, the characters are detailed and believable, the action scenes are briskly paced, the villains are monsters and a lot of people fall into the gray areas of morality, mostly driven by fear.  Fear is the main character in this book, touching the lives of everyone except the worst monster (no spoilers).

I like and recommend The Water Knife.  It’s gripping, if you can stand the horror of the world Paolo Bacigalupi creates.  More terrible than The Windup Girl for sure, but no less fascinating.

Link above goes to Amazon, but it should be in your local library or borrowable therefrom by inter-library loan (ask your librarian).

The Red, by Linda Nagata July 7, 2016

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The Red, by Linda Nagata held my interest well enough that I also listened to The Trials, the concluding (?) book in this story. Of the two, I think I liked The Red better, since the story arc seemed more complete and satisfying in and of itself.

Lieutenant James Shelley, US Army is part of a Linked Combat Squad which is just what it sounds like: an Army unit with excellent communications in three forms: a radio linkage to each other (GenCom), a video linkage to an overhead drone (an Angel), and a linkage to a handler (Control).  The individual soldier is also equipped with armor and an exoskeleton (either referred to as “armor and bones” or “dead sister”) and an “emotional prosthesis”, a skullcap which keeps mood swings in check.

Nice killing machines, you think? Not so much.  Our hero and his squaddies seem to be nice folks, just regular Joes (and Janes) in a rough business. There’s a bit of backstory for our hero but much less for the other characters, which does keep the narrative as tight as it needs to be, since this is an action tale after all.

This is probably interesting enough setup for several novels-worth of tales, but this particular one deals with a third sci-fi trope that is really interesting.  Shelley is infrequently given to having strong feelings in tactical situations that seem entirely incongruous with known operational parameters—he has hunches, and plays them. 

And they are always right. 

The source of these hunches are the crux of this novel. I must say I found the idea which explains it in the book is the most whimsical possibility I could have imagined, and brings me great delight when I think of it.

Good action, fair character development and a breezy pace (considering) make a good audiobook, competently read.

 

Exciting update: This is part of a trilogy. Great; now I have to listen to another one.

The Road to Hell July 6, 2016

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“Intentions are now the most widely used technology for creating unintended consequences, having disrupted older technologies like madness and stupidity.”—from a lovely essay by Venkatesh Rao.

Nexus, Crux and Apex, by Ramez Naam July 1, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Books, Brilliant words, Geek Stuff, Star Trek Technology.
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These three novels are among the most interesting science fiction novels I have come across in some time..Lovingly detailed descriptions of the brain-nanoparticle operating system (Nexus) that allow people to hack their own brains, regulating mood, compelling actions and desires and enabling communication mind-to-mind seem plausible (after you swallow the sufficiently-advanced-technology bits) enough to support a tale of personal discovery by the author of the OS as he winds between the US government, Chinese spies, Thai drug lords and showdowns with the US government and a singularity’s intelligence. A good actioner, the story will compel your attention through all three books and make you wish for a different ending to the last one, for sure.

Highly recommended.  The links above go to Amazon, but are available at sfpl.org.

Armada, by Ernest Cline June 1, 2016

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Armada, by Ernest Cline is an excellent book for a really, really long, horrible weekend moving trip.  Especially if you have to make TWO trips because U-Haul screws you over by fraudulently renting you the smaller trailer, incidentally costing you a day’s pay and an extra hundred bucks in cash.  And my air conditioning died on Memorial Day weekend on the very hot drive through the valley (100F +).

I’m not bitter.  I would not want you to think that.

Armada is another of those well-loved (read: clichéd) sci-fi tropes wherein an adolescent boy (always an adolescent boy; never a girl, never a grown man or woman) daydreams about space dogfights and excels at videogames of that type, especially one game wherein he is high scorer. I believe the best-known version of this is The Last Starfighter (link goes to a special four-movie deal: Flash Gordon, The Last Starfighter, Battlestar Galactica and Dune for eight bucks which is actually pretty good). Our Hero is recruited by defense agency to fight the faceless monsters at the last minute to save Earth from destruction at the hands of an implacable  and seemingly invincible foe.

This could be pretty trite in the hands of some but Ernest Cline manages, by exposing the trope to scrutiny and skepticism within the novel, to extract a dramatic story line from it, and imbue the story with a kind of realistic humor which I found very stress-relieving.  And then there’s Wil Wheaton, who read each sentence with enough emotional clarity that I found myself laughing and crying along with Our Hero, the video game geek (note: this features an intragalactic war, so characters you like are gonna get snuffed).  Good job, Wil.

The link at the top of the page goes to Amazon, but the audiobook is available at sfpl.org and probably your own local library.

Time Sink May 25, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Brilliant words, Uncategorizable.
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Why you should leave this page, and never use the Web again.

My Enemies are Vanquished May 19, 2016

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I promised no more posting until my enemies were vanquished, and I mostly kept my word.  I can tell because readership has dropped precipitously in the last year. Now my house is (mostly) finished and I started a contract job helping rescue some semiconductor company documents, our stuff is moved to a lovely house in the Frozen North and my feet don’t hurt so much.  Along the way my wife and I both lost our fathers and I developed sciatica bad enough to require an emergency room visit which gave me pneumonia requiring a second emergency room visit.  I discovered some really lovely people work in hospitals (it’s a pity I don’t remember the second visit. Pneumonia does that, apparently). I also discovered that my wife has a real talent for project management, that my relatives and in-laws are kind and generous, and that my friends come through in a pinch.

Thank you all.

We will resume our faithful coverage of strange Stuff I Like including science, technology, all things geeky and some things humorous, especially if your idea of humorous is anything like mine (probably not).  Basically, whatever I am thinking about for half an hour at lunchtime.

Stepdaughter Communication: February 23, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Brilliant words, Toys.
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Hey so I dropped and cracked my phone and now it’s automatically searching google for what autocorrected to "Jihad" and "Mmmmmmmm I can haz burger" and keeps trying to send random texts in gibberish to people and is also automatically ordering food from Sprig (I just had to call Lars from Sprig to cancel my order three times and the phone hung up on him twice and called some random number that it typed in itself) I mean, I don’t need THREE herb salads, iPhone. I don’t even want one!

So… I’m going to turn my poltergeisty phone off and use my iPad so if you have iMessage I should get it or you can contact me through FB messenger for a few days until I get my screen fixed and phone exorcized.

Currently it is on my coffee table and I keep looking over at it to make sure it’s still there and not terrorizing the neighborhood. I may have to stick it in a locked box in the closet tonight so I can sleep instead of having it slit my throat with its shattered glass only to possess my body. If I sound like Siri the next time you hear from me… Run.

PSA from NoiseBridge November 10, 2015

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Power is out on our block of Mission, and actually most of the Mission district as of 10:04 today. A semi crashed into a power pole on the other side of Potrero and PG&E’s time estimations to getting it fixed vary from sometime after noon till well in the eve. Additionally most of Monkeybrains’ infrastructure seems to be also down.

Due to our zero fucks policy, and the fact that we still haven’t gotten around to installing a UPS on any aspect of our access control system, Noisebridge is closed till power is restored (or when someone with actual skill shows up with a lockpick). Please take this time to reflect on your life choices, and potentially do something out doors in the real world.

Since considering an anarchistic volunteer driven organization such as Noisebridge as critical infrastructure is foolhardy, any and all complaints regarding "not being able to get into the space to do that thing you so badly need to do" may be publicly laughed at. That is unless the thing you were about to do was to install a solar panel array on the roof, in which case joke’s on me, vegan egg on my face, oh jesus fuck what’s the password to my server’s full disk encryption, etc.

Thank you for understanding,

The Nonexistent Management

10% Happier, by Dan Harris July 10, 2015

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10% Happier, by Dan Harris is the story of ABS anchorman Dan Harris’ journey through Buddhism to mindfulness in the most torturous of routes: trial and error from Eckhard Tolle, Deepak Chopra and a host of what he calls affectionately “Jew-Bus”, Jewish people who have come to embrace Buddhist practices (Harris is Jewish).  In his guise of newsman he cheats his way into getting real answers to the deep mystery: how do you meditate, and why (he even got face time with the Dalai Lama along the way, which is not that easy).

The real juicy part of this book is not so much who he met or how he learned this or that thing, but his blow-by-blow account of his thoughts and reactions as he began learning meditation.  Especially interesting was his reaction to a ten-day Zen retreat of six-hour daily meditation, wherein he finally felt he “got it” and later the emotional outpouring he experience when meditating upon compassion for the first time.

The reason I loved this book is that his story resonates closely with my own, especially the embarrassing awareness of the banality of my own thoughts, the ease of distraction and the lack of rigor in focus or awareness of anything but the voice in my head.  That, and I’m hoping to get a little guidance on my own practice, and I think this book helped.

The link above goes to the Audible audiobook version, but it is also available at sfpl.org.  I do recommend the audiobook, as it is read by him and guarantees his nuances will not be misunderstood (c.f., “Jew-Bus”, above).

Audiobook Roundup July 6, 2015

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Some of my readers know I am renovating my house to rent and spend long days doing repetitive work like sanding and painting and minor repairs. Little of this involves thought, so I listen to audiobooks. I liked the ones I have been listening to, so here goes:

The Girl with All the Gifts, by M.R. Carey is the most horrible horror book I have read in a long long time. The things the UK Army does to a classroom full of children infected with the zombie parasite makes you wonder if the monsters are inside the fence instead of outside. This juicy little novel posits that the parasite involved in creating zombies is a strain Ophiocordyceps unilateralis (a fungus infects an ant, whereupon the insect becomes compelled to climb down to one of the lower leaves and clamp down with its mandibles until it dies. The fungus consumes the ant’s tissues — all except for the muscles controlling the mandibles — and grows inside of it. After a couple of weeks, the fungal spores fall to the ground to infect more ants. Ants infected by this particular fungus are often called “zombie ants.”), and the sciency-flavored horror is lovingly detailed and acted well by the narrator. Most highly recommended, and very depressing.

Exciting update: there is to be a movie made:

The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman is likewise well-acted by its narrator, but is in another vein entirely. This novel (part three of the series and probably the last) follows the adventures of a skilled magician after banishment from Fillory (the lamb version of the lion Aslan’s Narnia). Unlike magicians of other books, this one grows up to be thirty-something, copes with his father’s death (natural causes–this ain’t J.K. Rowling), stops drinking, resurrects his dead girlfriend, kills a couple of gods and creates two new worlds.

I know this makes him sound like an overachiever, but Grossman tells it so well you just go with it. Spectacular use of language; most highly recommended, not depressing at all.

Exciting update: there is a TV series.  I would have learned this sooner, but I don’t watch TV (much. I have seen most of Person of Interest).

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman is another horror book  read by him which is a real treat, as he is very good. The horror is that of a young boy haunted by an elemental spirit of some kind and is pretty terrifyingly brought to life. He has a couple of kindly neighbors who help him with this, and they seem pretty competent so far. One of them is eleven years old…although at one point the boy asks “How long have you been eleven?”

I’m not done with this one yet, but I like it already.

The Antibody by Christopher Lukas June 28, 2015

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I haven’t been able to find it on Amazon1, but The Antibody by Christopher Lukas is a gripping tale of a man’s struggle with suicide, depression, cancer and loss.  Written, directed and starring only himself, it is hilarious, tragic and real. I cried at the end, and I don’t cry for much. Watch it at the link above; no telling how long it will last.

—-

1. Seriously, Amazon?

Justice Considered as a Symplectic Manifold: June 18, 2015

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Alternating symmetry, no local invariants but everywhere orientable. And mercy?  Not lumpy but curly.

From The List That Cannot Be Named:

> But if the quality of mercy is not strained, how is it prevented   from being lumpy?

Weren’t we just discussing this?  Let justice be a mapping from  aggravations to retributions. Recall that Exodus tells us "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a 
tooth".  This suggests the mapping is structure-preserving.  (Q. does  Mos have coproducts?)
Legal systems generally recognize that injuries are asymmetric. This  suggests the mapping is alternating.  (Ex. verify the difficulty of  recovering damages from oneself)
The Battle Hymn of the Republic mentions the Groups of Wrath.  This  suggests we can come up with a basis for the mapping.  (Q. the Groups  of Wrath are often depicted as purple; are they in fact abelian?)
Under the exponential, we can then examine a range of justices, from  the Mikado’s (retribution-increasing) through the Mosaic (unital) and  the Nazaretic ("turn at least one other cheek") to the Epitectic  ("didn’t I tell you, if you kept that up, you were going to break my  leg?"), and we call the retribution-decreasing cone in this space  "mercy".  But due to the structure-preservation, all these justices  are scalar multiples of each other.  (Ex. check that mercy is well- defined)
Mercy is not lumpy, by definition.

OctoTranslator May 11, 2015

Posted by stuffilikenet in Applications, Awesome, Brilliant words, Geek Stuff, Star Trek Technology.
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is my latest app in the Google Play store (in fact my second). It is intended to help language learners create custom flash cards for use with Anki, which is possibly the best free flashcard program for Android phones (also available on iPhones, but who has those?).

Octotranslator - screenshot

OctoTranslator can take input from your microphone in any language your phone recognizes and can translate it to any language your phone can pronounce (this is called OctoTranslator because I used to have seven languages choices other than English…but I got upgrades, and so did OctoTranslator), by sending it to Microsoft Bing for translation (the same algorithm used in Skype).  It can return a text-only translation or it can read it to you using your Android phone’s TTS, which is pretty robust these days.  The real fun is saving to a data card to be mailed to you all zipped up in a single file, suitable for importing into Anki.

This is free. I would like reviews and testing, so feel free to take it and play with it, especially you Anki users, and lovers of foreign tongues (“My name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father. Prepare to die.”).

I must say I had fun testing this (I seem to have a macabre sense of humor when it comes to test phrases.  People overhearing me say things like “Spanish eyes is not really a casserole” and “Is your Mexican food made with real Mexicans?” make for real head-turning fun in line at the bank.  Takes the shine off it when they realize I’m joking, more’s the pity).

Get it here. (Offer not good after curfew in sectors R or M).

 

EXCITING, HORRIBLE UPDATE:

Octotranslator has died; “ArgumentException: Invalid authentication token. Microsoft DataMarket is retired. Please subscribe to Microsoft Translator, in the Cognitive Services section at https://portal.azure.com. Please visit https://cognitive.uservoice.com/knowledgebase/articles/1128340-announcements-action-required-before-april-30-20 to find detailed instructions. :” is the result.

I knew I should have paid Google instead.

 

EXCITING, WONDERFUL UPDATE:

Octotranslator has been reborn.  I went with Google Translation’s APIs, so you may continue.  I fixed a few glitches along the way, but users will not have noticed any of them anyway.