Friday, January 19, 2018

Amanda Palmer on Asking

Amanda Palmer, The Art Of Asking. Totally brilliant talk about Asking And Receiving instead of Demanding And (not) Receiving. Thanks to Douglas S. 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Look To Windward by Iain M. Banks

I have just finished re-re-reading Look To Windward by Iain M. Banks. If pressed, I might just designate it my favorite book from one of my favorite series, the Culture books.

Banks’ Culture books are modern space opera done right. The old-timey space opera was basically just westerns in space. A classic example are E. E. Doc Smith’s Skylark and Lensman series. They are good fun, but they are pretty much tough-guy space police fighting bigger and bigger baddies in bigger and bigger battles. The culture books are space opera for the thinking man.

Banks, now sadly passed before his time, said in an interview that he would love to live in the Culture, and so would I. He said it was an attempt at the most positive civilization he could imagine which was still recognizably human. It’s pretty much a utopia, except it’s interesting.

I guess my favorite bit is the spaceships. I’m a hopeless dork for big thingies, and I don’t know anybody who did it better than Banks. There are many types, including the General Systems Vehicles. Here you have a spaceship, held together with forcefields, which is a big city in one chunk. Think many kilometers long, several wide, and a couple tall, build in layers. They have big bays for building smaller ships, they have, well, everything a civilization needs, they have millions of inhabitants, humans, AI drones, and aliens of all kinds... they have smaller ships and aircraft and even indivicuals flying around it and over the parks. They are intelligent, run by “Minds”, hyper-AIs which work in hyperspace too... What’s not to love.

Look To Windward goes beyond even that. It has pathos and tension like most culture books. And it has outstanding inventions, one of the greatest is “air spheres”, which are collosal spheres of air which circle around the galaxy, which contain a whole world and civilization of their own, insanely old and wise, many of the citizens are intelligent, inscrutable plant-based “dirigibles” which themselves are individually millions of years old... A scholar from the Culture is trying to study these amazing beings, and he comes across a secret plot from outside, aimed at one of the Culture’s “orbital” worlds (like Ringworld, only not quite that large).

For me at least, this is just an exceptionally satisfying novel on so many levels. I wish I’d met Iain Banks.
I also wish they’d make movies from them, except I’m not optimistic they would get it right, it would be difficult, especially as everything today has to be all action.

Art by Mark J. Brady
(Inspired by the novel but not an illustration)

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A lot of words...

Wow, I’ve just realised that on my blogs since 2005 I’ve posted about 10,000 posts!

 At about 150 words per post, that is 1,500,000 words, that is about twenty novels of 75,000 words... Almost two novels per year. Huh. So I’ve could have had a career as a novelist you say? Weeeell maybe, only writing a good coherent novel is way harder than writing a bunch of scatterbrain blog posts on various stuff.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Reasons to go for smaller cameras

This guy tells about why he now has gone to smaller cameras. I particularly like one point I had not heard anybody say before: even for a young person, carrying about many kilos of gear all day can simply be demoralising to the point that you get home with fewer and worse pictures. I feel the same way. I always had a fondness for compact cameras, but these days it's just not fun anymore to use a big camera. Back when the only cameras which had really good quality were big and heavy I had one, but that is years ago.

He also says that the dynamic range (shooting a subject with extreme contrast) is the only reason he held onto full frame for so long, but it's no longer enough.
Oh, he is funny too.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Binoculars reflection movie trope

I can’t find any mention of this movie trope:

In movies and TV, often westerns, the hero looks up and sees a clear glint on a mountain or a roof top: somebody is watching them with binoculars.

I don’t buy it. A glass surface (unlike a mirror which has a silver covering) reflects only 4% of the light.
And more, a binocular front lens is curved. This means that the reflection of the sun is very small and weak, and falls off with the square of the distance. It is nothing like a reflection in a hand mirror. (And if it was, it would have to be extremely carefully aimed to be visible to anybody, because the light beam is only as wide as the mirror.)

Monday, January 08, 2018

Dirk Gently

There are two Dirk Gently books, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, and The Long Dark Teatime Of The Soul. They are both humorous, intelligent, complex, and highly imaginative. And very original, I’ve not seen anything quite like them.

Douglas Adams of course wrote The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. The Dirk Gently books are also humor, but not at all as far out as HHGG. They are more ‘realistic’ as far as that can be said of books which involve time travel, ghosts, and gods.

I really appreciate them, it’s extremely rare to see such a combination of intelligence and imagination and humor. I think only Terry Pratchett is in the same league.

Adams was working on a third one when he died at 49 around the millennium. It was published with other diverse scraps, but was clearly only rough ideas.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Are ebooks failing?

There are many stories in the press about how ebooks are apparently failing. It is BS.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

iClever keyboard testing

I am typing on a new iClever travel keyboard*. It’s very nice indeed, fits in a jacket pocket and is only about 150 grams. 
 And yet it feels quite solid. It is covered in a nice, solid rubber-slash-cloth-like covering (they say it is faux leather) which makes it feel like it won’t break, unlike many other small keyboards. And I really like how it feels in the hand. Much classier than the price would suggest. (I’ve paid almost as much for a set of crappy earbuds which came apart after a few weeks.) 
It is “tilted” on each side, v-shaped, like some of the full-sized Ergonomic keyboards. I’m not sure how much that helps, but it does not seem to hurt. 
The keys are pretty nice despite the necessary short key travel, apparently they have an actual mechanical switch under each, not the common rubber membrane which I don’t care much for. 
It’s wireless of course, and so far Bluetooth works very well with it, connecting right away after I open the keyboard (kept in place with the nice modern way of a simple magnet rather than a fiddly mechanism). 
The one thing to get used to is that (I think this was done to solve the problem of folding the keyboard without the fragile mechanics that often results in) is clearly that there is a big gap in the middle of the design. For me that means that my thumb tends to hit outside the space bar. But there are signs that I’m already getting used to bending the thumb a bit more than I’m used to, so that shouldn’t be a biggie. (Although I think the design could easily have accommodated a longer space bar on both sides.) 
It is very economical, I think all the other keyboards I’ve bought (big or compact) have been more expensive, many significantly so. 
If this keeps working for me, it may be really good. It can fit even in my cargo pants (which I tend to use in the era of pocket phones etc). And I like to write in caf├ęs and such (I’m in one right now, waiting for my panini), but I also like to take walks without bringing a bag. But this keyboard and a phone is a quite good little pocketable modern typewriter.
Or indeed a pocketable studio. I wrote on my phone, took the photo with my phone, and posted it with my phone. Such compact power.

*Oddly I don't see a specific name or number for it, search on Amazon for  iClever Bluetooth Keyboard Ultra Compact Foldable Universal Ergonomic Keyboard.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Electronics addiction?

There is anecdotal evidence that people (like the amish) who make do without electronics are happier.

I’m extremely attracted to gadgets, and I can’t imagine giving them up. But I can also see that gadgets, not the least those with screens, are *extremely stimulating*, and that is clearly the reason they are so addictive. And pretty much it is guaranteed that anything addictive does not do you any favors in the long run.
So I’m conflicted.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Friday, December 08, 2017

What is ‘value’?

Here’s another definition thing I don’t care for: that the word “value” is understood by a lot of people to mean “financial rewards”.

 Value is a very important word which means so many things beyond mere money. It can mean convenience, beauty, help, understanding, communication, anything which is a positive quality in life. If you understand it to only mean “money”, that’s just spiritual poverty.

Why do I care about the changing meaning of this word, like I do with the word “literally”? Sure, languages change, but these words have something in common: 1, they are very important words and concepts. 2, we don’t have anything to replace them with. And we are much poorer without the concepts of ‘value’ and ‘literal’.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

About my phone...

Being on my way out and in a rush, I irritatedly asked of the Universe: “Where is my flippin’ phone?!”

 A voice from the void answered: “You haven’t owned a flipping phone since the iPhone came out, remember?”

Sunday, November 26, 2017

New relativity

All things are relative. But some are more relative than others.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Inner/outer circumstances and happiness

I just saw a post with great emphasis on the importance of ‘getting wealthy’.

I did not like being poor. I wouldn’t want to be again, for sure.
But the funny thing is: getting rich (or what many would consider rich) did *not* actually make the worry about money or anything else go away. You think it will, but it doesn’t.
And at the same time you have people who have nothing, who are happy and don’t worry.

All your feelings, happiness or fear, all comes from inside you. You can change your outer circumstance from here til doomsday, it doesn’t change anything important. Only your thinking and inner conditions (inner conflicts etc) really influence your life.

To some this may sound hippy-dippy, but it’s a very clear experience, and fits with what countless wise people have said over the ages.

Family and importance

How come everybody, from mafiosos to celebrities, say “there’s nothing more important than family”?

 For one thing, of course there is. If you are successfully working on a cure for cancer, say, is that not more important than whether you show up to your son’s softball game every time?

 T Pratchett said it slightly inelegantly: “Personal is not the same as important.”

 Or, emotional importance is not the same as rational importance.

 For another thing, family ties is the one thing built into us. If those have been superseded, I doubt that somebody saying that family is important will change very much.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Old satirical article

[I just rescued this fun old piece from the Web Archive site. It was indeed written in 1999.]

02 December 1999
by Del Miller and Eolake Stobblehouse
Contributing Columnist and Guest

print format | email this story | talk

This astonishing document fell through a wormhole in space, arced through the space-time continuum and took a hard left turn at a temporal discontinuity. The postmark indicated an origin in the year 2015 and careful study showed it to be the transcript of an interview with Steve Jobs. The unknown interviewer has given us a remarkable glimpse of the future of Apple and a look at things to come. Here is an excerpt:

Interviewer: I just caught the latest HyperQuickTime broadcast of MacWorld Expo. Quite a spectacle. Whose idea was it to rent Hawaii for the keynote?

Jobs: Well, it was either that or Manhattan, and the evacuation was much simpler... How did you like the G10 demo?

Interviewer: Well it was pretty impressive, generating a DNA enhancement right there on stage that cured Malaria was certainly impressive, and having a reluctant Phil Schiller test it in that mosquito chamber was pure brilliance.

Jobs: Yeah, Phil's a real sport, he's always saying that "Apple loves games." I just hope he's back in time for San Francisco.

Interviewer: On a sadder note, we've heard about the fate of the once-great Bill Gates. I know you knew him back when. Have you visited him lately in... in... in the place?"

Jobs: "Yes, poor Bill, he never was the same after his really took it out of him. He never did get the hang of the Graphical User Interface, now he sits and stares at at that same old blue screen, looking for that long, lost command line ....It's sad, really sad. It's a good thing he invested in Apple all those years ago or else the poor guy would be penniless.

Interviewer: So what are Apple's plans for the new Microsoft Division?

Jobs: Well, Microsoft is only a shadow of its former self, of course, but we have great respect for what they used to do, and for the character they have shown through the takeover. In short we don't really know what we'll use them for, but I am sure they'll be good for something.

Interviewer: Was there any bad blood about the move?

Jobs: Maybe a little at first, but they've all settled rather nicely into Bill's old house - although we call it the Macintosh Porting Facility now.

Interviewer: Are you concerned about the United Nation's move to file anti-trust charges against Apple?

Jobs: [Visibly reddens] Absolutely not!

Interviewer: But how can Apple claim it isn't anti-competitive when its almost the only computer company around?

Jobs: What! Anti-competitive!? Why, Apple is behind all the innovation in the computer business--just look at all the pretty colored mice, printers and modems, just look at the transparent power cords. If that isn't innovation I don't know what is! [sulks]

Interviewer: Well sure, but when nearly all the software in the world has to run on a Macintosh, doesn't that eliminate consumer choice?

Jobs: There's lots of choice out there and plenty of opportunity for alternative solutions--take BeOS and Linux for example.

Interviewer: BeOS? Linux? But Gasse and Torvalds are living out of the same cardboard box on the Embarcadero. They sure don't seem to be much of a threat.

Jobs: Hey, they're just keeping their costs down to be even more competitive. I'd just say that they're "Thinking Different."

Interviewer: Speaking of that, what prompted Apple to drop the aging "Think Different" motto and replace it with the new "Apple Everywhere" slogan?

Jobs: Well you know, "Think Different" is the kind of marketing you'd apply to a young struggling company. Now that Apple market has matured we just thought that we needed something a bit more, er uh, mature, yeah that's it, mature.

Interviewer: Some people think that maybe you don't want people thinking different now that Apple owns ninety-five percent of the computer market.

Jobs: Certainly not! We want the whole world to Think Different - and we only have another five percent to go.

Interviewer: I must say, you certainly have a fine tan, you must be getting into the great outdoors more often these days.

Jobs: No, I just forgot the SPF 30 the last time I demoed one of our new G10 processors. The clock rate on those babies puts the RF into the low ultraviolent range, its like computing with a sunlamp.

Interviewer: That doesn't sound so environmentally benign, is that what the crowds in the parking lot are protesting?

Jobs: Oh no, they're all concerned with polycarbonate outgassing and the greenhouse effect. They claim that all the Macs out there might cause global warming.

Interviewer: That sounds serious.

Jobs: Nah, we've just completed a very serious study that shows that as soon as we saturate the market with our planned G11 "El Nino" processor, the cumulative heat output will warm the Humbolt current enough that resulting increased rainfall will cool everything down just fine. Don't worry about a thing. And believe me, a hundred million AirPorts won't melt the icecaps either--that's nothing but idle conjecture.

Interviewer: I see. Well, moving on, what about the rumors of the new MacOS release, code-named "Kubrick?"

Jobs: Damn, it seems that public floggings won't even keep a lid on things around here. Oh well, it was bound to get out anyway. I suppose everyone knows about the "artifact" they found on the moon.

Interviewer: Oh that big, black monolith thingy? What's a monument from an ancient, alien species got to do with Apple?

Jobs: Well it appears that the aliens have been listening in to Earthly broadcasts for a long time and they seem to have developed a bit of an obsession with computer commercials. Seems they thought that Earth was some sort of computer paradise and they spared no pains getting here. When they arrived, though, they were plenty miffed with what they referred to as violations of the Galactic truth-in-advertising laws.

Interviewer: Uh, what exactly were they expecting?

Jobs: As nearly as we can figure out, "Where do you want to go to today" translates as a rather racy proposition and they think that behind some "blue door" it's possible to "fall in love with a computer." I don't know where they came up with all that stuff, but since Apple is practically the only computer company on the planet these days, they sort of expected us to fill a pretty tall order.

Interviewer: So what did you do?

Jobs: Well, portablility seems to be pretty important to any spacegoing species so we gave them a bunch of iBooks and they just loved them; which is the problem.

Interviewer: I don't understand, how could it be a problem that they loved the iBooks.

Jobs: [pause] Ask a blow-up doll.

Interviewer: Sputter.

Jobs: Voids the hell out of the warranty.

Interviewer: So that's what's behind the mysterious "Moon" project, eh? I heard that Jonathan Ive just went on "vacation" there...

Jobs: Johathan who?

Interviewer: Errr.... Your, uh, chief designer?...

Jobs: Oh him. Yes. Well, he seems to get along well with our "customers," mainly because he's so stuck on that tired-old, candy-colored look. We're trying to transition our styling to a new look and we decided that Jonathan could help out the most if he took care of the legacy styling in a more, say, remote location. You know, somewhere a bit more isolated... like the moon.

Interviewer: Aha... OK. Well, looking at the artwork around your office I see a definite "Alien-noir" look--right out of the 1980's. Is that a portent of things to come?

Jobs: Yes, the alien look is going to be the next big thing. The public can only take so much cutesy and we have some *really* nasty designs coming up.

Interviewer: Nasty? What do you mean by "Nasty."

Jobs: [in a whispered voice] Now this is entirely off the record, but did you see that pretty little thingamabob that my aide rushed out with as you came in?

Interviewer: You mean that thing that looked like somebody's spleen?

Jobs: That is the upcoming new Mac, the implantable "iMac GI"

Interviewer: Oooh! Er, "GI"?

Jobs: Yeah, it stands for "gastro-intestinal" You just swallow the little bugger and it swells up like a sea sponge somewhere in the vicinity of your duodenum. It sends the I/O out your bile duct directly into your sacral ganglia and from there to your central nervous system. We call it "Invasive Computing.

Interviewer: [coughing, turning a light Bondi green] I see... wonderful. So, er... does it do mail?

Jobs: [wriggles uncomfortably] Well... yes, of course. We still have some work to do on the interface though. The cable needs a bit of... refinement. And the reset switch needs to be rethought. That paper clip is a tad problematic.

Interviewer: I hope... that that does not have anything to do with the ambulance that pulled away as I arrived?

Jobs: No, that was probably just another case of heartburn we've been having down in the cafeteria. [muttering to himself] Pesky Lithium batteries... So! Are we about finished!?

Interviewer: I guess so... Say, you wouldn't have a mail appliance lying around I can borrow? Mine seems to have gotten a case of "the windows".

Jobs: Here, take this [throws a ballpoint-pen-like device over]. It's the new prototype iBall. Stick it in your ear, and you can surf the web in 3D. Oh, and please report any problems. The alpha version sometimes messes with the brainwaves.

This was written in a single chat session between the two authors, and expanded by Del. Based on an idea by Eolake Stobblehouse.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Dishonest sales techniques by big companies

Dammit, and I knew it too. I had already ordered the upcoming phone from Apple UK, but it was unclear when it would arrive. (I had not gotten any order confirmation, oddly.)

Then Carphone Warehouse (owned by Currys, owned by Dixons...) sent an email claiming to have it. I got curious, and since I live within spitting distance of a store, I walked in. A very enthusiastic salesman started to convince me that I should buy from them, since Apple would not send it in the near future, but it was Totally Certain that their store would have it on the 17th. He even showed me a document, saying “I’m not even supposed to show you this,” which showed that Apple and all the other stores did not have stock of the phone, but CW did...
So I ordered it. I did not cancel the Apple order though.

And what do you know, today, a couple of days later, I just got a mail from Apple, they have shipped the phone!
I even knew it. That “I’m not even supposed to show you this...” That page he showed me was very strange, in retrospect. For one thing it was oddly clear and graphical for something which only the staff was supposed to read... For another thing, how can one store *know* if Apple or the other stores have stock? For a third, how can they claim “in stock” when they did not have the phone in store?

I know about such fake documents because when I bought new carpet for my flat a dozen years ago, I was with my pal Laurie J. The salesman showed me a document which showed that the price had already gone up, but he would sell it to me for the old price... Afterwards, Laurie told me that he had filmed training videos for such companies, and this was a common sales technique, and the document was not real, and it was certainly not for staff only.

Such things really should be illegal.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Go to space?

I think the problem with space exploration is simply that we are primitive, we only understand things which give us economic benefits within a decade. Going to space is just something we have to do on a longer scale, hundreds of years. Not doing it is equivalent of a tribe staying within a few miles of their village generation after generation. In the long run, they won’t survive and they certainly won’t prosper and be great.

By the way, I’m reading the “Bobiverse” series by Dennis E. Taylor. It’s excellent hard SF about robotised human minds colonizing other systems. Funny too.