Oct 082019
 

After sharing this link, I was informed that Stallman has had a history of maybe defending sexual relationships with minors. I didn’t know about this. That is bad. I am less certain now that he shouldn’t have lost all his positions. On the other hand, as the link points out, the worst allegations against Stallman involve him being a socially clueless aspie. That makes me worried.
In Defense of Richard Stallman
“Stallman made some technically-correct-but-utterly-tactless comments on a private mailing list, mostly in defense of his late friend and colleague Marvin Minsky. Someone leaked those comments to the public. He was then forced to resign from pretty much every position he held….He is now likely homeless and his friends (such as Eric Raymond) have had trouble contacting him.”

 

Libertarian leaders debate the direction of the Libertarian political party. This was one of the more interesting and passionate debates I’ve heard in a long time. And I’m still very torn. Passionate idealism, vs pragmatic realism? I don’t know dammit!

 

The economic case for fighting pollution to boost productivity

pseudoaddiction is the most obviously true medical concept this side of Hippocrates. The denial of its existence is a failure of national epistemics that deserves more scrutiny than it’s getting.”
AKA: My friend almost died because a doctor refused to feed his addiction to insulin.

 

Natalie Wynn is amazing, I love her videos in general. But this one is the most overwhelmingly “This is everything I ever wanted in a video, I can’t even begin about how great it is.” It summarizes everything I’d like to say but can’t. It doesn’t have any solutions, but at least it identifies the problem.

(for the uninitiated, Wynn is a social commentator, and this video is about the state of Men in modern society. Also, it takes a while to get started.)

 

“Here’s yet another reminder that our memories are reconstructed fabrications our brains use to reinforce existing narratives. A new study of 3,140 participants finds that exposing people to fake news created false memories of the depicted events in about half of subjects.”

 

Humans are fascinating. Real-life Persephone :)

 

E-cigarettes are so dangerous they give people heart attacks — even before they start using them.

 

Planned Parenthood to stop taking Title X funds rather than comply with abortion ‘gag rule’. Y’all remember to up your donations a few bucks the coming years. :)

 

The best thing about HPMOR is it’s a perfect example of how an intelligent, outside the box thinker can direct millions of dollars toward their goals in ways you’d never expect.”

 

We regret to inform you that all the Fast & Furious stars might be candy asses. “each of the leads has negotiated with the studio to ensure they never look less badass than any of their costars for even a single round of ass-whooping”

 

I keep forgetting that in Rowling’s Potter, Harry gets married to freakin’ Ginnie Weasley. But then, I also keep for getting that in Rowling’s version he’s a jock. ><

“Harry Potter had a crush on Cho specifically because she was good at Quidditch, and could go toe to toe with him as a seeker. Harry Potter started developing feelings for Ginny after she joined the Quidditch Team, and their first kiss happen as a celebration of winning a important match for the house cup, and she will later become a freaking professional quidditch player.
Harry Potter is into jocks. Harry Potter is into jocks that, specifically, could kick his ass at his favorite sport.
I feel like this is an important thing to know about the guy.”

 

most of the people interviewed had a similar path to getting so deep into flat eartherism
1) They sorta believed that the earth was flat.
2) They told their friends, who either blew them off or mocked them or both.
3) They found a group of flat-earthers online, who were very welcoming and happy to find a fellow flat-earther.
4) Slowly, these people abandoned their old friends and converted to the new folks, who’d never tell them they were wrong about the flat-earth. Which had the side effect of making their flat-earth beliefs the most prominent part of their personality.
5) Eventually, the rejection becomes the proof that they’re on the road to truth, and no amount of evidence will convince them because this is no longer about logic – it’s about using their own logic to build a shield to protect them from rejection.
[…] the most telling part was at the end, when they interviewed one of the most devoted flat-earthers and asked him (I’m paraphrasing):
“What if you got irrefutable proof that the Earth was round? You’d lose all your friends. Could you walk away from this culture you helped create?”
And to his credit, he answered honestly:
“No. No, I don’t think I could.” […]
… the internet has made wrong people folks to be courted. In fact, the more wrong people you can get on your side, the less you’ll be lonely. And the only cost to be a part of these groups is that you can never question the beliefs at the core of it, because that wrongness is what binds you, and any evidence that contradicts that wrongness must be either discarded, attacked, or humiliated.”

The ridiculous beliefs of religions are a feature, not a bug. You can’t have a religion without at least one obviously ludicrous thing. I used to think this was an argument against religions. Now I’m starting to think it’s an argument in favor of one Big False Belief.

 

“Did anyone notice how quickly the internet turned into a Lovecraftian horror scenario?
Like we’ve got this dimension right next to ours, that extends across the entire planet, and it is just brimming with nightmares. We have spambots, viruses, ransomware, this endless legion of malevolent entities that are blindly probing us for weaknesses, seeking only to corrupt, to thieve, to destroy.
Add onto that the corrupted ones themselves, humans who’ve abandoned morality and given up faces to hunt other people, jeering them, lashing out, seeing how easy it is to kill something you can’t touch or see or smell.
…Some of our best and brightest are going to create an army of four winged bats hovering throughout every city and we are going to connect them directly to the dimension where the nightmares live.
I’m not saying it’s all bad, but I am saying Cthulhu lies deathless dreaming in this web we built him and he is waking up.”

 

TIL that the most important things to recycle are metals. So rinse your aluminum and tin cans and put them in the bin.
Paper is iffy, and anything that’s touched food or has glue/sticky on it will contaminate other recycling or damage the machinery, so throw that in the trash.
And plastic should not be recycled at all, always put those in the trash.

 

The Website Obesity Crisis

“[author tweeted] “text-based websites should not exceed in size the major works of Russian literature.”
If you open that tweet in a browser, you’ll see the page is 900 KB big. That’s almost 100 KB more than the full text of The Master and Margarita.

In May 2015, Facebook introduced ‘Instant Articles’, a special format for news stories designed to appear within the Facebook site, and to load nearly instantly.
Facebook made the announcement on a 6.8 megabyte webpage dominated by a giant headshot of some dude. He doesn’t even work for Facebook, he’s just the National Geographic photo editor.
Further down the page, you’ll find a 41 megabyte video, the only way to find out more about the project.”

I kinda suspect that at least part of it is class-signalling. One demonstrates that one is rich enough to live in a high-bandwidth area and therefore higher class than those rural and third-world people by insisting on pages that are visibly obese.
Yes, it’s probably not a conscious thought, but it’s there nonetheless. Why does poor fashion instinctively hurt the sensibilities of the rich, even if “they aren’t classist?” Because everyone has completely absorbed the subtleties of status markers to the point that they are mostly subconscious aesthetic taste.

 

Sometimes I get pleasure out of the stupidest things. Like, this is the first Pitch Meeting I ever saw. I’ve now watched over 100 of them. They are all basically identical, with a few details swapped out as appropriate. And yet, I love them. Every single one just brings me joy. I am ashamed, I feel like the 5-year old that keeps saying “Again!” and watching the same episode of his favorite show over and over and over and over. And yet…. <3

 

“Civil religion” is a surprising place for social justice to end up. Gay pride started at Stonewall as a giant fuck-you to civil society. Homeless people, addicts, and sex workers told the police where they could shove their respectable values.

But there was another major world religion that started with beggars, lepers, and prostitutes, wasn’t there? One that told the Pharisees where to shove their respectable values. One whose founder got in trouble with the cops of his time.

In a hundred years, will social justice look exactly like Christianity does now? No. The world’s changed too much. Even if every religion converges on the same set of socially useful values, the socially useful values change. We don’t need to push chastity if we have good STD treatment and contraception; we don’t need to push martial valor if all our wars are fought by drones. The old religions are failing partly because they can’t adapt quickly enough; social justice won’t need to imitate their failures. … But I expect it to recapitulate the history of other civil religions in fast-forward. Did you know “pagan” is just Latin for “rural”?”

 

Don’t Hire Assholes. “removing an asshole (or converting them to a non-asshole) enhances productivity more than replacing an average worker with a superstar”

 

Sometimes the world is good. :) Jurors refuse to convict activist facing 20 years for helping migrants

 

Obituaries For The Recently Cancelled. “Matthew Edwards, 41, was canceled early Friday evening after he was seen in his car singing along to “Remix to Ignition.” Mr. Edwards has not watched the R. Kelly documentary, but colleagues say he was aware of its existence and general content. He leaves behind his intersectional feminist wife Julia and two woke children.”

 

Netflix’s re-translation of Neon Genesis Evangelion is drawing backlash for queer erasure. Fuck Netflix. This was the most formative work of art of my young adult life, and I hope they burn in the same hell as the guy who was hired to draw pants/cloths over the genitals of all the famous renaissance works.

I am forced to re-link The Remarkable Queerness of Shinji Ikari

 

Casually Explained: Life as a Video Game

 

Planet of Cops. “The single greatest accomplishment of 21st Century leftism is distributing the culture of surveillance and snitching. Intersectionality gave nearly everybody a weak spot to be exploited by the right self-appointed enforcer and a lens to turn any innocuous opinion into kompromat. It couldn’t have worked better if designed from the ground up to work like this.”

 

Watch out! I’m on a Kontext Machine Kick!

Today I learned that pre-Reagan Republicans used to be Batman? O_O
“Hell, for a while, the Republicans were even the more abortion-friendly party. The Democrats were the Catholic party after all. The Republicans were the Protestant-as-humanistic-heritage-charity ones, the ones who eugenically spaced their three children two years apart unlike those grubby Papists, the ones with mistresses, the ones with bourgeois life courses to even be diverted from. Not to mention the doctors who cleaned up after amateur abortions or offered black-market ones themselves.”

“the framework that I’ve found productive for understanding The Big Lebowski is that it’s a Raymond Chandler tribute.
…That’s why the cowboy’s there as chorus/narrator, because the brilliant thing about The Big Lebowski is that it isn’t a stoner comedy, it’s a stoner tragedy.”

 

“the internet in general was pretty wealth-marked in 1998 (far more than we realized, with our American mythology of universal white suburban middle-classness and “global village” Internet mythology) … And if the Anglophone internet is ::gestures:: like this now maybe it’s cause it’s less of a professional-class preserve? The dividing line maybe being smartphones where “people on the internet” went from “people who specifically spend $X/mo on it as luxury” to “people with telephone service”? That’s a real possibility, that for all the “Global Village” stuff the wondrous effect of the ‘90s internet was to create a cultural space that was MORE gatekept by wealth and education.

That’s… kind of depressing, though. “Haha you thought the world was getting better because you were eliminating elitist barriers but actually it’s cause you were making them higher, which is good because the poor and non-elite are disproportionately idiots with worthless ideas and to the extent they’re on top of things the thing they’re on top of is undermining the basis of a good society, and anyway those times were a phenomenon of a narrow early adopter base and you’ll never ever get them back unless you make the non-elite economically and politically irrelevant.”

Depressing but very well precedented, that’s exactly the arc newsprint, radio, and TV followed before.”

 

“Proposed: the 1980s farm crisis (which was where family farming finally died in America) at some level fed into the development of anti-abortion activity and identity in the same period, by way of agrarian-magical fertility rites.
It’s a recurring notion among human agricultural societies that the health of the land, and of the crop, rely, through sympathetic magic, on the enactment of human fertility, in ritual or actual childbearing
These fertility cults constitute a folk religion symbiotic with any variety of nominal official religions, if not actively parasitic and tending to supplant
At some fundamental level the failure of the agrarian economy is understood or at least felt as a result of the failure of women to bear children, and for them to return to fertility will renew the golden age
To perform abortions is, essentially, to perform black witchcraft, cursing the crop and ruining the harvest; if a witch has cursed your crop the solution is to kill the witch.
This would explain the origin of Operation Rescue in the mid-1980s, and why it would choose Wichita of all places for its Summer of Mercy, this would explain the geographic distribution of the most intense anti-abortion sentiment and violence, this would explain why if you drive too far into farm country the cultural footprint consists of decaying human settlements and roadside signs condemning abortion or beseeching women to give birth”

Oct 012019
 

A number of years ago I was in a friend’s living room. We were setting up to play boardgames. I was up and looking at his bookshelf when I saw the book “Bloom.” It wasn’t by one of the super-famous authors you see everywhere and I had just read it a while ago myself, so I said “Oh hey, you have Bloom! That was a good book, I liked it.” Behind me a voice said “Yeah, I wrote that.”

I turned around and there sat a man I’d been introduced to just that day for boardgaming, looking at me in dead seriousness. I had this intense feeling of vertigo, because somehow a published author had just randomly snuck into my life and was hanging around in a mutual friend’s living room like this was a perfectly normal thing that just happens. I was initially at a loss for words.

That was Wil McCarthy, and since then we’ve gotten to know each other quite a bit more. He took about a decade off from writing to do the tech-entrepreneur thing, but now he’s back into the word-slinging game. His latest novel drops today, and I’m hosting a guest post from him in support, because he greatly overestimates the reach of my blog. :) I mentioned that hearing about tech entrepreneurship would be something my readers are interested in, so he wrote to that. Without further delay:


Hi, my name is Wil McCarthy, and I’m a writer. Eneasz was kind enough to lend my this platform for a day, because I’ve got a hardcover science fiction novel out from Baen this week. This is actually the twelfth book in my publishing career, and yet still a really significant milestone for me, because the last time I released a book was in 2005, and if you’d told me then that there’d be a gap of fourteen years before my next book, well, I wouldn’t have believed it. Seriously, I used to work a full-time job whilst writing a book a year, and I still had enough leftover time and energy to attend to my family and maintain an active social life. Then I gave up the full-time job to concentrate exclusively on my writing, and that went well. For years. So what happened?

In a way, the writing was a victim of its own success; in my 1999 novella “Once Upon a Matter Crushed” and subsequent novel THE COLLAPSIUM, I posited a type of programmable matter called “wellstone”, whose optical and electrical and even mechanical properties could be adjusted in real time through the application of minute electrical signals. This was based on real science, and I said so in the book’s appendix, but even so I got a flood of annoyed fan mail saying the idea was nonsense and had no place in a hard science fiction book. I responded with a series of increasingly detailed, increasingly specific nonfiction articles on the subject, culminating in a long WIRED magazine feature that spelled out, in engineering terms, how such a thing could actually work.

That turned out to be a patentable invention, which I patented and made the subject of a nonfiction book, HACKING MATTER, that was basically a much longer, more detailed, more self-indulgent version of the article I’d written for WIRED. This resulted, in early 2004, in one of the co-inventors of the Blackberry smartphone (remember the Blackberry?) calling me up out of the blue and saying he wanted to give me (or rather, the company I had founded when I filed the patent) a million dollars, just to see what happened.

Saying yes to that resulted in my being the president and chief technology officer of a tech startup, which attracted still more investment from other high-net-worth individuals. Which was fine and fun; what better way to succeed as a science fiction writer than for people to pay you to make your crazy ideas real? One caution I received at the time was that the thing we actually discovered would be different than the thing we set out to invent, and this turned out to be sage advice indeed; after multiple pivots triggered by unexpected results in both the lab and the marketplace, I ended up co-inventing a type of smart window that tinted when it got hot.
Sounds useful, right? Want some for your own house? Yeah, me too. Unfortunately, while we almost succeeded in selling the technology to 3M, and then really almost succeeded in selling it to Dow Chemical, the 2008 meltdown in the economy kiboshed all that, and we eventually concluded we would need to build our own factory and develop and sell the product ourselves. This involved raising many more millions of dollars, which sounds great but was actually the downfall of basically the entire life I’d so carefully built for myself.

One caution I didn’t receive, but quickly figured out for myself, was that venture capitalists don’t want you fucking around writing science fiction novels on the side. They expect (and arguably deserve) your undivided attention. Up until this point, I’d still been dabbling in the world of science fiction, writing novellas for Analog and Asimov’s, and I was also the toastmaster at the World Science Fiction Convention one year, and guest of Honor for Apollocon during the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing. Oh, and I was still writing for WIRED, and had a monthly column over at the SciFi channel (later SyFy). But yeah, between 2008 and 2013 all that went away. I didn’t consciously kill any of it, but it certainly died through inattention and starvation. After that, I was no longer a writer — just another tech company entrepreneur.

Another caution I didn’t receive was that tech company founders are basically cannon fodder for the venture capital industry. Once they’ve got 51% control of your company and its IP, you basically become the most expensive and most expendable employee on the roster, and if they can scheme a way to get rid of you and still keep the enterprise afloat, they will frequently do so. I’m not going to say that’s exactly what happened to me. There were negotiations, and a settlement of sorts, and a mutual non-disparagement agreement. What I will say is that in 2014 I found myself out of a job, and with a much-diluted ownership stake in the company I had founded in my own basement. Much diluted. That’s not a disparagement, just a numerical fact. I won’t name the company, but I will say it still exists, and has lost a lot of money over the years. Whether it would have succeeded with me at the helm is hard to say, but it certainly has not so far succeeded without me, in five and a half years of trying.

Over the next year I would suffer both a nasty divorce and a nasty car accident, both of whose aftereffects continue to reverberate in my life. All of this set me back, and made it hard to get back on my feet as my actual self, Wil McCarthy the science fiction writer. However, in 2016 I dusted off a book proposal I’d written all the way back in 2004, right before all the craziness began, and called up Baen’s Toni Weisskopf to ask if she’d like a peek at it. She had, years earlier, given me a standing invitation to write for Baen, so this wasn’t a huge stretch, but still I was grateful when she liked the proposal enough to offer me a two-book contract. I was a writer again! Now all I had to do was actually, you know, write a book. For the first time in more than 10 years. Piece of cake, right? Well, it took a year, even though I was doing it full nearly full time, with just some part-time consulting on the side. And then there were the revisions, and the copyedits, and the page proofs, and the marketing copy, all of which stretched out over another agonizing year.

Okay, but now it’s late 2019, and I’m actually a professional novelist again, in the most fundamental sense of having written and published a novel. Whew. Now, as I obsessively scan the web for reviews and scrape my Amazon page for real-time sales rankings, I feel whole again, in a way that I haven’t for a long time.

How do I feel about my ten years in startup land? That’s a hard question to answer. As badly as it all turned out, the experience still furnished some of the most memorable times of my life. I traveled the world in Business Class, and solved hard problems side-by-side with people who loved what they were doing as much as I did. And honestly, I do not see how I could have forgiven myself for refusing that first million dollars, and all that came after. Just because the tiger eats you doesn’t mean it isn’t worth riding. I have a lot of regrets, but “doing it at all” isn’t one of them. Still, would I do it again if I had the chance? Again, it’s hard to say. The easy answer is no, of course not, but I also know that if the right idea and the right situation came along, I’d still be sorely tempted to see where it might lead. Which may simply mean that I’ve learned nothing from the experience, except that being a writer isn’t something I’m eager to give up again, anytime soon.

Do I have any advice for people thinking about following in my footsteps? Yeah, kind of. Be careful with your founding documents; make sure they don’t lock you into a situation you can’t escape from, and make sure they do protect you as much as possible from involuntary ejection. Build that golden parachute right into the foundations of your company. Also, don’t trust anyone. That may sound harsh, but with enough money in play to make a company appear, nobody is your friend, and literally anyone (no matter your history) could be tempted at times to stab you in the back and run away with the treasure. You can work with people you don’t trust (in fact, you’ll need to), but don’t hand them the knife to stab you with, and don’t turn your back. Most importantly, don’t give up your other dreams, because at the end of the day, they may be all you have to fall back on.


Wil McCarthy’s latest novel is Antediluvian, get it here.

Sep 062019
 

World of Warcraft Classic came out a week and a half ago, and man am I loving the hell out of it.

It occurs to me that much of what makes WoW Classic “fun” is not something that is generally associated with the fun of video games. Most of the game play is fairly repetitive — basically minor variations on a few tasks that are fairly simple to execute. One then proceeds from place to place, continually doing these basic tasks over and over with minor variations. This seems very similar to what one did in the ancestral environment to remain alive on a day-to-day level. Wander about to gather wood. Fetch water. Forage for edible plants for hours upon hours.

The key to these tasks is that one doesn’t do them alone. In WoW, as in the ancestral environment, one should always do this with a group of known people. During this time you bullshit. Tell jokes, talk about your day, learn stuff about each other. Gossip. Whatevs. That’s the primary immediate enjoyment I get from WoW as well. I’m in Discord 95%+ of the time, and I spend a lot of time typing in guild-chat or party-chat.

WoW Classic enforces this sort of thing in three ways. First by forcing/encouraging players to group constantly. Much of the game is impossible (or very difficult) if you aren’t working together with other people. This is one of the large ways it differs from the current iteration of Retail World of Warcraft. In Retail, anyone can do basically anything solo, aside from a few arenas set aside for group-sports-only. In Warcraft, this is very hard, and intentionally so. Grouping is a matter of game-survival. In addition, much of the game rewards you for grouping with others even when you don’t need to. Many quests are “kill X monster” types. Five people working close by but separately to kill 5 monsters each would have to kill 25 total, but five people in a group need only kill 5 monsters total as each kill counts for everyone’s quest individually. These two aspects result in a lot of grouping all the time.

Secondly, WoW Classic has a fair bit of sporadic “forced idleness.” There is a lot of “go from point A to point B” quests where all you’re doing is holding down the walk key (or engaging the auto-run). Some times these walks can go on for quite a while. Other times you’re literally waiting for a boat to show up. Or for monsters to respawn when an area has been hunted to barrenness. Or to regenerate health and mana by “eating” after several monster fights in succession. Or or or. What’s a person to do, while doing nothing? You chat with people. It’s a great way to pass a 10-40 second delay in the middle of a task.

Thirdly, the fact that combat isn’t too taxing facilitates chat as well. Many monsters have only a basic attack. Some with have one simple mechanic that’s not hard to deal with. If you type fast, you can even chat in quick snippets in the middle of many combats. If you’re in a Discord voice channel, you don’t have to stop doing anything, just keep killing away while you chat.

Retail WoW has stripped out all these things. In the interest of ever more streamlined gameplay, there are almost no pauses or delays in gaming. You don’t need any help for most content. And fights are superficially “complex” in that you need to be pushing a variety of buttons in reaction to things happening on the screen that gets in the way of chatting.

This sorta thing doesn’t really sound that fun in the abstract. Games are supposed to be very involving, right? It’s weird that it’s fun, but then, it’s not that weird after all. Foraging with your homies was what humanity had to do for many thousands of years to survive. It makes sense that we evolved to enjoy doing it.

Jul 082019
 

By ancient tradition, our book club reads the online-available Short Stories and Novelettes that have been nominated for the Hugo Award every year. Here’s my reviews.

 

Best Short Story Category

The Court Magician by Sarah Pinsker

A fantastic tale about our quest for knowledge, and the price we’re willing to pay to understand. This is perhaps a tragedy, or borderline horror? Which means it’s perfect for me. :) But in the end, after the narrator asserts that the protagonist has given up, in the very last line we learn that the protagonist is still asking “How?” He still wants to know how the magic works, and I am willing to bet he could still cast the Spell if he wanted to. Which fills me with hope and happiness. Much like us, his desire to know is too deep. Even when he thinks he’s given up and moved on, it’s still there, prodding him and shaping his life. :) I liked this one.

 

The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society by T. Kingfisher

Oh man. There’s this tension in awards, or at least, in the Hugos, between “This should be a great work of merit that will be remembered for decades” and “This was so much fun it’s my favorite yaassssss!” For an award as prestigious as the Hugos, I think the works SHOULD have great SF/F merit. OTOH, it’s hard not to cheer for something that you love just cuz it’s a ton of fun.

I bring this up because this story is pure fluff. It’s literally a wish-fulfillment sex-comedy. And the thing is, I love it. I love Rose, I had a huge amount of fun reading this. I still brings a smile to my face. But, like, really, this is not award-worthy material. It’s pure candy. One member of our book club was actually angry, because its nomination took away a spot that an actual deserving work could have been in. I wasn’t angry, because I enjoyed this story so much, but I agree. This should not have been nominated. So, Recommended, but wtf Hugo voters? What happened to standards?

 

The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington by P. Djèlí Clark

This is not a story. This is nine vignettes that are probably world-building exercises for a novel that will be great. I say this because the world-building is absolutely fantastic. Revolutionary America with wearwolves and voodoo magic and all sorts of amazing mythological/magical forces that have their own vested interests in this war and it’s outcome. I’m super excited to read a story set in this world! I’m kinda sad that we don’t have one yet. There are no characters in this world-building exercises. There is no plot. It’s just setting a foundation.

I immediately compared this to The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, because famously, it is another story without any characters or any plot, it’s simply a description of a world. And it’s one of the most well-regarded short stories in SF history. But there’s a major difference. Omelas has something to say. It takes utilitarianism, and it asks the reader “Do you really believe this, in your soul? Are you OK with this?” It is a critique of a moral philosophy, disguised as a story. And it’s only a few paragraphs long. Nine Teeth goes on forever without saying anything of substance. Maybe “slavery sucks”? But that’s not really interesting, and we all already know that. It’s certainly on the same level as “A major school of current ethical thought has this consequence, can you live with it?”

Not Recommended

 

STET by Sarah Gailey

I admire this story for its ambition. It tried to do something amazing, to tell a story through implication, wrapped in the footnotes of a dry tech analysis. It’s demands work from the reader. Doing this sort of thing is hard, and so it’s not huge strike against it that the story fails. What should land as a gut-punch is instead a glancing blow. The revelations are interesting, but lack the eye-opening character. A good effort, but it didn’t quite work for me.

I guess I’m reaching an age were I can compare new things to older things now, which is kinda weird. But this story immediately brought to my mind Kenneth: A Users Manual, which tries the same trick, but gets it RIGHT. Kenneth is gut-wrenching and beautiful, and tells a story in the addendum and footnotes of a “user manual.” I would recommend that story instead, it’s everything this one wanted to be, and still makes my blood sing.

 

The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat by Brooke Bolander

Another one of those stories that are fun but don’t have any substance. It’s basically a straight-up adventure with some jokes thrown in. Less pure-campy fun than Rose MacGregor, this story is completely forgettable. I actually forgot it already, and I had just read it like 10 days ago. Pass.

 

A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies by Alix E. Harrow

The most beautiful and heart-wrenching of all the shorts this year. Holy crap guys. Remember that tragic and soul-searching essay by Rainbow Rowell, “Learn To Read, Kid, But Don’t Fall In Love“? This story is basically an exploration of that, but taking the opposite stance. Escapism is important, and for some people, absolutely vital. There is only so much real-life that some people can take when their lives are absolute shit. And SF/F provides an escape world that is so much better than most other options of escapism. It’s heartwarming in parts. It’s wrenching in others. When you learn what these kids are going through, and you learn how the protagonist failed them before, it’s just… man. It’s hard. You feel the feels.

In the end I was left wondering, though. Is that escape REALLY a good thing. The kid that our protagonist helped… is he better off? And is this story dangerous, a memetic hazard, for those of us in the real world that DON’T have magic? It made me feel, and it made me think. It’s so good. It deserves all the awards, Strongly Recommended!

 

Best Novelette Category

If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again by Zen Cho

At first it seems this will be a story of the value of perseverance, which we’re not exactly lacking, ya know? But then it turns into a story of failure. The story of how to continue on with your life once its clear you never will achieve your goals, you have failed in your ambition in life, and you will never be good enough to fulfill your dreams. Basically what 99.9% of the population goes through when it reaches middle-age. This is not a story we have in abundance, at least not in the SF/F genre, and it was a refreshing change to read. What do you do after failing at life? It’s not like you’re going to kill yourself. You just have to keep on keeping on, and find joy in other things. Like relationships, and family. And, again, the despair makes it the sort of story I enjoy.

But then in the end it returns to “Actually, it’s never too late to achieve your dreams, just keep on trying and you’ll get there!” Which I guess makes for a feel-good ending, but felt cliche. Overall, I thought this one is OK.

 

The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections by Tina Connolly

A revenge story, with beautiful, mouth-watering descriptions of food. The protagonist doesn’t actually do anything, which is unusual. She basically just tells the reader about how her husband exacts revenge on the bloodthirsty tyrant via clever trickery, and describes the poisoned treats he passes on. It’s strange to have such a passive protag, but overall a pretty good story.

 

Nine Last Days on Planet Earth by Daryl Gregory

Frankly, I didn’t understand this story at all. It’s nine vignettes, describing nine days in the protagonists life, starting in his childhood and ending in late senescence, when he’s in his 90s. But like… there’s no story? And no theme? And we see how the character evolves over the years, but since each vignette is so brief we don’t really feel any life-changing moment. Smarter readers in my book club said that it’s basically a story about the human race adapting to circumstances beyond our control, fitting ourselves into the changing shape of an unfathomable world. Looking back over the story, I agree that there’s a theme of slow, gradual change and adaptation in the character arc. But overall, this felt like a literary story without much meat to it. All style and mood, without any point. I didn’t like it.

 

The Thing About Ghost Stories by Naomi Kritzer

Meh. The protag cares for her mother as she slowly dies of Alzheimer’s, putting the rest of her life on hold. Afterwards she feels empty and doesn’t deal with the grief, since what was her mom died slowly over many years, and by the time the body passed her mother had long ago faded away. The ghost of her mom leaves the protagonist a sign that she’s OK, and she’s proud of her daughter, and there is a sense of closure. This basically reads like MFA Lit Fic, with a ghost thrown in. I disliked it. Interestingly, I was alone in this, everyone else in my book club loved it. Maybe I’m just jaded and grumpy.

 

When We Were Starless by Simone Heller

Now this — THIS was fantastic! For starters, the author makes the reader do some *work*. You aren’t spoon-fed anything, and the world in this story is drastically different from our own. As the people within it are used to the world, the reader has to slowly piece together from clues and descriptions what’s actually happening in our terms. It’s a delightful puzzle, and it’s not so hard that anyone can’t do it with a bit of perseverance. I don’t want to spoil the puzzle by giving away anything, but rationalists will find this world right up our alley.

More importantly, the story sparks within the reader a joy of learning, and the wonder of scientific advancement. You know that feeling you got when Harry shows Draco the photograph of astronauts on the moon, the feeling of “This is what we can do at our best!” that just gives you shivers? Yeah, that feeling. This story fills you with that just shortly after you resolve the puzzle.

Then soon after you realize that this is a crapsack, only-survival-matters world, where people who expend energy on anything other than survival will be wiped out. And you despair for the protagonist, who has discovered science but now can never use it. It is a goddamn tragedy. Except… maybe it’s not. Because the way that Heller resolves this tension is beautiful, and leaves one with hope and triumph in our souls, afterall.

This is an absolutely fantastic story, I loved every bit of it. Highly recommended.

 

Final Notes: Our book club is a liberal bunch. There’s only one person in our group that falls right of center, everyone else is leftist to various degrees. And yet, even we couldn’t help but notice that this year’s choices were nearly all, to quote a fellow member “very woke.” It’s obvious, and by the time you come to your 8th woke story it’s a bit of a distraction. Like, I hate to say it, but it does make one think “is it really the case that every work of SF merit this year happened to be woke?” Maybe. The world of everyone-who’s-not-a-Trumpist has been strongly affected by the rise of Trump, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this sort of thing is a constant weight on the minds of authors, and reflected in their work. And readers are likely to be drawn to things that speak to their current fears as well, thus resulting in the ballot we have this year. But man, there were a couple places it felt forced, and when it’s in nearly every work it starts to feel like a subconscious/unspoken requirement. Hopefully as the world reverts to sanity this sort of thing will occur less.

 

Book Club Reviews: As always, I highly recommend doing this once per year. You’re exposed to a lot of disparate things at once, and you get to learn a lot about the tastes of your fellow book clubbers. The reading goes fast, as there’s much less word count than a novel. And basically everyone will find something they like. It’s fun, quick, and a nice change of pace.

Jun 272019
 

I recently discovered that the term “woke” originated in the African-American community and referred to awareness of police violence against black people, as well as other forms of structural oppression. In retrospect, I should have guessed at its origin simply by the beauty and fitness of the word.

It was such a good term that it was promptly co-opted by the Leftist forces.

I find it more than a bit amusing that the same group that loses their minds over any slight against racial purity by shouting “cultural appropriation!” have, in fact, appropriated a word that used to do meaningful work for an important cause, and now use it as a label for their catalog of slights.

I propose that we endeavor only to use the term “woke” in its original, helpful form. And whenever we see affluent white people expressing outrage that someone doesn’t have enough bloodline purity to eg: drink certain teas, or wear their hair in a certain way, or attend Yoga sessions, that we instead refer to that as “whitewoke.” To highlight that it’s privileged white people taking power away from a phrase that did real good and using it for their own outrage porn instead.

Yes, it should be a slur, used against those who deserve it.

May 312019
 

Holy crap, I guess I missed my last archive checkpoint, and now I’ve got almost 6 months to do? blaaaarg.

 

Serj from System of a Down sings Rains of Castamere. I got goosebumps.

 

Both interesting and touching (and fun!) How Aladdin Changed Animation (by Screwing Over Robin Williams)

 

Your laws have to be pretty terrifying if making them public is an act of terror, Georgia
“Consistent with its strategy of terrorism, Defendant freely admits to the copying and distribution of massive numbers of Plaintiff’s Copyrighted Annotations,” reads the lawsuit in part. Because suing someone and claiming its terrorism is a better idea than subsidizing the annotations from the state budget?

 

Quoted friend: “I can’t think of a more concise-but-thorough, from-the-bedrock-up description of rational epistemics, and genuinely think that if schools had a solid, yearlong class just on the contents of this video, maybe around 7th grade, society’s sanity waterline would be so significantly higher that you would see ripple effects throughout it.”

 

All the signs were there. This is a short video hosted on reddit of GoT actor’s reactions when asked about the final season.

 

This is why I, too, bathe once a week. Hide your wives!

I just learned that the best game of 2015 is getting a sequel this year!

 

Long Lost ‘Zork’ Source Code Uploaded to GitHub, But Few People Understand It.
I realize all art is transitory. We’ve lost most of the epics of the ancients, and in a thousand years it’s likely we’ll only have fragments of Shakespeare and Beethoven. But the digital natural of today’s art is speeding all this up drastically. Art is being lost at a ludicrous pace in our own lifetimes. In the same vein as this article, Icewind Dale II couldn’t be rereleased because Beamdog had lost the source code. World of Warcraft Classic barely avoided the same fate just 14 years after its original release. Myspace lost uncounted hours of music very recently. Most novels written, and most art drawn, never see physical incarnation. 100 years from now, what will be left of contemporary art?

 

This is one of those haunting, beautiful episodes that reminds me why I love WtNV

 

When it is written that Katie Bouman is the woman “behind the black hole photo”, it is objectively true. She wasn’t the only woman, but her work was crucial to making all of this happen. When Andrew Chael says that his software could not have worked without her, he isn’t just being a stand-up guy, he’s being literal.

 

It Could Happen Here is the most interesting new podcast I have found in this year.

 

“Reminder: Anything you “buy” that has copy protection is a rental. People who “stole” these books still have their copies, people who paid are seeing their “libraries” deleted. Again.”

You also lose all notes and annotations you made in those books.

“Starting today, Microsoft is ending all ebook sales in its Microsoft Store for Windows PCs. “Previously purchased ebooks will be removed from users’ libraries in early July,” … “Even free ones will be deleted.”

 

A Bill Decriminalizing Teen Sexting Passes the House, Causing Republican to Scream About Anal Sex on the Floor

 

Ecuador legalized gangs. Murder rates plummeted.
“The country allowed the gangs to remake themselves as cultural associations that could register with the government, which in turn allowed them to qualify for grants and benefit from social programming, just like everybody else.
…they’d undergone a stunning transformation. The members were still very active in their gangs, but these were functioning more like social movements or cultural groups. Previously violent Latin Kings were working in everything from catering to crime analysis. And they were collaborating with other gangs they’d warred with in the past.”

 

Alex Winter puts into words what I’ve been low-level feeling for a couple years… the internet has been completely seized by the normies. What the cybergeeks of the early era remember of as the internet now exists only as “The Dark Net.”

I think I will look more into this Dark Net thing.
Also, this should probably be called a Bill Talk XD

 

 

Remembering The Tragic Death That Gave Life To Temple Of The Dog & Pearl Jam, On This Day In 1990 (cw: depressing)

 

Meet the Woman Who Invented Cosplay. This sounds like a well-lived life, and I would have loved to meet her. Maybe in the future, if she’s been suspended. /hope
(also, I always thought cosplay had started in Japan, was really surprised by this)

 

Venom genuinely does not understand why Eddie refuses to admit humans have a hivemind

 

Boeing has a history of covering up deadly design errors in its planes.

“… if the spring and the end cap were slightly misaligned, the slides could extend beyond their design limit. This would cause a “rudder hardover,” where the rudder suddenly moves to its maximum deflection…
[after a crash] investigators wanted to test [the valve], so they took it to the manufacturer for analysis…The remains of the valve were taken from the United Airlines headquarters to the headquarters of Parker Bertea, the company that designed and built the valve, in Irvine, California. Investigators discovered upon their arrival that someone had made off with the spring and end cap, but at the time they did not know the significance of this act. [Boeing] tried to steer the NTSB toward a conclusion that the crash was caused by a wind rotor, a phenomenon similar to a sideways tornado that could sometimes be found along the Rocky Mountains. The NTSB did not buy the theory, but it also could not find any evidence that the dual servo valve had failed…

While the investigation was ongoing, it adopted a philosophy of trying to avoid paying out damages to families of crews because this could be legally interpreted as an admission of responsibility. It had tampered with the PCU from the Colorado Springs crash and repeatedly tried to misdirect the investigation with “alternative” theories. It is widely suspected that Boeing knew about the problems with the PCU for decades but had done nothing, despite the hundreds of reported incidents. Because no one was collecting all the accounts of rudder deflections, it was likely that no one except Boeing realized how common they were. It was not until people started dying in crashes that enough scrutiny was placed on the 737 to uncover this history of ignoring the problem.

…The crashes also highlighted the vulnerability of the NTSB to corporate meddling. In 1996, According to the Seattle Times, the safety board had only 90 employees and relied on manufacturers to provide technical expertise in cases like the United 585 and USAir 427 crashes, which made it much harder to investigate cases where the manufacturer knew that it was responsible. Boeing’s obfuscation at every turn was pure corporate expediency: fixing the problem would require a massive recall costing hundreds of millions of dollars, not to mention millions more in compensation that would have to be paid out if Boeing admitted responsibility. Even when the flaw began to result in deadly crashes, Boeing stuck by this policy. Had the failure been easier to detect and prove, they might not have been able to get away with it, but—thanks in part to Boeing’s muddying of the waters—they never faced the massive backlash that they should have received.

 

 

The Paradox of American Friendliness.

 

“What McCrae Dowless did under the direction of Harris is hire a bunch of people to go and collect the absentee ballots of mainly people of color and the elderly. For North Carolina, third party individuals are not allowed to retrieve your absentee ballots, only immediate family members, so already we have a crime being committed. They would pickup the ballots and ENSURE THAT THE VOTER DIDN’T SEAL THEM. That’s important.

In the testimony in front of the NC General Elections Board, multiple individuals testified that what happened is, they would take the ballots back to Dowless’ house and review the ballots. Most people don’t vote for everything on the ballot. Or they do straight ticket. So, at Dowless’ house, multiple individuals would review the ballots and ensure that app unmarked votes were marked Republican and this is where as one above pointed out, they would destroy a ballot and replace it with a new one and then forge the signature. Or on a majority of the ballots, simply mark the votes for ‘whoever the Republican was’.

Once that identity theft and forging was finished, they would seal the ballot and mail it in on the behalf of these trusting individuals.

Harris up there is crying because his son; a deputy US attorney; testified that he informed his father on 3 separate occasions that was he was doing was illegal and felonies under federal law.”

 

A big first step against Civil Asset Forfeiture, in a *unanimous* decision! Supreme Court Limits Civil Asset Forfeiture, Rules Excessive Fines Apply To States

“Forfeiture of the Land Rover, the court determined, would be grossly disproportionate to the gravity of Timbs’s offense,” Ginsburg wrote.

She also noted that the ban on excessive fines was added to the Bill of Rights for the purpose of protecting individual liberty. “Protection against excessive fines has been a constant shield throughout Anglo-American history for good reason: Such fines undermine other liberties.”

She noted that those fines could be used to retaliate against political enemies and have been used as a source of revenue.

 

A tax on using people’s attention!

“Young men are staying at home to play video games instead of going out to find jobs. There seem to be two related reasons for this: Video games are amazingly good; and there is no such pleasure to be had from anything else you might buy on a minimum wage, so why bother earning one? If this seems a sorry state of affairs, here’s a solution: tax media companies for the hours of human attention they consume. Give them an interest in reducing the hours that people spend staring at their screens. (This first paragraph is a summary from The Browser) …

Over the past few decades, labor force participation has sharply dropped for men ages 20-34. Theories about the root cause range from indolence, to a lack of skills and training, to offshoring, to (perhaps most interestingly) the increasing attractiveness and availability of leisure and media entertainment. In this essay, we propose that the drop in labor participation rate of young men is a result of a combination of factors: (i) a decrease in cost of access to media entertainment leisure, (ii) increases in both the availability and (iii) quality media entertainment leisure, and (iv) a decrease in the marginal signalling utility of (conspicuous) consumption goods for all but the highest earners…

One potential solution would be to tax the unproductive leisure activities which people prefer over work. This is perhaps not as crazy as it seems, because (i) the true cost of these activities is already distorted from a consumer perspective by the advertisers who subsidize media consumption,and (ii) we already tax income and productivity – if time and money are fungible, you might just pull the idea of income tax ‘above’ the decision of how to spend time, and say that each person is responsible for investing some amount of sweat (in the form of time or money) into the public good.

Of course it would be impossible to gain political support for such a radical idea, especially when people today enjoy leisure time for free. No one would support a policy that required them to buy this time back from the state in the form of a tax.

Since media companies are capitalizing and profiting on a huge amount of attention that might otherwise be spent productively, however, taxing them for the share of the citizenry’s time that they consume could be more sensible and more practical than taxing citizens themselves.

One view of the status quo is that media companies are aggregating human attention and selling it at a discount–far below minimum wage–to advertisers in a massive arbitrage on human capital. So, the state could set the price of an hour of human attention at the minimum wage rate, and charge media companies 12% (the federal income tax rate on minimum wage) of that wage rate for each hour of human attention they consume.”

 

How Colonialism Actually Worked. I’m beginning more and more to see the imposition of legibility by states as great evils.

 

The top 26 billionaires own $1.4t, out of a global wealth pool of $317t, so 0.44%. Which is still a lot, ~1/200th of all wealth

 

Chipotle may have outsmarted itself by blocking thousands of employee lawsuits over wage theft. Chipotle engaged in wage theft, then claims thousands of workers cannot engage in a class action lawsuit because they signed arbitration clauses. Hidden ones, in an online document that they couldn’t edit. The Judge agreed because morality doesn’t exist.

Then when the class action lawyers took the unusual act of deciding to continue to represent their clients through the arbitration process, Chipotle tried to get an injunction saying they couldn’t, because of course they don’t want anyone having recourse to legal help. Thank god the judge dismissed it out of hand.

Chipotle is now claiming that having to go through so many individual arbitrations will drive it bankrupt. The numbers say this is total bullshit, but I hope they do go bankrupt. And I hope every Chipotle executive involved in these decisions has a severe health crisis and has to spend years of their life with disfigurement or chronic pain.

 

Well that’s an interesting take! – “The primary function of privacy is not to hide things society finds unacceptable, but to create an environment in which your own mind feels safe to tell you things. If you’re not allowing these unshareworthy thoughts and feelings a space to come out, they still affect your feelings and behavior– you just don’t know how or why.

 

The hottest take of all: “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” played a pivotal role in the rise of Islamic fundamentalism

 

Ever tried to copy a link from a Google search result, and got a ridiculous mess that won’t even paste correctly because it’s too damn long? And wondered wtf was even happening, why do I have to click through and then copy from the browser’s address bar?
“Because nobody cares, Google records every click that you make from a Google search results page, except they use JavaScript to fake the links that you’re looking at so that when you mouse over them it looks like the real link but if you actually try and copy to the fucking clipboard it’s this gigantic shitty link to Google with all kinds of tracking information. This is a website that removes all that shit and give you the real link, because when you’re on a cell phone it’s all you’ve fucking got.”

 

This is from December 2018, so probably outdated and things are worse now. —

TIL that in Venezuela, the minimum wage is the median wage – more than half the country makes only the minimum wage.
AND that a day’s work at this rate is enough to buy 900 calories if buying only the cheapest available foodstuff.

So, assuming no other expenses at all, a day of labor gets you 900 calories. Not enough to live. This is literally working to starve to death.
Oh my god.

 

What you’ve heard about “Nanette” on Netflix is true. Go watch it, it’s really good/interesting, and often very funny. OK, it’s downright fantastic, and it will be with me for a long time.

 

I read this back in high school, so over 20 years ago now (god I’m old). It’s still with me. A Person Paper on Purity in Language by Douglas Hofstadter

 

You can still vote for What Lies Dreaming once a week at Top Webfiction: http://topwebfiction.com/vote.php?for=what-lies-dreaming

May 232019
 

Please put down the tomatoes and hear me out for a sec. :)

Season 8 was, I believe we all agree, even worse than anyone had anticipated (and I had anticipated something pretty bad). But if you can overlook everything that was built up before in the series and then shat on, the last episode was pretty good.

I know that is a lot of sin to overlook. One doesn’t build up something this beautiful and then murder it (in the artistic sense) and get off without a lot of anger. And I realize that if it was evaluated purely on its own merits without that series-murder for context, the final episode is still bad. Anyone who hadn’t watched any other GoT would just see idiot characters making stupid choices to drive a bad narrative. Characters who contradict themselves and make nonsensical arguments, which no one else seems to notice.

But when you take it all together–the amazing series, the precipitous decline, and the absolute travesty of Season Eight… it final episode comes through as a good mood piece. This episode was the final death rattle of a show we once loved. It was a funeral for vision and beauty. Everything was dark and dreary and awful, and even the sunny day at the end was basically a spiteful sun-god laughing at all men’s follies; rather than cheerful.

In form and structure, it followed what we’ve been conditioned to accept from Season Eight. Failure and despair at something once-great reduced to ash by inhuman callousness. The audience is feeling this emotion one level up, despairing for a show they used to love, reduced to crap by writers who just don’t care anymore.

So it didn’t matter that characters acted idiotically and contradicted themselves. This episode was about us as modern viewers, being sad about a show destroyed… rather than us as vicarious participants being sad that a family/city was destroyed. The contradictions and nonsense arguments are par for the course at this point. That only drives in the point that all is lost.

But it’s not just that I was sad because the series had died. Many series have done the same. Phantom Menace did it to a cultural institution. Why don’t I say those things were “good” in their way? Well… the final GoT episode was, itself, all about the aesthetic of despair. We were sad for different reasons, yes. Nonetheless, this episode gave us all the visuals, music, pacing, and depressed acting to revel in that emotion. I wouldn’t have said it was a good final episode if it had been like ep 5, with all the explosions and fights-to-the-death, or the frantic idiocy of ep 3. Those were also bad episodes that nailed this coffin shut. But only this episode had the proper aesthetic of loss and despair. I liked that.

Good bye, show that I used to know. All is mourning.

Apr 262019
 

I had always thought Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space” was kinda cheesy, due to a lack of scientific knowledge. Like, while the concept of a new, gross color that no one has ever seen before and therefore can’t describe in words is nicely creepy in principle, it just didn’t work for me. I couldn’t get over that color is just frequency of the EM spectrum, and we see all the frequencies in our visible range. There is no unused frequency of light that a color could be hiding in which we’ve never seen, so the idea just kept kicking me out of the story.

This was another example of “a little knowledge is worse than none.” Because it turns out that there IS an alien color. One which we see, but which doesn’t correspond to any frequency of light in the visible spectrum. A color out of space actually exists!

We’ve even known it was special, different from all other colors, on some sub-conscious/psychic level. This is demonstrated by the fact that this color has, through much of human history, been reserved only for the ruling elite. It’s known as the royal color, and protected as such. Any lesser humans that dared to wear it could be punished, and in some places even executed.* Even to this day there are people who have such a powerful unnatural attraction to this color that they define themselves by their love of it.

That color is Purple.

Seriously, I had no idea that there is no wavelength of light that corresponds to purple, and it is an interpolation of our brains.** Our brains are freakin’ magic.

Which means “The Colour Out Of Space” is easily salvageable. Same psychic properties that drove people insane also messed with the cones in their eyes that created unique activation patterns which didn’t match any wavelength of light. Solved!

Yes, this was all a fancy way of sharing a cool video about how we see color, your welcome. :)

 


* the alternate hypothesis, that purple dye was very hard and costly to produce and so only the most powerful/wealthy could afford it, and in time it became a status symbol of that power/wealth and so lower classes were legally prevented from using it even when they could afford it, and has nothing to do with psychic phenomena, is clearly ridiculous and will not be entertained here.

** I also had no idea that violet and purple aren’t the same thing. This is why I’m not an artist of the color-using variety.