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July 4th, 2014

01:13 am - A Puzzling Decline in Print Periodicals
It's a widely accepted truism that the internet has been killing off newspapers, but I recently encountered an article stating (among other points) that the decline started earlier.
Gentzkow also points out that the popularity of newspapers had already significantly diminished between 1980 and 1995, well before the Internet age, and has dropped at roughly the same rate ever since.
This reminded me of another decline that began around the same time, the decline in sales of science fiction magazines. It's clear that all of the major SF magazines began a major and continual decline no later than 1992, which is well before reading SF online became a major thing (see graph here).

So, it seems that somewhere in the 1980s and the very beginning of the 90s, something, happened to both newspapers and SF magazines. Some of it is likely due to a gradual decline in reading for pleasure, but this decline is a lot less significant than the decline in newspaper or SF magazine sales. I can’t find 20+ year data for magazines, but what I could find doesn't look as significant. I don't have any answers, merely a question.

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June 24th, 2014

11:18 pm - Thoughts About Characters & Representation On TV
I had an interesting experience recently when watching click here for the name of the showCollapse ) (which is an excellent and impressive show), it introduced a character who was a female to male transsexual. That made me realize that despite the fact that I know quite a number of transmen, I've actually never seen one appear on a TV show. I'm now wondering if this was a first or if anyone knows of any other episodes of TV shows which have included FtM characters.

Even better, in the episode I watched, the character was introduced alive and remained so throughout the episode and was treated as a person. I mention this because while I have seen a few male-to-female transsexuals on various TV shows, a fair portion of the time they were either introduced as murder victims or become murder victims during the episode. That again made me think about how limited the selection of TV characters is – a problem that is considerably worse in the US, because standards of attractiveness for TV are far more strict and limited than in Canada or the UK.

In any case, it's definitely wonderful to see things continuing to open up a bit. Currently, I can now think of several shows that I watch which not only have gay &/or lesbian characters and Arrow (which has become vastly better than it initially appeared) had a major character who was clearly bisexual last season. Of course, once homophobia has died down a bit more in the US, I'm expecting bisexuality to become exceedingly popular in geeky action/soap operas like those shown on the CW, simply because bisexuality opens up far more opportunities for romance, jealousy, and all of the other interpersonal complexities which such shows thrive on.

I'm half-betting that in 15-20 years, people will be complaining about the number of bisexual characters in such shows, not because of homophobia, but because they are being introduced as a gimmick to allow attractive characters of either gender to hook up – I'd likely eventually get tired of that, but it would probably take a while :)

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June 22nd, 2014

12:17 am - Geoengineering For The Win!
Global climate change is an increasingly serious problem, but it looks pretty clear that transitioning almost all of the world to renewable, carbon neutral energy sources, while still allowing the developing world to continue to develop will take more than 20 years, and we don't really have that sort of time - except that there are alternatives, one of which has been proven in a big way on several fronts geoengineering using iron sulphate.

Despite (from my PoV foolishly restrictive) international law, someone performed a moderate-sized test 20 months ago, and the results look promising for both carbon removal and a nice side-benefit of increased fish harvests.

I'm deeply suspicious of the idea of using stratospheric sulfate aerosols for geoengineering, both because it doesn't reduce the amount of CO2 and also the potential acid rain and possible large-scale climate changes, but using iron looks pretty good, and with luck geoenginneering will give humanity sufficient time to switch to sustainable energy w/o having to disrupt development efforts.

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June 10th, 2014

03:05 am - Ideas & Quality - Musings of Maleficent
So, I thought I'd try posting here again…
I've long heard people discussion how the ideas or less often the plot of a book or movie was. Oftentimes, I agree with them, but for me having fascinating ideas or a wonderful plot does not mean that the work in question can't also suck. For me perhaps the biggest difference between book movies with wonderful ideas and poor execution is that I'm vastly more likely to actually see such a movie than finish such a book, since attractive visuals can at least hold my interest, while leaden prose causes me to throw down a book in disgust no matter how awesome the ideas inside may be.

I saw Maleficent this weekend, and it was one of these sorts of movies. There was definitely some good acting (by both Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning), the visuals were supremely lovely, and the plot was exactly the sort of wonderfully transgressive retelling that I deeply love.

Unfortunately, the film was also fairly mediocre, and was made so by choices that boggle me – I thought everyone, and especially everyone in charge of making multi-hundred million dollar films was aware that voice-over narration should be used sparingly, if at all. Combine that with a film that was around half an hour too short, which ignored the truism of "show not tell" in a myriad of ways, and which prioritized catchy visuals or characterization, and the result was far, far less than awesome.

I went to see if with teaotter, who felt much the same ways, and who pointed out that a vastly better and more compelling way to start the film was with Aurora's christening scene, where the faeries arrive, and then do Maleficent's backstory in flashback, preferably framed by Maleficent telling her story to Aurora. That gives you a lovely start in the middle, catchup with flashbacks and then move forward structure that has worked exceptionally well in many books and films.

Also, I'm not certain, but it felt like the scene where teenage Aurora first sees Maleficent actually contained a bit less dialog than the version of the same scene in the trailers, even if I'm misremembering, such a pivotal scene should have contained more dialog.

On the positive side, it was the top selling film on its opening weekend, and this last weekend, it came in second, well ahead of the equally unimaginative sounding Edge of Tomorrow (although both were to me inexplicably beaten out by a film about two teens who fall in love while dying of cancer, which is the sort of story I've always found hideously & pointlessly depressing and whose popularity baffles me).

In any case, we have the first two Hunger Games films (and especially the second) to prove that well done action-adventure movies with female leads can be wildly successful, and this movie proves that action films with female leads can do well even if they are well less than perfect, which is hopefully excellent news for seeing more such films (most of which are hopefully well better than Maleficent) being made. Also, the movie has already spawned a wealth of fanfic, the best of which is considerably deeper and better than the film, which is one of the things that fandom excels at.

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November 21st, 2013

05:45 pm - Awesome Concert & Cool Technology
On Tuesday, I went to a Vienna Teng concert that was absolutely fabulous, while also rather different from most concerts I've been to. It got me thinking about technology in several ways. Like most concerts in the past few years, there were a moderate number of people recording it on their cellphones. It was an excellent show for that to seem tempting, except that the last thing I'd like to do in a wonderful show is to distract myself by holding up and focusing on my phone's screen.

However, it occurred to me that if I had Google Glass or something similar, then all I'd need to is blink, or say something, and I'd be recording, and if I had that tech on me, I'd have definitely recorded the concert. It may well be that the camera is the killer app for early generation headsets.

The concert itself was fascinating and wonderful from a technological PoV. My archetypal concert consists of one person with a stool, a microphone, and a guitar; I've seen a number of excellent shows like that, including ones by both Al Stewart and Suzanne Vega. This was nothing like that. In addition to being joined by two other performers, Vienna Teng used all manner of instruments, ranging from the sort of looping and sampling gear that could only be found in recording studios a decade ago, to an amazing bit where all three performers were using plastic drinking cups and a wooden table as percussion instruments. One of the best high tech bits was this impressive mash-up which is her typical encore:

Current Mood: impressedimpressed

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November 13th, 2013

01:49 pm - Useful Work Realization
I'm about to start editing the portion of the Aeon core book that I wrote, and just needed to finish up one chapter I'd been working on.  However, for the last two days I've been frustrated because I wasn't sure what else to write - last night I checked the outline that I'd written for it, I'd written 8,000 words, and even with increases for editing (my writing always grows by at least 10% when I edit it), it was well short of the 13,500 words I'd allocated for that chapter - until I actually read my outline, the last 4.500 words of that chapter were rules that one of my other authors will write, so I'd written 8,000 of 9,000 words.  So, I'm actually done and ready to start editing other than a day of adding in a few bits and pieces to another chapter.
Current Mood: pleasedpleased

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November 11th, 2013

11:46 pm - Musings on violence & era
teaotter & I continue to watch The Tomorrow People, which has gone from being unwatchable, to barely watchable, to OK, but it is also still very much a tv show of this era. I'd long ago watched a few episodes of the 1970s version, and while I'm not certain, I think that I remember that the fact that the psychic kids can't knowingly kill people was presented as a difficult but ultimately good thing.  Here, they kept the fact that psychics can't kill, and while a few of the psychics declare that this is a good thing, it's not presented as such.  Instead, when the villain talks about this limitation as a weakness to be cured, our protagonist recoils in horror, but then later in that episode and also in the next one, the one psychic who was modified by the villain so that he could kill, did so, once to eliminate a large-scale threat, and the second time to keep a thug from killing to other characters, and in both cases this killing was clearly shown as the only useful choice.

I find this sad, but also unsurprising.  We live in an era when President Obama finding a peaceful solution to the problem of chemical weapons in Syria is widely seen as weakness and when negotiating with Iran to stop them from making nuclear weapons is frequently denounced as foolish and useless. Mao's famous quote "power grows out of the barrel of a gun", is widely believed in the US, in a way that it wasn't 40 years ago.  In large part, I see this as yet another legacy of the spreading of libertarian ideas by the far right for the past 30+ years, and I'm very tired of it.  Today, many, and likely most people in the US look at the idealism of the 1970s as foolish and doomed, I look forward to eventually seeing an ideological swing in the other direction, where the brutal cynicism that passes  for "realism" today is widely seen to hideous and wrong.

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12:23 am - Understanding a trope
I read a modicum of fanfiction, which usually involves glancing at and avoiding a wealth of fanfiction that is not to my taste, sometimes because it's dreadful, but just as often because it's about subjects and involves tropes that I have no interest in.  One of these is the alpha, beta, omega trope, which is also explained in rather graphic NSFW detail here.  So, this is clearly a BDSM-related trope and it often involves werewolves (typically in fandoms where the characters are not normally werewolves)[1].  However, I was talking with teaotter about a story she read that subverted this trope in interesting ways, and realized that it was about more than BDSM & werewolves, it was also a fetishized version of stereotypical 1950s male/female gender roles.  I'm still not into it, but I now think that its existence is awesome, because that implies that at least for the audience of most fanfiction, these sorts of ideas are starting to drift far enough outside of the mainstream that they can enter the realm of exotic fetishization, and that's actually very cool.

[1] When I was reading X-Men: First Class fanfiction, I remember when the trope hit big there, and I was confronted with a surfiet of stories about the X-Men as a pack of werewolves, where I just wanted to read about mutants.

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October 27th, 2013

09:49 pm - Musings on New TV + an Excellent SF Novel
So, I thought about doing more with my LJ.  I've been deeply amused by my preferences for the new TV shows this season – I looked forward greatly to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and while it's no longer exceptionally dull and (episode 3 was considerably better than episode 1 or 2, and the only bright spot in episode 1 was J. August Richards), but at best it manages mildly entertaining. Witches of East End is coming up on episode 3, and it may also jump from dull and terrible to OK, but I'm certain it won't get better than that.

I had also greatly looked forward to The Tomorrow People, which may someday go from being unwatchably bad, to being watchably bad, but for now it's episodes are lurking on our Tivo, waiting for us to just bored enough to see if it continues to suck as the pilot did (20 minutes of episode 2 was almost as bad).  One bright spot was Ironside, which I was dubious about, but teaotter suggested we try, and it was quite good and looked to be getting even better – except that it was cancelled after episode 4 - I'm guessing have a protagonist who was both black and in a wheelchair was a bridge too far for most US audiences.  Unlike most modern TV, the premier of The Blacklist was actually quite good, but it feel down very swiftly after that, both by being morally repellent and also by having the male lead be far too smug one to many times.

So, the only new show I'm consistently looking forward to is of all things Sleepy Hollow - yes, the highlight of the first episode was the headless horseman chasing our protagonists through a graveyard while firing a submachine gun, but while episode 2 was pretty bad (albeit a bit better than the 2nd episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), it went rapidly up from there.  The last couple of episodes have reminded of some of the more fun bits of Supernatural, except instead of being a show where two white guys go around investigating the supernatural murders of women and people of color and every woman who appears in more than one episode is either swiftly dead or completely evil, Sleepy Hollow isn't a piece of racist misogyny. It's fluff, but it continues to be fun fluff.  Such is new TV.

OTOH, if you're looking for an excellent SF novel, you're very much in luck. New SF author Ann Leckie's first novel Ancillary Justice was a gem – it was well written, thoughtful, and with a fascinating protagonist.  It also had interesting bits about slavery and colonialism (colonialism has been a major theme in SF since the end of WWII), and the use of pronouns was very cool and unexpected.  Rather than say more, I recommend teaotter's excellent review of the novel.  As a potentially useful side-note, on the Amazon site, the brief blurb has a Read More to click for more of the blurb - don't do that if you wish to avoid a major spoiler.

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May 25th, 2013

03:04 am - Musings on Hannibal
I've been watching the new TV series Hannibal, it's a very odd show. The first episode was horrific and violent in a way I'd not seen on network TV before and left me certain that wouldn't be able to watch more of it, if it remained like that. However, teaotter was really into it (being a big fan of the novels) and often shows are very different from their pilot.

This case was no exception, but I wasn't prepared for just how different it was. The second episode had one of the most laughably ludicrous serial killers ever found in fiction, and the trend continued – serial killers who grow mushrooms on their victims, who sculpt their skin and bones to make them look like bloody angels, one who turned his 17 victims from 4 decades of killing into a "totem pole" of body parts, and another who tanned his victim's vocal chords so he could stick a cello neck down the victim's throat and play him as a musical instrument (which is utterly impossible on several levels, as well as silly).

In short, the show went from visceral and grim to something far too bizarre to take remotely seriously. The writers and director also don't take the serial killers at all seriously – the killers merely exist to in some fashion or other highlight the main cast's emotional tensions. There a degree to which using mass murder as an emotional accent is morally bankrupt, but it's equally clear that this show takes place in a bizarrely stylized world (which seems the hallmark of all of show-runner Bryan Fuller's work.

Although the show superficially looks like it's about the FBI catching serial killers, the killers and their victims are pretty much entirely irrelevant. Also, in most episodes the FBI doesn't save anyone, and in some they only find the killer after the killer is dead - the police procedural part (like the killers and their victims) is a minor setting detail.

I've found other shows Fuller did completely unwatchable because they were too stylized, but perhaps because I'd find this show unwatchable is it wasn't so stylized, Hannibal works for me – the acting of the main cast is brilliant, the interactions between Hannibal Lector and Will Graham are wonderful, the visual treatment of the food is lovely (there's always at least one elaborate dish (and often and entire meal) prepared by Hannibal in pretty much every episode), and one the whole it's emotionally complex character-focused fun with a side-order of artistically shot, thematically appropriate mass murder.

The over-the-top stylization of the show, and the fact that Will Graham is gradually going completely insane and his "ability at profiling" is just as obviously some form of magic or psychic power also gave me a lovely fan theory about the show. Every PC in the wonderful New World of Darkness RPG Changeling: The Lost is a human who was taken off to faerieland as a pet or slave to some inhuman fae creature.

So, Hannibal Lector is clearly a Fae noble, and the stylized Virginia and Maryland of the show is his domain. Will Graham is a changeling abducted by Lector, and he, like the other humans, have been magically convinced that they are still in the real world. Hannibal is both interested in Will, and also enjoys using him to learn more about Fae nobles in other domains (at least some of the serial killers in other parts of the country that the show deals with). Also, Hannibal helps maintain control over his human pets by feeding them. This explanation works far too well, both teaotter & amberite agree.
Current Mood: amusedamused

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May 10th, 2013

01:57 am - Cherry Spice Nut Torte (Gluten Free) + GF baking notes
Yesterday, teaotter wrote a charming short piece of fluffy fan-fiction which involved a character making a cherry spice cake.  I'd never had or even heard of such a cake, and so my first impulse was to make one (particularly since it sounded delicious).  However, there were some considerations that I needed to keep in mind.

I can eat gluten, but my partner amberite is, and since teaotter doesn't eat sweets all that often, most of the time I make a cake or pie, I try to make it gluten free, so I don't end up eating it all myself.  In the past several years of doing this (and also regularly making wheat flour desserts), I realized several facts about gluten free baking.

The first is that if you are making a cake, IMHO most gluten free flours (typically made from rice, oat, tapioca, or gods help you chickpea (shudder) flour) deeply suck - their texture is odd and a bit rubbery, and to me they don't taste nearly as good as wheat flour. However, from my PoV as someone who can eat wheat w/o harm, baked goods made with almond flour can be delicious.

The second is that traditional recipes are always best.  You can find almond flour recipes on "paleo-diet" sites, but avoid most of them - either the people making them don't care that the results are completely soggy and structureless, or they make odd sacrifices to eldritch paleo-diet gods and so manage to actually create something worth eating using these dubious recipes.

As a general rule, if a cake or muffin recipe using almond flour doesn't use at least 5 separated eggs, where the beaten egg whites are used as the main form of levening, don't make it. However, I did find this lovely gluten-free pie crust recipe. IME, home-made gluten-free pie crusts made with alternative grains have textures ranging from rock to shoe leather.  However, this almond flour pie crust is awesome.  I add spices and vanilla as appropriate, and the result is better than any wheat flour pie crust I've ever had. Add 1/3 coconut flour for citrus pies, or 1/2 cup of ground pecans (grind with a Mouli grater) for pumpkin or pecan pie for even more deliciousness. This vegan almond flour pie crust sounds like it would also work, but I haven't tried it. However, that's about it for non-traditional recipes. I love this lemon almond cake (to be completely honest, I mix and matched it with this very similar recipe, and use a food processor on the lemons)

However, for making a more standard cake, like the one below, I use as a base this this excellent walnut torte recipe, I typically reduce the eggs from 8 to 6, and use 6 oz of nuts - either all almond flour or at least half almond flour and half finely ground (with a mouli grater) pecans or walnuts, elminate the breadcrumbs, and bake it all in an 8" or 9" removeable rim pan, and the three times I've done this have all been excellent.

Here's the recipeCollapse )

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May 1st, 2013

02:22 am - Music & New Vocabulary
Becca and I went to see John Fullbright in concert tonight. I wasn't all that familiar with his work before, but I very much enjoyed myself. His music sits at the crossroads of folk, country, and blues, and at various times sounded like everything from Tom Waits, to early Jackson Brown, to 50s rock. Fullbright described his music as "Americana Music", a term I was previously unfamiliar with, and described it was what people call your music when you wear a fedora and play a guitar (he's also quite good on keyboard). Here's and excellent and nifty video of his recent song Gawd Above.
Current Mood: pleasedpleased

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April 17th, 2013

08:39 pm - Musing on The Female Man by Joanna Russ
I just finished an old SF classic – Joanna Russ' The Female Man (I highly recommend the linked Wikipedia article if you haven't read the book or haven't read it for a long time). I had never read it before, and reading it was both interesting and odd. Like most good SF, it's social commentary. It was well written and engaging and clearly New Wave SF, where playing with language and PoV was new to SF and was used with good effect. However, it also seriously shows its age. It was written in 1970, when Second Wave feminism was still relatively new. Now, society has changed, and in many (but definitely not all) ways it feels like a historical artifact.

One of the protagonists (Joanna) is from something much like our world in 1970, another (Jeannine) is from a 1970 where the Great Depression never ended and gender roles and expectations similarly did not change much from the 1930s. My own reading about Joanna's world and her difficulties and attitudes felt very much like Joanna's reaction to Jeannine's world and attitudes - a reminder of how bad things used to be, but also as a reminder that we are still far from equality.

In some ways, reading this book felt a bit like when I attempted to reread LeGuin's Left Hand of Darkness (1969) a decade or so ago. I loved that book when I first read it long ago, but when I reread it, I had a great deal of trouble getting past the fact that the protagonist was clearly supposed to be a clueless everyman who was supposed to be at least somewhat sympathetic (if also possessed of attitudes he would unlearn in the course of the book), but came across far more as a misogynist jerk of the sort now typically only found as the protagonist in works created by extreme reactionaries. There's a long way to go towards gender equality, but books like these also serve to remind me that we have also come a very long way already. In many ways, while both novels are good, they also now feel fairly archaic.

I was especially struck by a passage written from Joanna's PoV: click for quoteCollapse )This works as a slightly exaggerated vision of the 1960s US, but it looks a whole lot less like the modern US. In 1970, women were 9.7% of the nation's doctors and just 4.9% of its lawyers, according to Census data., now the numbers are around 1/3 of each, which a strong age bias, and around one sixth of the Army and the Navy is now female. Even more strikingly, two income heterosexual married couples are now more than three times as common than ones where only the man works, and perhaps more importantly, "In relationships where one partner earned at least 60 percent of the household income, women were the bigger earner only about 4 percent of the time in 1969, she says; now, women are the big earner in 25 percent to 30 percent of those relationships.". We're far from gender equality, but perhaps equally far from the US (and in fact the entire developed world) of 1970.

Of course, our societies have also changed in ways that showcase how some of the attitudes found in The Female Man are exceedingly problematic. Specifically, this is also a book I would not recommend to any of the many trans people I know. In the sections on Jael's dystopian world, in the continent ruled by men, the only women were transwomen, and their depiction was fairly horrific in ways that went well beyond a condemnation of the dystopian gender attitudes of that world. In reading it, I felt rather strongly that the reader was seeing Russ' attitudes towards transwomen, and that felt both disturbing and sad, especially that we are now living in an era where (at least in the US) trans people are (at best) in roughly the same situation that women were at in 1970.

As a sidenote, I had never read The Female Man before, but I remember reading Russ' 1972 Hugo and Nebula winning short story "When It Changed" in Again, Dangerous Visions. I reread it after finishing The Female Man, and just like when I first read it, was unhappy with how inevitable the loss of that way of life seemed with recontact with men, that ending reveals some assumptions that are thankfully perhaps somewhat less common now than then. I rather prefer Tiptree's literary response to that story – "Huston, Huston, Do You Read" (which won a Hugo and a Nebula in 1976).
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful

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March 18th, 2013

10:15 pm - Race, Class, and Justice
I've been reading about the various completely justified anger about the media's treatment of the conviction of the two rapists in the Steubenville Ohio case, where CNN and various other news stations showed a disturbing amount of sympathy for the rapists. That's all an exceedingly important discussion that is all about how the mass media is a major part of rape culture. However, this case also reminded me of another high-profile case, the 1989 Central Park jogger_case. In that case, 5 young men were arrested and convicted of the assault.

Of course, there are also some major differences in these two cases. Yes, the 1989 case was a more serious crime – the victim almost died from the beating she sustained. However, the other differences are also worth noting. The "Central Park 5" were a bit younger than the two Steubenville rapists, ranging in age from 14 to 16. Also, instead of a year or two of juvenile detention, they all served between 6 and 14 years adult maximum security prisons – they were tried and convicted as adults, despite one of them being only 14.

There are two other crucial differences between the two cases, the "Central Park 5" were all poor black and latino kids, while the two Steubenville rapists were middle class boys, one white, one black, and both playing college football. Also, unlike the two boys in Steubenville, none of the "Central Park 5" were guilty. Instead, their convictions were based on coerced confessions and rushed trials, while the actual criminal was a white man who was eventually convicted on DNA evidence in 2002. I remember some of the publicity around the 1989 case, and any sort of sympathy for the 5 kids where were arrested was distinctly absent from the mass media. So based on flimsy evidence, 5 young men between the ages of 14 and 16 were put in maximum security prison for years for a crime they didn't commit, while two white rapists who were 16 & 17 were tried and convicted as juveniles for a crime they did commit and for which there was abundant evidence. Remember this the next time anyone claims that the US has moved beyond racism, that class doesn't matter any sort of similar nonsense.

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03:09 am - Amusing Visual Images
teaotter is seriously into BPAL perfume, and talks about her perfumes regularly. One of the ingredients in some of them is Oud. Because it's pronounced the same, every time she says Oud, I see (an Ood from Dr. Who) It makes me giggle most of the time.
Current Mood: amusedamused

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March 1st, 2013

01:49 am - The coming end of (human) science
Six and a half years ago, I made this post about the limits of human knowledge and the end of science, because eventually we would reach the limits of our understanding. I didn't think of another stranger option, one that is in the very earliest stages of happening now.
Then, two years ago, Hod Lipson and Michael Schmidt announced the first stirrings of robotic thinking. Lipson, a computer science professor at Cornell, and Schmidt, then a graduate student in Lipson’s lab, created a computer program that, given a raft of data from physical systems, can describe the natural laws that apply to that system. When they fed their software the motion-capture coordinates of a swinging double pendulum, the machine pondered the data for a couple days, then spat out the Hamiltonian equation describing the motion of such a system—an equation that represents the physical law known as conservation of energy. Their software needed no prior knowledge to discover this law. It wasn’t familiar with gravity, energy, geometry, or anything else. It simply did what human scientists have done since the time of Newton. It looked at the world, came up with theories about how it works, tested them, and then produced a law.

Lipson and Schmidt called their program Eureqa, and they made it available for free on the Web. It has since yielded several new discoveries in a range of fields, discovering scientific laws that we’d never known. Lipson and Schmidt recently worked with Gurol Suel, a molecular biophysicist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, to look at the dynamics of a bacterium cell. Given data about several different biological functions within the cell, the computer did something mind-blowing. “We found this really beautiful, elegant equation that described how the cell worked, and that tended to hold true over all of our new experiments,” Schmidt says. There was only one problem: The humans had no idea why the equation worked, or what underlying scientific principle it suggested. It was, Schmidt says, as if they’d consulted an oracle
Now, things like this are an extreme rarity, a mathematic proof here, a discovery about bacteria there... However, both computers and software will be noticably better in 5 years, and quite a bit better in 10 or 15 years. Already, in a test of 500 patients, software similar to Waston was better at diagnosing these patients than human doctors.

Once again I'm, thinking of Charle's Stross excellent recent novel Rule 34. In the novel, there were no conscious AIs, but computers were still increasingly taking control of human lives. We're not there yet, but once again, I suspect that 2020 and beyond will be amazing in a host of exceedingly subtle but profound ways. Such is modern life and modern technology.

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February 5th, 2013

12:26 am - Musings on RPG Work and on Kickstarter
I'm slowly moving forward on getting my outline for Aeon ready, while also doing other work (or mostly not doing other work, because I'm spending far too much time on an outline that will literally be 10% the length of the final book), but I just got another assignment with a similar due date to my first, and so it's time to get down to work.

In any case, I just realized that all of the projects I've worked on in the last six months are having a Kickstarter, and I just found out that the latest one I got hired on will have an extra-wonderful (at least to me) stretch goal - if they make more than X amount, the authors get paid more - needless to say, you folks will hear more than a bit about this when the Kickstarter goes live, which won't be for at least a month and a half.

The degree to which Kickstarter and sites like it have revitalized tabletop gaming is quite impressive. I hope that this is a model that continues, both because I personally like the sort of things it produces and also because I suspect that this is going to be much of the future of gaming. Many years ago, back in the late 90s, I remember talking with several other people in the RPG industry about alternative publishing, and we all concluded that the ideal method would be a method of distributed patronage. I imagined some sort of subscription model, but Kickstarter is clearly what works now, and it works impressively well.
Current Mood: busybusy

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January 28th, 2013

12:55 am - Not Unexpected News From Egypt
PORT SAID, Egypt — President Mohamed Morsi declared a state of emergency and a curfew in three major cities on Sunday, as escalating violence in the streets threatened his government and Egypt’s democracy.

By imposing a one-month state of emergency in Suez, Ismailia and here in Port Said, where the police have lost all control, Mr. Morsi’s declaration chose to use one of the most despised weapons of former President Hosni Mubarak’s autocracy. Under Mubarak-era laws left in effect by the country’s new Constitution, a state of emergency suspends the ordinary judicial process and most civil rights. It gives the president and the police extraordinary powers.

At this point, I'm betting things have turned a corner in Egypt and that Morsi won't be in charge of Egypt in a year (likely less). The Muslim Brotherhood (which Morsi is the head of) didn't get involved in the Muslim Spring riots against Mubarak until near the end, and I'm betting the people who were involved early take poorly to these actions. Given that Morsi is definitely proving to be of the "Meet the new thug, same as the old thug" school of politics, I wish the people of Egypt well and hope they overthrow Morsi and actually manage to elect someone who isn't a would-be tyrant.

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12:45 am - Swamp Pawn Ghosts – Musings on Bizarre TV
teaotter & I were watching a cooking show before she went to bed, and then she looked at what was on other channels. One show caught my eye – I didn't watch it, I was merely awestruck by its existence – it was called Swamp Pawn. There are now all manner of shows for bored white collar workers about unusual jobs - Swamp Loggers, Storage Wars, and several involving pawn shops… Swamps and pawn shops for some reason seem especially common, and so this show is the perfect exemplar of this form of TV – all shall bow down before the mediocre might of Swamp Pawn.

I then mentioned this to amberite who wondered whether it was about a pawn shop in a swamp or about selling items found in a swamp to a pawn shop. [[1]] Alice also suggested that an even more perfect show would be Swamp Pawn Ghosts [[2]], and then wondered if that would be a show about a haunted pawn shop or about pawning ghosts found in a swamp – I vote for the second.

In many ways, US TV has gotten like the rest of the US culture - far less uniform than it was 20+ years ago. Over the past decade I've watched a number of truly excellent shows, many of which have been among the best shows I've ever seen on TV, while I've also been careful to avoid some of the most bizarre and terrible-sounding shows I've ever heard of.

[[1]] Note: I have no interest in learning the actual answer to this question, speculating is far more enjoyable.

[[2]] The number of terrible-looking ghost-hunting shows is shockingly large.
Current Mood: amusedamused

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December 18th, 2012

02:53 am - Food Allergy Bullet Dodged
I think I can now safely say that I'm not suddenly allergic to corn. A few weeks ago, I started getting acne on my face, which was both odd and annoying and my face also itched. Then, I got more - lots more. The only change I noticed before this was that I'd started eating Captain Crunch cereal, I stopped and the problem got better, but then I had corn for dinner several nights later and it got much worse again - approximately 3 hours after I finished dinner. This was repeated a few days later when I had something with a cornmeal crust. So, I read on-line about corn allergies, and found that acne was a common reaction to corn allergies. Simply no eating corn, only helped a small amount. Then, I cut corn derivatives out of everything I ingested (this is insanely difficult in the US - even the benadryl I was taking to try to stop the iching had cornstarch as its first ingredient). My face slowly started getting better, but I was still having some new minor problems as well as everything taking a long time to heal. By this point, I didn't want to go out much, since I looked horrid.

So, at my partners' urging, I made an appointment with my doctor and went in last Monday. She took one look at my face, listened to what I had to say, and said that while corn might have had some role in triggering it, what I had was tinea barbae. So, I got some anti-fungal pills, and it cleared up quite rapidly. Then last Thursday, I began introducing corn derivatives back into my diet - caramel color, corn syrup, and corn starch all seem perfectly find and caused no problems. I'm betting that something in the Captain Crunch cereal made the fungus very happy indeed, and that I might be wise to avoid actual corn and cornmeal for a while. I am exceedingly pleased at this turn of events - one food allergy is more than sufficient.
Current Mood: pleasedpleased

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