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April 21st, 2017

02:23 am - Musings On Machine Learning and My Lovecraftian Worldview
Here's a fascinating, and to me at least, extremely wonderful and hopeful article: Our Machines Now Have Knowledge We’ll Never Understand It's about machine-learning, and the fact that computers win at go by playing in ways that humans don't, and that this is true of pretty much all modern machine learning and AI problem-solving, they don't do things like humans would, and more importantly, they don't create relatively simple laws and formulas from which they can make predictions. Humans do that, but machines don't. Here's one of the key insights: click here for a moderately long, but nifty quoteCollapse ) In short, there's every reason to assume that the universe is too complex for us to understand, but we can use machine learning to discover insights, and techniques for working with it that would be impossible for humans to ever find except by chance, and perhaps not even then.

I can see some people finding this idea disturbing or depressing, but I find it exceedingly exciting. I'd honestly be sad if human brains were capable of encompassing the truths of the universe – that would imply a pretty simple, and from my PoV, rather dull, and likely deterministic universe. Instead, we may have a wildly complex. As J.B.S. Haldane wrote The universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine. In part, this seems obvious, because as I discuss here, it seems likely that all lifeforms have conceptual limits, and there's no reason to suppose we do not.

I find this exciting both because it implies wonders and complexities that will challenge even the post-human beings I hope and rather expect us to become, and also because I describe my worldview as fundamentally Lovecraftian (but definitely not in any sort of nihilistic manner – I find the idea of a carefully ordered universe with an inherent purpose that we did not choose to be vastly more nihilistic than one full of wonder, near infinite possibilities, and just as many choices. I also rather love to idea of gaining insights into the world, which can both provide information and useful technologies, which are based in working with data in ways that humans both don't and can't fully understand. With luck, as we change ourselves to become smarter and capable of deeper insights, the world would continue to be complex beyond our understanding, but also susceptible to ever more sophisticated analysis.

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April 20th, 2017

01:38 pm - Musings About Sissies & Butches
Here's an interesting and thankfully entirely non-transphobic article about a woman and her butch but definitively female-identified daughter

This article reminds me of various comments [personal profile] teaotter has made, that one huge problem with modern constructions of gender is that definitions of male and female have become increasingly narrow, and while we are both pleased that there's increasing awareness of transgendered, non-binary and bi-gendered people, there's absolutely no reason that acknowledging their existence needs to narrow gender categories.

Also, it doesn't look like that's the causation. Instead, it appears that both male and female gender norms began narrowing prior to the most recent surge in transgendered, non-binary and bi-gendered awareness, presumably as a backlash or reaction to both social pressures towards gender equality and growing acceptance of people who are not heterosexual. I'm assuming that at least part of the reason is straight cis people's fear of being assumed to be something other than straight and perhaps cis given that other options are now possible to openly discuss *sigh*.

However, despite such fears, not all male bodied people with gender presentations that don't conform to masculine norms (like me *waves*, with my proud self-definition as a fop and a sissy) are transgendered, non-binary, or bi-gendered (but some definitely are), and in fact, not all such male-bodied people are even gay (although many are).

Similarly, not all female bodied people with gender presentations that don't conform to feminine norms (like [personal profile] teaotter) are transgendered, non-binary, or bi-gendered (but some definitely are), and in fact, not all such female-bodied people are even lesbians (although many are).

Once again, we face the fact that there are no simple answers or formulas for human behavior – living creatures are complicated, and sentient ones are ever more so.

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April 18th, 2017

12:03 am - One Film I Won't See, and One I Definitely Will
I remain impressed at how terrible Zach Synder is at making superhero films, I saw Man of Steel, and found it mediocre, and I actively avoided Batman vs. Superman and Suicide Squad, because they both sounded deeply terrible.

Now we have two very different supers films coming out this November: Justice League, and Thor: Ragnarok. I haven't loved all of the Marvel supers films, but they've all been watchable and at least mildly fun (even, shockingly Ant-Man, and some have been excellent. The difference in sensibility could not be more clearly revealed than by watching these trailers for the two upcoming films. I'm putting the trailer for Thor: Ragnarok second as a chaser to clear the grime of the first trailer out of your mind.

Justice League

Thor: Ragnarok

For me, one of these films looks like a lot of fun and the other looks ponderous, grim, and simply bad.
I also am fairly certain I know the reason Zach Synder's supers films suck so much – Batman, or (as [personal profile] teaotter, who is a big fan of Batman was quick to point out, specifically Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, a graphic novel that I failed to finish when it came out because I have never been impressed with Frank Miller, but I read enough of it to understand that this particularly grim and ultra-gritty view of Batman has informed far too many movie and TV portrayals of Batman (the IMHO impressively terrible TV show Gotham leaps to mind), but no one has taken Miller's ideas as much to heart as Zach Snyder – as I see it, Man of Steel looked and felt like it did both because Snyder was setting Superman up to meet Batman, and more importantly because like too many other, he has decided that if supers media doesn't both look exceptionally bleak and come with extra helpings of grim ultra-violence, then it's "just embarrassing kid stuff", and that any trace of fun is some sort of admission of weakness and (worst of all) immaturity.

Contrast that with all of the Marvel films, from the more serious and impressively excellent films like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, to fun goodness like Guardians of the Galaxy. These are films made by people who aren't embarrassed by superheroes and who don't think fun is bad.

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April 15th, 2017

05:33 pm - Awesome Fanfic or Film Idea
[personal profile] teaotter and I both very much enjoy the Fast & Furious films, and we also both enjoyed the latest trailer for Thor: Ragnarok. After talking about that film and what we hoped it would be (and the fact that it introduced 2 new important female characters, that looked like a hell of a lot of fun, and that it would be even better if it included Thor, Bruce Banner/the Hulk, and maybe Valkyrie on a road trip around the galaxy), [personal profile] teaotter had an idea for a crossover between Thor and the Fast and Furious films.

I immediately ran with that, and together we came up with an idea for a film that would never be made, but which would make a truly awesome novel-length fanfic. You start out with Thor and Valkyrie wandering around the universe, and then the Fast & Furious crew get kidnapped into space, where they need to win a race to save the Earth from alien conquest or some similar (not particularly relevant to the story) goal, because some villain has a plan, and the race is part of it.

Obviously, Thor & Valkyrie are driving in the same race. You'd also want Loki in the race, where he seems to be working for the villain, but is in actuality being threatened into working for the villain (like one popular theory for what Loki was actually up to in The Avengers). For extra fun, toss in Darcy from the Thor films – in this case she was kidnapped by the villain and both notices that Loki is far more the villain's pawn than their ally, and helps convince Loki to get himself (and Darcy) out from under the villain's thumb.

The film or fic would then include car races though all manner of SF & fantasy terrain, presumably including a race along the back of the Midgard Serpent (with a few of the villain's actual allies' cars getting eaten by the serpent), as well as a climactic scene where Dom, Mia, and Brian (who you'd need for this) talk to Thor and Loki about the importance of family. When Loki objects that he's not actually related, Dom says something about how "family is about more than just blood" – extra points if Thor and Loki both bond over the fact that Odin is an abusive jerk.

Ideally, either Valkyrie manages to enchant the Fast & Furious team's cars ([personal profile] teaotter suggested that perhaps any steed Valkyrie uses becomes enchanted, maybe she helps out by taking each of the cars for a short spin) or (for a more gonzo approach) some of the cars end up with Infinity Stones (which by the end, stay with the cars, as Dom and Mia suggest that no one will think of looking for the Infinity Stones there). As a fic, there would also be some awesome Dom/Thor slash.

[personal profile] teaotter and I agreed that we'd watch or read the hell out of the result. Sadly, such a film will never be made, and I don't write fiction and it's outside the range of [personal profile] teaotter's fic, but it's impressively fun to think about.

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April 14th, 2017

09:13 pm - Musings On Charisma and Leadership
I found this article on charisma and humble vs narcissistic leaders sad but not at all surprising.

Almost more than anything wrt politics, I wish that charisma had at least less of a place in politics than it does, especially in the US. As I've mentioned before, I simply don't trust charisma in politicians, and am not particularly inclined to trust or respond positively to a charismatic leader than one who isn't, even a charismatic leader who shares many of my views. I thought it was nifty that Barack Obama was a geek who seemed to have a genuinely happy and loving family, and I think he's quite attractive, but none of that had anything to do with why I voted for him in both 2008 & 2012 – I voted for him because Republican candidates are (at least at a federal level) universally evil and horrific, and I agreed with many (but definitely not all) of Obama's policies. I didn't find Hillary Clinton to be particularly charismatic, but I voted for her with equal enthusiasm, and was dismayed to understand that she would have almost certainly won by a landslide if someone with the same positions and liabilities who was a tall charismatic man would have won almost certainly won by a landslide.

I love seeing charismatic actors and performers on screens both large and small, but their job is to entertain, not to make decisions governing the lives of millions or even hundreds of millions of people. My ideal political system would be one where people voted for parties and not individuals, and would greatly prefer one where the party in power selected a prime minister from among their number than to have people voting for what far too many of them feel to be their sacred-king-for-4-to-8-years. Sadly, most US voters like the idea of charismatic leaders, and most voters across the world pick representative for qualities like "likability" or being "a person like them" in terms of background, interests, or subcultural identification, rather than what policies they vote for – which is how you got situations like our current idiot in chief, or the fact that most Americans didn't support the positions Ronald Reagan supported, but they found him likeable and so they voted for him anyway. I'll never understand that sort of thinking, and I'm not certain I want to. My ideal politician is a rather boring policy wonk who has good ideas, but knows when to change them if fact and circumstance dictates that they won't work.

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March 27th, 2017

02:42 am - Anime, Me, and A Very Peculiar Old Show
Despite my age, as a small child I watched a fair amount of anime, and in general they were my favorite cartoons (although I had no idea many of them were from Japan, they were merely better than anything else I was watching). The very first cartoon I can remember watching, was when I was around 4 or 5, and was Kimba the White Lion, and a bit later, I watched Astro Boy (which I thought was pretty bad), and Marine Boy (which I loved). Of course, all were dubbed in English, and likely edited.

Recently, while looking up information about when anime first started getting long-term story arcs (a question I still have no clear answer to, other than definitely by the 1980s), I looked up a cartoon I remember particularly loving. In the US, it was called Tobor the 8th Man, about a police officer who was killed, and his mind transferred into a truly awesome robot body, which even when I was less than 10 years old, was something I loved the idea of – to digress a bit, when I learned the term transhumanism in the 1990s, my reaction was "So that's what my oldest and most enduring interest/belief set is called".

In any case, in reading the linked article, I learned why I don't remember seeing much of Tobor the 8th Man - I didn't remember until looking at the link, that the robot body recharged by smoking "energy cigarettes" (which may have seemed like a reasonable idea in 1960s Japan, but today sounds like a covert ad campaign by Japanese cigarette companies), and when US laws regarding portraying smoking on TV changed, the show was dropped, because the protagonist smoking was an essential part of the show. Thankfully, watching that show had no propagandistic effect on me, since (because both my parents smoked), I always found it to be utterly disgusting.

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March 15th, 2017

01:23 am - My Hugo Nominees
So, the deadline for Hugo Awards Nominations is in 2 days, so I thought I'd put up my list. I looked at the list of nominees for the Nebula Award, and mostly agreed with their choices for the various short fiction pieces and honestly don't read that much short fiction. However, my choice for best novel differs drastically from the Nebula Nominees, and with one exception (noted below) I think all of my choices are superior to those

Best Novel
  • The Raven and the Reindeer, by T. Kingfisher; Red Wombat Tea Co.
    Her best work to date. I quite like Vernon's books written at T. Kingfisher, but this one goes from good and fun to truly wonderful
  • Memories of Ash, by Intisar Khanani; Purple Monkey Press
    Excellent fantasy, this and the previous (and first) novel in the series Sunbolt are rich and wonderful
  • Four Roads Cross, by Max Gladstone; Tor Books
    My favorite of his novels so far, I particularly enjoyed seeing how things have progressed in Alt Coulumb and how that interacts with the rest of the setting so far. Fantasy is not typically a genre with lots of political and social commentary, but these books do an excellent job of it.
  • Occupy Me, by Tricia Sullivan; Gollancz
    Strange, wonderful, and unexpected. I read it last month and revised my entry after I read it, it's up there with The Raven and the Reindeer and my two favorites of the five here.
  • False Hearts, by Laura Lam; Tor Books
    Excellent and powerful near future SF
If there was space for a sixth nomination, I'd definitely put Ninefox Gambit byYoon Ha Lee on this list, and honestly it's as good as any of the books on this list, and I only didn't list it because it's up for a Nebula Award and the others on my list aren't.

Best Novella
  • The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, by Kij Johnson (Tor.com Publishing)
  • Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)
    Both of these are both brilliant and wonderful.
I haven't read any of the other Nebula Award nominated novellas, but these two are quite excellent.

Best Dramatic Long Form
Arrival, Paramount Pictures
Definitely the best SF film of the year, and Rogue One (which was very good) doesn't need more votes, so I'm just voting for Arrival.

Best Dramatic Short Form
  • "The Adventures of Supergirl", from Supergirl</em>, on The CW
    This season, I enjoy this show notably more than before, but the first two episodes are by far the best, with both Calista Flockhart doing a wonderful job as Cat Grant, and Tyler Hoechlin playing the absolute best and most perfect Superman I've ever seen in any film or TV show.
  • "Vertical Mobility", from Incorporated, on SyFy
    An excellent and disturbing modern cyberpunk show sadly perfect for the state of the modern US.
  • "First Contact", from Cleverman, on Sundance TV (US)
    Even more disturbing, just as relevant, and really good.

Best Series
  • The Craft Sequence; Max Gladstone; eligible novel: Four Roads Cross; Tor
    This series is here for the same reason that I nominated Four Roads Cross, excellent world-building, wonderful characters, and wonderfully done social and political commentary
  • The Commonweal; Graydon Saunders, eligible novel Safely You Deliver; Tall Woods Books
  • The Lady Trent Memoirs, by Marie Brennan, eligible novel In the Labyrinth of Drakes; Tor
    Pseudo Victorian natural history with dragons, it's fun, well written, and wonderful
All three series are wonderful and well worth reading.

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February 22nd, 2017

06:24 pm - Musings On Basic Income
There are a number of excellent arguments against basic income including this one from the UK, and there's the simple fact that if you want a solid social safety net, paying everyone, including the majority of the society who don't need it isn't necessarily the most efficient or effective method. I thought a lot about basic income a couple of years ago, and after considering these arguments decided it might not be the best course of action. However recently considered one counter-argument that (to me at least) makes all of these objections irrelevant – resentment.

The politics of bitter, hate-filled resentment is much of the reason the US and the UK are both now having considerable problems, and much of Western Europe may be headed in the same direction. It's more difficult for me to talk about anywhere else, but in the US at least, the data is clear, the rise of President Puppet wasn't due to economic deprivation, it was due to the fact that white bigots felt that other people (immigrants, people of color, urbanites, and in fact anyone who isn't a white bigot) were doing better than before (despite that fact that many of them still weren't doing as well as the white bigots), while the white bigots were mostly doing about the same, and they (the white bigots) were both jealous and afraid they'd lose out. This resentment (fueled by President Puppet and his white supremacist traveling show) motivated them to get out and vote. Until we manage to improve humanity in some global way (better education is a good start, and breaking any sort of moral link between money and human worth would be an equally good one), these sorts of resentment will continue to exist. As a result, it's far too easy for people who aren't benefiting from social safety net programs to vote to cut them. Also, one of the continuing problems with all social welfare programs is that the ultra-rich (who mostly loathe paying taxes) spend money on propaganda campaigns aimed at fueling working class resentment against social safety net programs for people poorer than them, using the time-honored tactic of "How about you and them fight".

Basic income utterly defangs all that. Sure, many 1%ers and 0.1%ers who would need to pay notably higher taxes to make this work care more about the taxes they lose than the $10,000/year they gain, but in addition to vastly helping out someone who makes $5-10,000 year, an extra $10,000 is going to be pretty noticeably to someone who makes $40,000 year. As a result, any vote to decrease basic income is a vote to get less money yourself, and that's simply something that most people aren't willing to do. Thus, I've again changed my mind and am strongly for the idea of basic income.

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January 30th, 2017

02:01 am - New TV - Riverdale
I have no words about the current madness in the US that others haven't said better, but I can perhaps speak more eloquently about recent TV. [personal profile] teaotter and I tried the new CW show Riverdale, based on the Archie comics, but with a dark brooding sensibility. The premier was surprisingly good and also simply surprising. When was the last time you saw a (well done) reference to Truman Capote's work on any TV drama, but less a teen show on the CW? Also, unsurprisingly for the CW, but a feature I quite like, the plot seems to be moving rapidly along. I have no idea where the show is going or even what it's mostly going to be about, but the first episode was interesting and well done. It was also very surprising in an unexpected way – it felt exceedingly and quite deliberately mid 20th century, from the Truman Capote reference, to the look at feel (which was both definitely modern day and also had touches of the mid 1950s), to one character who was very much the Serious Young Novelist of precisely the 1950s young intellectual author stereotype.

All of this was all clearly done by conscious choice, and the show was trying very hard to get a particular feel and mood, and mostly succeeded. The mid-century feel was also pleasantly and well modernized with the inclusion of a canonical queer character who is openly and cheerfully gay, as well as the female characters being clearly important, treated seriously, and at least a numerous as the male ones.

However, there was also one rather obvious and major downside to the 1950s feel – the mythic/cinematic 1950s being evoked is exceedingly white and while it may include some black characters, it's a milieu largely devoid of any other people of color, and that was sadly also true of the show. There were two black characters with speaking parts, two other black characters who may be important later, and a vast sea of whiteness. Of course, it was also the first episode and there's plenty of opportunity for them to introduce additional characters. Definitely worth looking at, but also not without problems.

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January 20th, 2017

01:42 am - Thoughts on Ways To Hack the Puppet
Yesterday, my partner [personal profile] teaotter had an interesting idea about incoming President Puppet, that he might not be lying in one of his recent statements – that he really is a germaphobe. Then, she did some research, and it seems to be true, up to the level that he avoids pushing elevator buttons and such. [personal profile] teaotter thought that this might be one of the reasons that he is so impressively unwilling to travel in planes and sleep in buildings he doesn't own. Naturally, my first thought is that people could weaponize the hell out of this. The easiest tactic would be foreign leaders to make certain to have some people sneezing or coughing around President Puppet, to both distract him and also to make him wish to cut the visit short and this give them anything they want to he can escape their germs. However, we might also be able to use this ourselves.

I'd dearly love to see people throwing dirty diapers at him (and to watch his reaction afterwards), but that would result in arrest and possibly being shot, so that's a terrible idea unless someone can figure out how to manage it and not get caught. However, if he goes with his (horrifying sounding) plays for frequent public rallies, then he'll likely need to be somewhat near the public when coming or going, and sneezing or coughing on or at least near him might be possible.

My ideal would be to reduce him to a babbling & terrified bundle of panic, but unsettling him would be a good start, and would make him more likely seem angry, weak, and also be more inclined to fight with Republicans in Congress, which is clearly to our benefit. Also, both because this is more of an issue for conservatives (according to Jonathan Haidt's research on "moral foundations"), and also because President Puppet seems to be a germaphobe, he almost certainly has unusually strong disgust reactions, and so promoting images of (especially of him) that include various disgust triggers might also help us.

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January 17th, 2017

05:36 pm - Bitey Cats
So, [personal profile] teaotter and I were sitting on the couch, and my cat Josie was in my lap (her preferred location). Josie is a very loving lap cat, but is (presumably in part because she's a tortie) also somewhat inclined to bite, especially when she gets overstimulated. She never bites exceedingly hard, but often well into "Oww! Stop that." territory. She had that look, and was facing me (seeing the hand that's petting her makes Josie more inclined to bite it, since according to Josie, all moving things can be attacked and played with), but also clearly very much wanted me to pet her.

[personal profile] teaotter: then said "Josie is now all 'I want love, but I may hurt you.'"

Me: That's like the lyrics of at least a quarter of all pop songs.

[personal profile] teaotter: If many of the people in those songs would admit when they were getting overstimulated and that they might bite, we'd likely live in a better world.

In any case, here's one of my favorite pics of Josie:

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January 10th, 2017

01:41 am - Images of Nigeria & of Africa in general in SF&F
In the past several months, I've read two novels set in Nigeria, one by a Nigerian living in the UK (Tade Thompson), and the other by someone whose parents moved to the US from Nigeria and who has repeatedly visited Nigeria (Nnedi Okorafor). Thompson's novel Rosewater is SF set in a near future Nigeria and which I decided to buy after a review by James Nicoll as well as (correct) assurance on his LJ that it wasn't too grim (although it was very far from an optimistic novel).

I'd heard many positive things about Nnedi Okorafor's writing for a number of years, after she won the World Fantasy Award and much acclaim for her novel Who Fears Death, but I didn't read it, and never plan to, because by all reports it's impressively grim and bleak, and that's remarkably far from my preference. I avoided her work for that reason, until last year's Hugo Awards, when her novella Binti was nominated, and won. It was brilliant and pleasantly non-bleak, and I happily voted for it. I was unaware that she had written other novels that I was willing to read, but recently ran into mention of her novel Akata Witch, because it has a sequel coming out sometime relatively soon.

I loved Akata Witch, in large part because it's both a very standard YA novel of the sort where a teen learns she can perform magic and begins studying it with several other teens that she becomes friends with. It's well written, fun, hits all the tropes quite well, but it is also set in Nigeria, that style of magic is Nigerian, and these facts are deeply woven into the fabric of the novel.

It's also fascinating and nifty for me to have a (small) data set of novels set in Nigeria, written by people who know this nation to some degree as an insider, and to see how they differ. The two versions of Nigeria in the two novels are very different, in large part because the protagonist of Rosewater used to be a petty criminal and has first hand experience with that nation's criminal subculture and with lethal vigilante justice, and the protagonist of Akata Witch is a middle class urban teen who has no contact with any of this.

Discussing these novels also reminds me of a prior post I made about novels written about non-white protagonists by people who and aren't members of that race, but in this case, I'm thinking about novels by people who are and aren't (to at least some degree) people who are part of a particular nation's culture. Although the author is white, South African author Charlie Human's two novels & Apocalypse Now Now & it's sequel Kill Baxter provide a very vivid sense of life in Capetown and other parts of South Africa, but it's more difficult for me to judge, because I haven't read novels set there by anyone else.

Prior to reading any of these novels, the best SF&F novels I'd read set in Africa were both by white residents of the UK, Evolution's Shore (published as Chaga in the UK) & it's sequel Kirinya, by Ian McDonald, and the Poseidon's Children trilogy by Alastair Reynolds. I think all of these books are excellent and I loved reading them (and very much hope that someday Ian McDonald finishes what looked to be another book in his series, since I can definitely see room for one), but they are very much novels written by outsiders. McDonald's novel has a white woman from the UK and her daughter as his protagonists, and Reynolds' novels are all set several centuries in the future in an Africa that doesn't resemble anyplace in our world all that much.

As with my previous post, there's a depth and a sense of culture and connection that I find in the novels by Tade Thompson, Nnedi Okorafor, and Charlie Human that I don't find in those by Ian McDonald or Alastair Reynolds, and also a different perspective on race in those by Thompson and Okorafor.

It sometime feels a bit odd to me to look at the far greater diversity now available in media while awaiting the incoming US government, but I highly recommend both Rosewater & Akata Witch.

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January 3rd, 2017

07:59 pm - Let Sleeping Gadgets Lie
I got a Garmin viviosmart hp+ fitness tracker for Christmas, and last year, my partner [personal profile] teaotter got a Polar loop fitness tracker for Christmas. In addition to tracking steps, level of exercise, and for my own device, heartrate, both devices also track how you sleep. [personal profile] teaotter mentioned that her device divided sleep into restful and non-restful sleep and that she regularly got 6.5 hours of restful sleep a night. My device divides sleep into light and deep sleep and says that I regularly get 1.5-2 hours of deep sleep a night. This concerned me a bit, so I wore both devices for sleeping. My said I got 1.75 hours of deep sleep and 6.25 hours of light sleep, but [personal profile] teaotter's said I got a bit less than 2 hours of non-restful sleep and a bit more than 6 hours of restful sleep. I find that data quite reassuring from a health perspective, but rather less so from the perspective of finding such devices to be remotely accurate.

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January 2nd, 2017

02:24 am - Thoughts on 2 Films - Passengers (2016) & The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (1959)
Thoughts on 2 Films - Passengers (2016) & The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (1959)
I was initially interested in seeing the new SF film Passengers, but from what I've read it is both highly formulaic and also reinforces misogynist and racist tropes, and thus I won't be seeing it.

However, reading about it reminded me of a film [personal profile] teaotter & I saw last year, The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (1959). It was (at least as far as everything I've been able to find) the very first last man in the world film, and served as a precursor and model for many others, later films. However, unlike almost all the rest, this last man was black and was brilliantly played by Harry Belafonte. This film starts out with a degree of confidence in skilled acting uncommon in modern film making - Harry Belafonte's character alone, in a dark chamber in a coal mine, and Belafonte wonderfully carries this scene for more than 10 minutes.

Naturally, like many later films, the protagonist heads to NYC, and like all of them, he isn't actually the last person alive. Instead, we have what seemed to me (especially 4 years before the Supreme Court struck down US miscegenation laws in Loving vs. Virginia) some fairly daring and well-handled romantic tension and the suggestion of an eventual romance with a young white woman, with further tension introduced by the arrival of a white man. I first heard of this film in an article about a phrase that has thankfully vanished from film, and had one of its last uses in this one - "I'm free, white, and 21" (said thoughtlessly by the white woman to Belafonte's character, with predictably uncomfortable results).

As I said, I haven't seen Passengers, but from what I read, it more misogynistic and far more racially problematic than a film made almost 60 years ago. What also fascinated me was reading reviews and reactions to The World The Flesh & The Devil - modern discussions of this film (like this excellent and detailed review ) seemed much like my own reaction, impressed with the films ideas, bravery, and treatment of race. Then, I saw a New York Times review of the film from 1959, which was was very different indeed, and not at all how I suspected it might be, and included lines like:
The evidence is that a good idea, good direction and good performances—at least by Mr. Belafonte and Miss Stevens, to a lesser degree—have been sacrificed here to the Hollywood caution of treating the question of race with continuing evasion of more delicate issues and in polite, beaming generalities.
I suppose that review should remind us all that hopeful progressives who want more out of media have been around rather longer than I expected.

In any case, we live in an era when TV is (as a whole at least) notably better than it has been in any previous decade, concerns for money and an overall fossilization of the film industry have made most films by large studios considerably less daring, interesting, and worthwhile than many older ones.

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November 21st, 2016

02:52 am - Arrival, An Excellent SF Film
Today, [personal profile] teaotter and I went to see Arrival, which was very good indeed. My first thought about this film is in large theaters, it's now clearly a requirement to purchase tickets online, so as to avoid having to sit in the front row ever again.

My next thought is that it was a remarkably faithful and well done adaptation of Ted Chiang's Nebula Award winning novella "Story of Your Life". For me, it's right up there with the 1980 PBS adaptation of Ursula K. LeGuin's The Lathe of Heaven in terms of excellent adaptations, but in this case there was a fair amount added that worked quite well. I highly recommend it as a well-done thoughtful SF film, which is a rare thing indeed. My one quibble gets into mild spoiler territory a bit.

Continued hereCollapse )
One less pleasant thing [personal profile] teaotter and I both thought about during the film was now alien contact would go with our upcoming government.

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November 10th, 2016

10:08 pm - Serious Thoughts About The Future
Like everyone else I know at all well, I'm worried about the future. As I see it, there are two ways that the next four years will go. Sadly, the optimistic option that we effectively have President Pence, either because The Dumpster (as with Shrub, I will not use his name) has early stage Alzheimer's (possible, but unknown), or simply is more interested in being a blustering figurehead than actually doing the hard work of governing (not unlikely). This is a deeply horrifying thought, but also not an unfamiliar one.

Shrub was a grinning sociopath, and Pence seems to be a grim fanatic, but both are politicians who play by typical (if horrid) GOP rules. As long as Justice Ginsburg remains in good health, the court doesn't get worse than it was under Shrub, and while losing Obamacare and Dodd-Frank (and thus the consumer protection bureau) seem both certain and terrible, they can also (eventually) be regained. The economy will get bad, but hopefully not 2008 levels of bad, and the new tax bill will make the rich richer and the rest of us poorer, but we survived Shrub, and given that our economy is fragile now and their policies will clearly make it worse, Republican control of Congress and the Presidency means that everything that happens gets blamed on them.

The other option is honestly terrifying, but at this point we don't know if it will happen. We'll likely have a strong indication in a few months. If he starts going after his enemies and appointing deeply scary people like Giuliani to his cabinet, then it's time to become very worried indeed. I'm not certain what to do if that happens – if things go badly, leaving the US is clearly the best option for pretty much everyone who can. At this point, I could see any Muslims who are able to do moving to another nation, since they'd clearly be the first target if things get truly bad, but wait and see seems (to me, at this point) more reasonable for everyone else.

As for what else to do, I think the first thing to do is be kind to yourself, your loved ones, and to everyone else you know who didn't vote for The Dumpster. We're all stressed and the last thing any of us need is accusations and infighting. I have no idea if we'd have done better or worse with Sanders instead of Clinton, and none of us will ever know that, so let it go. If you voted against The Dumpster, you're on the side of good in my book.

As for everyone else, I think it's very important to keep in mind that unlike Shrub in 2000, there was no false veneer of "compassionate conservatism" in this campaign or with this candidate. As I see it, there is also no "purple America" and no coming together as one nation, there are simply people who voted for The Dumpster and those who did not.

Anyone who voted for him either actively hates us and our many and diverse ways of life, is willing to support someone who ran on a campaign of hating us because they love the GOP or religious fanaticism more than a large portion of the population of this nation, or is sufficiently foolish that they didn't notice the hate and treated the election like they were voting for contestants on reality TV. I loathe the first two and have contempt for the third. However, personal attacks do little good and holding hatred in your heart never makes you a better or happier person.

I'll also never advocate violence against another person except in immediate defense of yourself or someone else, but what I do advocate is both not associating with people who hate us and most of all not giving them money. Let go of hatred, and simply avoid and ignore such people when you can safely and practically do so. I'm currently looking for an alternative to Paypal (and welcome recommendations) because Peter Thiel supported The Dumpster and I'll not be shopping at Home Depot, because the co-founder (Kenneth Langone) also did. However, I also advocate going beyond that. Please don't enrich anyone who voted for him.

If you know of a local store where the owner supported The Dumpster, find an alternative if you can. Also, I urge you not to pay for media created by people who support him or movements associated with him, like gamergate, or the sad and rabid puppies in SF fandom. Also, if most or all of your state government supported The Dumpster, and you live near a state where this isn't true, and your state has a sales tax, then going to that other state to make large purchases makes sense – shifting tax dollars from their governments to ours seems to me an excellent idea.

We need to stick together and support each other. When you can, spend your money at stores run by people who oppose him and purchase and do not pirate media created such people. Also, expect more on-line fundraising to help people with medical problems and similar issues, and help when you can. As I see it, we must take care of each other, but I also believe that The Dumpster's supporters should take care of one another and not ask for our help. I do not believe we should try to harm anyone, but I am also certain we are under no obligation to help anyone who supports people who want to destroy us and what we care about.

I think we also need to realize that we are in the majority (at least in the nation as a whole, if not locally) and that what we have now is two visions for the US that diverge sufficiently that we might as well be living in two nations. Our own vision is not unified or uniform (which is part of why I support it), but it does include respect for all genders, religions, and ethnicities, and theirs most certainly does not. I can't tell anyone what to do if they have family who supported The Dumpster, but if you have friends that did, I do not believe that they are truly your friends. In any case, if we support one another, both emotionally and also economically in who we donate money to, who we buy from, and when possible, who we hire and who we work for, then we will endure the next 4 years better, and when the hard economic times come (and it's sadly clear that they will), the Other Americans will earn less and thus will hopefully be less inclined to vote for The Dumpster again and we will all be in a better position to do as well as we can.

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November 8th, 2016

12:32 am - Political Musings - The Libertarian Party and the GOP
At this point, I'm fairly hopeful that Clinton will win and expect her to be a slightly better President than Obama, but like many I'm also deeply terrified of the alternative. However, there's one aspect of the presidential election I find interesting and potentially important in the longer term. I've seen quite a bit about vote-trading by anti-Trump Republicans and Independents, even and a few Democrats, who are trading Clinton votes in swing states for Gary Johnson votes in blue states.

It's clear that Gary Johnson is a complete idiot, and I am also dead set against US-style right-wing libertarianism (although left-libertarianism and anarcho-communism interest me quite a bit). However, I'm also notably less opposed to right-wing libertarianism than I am to aggressive white nationalism. If the vote trading works out, then in addition to electing Clinton by a slightly wider margin, the Libertarian Party might barely get above the 5% threshold for getting Federal matching funds in the next presidential election. I don't expect this to have much impact on Clinton's re-election, or on Democrats in general, but it may for Republican candidates.

If Trump loses, there will be even more people in the GOP than there were in 2012 (quite correctly) saying that the only way to insure the long or even medium-term health of the GOP is to increase its appeal to non-white voters – a task that will be considerably more difficult in 2017 than it was in 2013. However, there will be almost as many saying that the answer is to select a white nationalist candidate who isn't a complete train-wreck of a human being, and there's no evidence that those people won't carry the day with the party. However, if the GOP continues along its current white nationalist path, pressure from both the Democrats and a better funded Libertarian Party that looks pretty darn welcoming to Republicans who aren't white nationalists will help make a white nationalist GOP a seriously non-viable option. I don't expect a better-funded Libertarian Party to replace the Republican Party, but it might force the GOP towards some much-needed change. We shall see.

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November 7th, 2016

12:12 am - Thoughts on Doctor Strange & Supergirl
When I wrote my previous post about current TV, I hadn't watched the new season of Supergirl yet. It started off vastly better than last season, with Tyler Hoechlin being the best Superman I've ever seen on movies or TV, and Calista Flockhart playing a more interesting and nuanced Cat Grant than last season. However, both leave after the second episode, and Snapper Carr has been annoying, but it's still good and I'm enjoying it. I'm very pleased to see both a supers show that is not grim and also one which is strongly (second wave) feminist.

Then, there's Doctor Strange, [personal profile] teaotter and I saw it today. It's a lot of fun, and I really like the fact that someone put some at least mildly careful thought on how magic works in the MCU, the magic system is interesting, is far more than simply a random collection of spells, and has nifty limitations and advantages. Benedict Cumberbatch remains fun and gorgeous, and my only criticism of him is that he's doing a bit too much Tony Stark, which makes sense at the beginning, but less so near the end. I'm hoping that tones down a bit, but it's not grating.

However (and this is not a small however), while Tilda Swinton was quite good, there were only two women with speaking parts in the entire film and only one with a major part, while there were two prominent people of color, having one of them (entirely unsurprisingly if you've ever read or read about Doctor Strange) be evil in the next film, makes this a very white and very male film. It was good, but dear gods I'm tired of this.

I hope Captain Marvel is at least as good and also breaks box-office records in 2018 and that this causes studio execs to take notice. The Wonder Woman trailer looks interesting, but given how utterly horrible and also vile all of the recent spate DC movies have been, I'm assuming it will be dreadful and likely offensive as well. I'd love to be wrong, but suspect I won't be.

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November 4th, 2016

08:46 pm - My Bolognese Sauce (for 2)
With Alice at AmberConNW this weekend, I decided to make food with beef & pork, neither of which they eat. So, I experimented with Bolognese sauce and succeeded quite well. Given that this is a kitbash of 4 recipes, I'm writing it down both to remember it and to share it. All too often, what's called Bolognese sauce is merely a tomato sauce with added meat, this is very little like that and is very good.

• Soak 1 oz dried porcini mushrooms in 1/3 cup boiling water for at least 5 minutes.
• Chop ½ cup each onion, carrot, and celery.
• Mince all of the above in food processor until finely chopped, but not mush.
• Heat 3 TBS olive oil in a skillet and cook all of the above for 5 minutes on medium heat.
• Add 3 oz chopped pancetta, 1 TBS minced garlic, 2 bay leaves, and ½ tsp fresh rosemary and cook another 5 minutes
• Add ¼ lb mild or sweet Italian sausage & ½ lb 10% fat hamburger and cook until slightly browned.
• Add all of the above into a pressure cooker or a covered pan.
• Add ½ cup white wine, ¼ cup heavy cream or cashew cream, ½ cup milk or boxed coconut milk, 2 TBS tomato paste, and the water from soaking the porcini mushrooms. Add water if necessary to obtain sufficient liquid to slow cook or pressure cook the sauce.
• Cook on medium-low heat for 1.5 hours or cook in pressure cooker on high for 40 minutes and let sit for 5 minutes before removing the pressure.
• Serve with 7 oz cooked pasta (I used spirals).

The result was excellent.

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October 26th, 2016

02:57 am - Soundtrack for TV I like + Interesting Insight Into My Stress Reactions
My partners and I watched the most recent episode of Lucifer tonight, which was intense and (as is typical of the show) quite good. Just before the climax, there was an interlude with Lucifer brooding in a ruined church, which has James Vincent McMurrow's We Don't Eat as the soundtrack. This is the second show I have watched that used that song in an interlude, the first being The Vampire Diaries, back in Season 3, when it was still moderately well done fun fluff, before it simultaneously got increasingly bad and increasingly grim. Both scenes were about brothers and were well done, but were otherwise quite different. The Vampire Diaries episode was also where I discovered James Vincent McMurrow's music (that show was quite good for finding new music that I like). In any case, I am left to conclude that this song is generally a good fit for TV that I enjoy.

[personal profile] teaotter also showed Alice & I an interesting site that listed common stress reactions for the different Myers-Briggs types. I'm well aware that the Myers-Briggs categories are (at best) only slightly more scientific and reliable than astrology, but I do occasionally find features of use in them, and this was one of them. According to both tests and the descriptions, I'm very clearly an ENFP and it listed ENFP stress reactions as:
ENFPs tend to overextend themselves, and procrastinate, which is often a source of stress as it complicates their lives. When they become stressed, their naturally charming natures become more irritable and over-sensitive. When stressed, ENFPs feel alienated and engage in deceptions to obscure what is occurring within themselves. They will feel that they are losing control over their own independent identities and feel conflicted by intruding circumstances. During continued stress, they may fall into the grip of their inferior function, introverted sensing. When this happens, they become obsessive and depressed. They will become hyper-aware of minor bodily sensations or abnormalities and interpret them as a sign of a serious illness. They may have a hard time communicating clearly, and feel numb and frozen inside. Their thinking may become cloudy and convoluted. They will feel that there are no possibilities or ways out. They may feel overwhelmed, out of control, unable to sort out priorities, and thus become inflexible. Some become obsessive about record keeping, cleaning, or other household tasks.
(especially common ones for me bolded) it's remarkably spot on, and I decided to read all 16, and the only other one that also applied turned out to be ENTP, which is quite close to mine. Not earthshaking, but definitely useful and interesting.

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