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Funding Goal
For 6-month period:
2018-07-01 to 2018-12-31
Estimated Base Goal: $3000.00
Progress So Far:
Approximately: $951.29
31.7%

Covers transactions:
2018-07-01 00:00:00 ..
2018-11-10 11:32:55 UTC
(SPIDs: [942..986])
Last Update:
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posted by NCommander on Wednesday November 07, @03:00PM   Printer-friendly
from the maybe-we-can-buy-.soylentnews-gTLD dept.

Disclaimer: This post does not reflect the views or policies of SoylentNews Public Benefit Corporation (SN PBC), its staff, or my role as president. The opinions and statements within are my own, Michael Casadevall, and neither I nor SN PBC were financially compensated for this post.

There are times in life where you simply don't know where you will end up. For me, a chance encounter in Puerto Rico lead to a rather interesting series of events. I have spent the previous week (October 20th-26th) attending the ICANN 63rd International Public Meeting. For those who aren't familiar with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), it is essentially the not-for-profit organization that administrates the Internet root zone which forms the linchpin of the modern internet, and allows domain names such as soylentnews.org to exist.

As a fellow, I have been working to help advance policy from the perspective of Internet end-users, as well as improving access to the Internet in the form of Internationalized Domain Names. For those less familiar with the technical underpinnings of the Internet, I'll also talk a bit about DNS, and more of the work I am currently in the process of handling at ICANN.

In This Issue

  • DNS - What is it?
  • The Internet Root Zone, Top Level Domains, and Second Level Domains
  • What Is ICANN?
  • The Fellowship Program
  • New Generic Top Level Domains
  • String Contention and Name Collisions
  • Internationalized Domain Names
  • In Closing
  • If You Want To Get Involved
  • Acknowledgements

Read more past the fold ...

DNS - What is it?

Before we can talk about ICANN in any fashion, we need to talk a bit about the Domain Name System, or DNS. Every computer on the internet is assigned one or more numbers known as IP addresses. IP addresses take the form of 23.239.29.31 or 2600:3c00::f03c:91ff:fe98:90b, and are used as ways of uniquely identifying every device. Every site and service has an IP address, as does your phone and computer to allow two way communication; they can be best thought of telephone numbers for computers.

Just like phone numbers, there needs to be a method to look up information based on name. In the days of old, we would use the Yellow Pages for this type of information. For computers, our version of the yellow pages is DNS, specifically what we call A and AAAA records. For example, here are two types of lookup requests for SoylentNews:

$ nslookup
> server 8.8.8.8
Default server: 8.8.8.8
Address: 8.8.8.8#53
> soylentnews.org
Server:		8.8.8.8
Address:	8.8.8.8#53

Non-authoritative answer:
Name:	soylentnews.org
Address: 23.239.29.31
Name:	soylentnews.org
Address: 2600:3c00::f03c:91ff:fe98:90b

Besides basic name lookup information, DNS often contains information such as mail routing in the form of MX records, or even user authentication data in the form of Hesiod TXT records. It would be fair to call DNS the worlds largest distributed dynamic database. At its core, DNS is comprised of a network of worldwide servers that provide name lookup services from the internet, starting from the root of a tree.

The Internet Root Zone, Top Level Domains, and Second Level Domains

When I said root of a tree, I wasn't being very metaphorical. Let's look a little closer at an actual domain name, and break it down into its component parts, in this case, our development site at dev.soylentnews.org. For the purposes of demonstration, we'll walk the domain from the top down. Each section of a domain name is divided into levels separated by a period. So dev is a third level domain, soylentnews is a second level domain, and org is a top level domain.

Likewise, each of these levels points to the one higher than it. Let's ask the soylentnews domain about dev; our hosting provider (and DNS servers) are hosted by Linode so we'll query them directly.

$ nslookup
> server ns1.linode.com
Default server: ns1.linode.com
Address: 2400:cb00:2049:1::a29f:1a63#53
Default server: ns1.linode.com
Address: 162.159.27.72#53
> dev.soylentnews.org
Server:		ns1.linode.com
Address:	2400:cb00:2049:1::a29f:1a63#53

Name:	dev.soylentnews.org
Address: 72.14.185.204
Name:	dev.soylentnews.org
Address: 2600:3c00::f03c:91ff:fe6e:d0a3

Notice that the "Non-authoritative answer" is missing. This is because soylentnews.org directly controls the level above it. We can see the same effect if we query the .org nameservers for SoylentNews; note that we need to ask for the NS record type which acts as a pointer to the next level of domain.

$ nslookup
> server a0.org.afilias-nst.info.
[...]
> set type=ns
> soylentnews.org
[...]
Authoritative answers can be found from:
soylentnews.org	nameserver = ns1.linode.com.
soylentnews.org	nameserver = ns3.linode.com.
soylentnews.org	nameserver = ns2.linode.com.
soylentnews.org	nameserver = ns4.linode.com.
soylentnews.org	nameserver = ns5.linode.com.

Cool! We can see the five nameservers that have authoritative data for soylentnews.org. But how did I find the nameserver for .org? Well, I queried the internet root zone for it.

nslookup
> server a.root-servers.net
Default server: a.root-servers.net
Address: 2001:503:ba3e::2:30#53
Default server: a.root-servers.net
Address: 198.41.0.4#53
> set type=ns
> org
Server:		a.root-servers.net
Address:	2001:503:ba3e::2:30#53

Non-authoritative answer:
*** Can't find org: No answer

Authoritative answers can be found from:
org	nameserver = a0.org.afilias-nst.info.
org	nameserver = a2.org.afilias-nst.info.
org	nameserver = b0.org.afilias-nst.org.
org	nameserver = b2.org.afilias-nst.org.
org	nameserver = c0.org.afilias-nst.info.
org	nameserver = d0.org.afilias-nst.org.
a0.org.afilias-nst.info	internet address = 199.19.56.1
a2.org.afilias-nst.info	internet address = 199.249.112.1
b0.org.afilias-nst.org	internet address = 199.19.54.1
b2.org.afilias-nst.org	internet address = 199.249.120.1
c0.org.afilias-nst.info	internet address = 199.19.53.1
d0.org.afilias-nst.org	internet address = 199.19.57.1
a0.org.afilias-nst.info	has AAAA address 2001:500:e::1
a2.org.afilias-nst.info	has AAAA address 2001:500:40::1
b0.org.afilias-nst.org	has AAAA address 2001:500:c::1
b2.org.afilias-nst.org	has AAAA address 2001:500:48::1
c0.org.afilias-nst.info	has AAAA address 2001:500:b::1
d0.org.afilias-nst.org	has AAAA address 2001:500:f::1

The root zone contains all information on all the top level domains, as well as the special KSK (Key Signing Keys) keys that underpin the DNSSEC system. In domain names, the root zone is represented as a final '.' at the end of the domain which is typically implied although there are rare technical reasons where it has to be referred to directly. Now that we've discussed and slightly explored the root zone, let's talk about the organization that administrates it, and the policy and rules related to the root, and the top-level domains referenced within.

What is ICANN?

The full history of ICANN is too long to recap here, but in short, ICANN is a multi-stakeholder community that represents various stakeholder groups and their interests and needs. In no specific order, these groups are as follows:

  • GAC - Government Advisory Committee
  • SSAC - Security and Stability Advisory Committee
  • RSSAC - Root Server System Advisory Committee
  • GNSO - Generic Names Supporting Organization
  • ccNSO - Country Code Names Supporting Organization
  • CSG - Commercial Stakeholder Group
  • ASO - Address Supporting Organization
  • At-Large/ALAC - At Large Advisory Community (Internet Endusers)

That's a LOT of acronyms, groups, and organizations, and this isn't even a complete list. Each of these groups (known as stakeholders) are essentially cross-sections of all internet users and work to drive policy that meet the goals of their interests and charters. Other groups primarily act in an advisory role such as SSAC in evaluating impact of policy changes to the ICANN board. ICANN stakeholder groups create working groups (many of which are open to the public) to accomplish goals and draft policy, respond to public policy comments, and create a final report. These are then followed by implementation.

As you can plainly see, ICANN is a massive multi-headed hydra that at first is not the most user-friendly beast to approach. At least from my perspective, getting involved was rather difficult. For this purpose, ICANN offers two programs to help get people involved: a fellowship program to bring both those with diversity or unique skills in and the NextGen program. I can't speak on NextGen, but I can speak to the fellowship program, and my personal story in how I both got involved and the topics and work I was involved in at ICANN63.

ICANN Fellowship Program

To talk about my experience as a fellow, we need to go back to February 2018 when I was in San Juan, Puerto Rico, visiting with a friend. While I was there, I saw large banners with the ICANN name and logo and some sort of conference. While I did not know the specifics at the time, what I was seeing was the ICANN61 General Policy Forum. As such, I walked in off the street, registered for a badge, and sat down at a high level meeting regarding an issue known as name collision hosted by the SSAC. This, and a few other meetings convinced me that becoming involved with ICANN was something I was personally interested in.

Unfortunately, getting your foot in the door with ICANN from the outside is something of a tall order. To help solve this problem, ICANN offers a fellowship program to help bring both diversity and talent within the community. As such, I was selected to attend ICANN63 on the basis of my position as an independent freelancer combined with strong technical skills. The fellowship program, currently managed by Siranush Vardanyan, is meant to help bring people into the ICANN community and guide them into position and niches where their skillsets can help. Many within ICANN bring technical, legal, policy, and activism talents to the table, and it is an extremely inclusive community to say the least. As was oft-repeated, 'Once a fellow, always a fellow'. Through the fellowship program, I was assigned a coach, Alfredo Calderon who helped me get involved with the gTLD working groups, and help decode the maze that I described above.

The intent of the fellowship is to prepare those to attend a face-to-face meeting (in this case, ICANN63), and help the fellow become active within the ICANN community. In my case, I managed to hit the ground running as in the intervening months between ICANN61 and 63, I had gotten involved with the Internet Society, and several working groups within the IETF (albeit it on a semi-active basis). That combined with closely following the news allowed me to be productive from the start. What follows are issues that I was primarily involved with — it doesn't cover some of the larger discussions such as the GDPR/WHOIS policy development sessions.

New Generic Top Level Domains (gTLD)

Generic top level domains are generally the most common type of TLD most people encounter, comprising .com, .net, .org, etc. compared to the two letter country code TLDs (ccTLDs) such as .us or .io. Back in 2005, ICANN began developing policies to allow for the creation of new gTLDs, and in 2013, these new gTLDs began being added to the root zone as part of the New gTLD Program. Since the initial land rush and additions, ICANN has been developing new rules relating to this process in the form of the New gTLD Subsequent Procedures PDP (Policy Development Process) working group (known as the SubPro), which I'm a member of. I've primarily worked to ensure that not for profit and smaller communities can't be outbid or driven out of the process of obtaining their own gTLDs.

Expansion of the generic TLDs help relieve strain on the already crowded .com/.org/.net registries and pave the way for full internationalization of the internet (a topic I'll cover below). While there have those who've felt that expanding gTLDs was a mistake, the ability to have domains such as .nyc for sites relating to New York City has shown that the new gTLD program has real world benefits that we're already experiencing today. However, creating and expanding gTLDs also has opened a paradox's box of sorts which involves the SubPro, specifically in the the realm of string contention and name collisions.

String Contention and Name Collisions

In a perfect world, everyone would have one unique name and registering a new gTLD would be an easy and straightforward process. Unfortunately, we don't live in that sort of world; we live in a world where the Government of Brazil, and Amazon both want the .amazon TLD. This is what's known as a string contention; when multiple parties want the same domain string, and part of my work within the SubPro is building and designing mechanisms for handling contentions, as well as a last resort process which is fair for all parties. In the last round of gTLD additions, many string contentions were solved either by private party, or through a last resort auction process. At the direction of the ICANN board, the SubPro has been reviewing the results of this last round, ensuring that all actors, especially smaller community-based ones have an equal chance of being given a gTLD, and making sure no one can be strong-armed out of the process. I (and others within the SubPro) have been working on creating and streamlining the new gTLD process, and making sure that no single party can monopolize a string by simply outspending everyone. Of course, social issues aren't the only hangup when creating a new top-level domain; you can have a name collision.

Name collisions are a closely related problem dealing with the technical issues of what happens when you add a name to the root zone that's already in use in other contexts. For example, the Tor network could be entirely shafted if .onion was added to the root zone as it's used as a pseudo-TLD. Unfortunately, because of literally decades of bad practice, poor device coding, and similar historical artifacts, it means that the root zones get thousands of requests per second for bogus top level domains. As part of adding any new TLD, a review is done to determine the technical impact — research by SSAC into the name collision issue as a whole is ongoing. While I'm not personally involved in this work as of yet, I am interested in joining it in the near future

Internationalized Domain Names (IDN)

Last, but not least, the final major activity I worked on was discussions related to the internationalization of domain names, and email address internationalization (EAI) with the goal of making ensuring the web is available for everyone. Due to the fact that DNS was designed in 1987, it was never designed with internationalization in mind and has required some arcane hacks to make it work. Let's take the string тест which is Russian for test; it displays properly because we support UTF-8. However, DNS was never designed to work with 8-bit characters. Instead, a system was created known as punycode. This system represents unicode in ASCII in a method that DNS can handle; so the domain тест.example becomes xn--e1aybc.example which can be handled by existing tools.

This however creates a disconnect between the displayed name (known as the U-label) and the ASCII representation (A-label) of a domain name, which is known to break software that either renders domain names, or in the cases of email, must amend information to its log files. It also leads to issues with SSL certificates, and other confusion within the ecosystem due to poor support. While IDNs have been around for awhile, new codepoints including right-to-left ones are being added that require more testing and development. I've started one of two projects to help study and test IDNs, and an active participant of the Universal Acceptance mailing lists on the subject.

dnscatcher and idn-root-zone

As part of the meetings and other work, I've started work on two projects to help raise awareness and study ongoing problems with the world of DNS by creating tools to help monitor the health of the ecosystem as a whole. The first of these is a project that I'm tentatively calling DNS Catcher, and its intent is to study the perspective of the domain name system from the viewpoint of the end user.

As we know from study from data related to authoritative name servers, and the root zone, a lot of recursive revolvers and end-user devices send bogus data, such as catching all missing domains with a wildcard, or sending bogus requests to the root. DNS Catcher is an attempt to quantify the problem from the last mile and understand what data devices are sending out. While it's still in very early proof of concept, the catcher's end goal is to compare known good authorize zone data to data collected from various locations such as public access points and more so as to identify bad actors within the DNS community. It's still in the early pre-alpha stage, but my initial coding efforts have left me optimistic I may have an alpha version ready to go by the end of the year which will be subject to its own blog post.

The other is what I'm calling tentatively calling Root Zone in a Box, a series of shell scripts, instructions and docker containers to automatically recreate a simulation of the DNS root zone, and other core internet functionality to allow testing of potential changes to DNS, as well as help study and debug various issues related to Internationalized Domain Names. Compared to dnscatacher, I've gotten further on this project as it's somewhat higher priority. While likely not of interest to most as of yet, RZiaB is basically designed to help validate and ensure that internationalized domain names and email address internationalization works smoothly and that issues can be quickly identified and fixed using an easy-to-host environment that can be quickly set up.

I'll likely talk more of these projects in separate posts at later dates, but I invite people to comment and review my work.

Other Odds and Ends

As with any conference, there was various interesting conversations, discussions, and round tables that you really don't experience in a purely electronic environment. One of these (which was the direct inspiration for DNS catcher) was discussing why some devices send bogus data (in the form of random hex strings) to the internet root zone. I postulated that the answer was it was the one more-or-less sure fire way to know if you have anyone tampering with your DNS data such as captive portals, restrictive firewalls, or ISPs who don't like to return NXDomain.

Another big part are social dinners and gatherings. One personal highlight is I also had a fairly decent conversation with the appointed representative to the GAC from the Holy See, dealing with domain name issues relating to the Vatican. We primarily talked about working at the Vatican, the papacy's interest in ICANN, and life within the city. As far as unique individuals go, this easily makes a spot on my top ten list!

In Closing

Although my time in Barcelona has come to an end, my involvement within ICANN is higher than ever. We're doing strong work to try and keep the internet open and accessible to all, and we're always looking for anyone with an interest to get involved. The Fellowship experience helped me connect with individuals that let me reach my personal goals of working on the SubPro, as well as connected me to the IDN working group folks in a way that I hope to pave a new cornerstone of the internet for non-English speaking individuals. There's a lot of work ahead, but I can say with certainty that my work with ICANN will continue, and I look forward to what the future will hold. If you're interested in my projects, comment below, or follow me on Twitter: @fossfirefighter where I post about my work on DNS catcher, RZiaB, and other things that don't make SoylentNews... like a retroBBS hacking project.

If You Want To Get Involved

If what you've read interests you, and you want to get involved in ICANN yourself, a good starting place is the alac-announce mailing list which posts which working groups are in progress, have meetings, and other good information, as well as joining your regional At-Large community. Most working groups (WGs) don't require membership in a stakeholder group, so you can just dive in; you're simply expected to familiarize yourself with the WG's previous history up to that point for the most part. There is also a set of learning resources at learn.icann.org, and I'm happy to take questions here or on Twitter.

Acknowledgements

Before signing off, I want to personally thank several individuals who helped me get here. First, Alfredo Calderon, my ICANN coach and Siranush Vardanyan, manager of the fellowship program. Both were very understanding and helpful with some personal difficulties I ran into during the fellowship program and both of them contributed greatly to a successful face-to-face meeting. Next, I'd like to thank Martin Pablo Silva, who continuously encouraged me to apply for the Fellowship, and helped make sure my application was in tip-top shape, and last, but not least, Dina Solveig Jalkanen (who prefers to go by Thomas), who introduced me to ICANN and is a close personal friend and who is was instrumental in making this possible.

Until the next time ...

73 de NCommander

posted by Fnord666 on Sunday November 04, @12:06PM   Printer-friendly
from the two-interesting-books dept.

November: The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin.
December: Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson.

A poll for the January 2019 book will be around the 15th, unless you want it sooner (not sooner than the U.S. midterms).

Discuss Foundation by Isaac Asimov in the comments below.

As for Liu Cixin's best known novel:

"Wildly imaginative, really interesting." ―President Barack Obama on The Three-Body Problem trilogy

The English translation for The Three-Body Problem was published in 2014 by Ken Liu under Tor Books.

Consider using <spoiler>text</spoiler> wherever you feel the need to do so.

Previously: Announcement postMars, Ho!


Original Submission

posted by Fnord666 on Sunday October 21, @09:36PM   Printer-friendly
from the documenting-our-tech-tree dept.

Imagine that in the future you can rent time machines just as easily as you can rent a car. Paradoxes are nicely sidestepped, and you even get the handy pamphlet "1001 Fun Ways to kill Hitler". Sounds great, right? Suppose that time machine breaks down. Turns out it's easier to re-invent civilization than it is to fix said machine, and that's what this book purports to do.

This book is chock full of tidbits, like this on buttons. People wore buttons for thousands of years as ornaments. It was only fairly recently someone realized they could hold clothes closed. This is disgraceful and embarrassing. You can do better.

Scalzi's page describes this book much better than I can. Need to know which animals to domesticate? Covered. Foods to cultivate? Covered. Crop rotation? Compass? Non-sucky numbers? Forge? Birth Control? Logic? Chemistry? Steel? check, check, check, check, ...., check.

This is not a textbook, there is no math, and minimal theory on why things work. It's focused on why and how, not "how does it work?".

I got my copy from the library and, after an hour or two, ordered my own copy from Amazon. I'm sure my fellow Soylenters will also love this book.


Original Submission

posted by CoolHand on Monday October 15, @06:42PM   Printer-friendly
from the reviewing-the-internet dept.

What if Earth was an unusually volcanic and hostile planet? What if an unusually bright sun and unusually high gravity made humans unusually compact and strong? What if religion kept humans sane and striving in such a hostile environment? What if apex predators were the exception rather than the norm? What if 30,000 alien abductees had been taken for medical research and the Interspecies Dominion had no qualms with indigenous flora and fauna (and especially meat-eating fauna) being taken in this manner? These are not new ideas but rarely have they been expounded so thoroughly.

The Jenkinsverse begins with Kevin Jenkins caught in a bureaucratic trap. The Canadian barman with a prominent crucifix tattoo was abducted by Alien Grays, forcibly given an experimental translator implant and dumped at an interstellar trading post. He is unable to assert citizenship, get a job or go home. Where is Earth, anyhow? Many bureaucratic systems refuse to register sentient life from a planet similar to Earth and some bureaucrats think he's a liar. After being pushed around for six months, he saves numerous lives when marauding cannibal spiders attack a space-station. He becomes famous throughout the galaxy - although he is deemed insane after he mentions religion.

The warrior cannibals are not pleased with defeat. An advance party attacks Earth. They foolishly decide to attack a televised ice hockey game in Vancouver. They are quickly beaten to pulp with ice hockey sticks. Many humans think that the event was a hoax to gain television ratings. The alien technology recovered from the attack leads to the formation of SCERF [Scotch Creek Extra-terrestrial Research Facility] in Canada. A Private Investigator, Kevin Jenkins and a bunch of other abductees descend on the facility (much like Close Encounters Of The 22nd Kind). They arrive with a sketched catalog of alien species and it is promptly leaked on the Internet. Despite this, Kevin Jenkins gets a job running SCERF's café and bar where his input to casual conversations is pivotal. The Private Investigator encounters misfortune - and so does the police officer investigating the Private Investigator.

The police officer wants a fresh start and this allows the reader to follow one of humanity's first colonies. The police officer is assigned a small hut in a small settlement. He sees the first school, the first church, the first park, the first restaurant, the first gymnasium, and eventually the settlement develops into multiple cities with major agricultural exports to the galaxy. This may be quite enjoyable for anyone who likes computer games such as Settlers, Civilization or SimCity. Due to a personality quirk of a minor character, the main city is called Folctha - which is Irish Gaelic for bath-tub.

A clever device is used to keep the story in the immediate future. Specifically, all dates are given as years, months and days AV [After Vancouver]. So, for example, a scene may be set 1y2m3d AV and some are set in Folctha, Planet Cimbrean, The Far Reaches. The story is written in chapters from 2,000 to 180,000 words (sometimes split into five or more pieces), is heavy with dialog and often switches focus at pivotal moments. It is normally in a style similar to a soap opera but often makes interesting observations, such as the difference between investigative journalism and clickbait churnalism. However, the story may also follow one character for 50,000 words or describe a battle in detail.

[read the rest...]

This space opera has a large cast. Each region of the galaxy has a loose federation of species. Each major species has multiple planets. Each planet is held by a differing mix of species and political factions. (Given that herd species are common, interplanetary politics often resembles a stampede.) Each political faction has one or more representative characters. For humans, the factions are a mix private consortia and military alliances. (Ceres is run by an asteroid mining consortium. Folctha is nominally British but the local garrison is staffed by AEC [Allied Extra-solar Command], presumably based upon AAC, ALC and AMC.) The sorta dog/bear/raccoon ambush predators are feudal. The unified Clan Of Females mostly live in communes and mostly maintain a selective breeding program. There is also Clan StoneBack (logistics and civil engineering), Clan WhiteCrest (officers), Clan FireFang (fighter pilots), Clan LongEar (tele-communications), Clan StraightShield (justice), Clan GoldPaw (merchants), Clan StarMind (priests) and numerous other clans and clanless who live in communes.

The Alien Grays sometimes appear as comic relief, sometimes as antagonists and sometimes advance the plot with a MacGuffin. While the Grays are motivated by fame, fortune and flashy research with a quick pay-off, the plodding sorta mammoth species of the Guvnuragnaguvendrugun Confederacy spends decades or centuries working through the details. As expected from fiction which is similar to Babylon5 or StarWars, there are numerous species and individuals with dubious motives. However, the characters are excellent.

There is Jennifer Delaney (formerly IT support in Dublin, currently self-styled space-babe pirate queen), Adrian Saunders (former Australian soldier, currently "The Human Disaster"), Kevin Jenkins (barman and bagman), Drew Cavendish and Drew Martin (spacesuit designers), Moses Byron (billionaire rocketeer), Adam Arès, Legsy and Owen Powell (commanding officers of the space marines and their oft forgotten technicians), Admiral Knight, Captain Bathini (wears turban, drinks tea), Ava Ríos (Mary Sue, chaos monkey and occasional journalist), Julian Etsicitty (part Native American wilderness expert shamelessly modelled on The Mighty Buzzard), Allison Buehler (Mormon runaway), Xìu Chang (Chinese-Canadian linguistic expert, martial artist, dancer and aspiring actress), Wei Chang (3D printing expert), Amir (pilot and devout Muslim who has difficulty facing Mecca to pray until he gets a Mecca-detector), Lewis (geek), Zane (megalomaniac), Krrkktnkk A'ktnnzzik'tk and Vedregnegnug (alien bureaucrats with names that will trip any text-to-speech system), Daar (big oaf from Clan StoneBack), Ragaari (Clan WhiteCrest), Gyotin (Clan StarMind), Mark Tisdale and Hayley Tisdale (hippy scientists), Vemik ("Cavemonkey scientist"), Yan (tribal chief), the Alpha Of Alphas (warlord), the Alpha Of The Brood That Builds (geek) and at least as many more.

The serialized story is currently 1.5 million words (excluding the non-canon fan fiction) and is currently increasing by more than 30,000 words per month. Installments are published monthly or slightly more frequently. This fiction has been ongoing for about five years and the plot has advanced by more than 15 years. Therefore, senior characters retire, junior characters get promotion, children become adults and new characters are born. Despite the wide cast, the sheer volume of words creates an emotional investment and it can hit hard when a character is suddenly killed. This can realistically happen to any character at any time. One of the funerals has made me cry on at least four occasions. It was more emotional than StarTrek 2: The Wrath Of Khan or StarTrek Continues, Episode 1: Pilgrim Of Eternity. However, within 500 words, I had cause to openly laugh. Indeed, the story is such that it is common to cry then laugh.

Although it is not strictly a military saga, more than 20% of the writing depicts the space marines and some of the action is quite intense. This includes Operation Nova Hound, Operation Empty Bell, Dark Eye and multiple reconnaissance and extraction operations. For anyone who plays GURPS table-top rôle playing, Hello Kitty 40K or similar, there is plenty of source material for a campaign. It is also gratifying to see the technology advance over the 15 years (so far) of the story. As much as possible, a 900,000kg salvaged vessel is stripped of untrusted "alien space magic", fitted with keel and hatches to space navy standards, fitted with triple redundant 0.5GW fusion reactors (don't dare imitate Doc Brown and say "One point twenty one jigawatts!!!"), bus-bars to super-capacitors (reverse engineered by SCERF) and 90% efficient solid state inertial drives. In a burst, it can accelerate to 3g while dumping 3GW of heat. On a smaller scale, an EM rifle with 90 DU rounds per clip has a RS-485 bus on the Picatinny rail integrated with the suit HUD. There's also an RFG which is not to be confused with a VLM or a BFG.

A quirk of the Jenkinsverse is that the primary author was initially unaware of its success. Therefore, multiple story-lines gained considerably more chapters before characters were brought wholesale into the main spine of the story. Additionally, the primary author has written a prequel, looped off repeatedly and maintains a secondary story-line. Contemporary serialized fiction is decidedly collaborative and non-linear.

The final three chapters of the eight chapter prequel are quite amusing. The five chapter fan fiction, Wounded Rabbit, is particularly good and made me cry. Similar fan fiction covers the daily life of a human adopted by aliens. In addition to difficulty with language and cuisine, attempts to teach self defence are hindered by differing proportions.

I ignored the recommended reading order and read through the main spine of the story skipping parts required for continuity with fan fiction. This works very well with the exception that a batch of additional characters are introduced in Chapter 19. It is otherwise the most effective method to see improvements in writing quality. This is notably more flowing and candid every 10 chapters or so. From Chapter 20 or so, adult themes are covered. Swearing occurs from Chapter Zero and gets significantly more prolific from Chapter 12. Military characters swear like troopers but this is typically with British regional accents. "Well, fook me" is a typical example.

Adjusting for inflation, the primary author, Hambone3110, earns less money per word than a 1950s science fiction author. However, the author does not write to length and is certainly not restricted by it. Donations (per chapter) are almost US$3,600 and this is likely to grow considerably. Multiple levels of sponsorship are available up to and including product placement and naming characters.

DeathWorlders has a mix of gung-ho abandon, peril and consequences which is preferable to much commercial output. The major downside is the time required to read 1.5 million words. (It took me three months to get to Chapter 48 while doing graphic design.) A reader may incur increased swearing and a general feeling of invincibility which could be dangerous in some circumstances. However, before DeathWorlders obtained its own website, much of the work was placed in a section of Reddit.Com called Humans, F*ck Yeah which is an invigorating mix of factual and fictional accounts of people overcoming adversity. DeathWorlders will similarly raise spirits.


Original Submission

posted by chromas on Friday October 12, @09:09AM   Printer-friendly
from the out-of-this-world dept.

The movie First Man opens in theaters in the US on Friday, October 12. A local theater had two showings Thursday so I was able to get an advance look. Wikipedia summarizes the movie quite succinctly:

First Man is a 2018 American biographical drama film directed by Damien Chazelle and written by Josh Singer, based on the book First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong by James R. Hansen. The film stars Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong, alongside Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Ciarán Hinds, Christopher Abbott, Patrick Fugit, and Lukas Haas, and follows the years leading up to the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon in 1969. Steven Spielberg serves as an executive producer.

I've always seemed to have had a fascination with space. Maybe it was due to my good fortune in having grown up in the suburbs and having gone on many camping trips where the moon and stars were visible in all their glory. I'm old enough to have followed the "space race" from the late days of the Gemini program through Apollo and onward. With that as a backdrop, I found myself quite surprised at what unfolded in the movie. Various mishaps and catastrophes were tastefully addressed, most notably the fire on the launch pad which consumed Apollo 1. Nothing about the details of the missions trouble me. It was how the film thoughtfully portrayed the human side of things that got to me. The toll it took on the astronauts themselves and on their families. Ongoing battles for funding with Congress and the general public. The come-from-behind challenge as the USSR kept besting the US with one after another 'firsts' in space. Yet, through it all, Gosling's portrayal of Neil Armstrong was riveting in how driven and focused the first man to walk on the moon truly was. That said, he was human after all, and the movie graphically portrays moments of intense feeling which are made all the more dramatic for their infrequency of occurrence. It brought tears to my eyes more than once.

I had a few nits with some of the filming and sound work, but those were minor blemishes on this strong production. I know it has already forced me to revisit long-cherished memories from that era with a new insight and perspective. It changed me. Strongly recommended... I give it 8 out of 10.

NOTE: I have tried to avoid spoilers in this review. Please feel free to discuss the movie in the comments, but I suggest using <spoiler>to hide things you don't want immediately visible</spoiler> like this:

to hide things you don't want immediately visible

for those who may not have yet seen the movie.


Original Submission

posted by chromas on Thursday October 11, @02:22AM   Printer-friendly

I previously reviewed Rudy Rucker's Ware Tetralogy and Postsingular and found that Rudy Rucker's best work comes after ideas had the most time to percolate. Postsingular was a relative dud, although still far superior to Neal Stephenson's REAMDE. In contrast, Rainbows End is highly recommended. Indeed, it is essential reading for anyone concerned about the progression of software from desktop, web and mobile to augmented reality. The book has a shockingly similar game to Pokémon Go in addition to a plausible mix of tech mergers and new entrants in a near-future universe where smartphones have given way to wearable augmented reality.

Many books, comics and films have covered the purgatory of high school and some have covered the special purgatory of going back to high school (for a re-union or as a student). The film: 21 Jump Street is a particularly silly example of the sub-genre. Rainbows End covers a world leading humanities academic who spends years in the fugue of dementia, responds almost perfectly to medical advances and is enrolled in high school to complete his therapy. While he looks almost perfectly like a 17 year old, his contemporaries remain in decline or have bounced back with far more random results.

Although he has physically recovered, he has lost his razor-sharp insight and biting wit[1]. Like other patients, he finds talents in unrelated areas. His computer fluency, which was sufficient to publish in academic journals, is now 20 years out of date. During this period, laptops have become as thin as paper and also horrendously obsolete. Although the paper-thin laptops can be configured as a variety of legacy desktop environments and legacy web browsers, rendering data from the (almost) ubiquitous wireless network is less successful than accessing the current World Wide Web without images or JavaScript. However, this is only one slice of purgatory.

Almost everyone and everything from the protagonist's granddaughter to classmates to the high school syllabus pressures him into getting his own augmented reality client. It is worse than the current pressure to join social networks. Understandably, many curmudgeons[2] never take the leap. Obviously, narrative would greatly suffer if our protagonist wasn't one of the bold few. But, whoa, what a world which awaits! It is easier to flip through augmented reality overlays than to change channel in IRC. He also gets acquainted with instant messaging, tele-presence and the innards of network jitter. He stays in contact with faculty and, from this, some of the action is set around UCSD's Geisel Library. However, the protagonist has fractious relations with family, is failing classes in a downmarket charter school, is socially awkward and makes zero progress on a personal cornerstone of academic publication. Old friends suspect that he's lost his spark. Meanwhile, new talents are frustrated by digital certificate chains, "secure" management engines, DRM and no user serviceable parts (with particular reference to vehicles). "Computer says no." is enough to test anyone's sanity.

The protagonist endures art classes which are mostly editing and sequencing augmented reality effects; shop classes which use a patronising wifi, DRM, augmented reality, servo construction set (a plausible successor to Lego Mindstorms); and "Search And Analysis", trite MBA classes for the effective use of search engines, analytics, forums and crowd-sourcing. Meanwhile, there are sub-plots involving a library digitization project, a biological threat and a hacker portrayed as a white rabbit. The white rabbit is a cheeky, winsome character more like Bugs Bunny or Roger Rabbit than Lewis Carroll's nervous White Rabbit. It is not new for an author to have a theme about literacy heritage. (Or lack thereof.) Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 covers book burning in the most literal and alarming form. Rudy Rucker covers subtle matters. For example, when the physical becomes virtual, the loss (or reduced use) of alphabetical index reduces serendipity. It also covers the matter of gifting public collections to billionaires; ostensibly in the name of progress.

Many of the characters perform double duty and this creates a soap opera bubble of reality. It feels like an author being clever with an overly constrained plot. Before the midpoint of the book, it is quite apparent that the loose ends of the plot get resolved far too tidily. Nevertheless, it is highly enjoyable and has technical merit while doing more with less. Rudy Rucker's Ware Tetralogy takes the mythical imipolex plastic of Thomas Pynchon's book: Gravity's Rainbow (written in similar style to the Illuminatus trilogy) and infuses it with general purpose artificial intelligence. Postsingular has nanobot gray goo and parallel universes. Rainbows End is more alarming because no such leaps are required.

Rainbows End by Rudy Rucker is widely available in print.

After reading Rainbows End, I had a peculiar dream where a widespread implementation of augmented reality used a three dimensional version of CSS. This provided bounding boxes for trigger events written in JavaScript. I explained this to a friend who physically recoiled at the concept - and only partly in jest. Historically, interactive VRML was implemented with Java. Since then, CSS, JavaScript and SSL have become increasingly ubiquitous. Even Google Glass apps used a perverse HTTP interface rather than the more logical choice of extending the Android API. (implements Runnable extends Wearable?) The missing piece (Augmented Reality CSS), which I perceived so vividly, could supersede almost every piece of software except main-frame and game-frame back-ends. Obviously, this would create one big cloudy mess of business and leisure applications implemented with terabytes of JavaScript to form a modal consensus reality. From that foundation, magic occurs.

Notes: [1] and [2] These links are reproduced exactly as received and are numbered here should the submitter wish to provide corrected links in the comments.


Original Submission

posted by martyb on Wednesday October 03, @03:20AM   Printer-friendly
from the hit-the-hit-books dept.

October: Foundation by Isaac Asimov
November: The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin.
December: Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

October's book is Foundation by Isaac Asimov, meaning the collection of 5 short stories first published in 1951. It is the first published entry in the Foundation series.

Please discuss last month's book, Mars, Ho! below if you haven't done so already. You can also suggest books for January 2019. I can include titles that were already suggested, such as in the comments on the poll. We may be able to increase the maximum number of poll options to accommodate more books.

Previously: SoylentNews Book Club is Alive


Original Submission

posted by martyb on Sunday September 02, @09:09AM   Printer-friendly
from the In-just-over-three-months-it-would-be...-Mars-Ho-Ho-Ho! dept.

Want to read some books? Many of our users have shown interest in having a book club. Now it's finally time to kick it off.

Your soytyrant has pre-selected the first three books so that you have more time to read them, should you choose to do so:

September: Mars, Ho! by Stephen McGrew
October: Foundation by Isaac Asimov
November: The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin.

The plan is to read a book, and discuss it on the 1st of the following month. Suggestions for new books (of any genres, not just "science fiction") will also be collected at the same time. You can start listing some of your suggestions right now in this comment section. We'll pick up to eight of them and run a poll on September 15th to decide the book for December. And so on.

The first book is Mars, Ho! by Stephen McGrew, one of our more literary users (not to be confused with Mars Ho! by Jennifer Willis). The book is available for free on McGrew's website, although there are some purchasing options available if you want to support him. From the description:

Captain John Knolls thinks he's just been given the best assignment of his career -- ferrying two hundred prostitutes to Mars. He doesn't know that they're all addicted to a drug that causes them to commit extreme, deadly violence when they are experiencing withdrawal or that he'll face more pirates than anyone had ever seen before. Or that he'd fall in love. A humorous science fiction space novel, a horror story, a love story, a pirate story, a tale of corporate bureaucracy and incompetence.

All book club posts will be in the Community Reviews nexus, which is linked to on the site's sidebar. You'll likely want to click on that link once the posts fall off the main page.


Original Submission

posted by janrinok on Friday June 08, @10:13PM   Printer-friendly
from the smeared-electrons-and-live/dead-cats dept.

Review of a couple of recent publications, in The Boston Review

People are gullible. Humans can be duped by liars and conned by frauds; manipulated by rhetoric and beguiled by self-regard; browbeaten, cajoled, seduced, intimidated, flattered, wheedled, inveigled, and ensnared. In this respect, humans are unique in the animal kingdom.

Aristotle emphasizes another characteristic. Humans alone, he tells us, have logos: reason. Man, according to the Stoics, is zoön logikon, the reasoning animal. But on reflection, the first set of characteristics arises from the second. It is only because we reason and think and use language that we can be hoodwinked.

We'll get to the quantum mechanics in a bit.

The two books under consideration here bring the paradox home, each in its own way. Adam Becker's What Is Real? chronicles the tragic side of a crowning achievement of reason, quantum physics. The documentarian Errol Morris gives us The Ashtray, a semi-autobiographical tale of the supremely influential The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) by Thomas S. Kuhn. Both are spellbinding intellectual adventures into the limits, fragility, and infirmity of human reason. Becker covers the sweep of history, from the 1925 birth of the "new" quantum physics up through the present day.

So, verifiable, experimental, experienced proof?

Not only can people be led astray, most people are. If the devout Christian is right, then committed Hindus and Jews and Buddhists and atheists are wrong. When so many groups disagree, the majority must be mistaken. And if the majority is misguided on just this one topic, then almost everyone must be mistaken on some issues of great importance. This is a hard lesson to learn, because it is paradoxical to accept one's own folly. You cannot at the same time believe something and recognize that you are a mug to believe it. If you sincerely judge that it is raining outside, you cannot at the same time be convinced that you are mistaken in your belief. A sucker may be born every minute, but somehow that sucker is never oneself.


Original Submission

posted by Fnord666 on Monday January 15 2018, @08:26PM   Printer-friendly
from the It's-FOSS dept.

Linux system manufacturer System76 introduced a beautiful looking Linux distribution called Pop!_OS. But is Pop OS worth an install? Read the Pop OS review and find out yourself.

More at : https://itsfoss.com/pop-os-linux-review/


Original Submission