2018-07-01 00:00:00 ..
2018-07-06 10:04:11 UTC
2018-07-14 12:58:04 UTC
We always have a place for talented people, visit the Get Involved section on the wiki to see how you can make SoylentNews better.
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.
I was initally under the impression that Postsingular and Hylozoic continued the Ware Tetralogy but these are two distinct fictional "universes". Although there is an expectation for authors to continually out-do themselves with ever more fantastical ideas, Postsingular fails to satisfy on multiple criteria. It is too knowingly in the present, using "tweet" in the contemporary context and also having search engines. It may be that Rudy Rucker's feedback from fans and increased knowledge about computing makes the book less entertaining.
Regardless, nanotechnology, synthetic telepathy, natural telepathy and multiple forms of teleportation are explored in depth in the context of reality television, augmented reality spam and post-scarcity economics. Several characters are introduced very poorly and Rudy Rucker continues a tradition of ridiculous character names. Thankfully, characters become more rounded as plot develops. One character, Dick Dibbs, is uncannily similar to Donald Trump and Postsingular accurately captures some of the North American 2016 pre-election hysteria almost 10 years before it occurred.
Given Rudy Rucker's previous dependence upon Penrose tiling in the Ware Tetralogy, it was surprising that it was only mentioned once, obliquely, when a building was described as having an irregular pattern of triangles. However, readers of Postsingular would benefit from an understanding of Cantor dust, reversible computing, quantum computing, entropy in the context of bitstrings, public key cryptography, timing attacks, nanobot gray goo scenarios, Planck units and the untestable pseudo-science of superstring theory.
The extensive writing notes are available and provide character background information, deleted scenes, book promotion details and interaction with publishers and literary agents. The latter may may of particular interest to lesser-known science fiction authors. The writing notes also reveal that Postsingular was heavily influenced by Charles Stross' Accelerando and the attempt to build and differentiate from this work may explain why Postsingular errs more towards Snowcrash and Cryptonomicon rather than the Ware Tetralogy.
Postsingular has numerous plot holes. For example, it is never explained why a telepathic race retains speech. Nor is it explained how a quantum shielded building remains unmapped when nanobots freely pass in and out of the area. There is also a pointlessly grating book-within-a-book which is being written by a needlessly exotic character. Furthermore, the book-within-a-book becomes an increasingly belated account of an event which would have experienced by every potential reader. By far, it is not the best example of A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer.
The climax is less satisfying than any of the Tetralogy books because allegiances switch freely and the final line-up of "good guys" win through superior firepower rather than moral imperative. Postsingular could have explored folklore, religion, memes and imagery in much more detail. Instead, it concentrated a rogue hacker saving the world, a corrupt politician, San Francisco counter-culture, an indifferent/malevolent AI, a boy genius and an evil genius with tertiary transsexual characteristics. I'm vaguely surprised that there wasn't an antagonist with an evil hand. Although Postsingular is inferior to Snowcrash and Accelerando, it is superior to Cryptonomicon, the Difference Engine and REAMDE. Despite much silliness, it is thoroughly enjoyable.
Postsingular is available under a restrictive Creative Commons licence. However, HTML and PDF versions may by truncated. An EPub [PKZip of XML] with SHA512 fafc56c94f71969535b5e568582cdfb3bcbbb951b7b00f6518492012c7b5488b82d580a77c6ecfdaf03b3b2af7ae0c100a461063dc65202c3766b41c87474d1c may be preferable. The sequel, Hylozoic, is available under commercial license.
Without checking copyright dates, it was more accurate to describe the Ware Tetralogy as two pairs of books. The compendium begins rather ominously with a family tree and I was concerned that I might have to keep notes of 22 clones or suchlike. Thankfully, this was not the case and it would be easier to describe the story as being centered around one AI researcher and his descendants. However, character names can be quite bizarre. Ralph Numbers is one of the more moderate examples.
The researcher, Cobb Anderson, is a very strong character. From the afterword, it is explained that Cobb Anderson is based upon Rudy Rucker's father. Overall, Rudy Rucker writes exceptionally good father/son or master/apprentice relationships. Despite descriptions to the contrary, I imagined Cobb Anderson and Stan Mooney to be more like the disgraced Walter White and the youthfully impatient Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad. This was re-inforced by a particular incident which could have influenced an episode of Breaking Bad.
In addition to write strong relationships, Rudy Rucker writes some of the scariest antagonists. Mr. Frostee is particularly creepy. In the afterword, Rudy Rucker apologises for some of the technical details around Mr. Frostee. No apology is required. The rôle of cults is largely unexplored. Likewise, comic relief is vastly under-used. (Tuthmosis Snooks is particularly under-utilized.)
The Ware Tetralogy forms part of a virtuous circle of science fiction. In addition to the first two books each obtaining the Philip K. Dick Literary Award, the books build upon some of the core ideas from Philip K. Dick and Isaac Asimov. However, it explores placement of self-preservation ahead of subservience in the form of the Three Laws Of Robotics. This leads to an initially inexplicable question of why robots in a ruthlessly Darwinian free-market anarchy would display their internal state so vividly. However, this is all part of a progression of technology and intelligence which progresses over a number of computational substrates.
This is pro-sex, pro-drug trans-humanism. Although, for a mathematician accustomed to abstract thinking, Rudy Rucker writes the most cringeworthy, heteronormative, sex scenes from a cisgender, masculine point-of-view. This is not helped by over-use of "fractal", in particular, when describing pleasure from the increased surface area between two entities which are not on a mammalian substrate. Likewise, one of the many drugs, Merge, is toony enough for it form the basis of a Futurama episode. Thankfully, this is one of Rudy Rucker's more experiemental ideas and it can be ignored without adversely affecting the plot. To get the most from these books, it may be useful to have an understanding of backoff algorithms (such as RFC1191 and TCP Cubic), fractals, Penrose tessellation, cellular automata (and associated use as a computational substrate), Conway Life Gliders, N-dimensional space in the context of Flatland and pop-culture understanding of Lewis Carroll's Adventures In Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass. Of these, the literary references are most beneficial.
Some locations have familiarity: a beach-front hut, a sleazy speak-easy, a grand cavern, a lunar dome and marginal accommodation which could be taken from Total Recall, The Expanse or Babylon5. However, this is vastly preferable to some of the needlessly exotic locations found in an Iain Banks novel, an Eoin Colfer novel or a typical James Bond film.
The structure of each book peaks with one satisfying climax, although, perhaps Book 3 starts slow and finishes fast. It is gripping to the extent that I read Book 1 and 2 in one sitting and was unable to progress significantly into Book 3 due to the exhaustion of reading more than 100,000 words. Book 1 and 3 gain from perculation of the most original ideas but I would happily read another two books which only followed the existing characters and did not introduce further characters or concepts.
Whereas Vernor Vinge's bobbling is explained with some hand-waving about Walsh functions, Rudy Rucker's work has a more rigorous grounding in Penrose tessellation and this is used repeatedly for various plot elements. Although many regarded this a science-fiction fantasy, the subsequent discovery of quasi-crystals gave additional interest and weight to the work. The Ware Tetralogy is of general interest to anyone seeking background considerations about smart structures, IoT, robotics, artificial intelligence and/or sentience. However, Rudy Rucker's direct experience of computers was extremely limited when he began and therefore it should be read mostly in the context of widely disseminated ideas in the popular consciousness.
The Ware Tetralogy with SHA512 of 8a7c87845e207b13a34e8d265f94bdaa6e72242280c356b8bd71ea8e91c78e18f85462eb40b6c8ad36cfc752fe83c52ebf6b8ba469347bd1cd94605b1d966353 is available under a restrictive Creative Commons licence which, under the circumstances of commercial fiction, is extremely generous.
I have been reading The Japanese Sword Column and thought it may be of niche interest to other Soylentils. It is written by Paul Martin, a noted British expert of Japanese swords. From the introduction:
Along with cherry blossoms and Mount Fuji, the Japanese sword has become one of the enduring symbols of Japan. It has experienced centuries of warfare, evolved through Mongol invasions, survived the introduction of the musket, the end of the samurai era, modernization, and confiscation and destruction by the Allied forces following World War II. They are an anachronism in modern society, yet they continue to be made. They are an integral part of Japanese culture.
Today, I feel very fortunate that we have access to Japanese swords and can observe the artistry of blades that were previously only accessible by Japan's ancient military and social elites.
I particularly enjoyed the July 25th article, The Changes in the Shape of the Japanese Sword. The articles are short, update infrequently and have plenty of pictures of museum-quality swords. A good fit for those with a casual interest in the subject.
I knew this day would eventually come. We had been warned that Firefox 57 would force some significant changes on us users, including the removal of support for extensions that did not conform to the WebExtensions model, along with the introduction of the new Photon user interface appearance.
Although I have always only wanted to run the stable releases, long ago I had been forced to run the Developer Edition of Firefox just so I could easily use some extensions I had written on my own. Now Firefox was showing me that an update to Firefox 57.0b1 was available. Should I do it? Should I install this update? I debated with myself for several minutes. But in the end I knew I would have no choice. I would at some point have to update to Firefox 57 if I wanted to keep receiving security fixes and other important updates. So I did it. I upgraded to Firefox Developer Edition 57.0b1.
The update itself was uneventful. It installed as past updates have, and I restarted my browser to start using the new version. The first thing I noticed are the user interface changes. My initial reaction was that I had accidentally started my Vivaldi browser installation instead of my Firefox Developer Edition installation. A quick check of the About dialog did confirm that I was in fact using Firefox, and not Vivaldi.
There's not much to say about the Photon user interface. While Australis-era Firefox looked almost identical to Chrome to me, Photon-era Firefox looks like Vivaldi to me. I couldn't see any improvements, however. The menu shown after clicking the three line toolbar button may have had its appearance changed to be more like a traditional menu, but it is still muddled and much too busy to be useful. I didn't notice any increase in the responsiveness of the user interface. It still feels to me like it's slower than that of Chrome's user interface.
This would be a good time to talk about the overall performance of the browser. I can't perceive any improvement. I don't think it's worse than it was, but I also don't think that it's any better. From what I can see, pages aren't loading any faster. Changing between tabs doesn't feel any faster to me. Scrolling through loaded pages isn't any smoother. Chrome still feels snappier. If there were improvements on the performance front, I'm not seeing them.
Now it's time to talk about extensions. Although I was expecting breakage, it's still a painful feeling to see many of your favorite extensions labeled as "legacy" and no longer working. While a small number of my installed extensions already supported Firefox 57, there were others where I had to visit the developers' websites and download special dev or pre-release versions. In other cases I wasn't so lucky. Sometimes the developers had given up on supporting Firefox 57, and openly acknowledged that they wouldn't be making any further updates to the extensions. I had to find alternatives. Sometimes there were alternatives, but in at least one of the cases the alternative was much less capable than the extension I had been using. I spent well over an hour just trying to get the third-party extensions I use back to a state similar to how they had been when I'd been using Firefox 56.
Then there are my own personal extensions. I had written these over a number of years, and had been using them with Firefox for quite some time. But now they were deemed "legacy" and they no longer could be used now that I was running Firefox 57. I started to read up about what it would take to convert them to be WebExtensions compatible, and I soon learned that it would not be a trivial task. I will need to set aside a sizable chunk of time to get these ported over.
I've been using Firefox for a long time. I've experienced its highs, and I've experienced its many lows. Of these lows, I think that Firefox 57 is perhaps the lowest of them yet. Many of the extensions I have used for years no longer work. I will need to put in much time and effort to convert extensions I had written for my own personal use. I will need to learn to use its new user interface. But worst of all, I do not see any improvements or benefits. I don't think it performs any better now than it did in the past.
I feel particularly sorry for the Firefox users who aren't as technical as I'm lucky to be. They might not fully understand the implications of Firefox 57 when it comes time for them to eventually upgrade. They likely won't be able to deal with the many broken extensions. They too will need to learn a new user interface that doesn't really provide anything in the way of improvement. As bad as I found the experience of upgrading to Firefox 57 to be, I fear that these average users without a technical background will find it even more painful.
I never really seriously considered moving away from Firefox in the past, even as my user experience got worse and worse over time. But I think the time to leave Firefox permanently has finally arrived. Firefox 57 takes away the few remaining advantages that Firefox had for me, namely the ability to run the extensions I had already written for myself.
I think that I should be feeling more sorrow and regret about finally leaving Firefox behind. But I don't feel any of that. In fact, I feel a sense of optimism that I haven't felt in a long time. Chrome, or more likely Chromium, will probably bring me a faster browsing experience than I've become accustomed to while using Firefox. I will have to rework my extensions, but at least they will then work with a better browser platform. They may even work with other browsers like Vivaldi and Brave, as well.
So while Firefox 57 has so far been one of the worst web browser user experiences for me yet, in some ways it may also be the best: it finally gives me a reason to move away from Firefox to an ecosystem that offers me so much more than what Firefox did. It may very well be putting me in a better position than I would have been in had I not tried Firefox 57 and been so disappointed with it.
Should you update to Firefox 57 as soon as it become available to you? If I were you, I would be cautious. While it's important to get the latest fixes to try and achieve a safe browsing experience, please be aware of the potential to break extensions, some of which there may be no equivalent WebExtensions compatible replacements for. Firefox 57 does include changes that could cause you a lot of problems. My advice would be to prepare before the upgrade, and be ready for your browsing experience to suffer. If you do choose to upgrade to Firefox 57, I sincerely hope that your upgrade goes better than mine has gone.
Alright - be warned - this is the lead book in a series. They want to sell you more books, LOL!
Science fiction? I don't think Lee's story is strictly SF. There is some resemblance to SF, and some to fantasy. Lee has written something different here.
There is no real attempt to explain, or to lean upon science. Lee has some almost magical force, largely based on numerology, or more accurately, the Calendar, which the characters manipulate in various ways. Space opera? Ehhh - maybe. There are only a limited number of characters that are truly developed. And, those characters don't get to meet each other very much, so it's not really opera.
I asked in the poll thread, whether this was likely to be a SJW's idea of science fiction. https://soylentnews.org/pollBooth.pl?qid=104&aid=-1 There is some of that, but it's not the purpose of the book to put across one of the currently favored SJW themes.
Mr. Lee is Chinese, and he seems to draw on Chinese mythology, legend, or maybe even history. Sadly, I'm not sure that I'm getting the full story, because I know so little of the Chinese culture. [Yoon Ha Lee is Korean.]
All the same, this has been a pretty action packed space adventure. The heroine is a military commander (captain of infantry) whose pastime is math. The math that enables and manipulates this mysterious force. As a military commander, her task is less to bring firepower to bear upon the enemy, as to keep her troops in formation. The formation is mathematically calculated to focus the force on the enemy, or to defend freindly troops. A "gun" may or may not fire a projectile, at all - and if it does fire a projectile, it is unlikely to be a solid, physical projectile. Call it magic - the gun merely focuses the magic that the commander intends to use.
Kel Cheris' math abilities help her to defeat an anemy in the opening chapter, which her colleagues have been unable to touch. This brings her to the attention of the high command, who has a far greater challenge to be met.
Enter the hero/madman/villian/anti-hero/traitor. Shuos Jedao can be described as a disembodied mind, kept as a pet of the Heptarch, and routinely trotted out of his "black cradle" to solve insoluble problems. Jedao will be "anchored" to Cheris mind, and body.
Cheris and Jedao are approved as the most likely solution to a rebellion on a Heptarch fortress that threatens the very existence of the Heptarch. The parameters defining "success" are pretty strict - the impregnable fortress must not be destroyed, if, in fact, they can gain entry.
There is plenty of intrique, with the Heptarch holding the end of a long leash, which Jedao must not escape. Cheris herself is also on a leash. But, the higher echelons don't understand the game that Jedao has been developing for the last four centuries.
This story is a wild ride, and just when you think you're nearing the end of the journey, you find that you have only just begun!